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  1. #1
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    Web Hosting is a commodity business

    I have been a member of this board for quite some time but I decided to look in just a few days ago.

    It seems that I have stumbled into a group stuck in the 1990's, stopped just one step beyond the time when web sites were hosted on the pc in daddy's den or mommy's bedroom and BBS's were the normal communication mode. You have moved the pc from the den and bedroom (maybe) to a data center and you have cell phones and facebook but not much else has changed.

    Technology has passed this group by. There is an entire world of customers out here that are looking for something that that you have not got a clue about. I see scrambling and I hear "But, but... we moved out of the den, we are big boys, aren't we?"

    Internet based storage and bandwidth are certainly commodity items but I see a number of things done by most here that can only be classified by using old sayings "Lipstick on a pig" or "Trying to make a silk purse from a sow's ear"

    For example, can you tell me what good a "support team" is for this product? It seems to me like providing a valet at a self service car wash or a group of movers at a self storage location.

  2. #2
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    Can you be more specific, are you talking about poor customer service, poor service in general or both?
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  3. #3
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    Hmmm... too wordy, sorry bout that.

    I am trying to sort out what the "service" is that is being provided by providers that are members here.

  4. #4
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    Ah I see, well I think the services really range from basic shared web hosting, to more complex VPS, Dedicated systems (all on different platforms). As far as the companies you will find on here, they range from the very experienced, to the inexperienced, trying to pass off as experienced..a.k.a kiddie hosts), so definitely proceed with caution. Are you looking for anything in particular?
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  5. #5
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    FernGullyGraphics;

    Thanks for the response. From my observation most fall into the last category.

    It seems that I see a lot of discussion about things that are added on to what is really a simple product, thus causing no end of frustration to the customers that also post here.

    For instance; I see much discussion about "support teams", support persons can do almost nothing at this level, this is providing the customer something that cannot work and raising their frustration level. Inflated pricing would also seem to be a result.

    Again I ask the general populace of providers here; Can you tell me what good a "support team" is for this product? It seems to me like providing a valet at a self service car wash or a group of movers at a self storage location.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by srfreeman View Post

    I am trying to sort out what the "service" is that is being provided by providers that are members here.
    The services offered here revolve primarily around being permitted to put web content onto computers located in data centers where Internet connectivity is expected to be reliable and fast.

    In some cases the offer includes only files for one Internet domain - web hosting.

    In other cases the service includes a slice of an entire computer - VPS.

    In still other cases an entire computer - dedicated servers.

    The common element that raises the services offered here above what you might do at home with a DSL or Cable Internet connection is better throughput and location in a facility designed for high speed Internet connectivity.
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  7. #7
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    If you think that support is not required for hosting clients that know nothing about hosting a website, then you don't quite understand things.

    Your analogy's are FAR from accurate.

    Someone buying a self storage unit knows that they need to unload their moving van, stick it all in the unit, and lock the door. It's a pretty simple process.

    Setting up a website (at the minimum requirement levels) is a bit more complicated than that...and most people that start from 0 knowledge do not know all aspects of managing it...hence the need for support.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by srfreeman View Post
    Again I ask the general populace of providers here; Can you tell me what good a "support team" is for this product? It seems to me like providing a valet at a self service car wash or a group of movers at a self storage location.
    Some of us get zero clients from WHT. The fact that you are reading this forum makes you unlikely to host with me. The typical WHT user, judging from their comments here, is interested in technical specs. They are the web hosting world's equivalent to the audiophile who will get passionate about the internal components in a high end receiver. And they want bang for the buck. Disk space, data transfer, connectivity, third-party uptime stats ... all of that matters to them, and yes, they are buying in what amounts to a commodity market.

    My typical customer is a small business owner, non-profit or dedicated hobbyist who wants to get his website running. They have no idea how to do it. They may not even know how to do anything other than check email, and sometimes they need help with that. I have one customer who finally "trusts" email, but mails me a check, wrapped in several sheets of paper, because he won't use Paypal. These customers don't care about "web stuff" ... one responded to me "OK, you said 'blah, blah, blah' but all I want to know is can you fix it?"

    They don't care about the specs, they just need a web site because their competitor has one, and they realize they need to compete. They are too busy in real life, earning money, to spend time combing message boards.

    So, does that customer need support? You bet he does. He needs someone to watch and increase bandwidth allotment temporarily if his boat design gets featured in Wooden Boat Magazine. He needs someone to help him figure out why his email keeps filling up. He needs someone to call and ask why the hell his buddy is getting Viagra ads from HIM.

