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  1. #1

    At what point do you know you're technically qualified to be a webhost?

    At what point do you know you know enough technically to be a webhost and handle your own system and network admin?

    Lets say you want to:

    1) offer hosting on dedicated FreeBSD or Linux servers that run in someone else's datacenter;

    2) provide a great webhosting service and value to your customers;

    3) know what you are doing and know enough to handle what is likely to come up over time.


    Where exactly is the line between what you do and don't have to know knowledge wise and be able to do skill wise?

    What knowledge and skill in what areas is essential and what is not regarding:

    the operating system and utilities;
    system admin (and what does this include);
    networking setup and admin;
    remote admin;
    troubleshooting;
    software installation and maintenence (Apache, PHP, MySQL, etc.);
    ***security, monitoring and response to trouble***;
    backup and recovery;
    other stuff one needs to know and be able to do.

    Of course, the more you know the better, but a person can spend the rest of their life learning more and more in any one of the above areas I mentioned.

    At what point is one fully technically qualified to offer webhosting and do a great job at it for their customers? And how long would you guess it would take an intelligent person new to FreeBSD/Linux to get to that point at a minimum if they worked at it?

    Any thing you could add on how to proceed or what couse of study to pursue would also be very much appreciated. I'm very serious about this -- and about wanting to be fully qualified enough to both run a top notch webhosting company and to give customers excellent value and service.


    Thanks a million for sharing,

    Louis
    Last edited by stlouislouis; 10-11-2002 at 05:02 PM.

  2. #2
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    if you know how to administer everything and run your business then i'd recommend the following:

    1) work in a retail store (such as kmart or target) and find out what some customers are really like...this develops your "people skills"

    2) stay up for 20 hours straight, living on coffee and suckers....

    3) don't talk to your significant other for about a week....if he/she doesn't get pissed, then you are ready...

    but seriously, have a solid business plan ready...you can't know EVERYTHING, but when you feel you are ready, then move on..

  3. #3
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    Well appearently you don't need the following:
    To speak, type, and spell the language you'll be primarily marketing to properly.
    To be able to mathematically figure out your profit margin and guage what it will take to stay in business for a long time.

    But if you are willing to promise all kinds of things regardless of wether or not you can actually provide them, and have a good line to give potenial customers, you are all set.
    DANG DANG! DANG!!
    I know ***** ripped off everybody else, but they wouldn't do it to me.
    "When you use bottom feed for bait, you are only going to catch bottom feeders."
    "You do what you are, and you are what you do."

  4. #4
    Originally posted by ATST
    Well appearently you don't need the following:
    To speak, type, and spell the language you'll be primarily marketing to properly.
    To be able to mathematically figure out your profit margin and guage what it will take to stay in business for a long time.

    But if you are willing to promise all kinds of things regardless of wether or not you can actually provide them, and have a good line to give potenial customers, you are all set.
    ATST,

    The focus of this thread is on the technical knowledge and skills of being a webhost -- not the business and marketing areas you refer to in your post above.

    It should be clear from my above post that I have no interest in promising what I can't deliver, nor on having a "good line" to give to potential customers -- rather solid service and value.

    Moreover, no flame to you is intended, but I really would appreciate on topic, honest, solid advice and sharing.


    Thank you,

    Louis

  5. #5
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    Re: At what point do you know you're technically qualified to be a webhost?

    Originally posted by stlouislouis
    At what point do you know you know enough technically to be a webhost and handle your own system and network admin?

    Lets say you want to:

    1) offer hosting on dedicated FreeBSD or Linux servers that run in someone else's datacenter;

    2) provide a great webhosting service and value to your customers;

    3) know what you are doing and know enough to handle what is likely to come up over time.


    Where exactly is the line between what you do and don't have to know knowledge wise and be able to do skill wise?

    What knowledge and skill in what areas is essential and what is not regarding:

    the operating system and utilities;
    system admin (and what does this include);
    networking setup and admin;
    remote admin;
    troubleshooting;
    software installation and maintenence (Apache, PHP, MySQL, etc.);
    ***security, monitoring and response to trouble***;
    backup and recovery;
    other stuff one needs to know and be able to do.

    Of course, the more you know the better, but a person can spend the rest of their life learning more and more in any one of the above areas I mentioned.

    At what point is one fully technically qualified to offer webhosting and do a great job at it for their customers? And how long would you guess it would take an intelligent person new to FreeBSD/Linux to get to that point at a minimum if they worked at it?

    Any thing you could add on how to proceed or what couse of study to pursue would also be very much appreciated. I'm very serious about this -- and about wanting to be fully qualified enough to both run a top notch webhosting company and to give customers excellent value and service.

    Thanks a million for sharing,

    Louis
    ALL of those things are essential, IMHO. I wouldnt TRY hosting someone on an OS I can't tear down and fix with my own skills.

    Toss in some people skills, a business plan, and some commitment and luck, and you might have a success story.

  6. #6
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    Originally posted by akash
    2) stay up for 20 hours straight, living on coffee and suckers....

    3) don't talk to your significant other for about a week....if he/she doesn't get pissed, then you are ready...
    hahah! Outside the technical aspects, the above are definitely something you need to keep in mind. You are most likely not going to be able to only work 9-5, and keep your weekends open, etc. Definitely not in the beginning.