  9. #9
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    srider;

    Thanks, that is what I see too, one step beyond daddy's den.

    Daniel B and fshagan;

    So you are providing consulting services to the customer and you are actually the consumer of the hosting services on behalf of your client. I was more concerned with the vendor providing the hosting service direct to the consumer.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by srfreeman View Post
    FernGullyGraphics;

    Thanks for the response. From my observation most fall into the last category.

    It seems that I see a lot of discussion about things that are added on to what is really a simple product, thus causing no end of frustration to the customers that also post here.

    For instance; I see much discussion about "support teams", support persons can do almost nothing at this level, this is providing the customer something that cannot work and raising their frustration level. Inflated pricing would also seem to be a result.

    Again I ask the general populace of providers here; Can you tell me what good a "support team" is for this product? It seems to me like providing a valet at a self service car wash or a group of movers at a self storage location.
    With all do respect, you kind of lost me there. Technical support is one of the key aspects of any web hosting business. Without customer support, you have no business. That is actually one of the many complaints I hear from customers at other companies. I dont believe I have ever read or heard of someone complaining about a company offering great customer support, which resulted in the inflation of an extra couple bucks per month.

    Are you telling me that you are looking for a company that offers a great web hosting platform, with no support? Kinda seems like a catch 22 if you ask me.
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  11. #11
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    Again I ask the general populace of providers here; Can you tell me what good a "support team" is for this product? It seems to me like providing a valet at a self service car wash or a group of movers at a self storage location.
    IMHO you're over simplifying things. However, when things break down, you definitely need support, someone to take a look at the situation and rectify it. The end user has a lot of tools at his disposal via control panel SSH etc., but he often doesn't have root access, and even if he had it, it wouldn't do him any good.

    Most businesses try to automate things as much as possible, but there will always be users or situations when help is required. I've had terrible customer support, with hosts and with other companies. You know, the kind of instance when your internet connection isn't working properly, your electricity is on and off etc., when you've done all you could/knew on your own, and now you need your provider to help you out.

    It may sound strange, but a company's worth is proven when things go wrong (because at some point, they always will).

    To say that support is not worth anything is false. It is in fact, one of the major costs incurred when running a decently sized web hosting company.

  12. #12
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    I think the OP has raised a very valid point: speaking generally, most hosting providers really don't provide a service. They're just renting space on a server.

    fshagan (above) is an exception, and there are others around, too. They provide a value-added service to real customers whom they meet in the flesh. The difference is like the difference between an auto parts store and a trusted mechanic. Sure, you can get the parts at the store, and yes, the guy behind the counter might, might, even help you figure out which is the right one for your car. But then you're on your own.

    And that's how most hosting "services" operate. Even "fully managed" hosting service is not like the trusted mechanic who fixes your car and keeps it running even if you don't know what the engine looks like.

    To stand out from the zillions of other commodity hosts, the thing to do is provide a real service. True, you can't scale that like you can scale commodity hosting, if your plan is to get rich quick. But you can be a consultant to local businesses and make decent money if you provide a real service.
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Atarim View Post
    I think the OP has raised a very valid point: speaking generally, most hosting providers really don't provide a service. They're just renting space on a server.
    That's not true at all. Even if every aspect of a web hosting business is automated, I can almost guarantee that at least 80-90% of the clientele will contact the company at some point in time to ask some type of question related to their web hosting account (that is where customer service plays a big role).

    Second, what about server management? That in itself is a full time job and is an aspect that is often times overlooked by the consumer. You cant just simply lease a server and expect it to be ready to go right out of the box. Not to mention the maintenance of that server (Hardware/Software.., there really is a lot to it).
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  14. #14
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    Let me see if I understand this.

    Provider puts pc in data center, much like the one that is on the customers desktop. Has the pc connected to the data center's network and offers the customer space on that pc to host his website.

    The customer knows the issues in play, they are the same as the ones he deals with pertaining to the pc on his desktop. Difference being that he does not own the pc in the data center so he has no need to call anyone when it breaks.

    What good is it for the customer to pay someone to answer a phone or email and say "Yep, it is down, we will get it up as soon as we can." The customer already knows this.

    If there is a problem with the website (software) the provider of that is responsible and a call to a hardware support person just to hear "We already told you, we don't do that" does no one any good.

    Yes, I understand that having several people using one simple pc is a disaster waiting to happen but putting people in the middle of it would just be a way of frustrating customers.

    So I ask; What good can possibly be seen in this practice?

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by srfreeman View Post
    Daniel B and fshagan;

    So you are providing consulting services to the customer and you are actually the consumer of the hosting services on behalf of your client. I was more concerned with the vendor providing the hosting service direct to the consumer.
    I can sort of see your point, I guess in the end it can be seen as two separate aspects of the same business. I do provide hosting service direct to the client, and I also provide support for those that need it...it is a required part of offering that service.

    Similar to the analogy you first used, but possibly more accurate. Hosting, IMHO, could be related to a restraunt. The cooks make the food, but the servers (support) have to bring it to the customers. (I guess that sort of works...closest thing I could think of).

    It really can be interpretted both ways. I tend to see it as a required part of the industry, and don't view hosting as a commodity at all, it's a service in my opinion.

  16. #16
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    FernGullyGraphics;

    Customers, when renting anything, expect the provider to maintain that which is rented. Most know the issues, that is why they are renting.

    Yes, I see many "slum lords" in the hosting business, it is a shame.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by srfreeman View Post
    Let me see if I understand this.

    Provider puts pc in data center, much like the one that is on the customers desktop. Has the pc connected to the data center's network and offers the customer space on that pc to host his website.
    That in itself is a false assumption. Although there are similarities between a desktop computer and an actual server (in essence, yes they are both computers). The big difference is on average people pay about $500-$800 for the PC on their desk, where as the server in the data center can run on average of about 3-5k.

    Quote Originally Posted by srfreeman View Post
    The customer knows the issues in play, they are the same as the ones he deals with pertaining to the pc on his desktop. Difference being that he does not own the pc in the data center so he has no need to call anyone when it breaks.
    Again, night and day. The issues you would experience on your PC are very different from the problems you would experience on a web server. PC you have one user, where as on a server you could have 200-300 different users.


    Quote Originally Posted by srfreeman View Post
    What good is it for the customer to pay someone to answer a phone or email and say "Yep, it is down, we will get it up as soon as we can." The customer already knows this.
    This is assuming the customer is calling the company because something is wrong? What if the customer just has a general question about how to set-up or redirect email? Maybe the client is having some issues installing a script? Or perhaps the issue is only related to the customers website and not the entire server?

    Quote Originally Posted by srfreeman View Post
    If there is a problem with the website (software) the provider of that is responsible and a call to a hardware support person just to hear "We already told you, we don't do that" does no one any good.
    Most companies that I know of will do thier best to assist you with 3rd party software, however at the end of the day, you cant expect a web hosting company to troubleshoot every software available on the internet.

    Quote Originally Posted by srfreeman View Post
    Yes, I understand that having several people using one simple pc is a disaster waiting to happen but putting people in the middle of it would just be a way of frustrating customers.
    Thats exactly my point, web hosting companies are not putting various users on a simple pc and calling it a service (not saying that doesnt happen). However, in general, there is a big difference between even the worst hosting companies (like godaddy) and your average joe trying to host a couple websites on his home pc.

    Quote Originally Posted by srfreeman View Post
    So I ask; What good can possibly be seen in this practice?
    In short, simplicity. Unless you are expecting everyone to pay hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars per month to manage and host their own server for a website that does not require a full dedicated box. There will always be a demand for shared web hosting services.
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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by srfreeman View Post
    Yes, I see many "slum lords" in the hosting business, it is a shame.
    Now that I agree with
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  19. #19
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    Daniel B;

    I pose to you that hosting (providing storage and bandwidth) is simply providing a product, not a service. Consulting is providing a service. Mixing it together and providing a support person that says "Yep, it is down" today and "Software sucks, I'll see what I can do" tomorrow just seems wrong. Servers don't cook and cooks don't serve and having the server say "Yep, the cook sucks" is always bad.

    At this level, hearing "You'll have to wait, Dad's using the pc" was somehow more satisfying.

  20. #20
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    I've read through this thread twice now, and I still do not fully understand what specifically the OP is getting at.

    Are you asking what you are paying for in terms of web hosting? You keep mentioning "Support Teams".. Not sure exactly what that is about.

    I can tell you that the "Support Team" thing is a BS marketing jargon. Very few if any hosting companies have "SUPPORT TEAMS", let alone dedicated groups of paid personal on hand to answer calls when things break.

    Generally it's been my own experience as someone who has been in this industry a very long time that most seasoned providers are small groups of dedicated owners, partners, employees and other staff that have generally been at it for several years. That dedicated and personal service is what I would say you are paying for.

    Beyond that, you're really paying for the cost to power, cool, updated, supply bandwidth, heat, gas, insurance, taxes, payroll, etc.. It's a business after all.

    As to a commodity business? It was not always that way. Our industry made it that way. Too many players all underselling and undercutting all the while no one's making a profit as a result, at least not one to justify pulling the PC out of the den, to paraphrase your comments.

    That said, the commoditized nature of the business now means that providers are forced to make up that profit in the form of VOLUME... Higher volume means less "SUPPORT TEAM" attention..

    Personally, I'll stick with our Jerry Maguire approach to less higher paying clients, vs. tons of low paying clients.

    This way our clients get the personal attention (when and if they need it) and detail that the "SUPPORT TEAM" folks try to shove in your face when they are trying to make the sale.

    Really though, be a bit more specific here and enlighten us all on what kind of services, support teams, hosting, and prices you've been paying and where. It might help us all figure out exactly why you are so jilted towards the industry as a whole.
    Thanks.
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  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by srfreeman View Post
    Daniel B;

    I pose to you that hosting (providing storage and bandwidth) is simply providing a product, not a service. Consulting is providing a service. Mixing it together and providing a support person that says "Yep, it is down" today and "Software sucks, I'll see what I can do" tomorrow just seems wrong. Servers don't cook and cooks don't serve and having the server say "Yep, the cook sucks" is always bad.

    At this level, hearing "You'll have to wait, Dad's using the pc" was somehow more satisfying.
    But there is more to providing storage and bandwidth than just plugging in some harddrives and the power. The servers have to be maintained, clients want special things done...if they can't do it themselves...they need a support tech to do it for them.

    Your view of support is rather skewed. Hosts don't offer support because we want to force it on the client, hosts offer support because the client WANTS it...

    If some guy on the street walked up to me and said hey, I want a website and I said, ok, I hooked up a server for you...it would get him no where. It would be the equivalent of selling a 3 year old a car and handing him the keys...it just wouldn't work.

  22. #22
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    FernGullyGraphics;

    As to your point about expensive servers being better than pc's, I understand but (and there is always a but) it does not play through when I read the general preponderance of the posts on this board and others like it. I see recommendations to build hosting companies on VPS's. I see customers admonished to move from their host that is using a four core machine to one with an eight core machine (the cheap laptop I am typing on has six cores). I see providers calling themselves "cloud hosts" that are taking several lightweight machines together, building VMs with cPanel and purporting that they can be used by "hosting companies". etc... etc...

    Truly, there is a place for "shared hosting" but technology has moved on and if this board is representative of an "industry" someone is getting stuck - it appears to be the customer.

  23. #23
    Unfortunately there a lot of "slumlords" in the hosting business, but luckily there is a lot of serious hosting companies too.

    A lot of people with websites do need somebody to take care of the technical issues since they simply dont have the time, feel the need to know or want to bother with whats going on behind their CMS. If its working, they are happy. If its not, they want somebody to fix it.
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  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by srfreeman View Post
    Daniel B;

    I pose to you that hosting (providing storage and bandwidth) is simply providing a product, not a service. Consulting is providing a service. Mixing it together and providing a support person that says "Yep, it is down" today and "Software sucks, I'll see what I can do" tomorrow just seems wrong. Servers don't cook and cooks don't serve and having the server say "Yep, the cook sucks" is always bad.

    At this level, hearing "You'll have to wait, Dad's using the pc" was somehow more satisfying.
    I would agree that providing storage and bandwidth is providing a product, but you can do exactly that, without including services such as server management and technical support. You CAN rent/buy servers to do what you want with(in a legal sense), but they can get pricey, and most people don't know how to properly manage a server issue, let alone patch up newly discovered exploits with a simple upgrade.

    Anyone that wants to can find his own server to manage CAN indeed do so. There's nothing stopping him. People choose to host on a shared server with other clients, because it fits their budget and they don't have the time nor knowledge to manage it themselves. Like Fern said..

    Quote Originally Posted by FernGullyGraphics View Post
    This is assuming the customer is calling the company because something is wrong? What if the customer just has a general question about how to set-up or redirect email? Maybe the client is having some issues installing a script? Or perhaps the issue is only related to the customers website and not the entire server?
    Sometimes there is just an issue with his website alone, and there isn't a problem with the server itself. Technical support aren't just there to say "the server is down. sorry, it's just the crappy software".

    I really don't mean this the wrong way but.. You remind me of a colleague of mine. He's going for a general business undergraduate degree, and he would try and explain to me how to run a successful web hosting business. He was very entertaining to say the least.

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    Daniel B;

    If someone on the street wants a website, they need to talk to a provider, a consultant, that can build a website.

    Providing the hosting environment for that website requires a different skill set.

    Having the same person do both means that neither aspect gets the attention it deserves and results in a customer that at some level is dissatisfied.

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