    Technical aspects:
    * Can you and your staff troubleshoot problems on your platform of choice, be it FreeBSD/RH Linux, etc? Do you know where to look when you don't have the answers?
    * Are you comfortable installing RPMs (on RH) or compiling source packages with GCC?
    * Can you monitor and interpret the system logs? messages, maillog, etc.
    * Do you have a working knowledge of MySQL databases + permissions?
    * Do you have a working knowledge of Apache: locations of the log files, config files, installing modules, installing SSL certificates, etc.
    * You'll owe it to your customers to understand the importance of redundancy for contingency/recovery planning. This includes redundant power, bandwidth, RAID disk arrays, etc. You can delegate some of this to data center personnel -- though it's always important to understand what needs to be done, even if you're not personally doing it.

    Personal aspects:
    * How much time can you devote to your company? Running a 24/7 webhost, your doors are never truly closed. Are you able to respond to emergencies at 4am? Weekends?
    * Do you have some cash saved up and a solid idea of how you're going to set yourself apart from the pack to attract new prey---- erm, clients? If you're struggling to meet financial demands, you're not necessarily at your innovative peak -- though I know some people personally who thrive on that kind of pressure.

    Just some quick notes from our experience. If you have any questions or concerns, especially regarding a good-sized FreeBSD 4.6+ setup w/ RAID 0/1 and redundant hardware -- PM me!
    Jeff Standen, Chief of R&D, WebGroup Media LLC. - LinkedIn
    Cerb is a fast and flexible web-based platform for business collaboration and automation. http://www.cerbweb.com/

  7. #7
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    Excuse me for not finding a way to dryly emphisize lauguage skills for your target market.
    While not technical, communtication skills are essential. You can hire out any technical areas in which you are lacking if you have good communication skills.
    You can't know everything. What is most important, is that you recognise what you don't know, and have the resources at your disposal.
    Last edited by ATST; 10-11-2002 at 06:34 PM.
    DANG DANG! DANG!!
    I know ***** ripped off everybody else, but they wouldn't do it to me.
    "When you use bottom feed for bait, you are only going to catch bottom feeders."
    "You do what you are, and you are what you do."

  8. #8
    ATST,

    Thanks for the clarification. What you say is of course true.

    However, I'm planning to start as a one person company. I'll need to do the technical support myself to keep starting cost low; thus won't be able to outsource for awhile. So since I'll be doing everything technical for a good long while, I posted this thread with my quesions.


    Thanks again,

    Louis

  9. #9
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    However, I'm planning to start as a one person company.
    I wasn't kidding in my post...#2 and #3....you'll need to practice that. It is A LOT of hard work...

  10. #10
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    Originally posted by akash


    I wasn't kidding in my post...#2 and #3....you'll need to practice that. It is A LOT of hard work...
    You're absolutely right. But not just staying up for 20 hours straight. Staying on the COMPUTER 20 hours straight...

    A lot of people think this is easy stuff, but it is EXTREMELY stressful and hard both on you and your loved ones. Especially at the very beginning. If you've got a wife or a girlfriend, best hope she's pretty understanding...

    As far as technical knowledge goes, you need a fair amount. You don't need to know everything, but you need to be able to diagnose problems and think your way around a system. You also need to know where to look to read about what you don't know. (sometimes you'll be under pressure to have such info in a few seconds or a minute or 2, so you better get real good at it)

    Either install linux on an extra computer in your home or get a dedicated server and spend a month or two playing with it and tweaking things. Once you've done that, you're ahead of many who start in this business.

  11. #11
    What exactly takes working 20 hours straight -- and pretty much working all the time in general?

    Is it system maintenence duties (if so, what takes up most of the time?)? Manually adding customers (I would think one could automate that)? Monitoring things? Learning new stuff? Doing non-technical/business related stuff? What?

    And for how long does one have to work "around the clockish"? Until one gets one's maintnence task automated -- or are there time consuming task that just consume one's time pretty much permanently?

    Are you mostly referring to time spent handling customer service request (that one might outsource to some company like bobcares.com) -- or are you referring to time spent on the infrustructure -- keeping the servers up and running well?


    Again, thank you all very much for sharing.

    I very much appreciate it,

    Louis

  12. #12
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    Well there ARE plenty of software packages (control panels and/or "webhosting controllers") that can automate (or at least make far less gruntwork) of adding accounts, domains, etc.

    (I would HIGHLY suggest using one of them! With such repetative tasks errors can creep in pretty easily if you arent paying close attention, since the tasks are relatively simple and get done so often attention wavers.)

  13. #13
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    Originally posted by stlouislouis
    What exactly takes working 20 hours straight -- and pretty much working all the time in general?

    Is it system maintenence duties (if so, what takes up most of the time?)? Manually adding customers (I would think one could automate that)? Monitoring things? Learning new stuff? Doing non-technical/business related stuff? What?

    And for how long does one have to work "around the clockish"? Until one gets one's maintnence task automated -- or are there time consuming task that just consume one's time pretty much permanently?

    Are you mostly referring to time spent handling customer service request (that one might outsource to some company like bobcares.com) -- or are you referring to time spent on the infrustructure -- keeping the servers up and running well?


    Again, thank you all very much for sharing.

    I very much appreciate it,

    Louis
    In short, it's all of the above that keeps you that busy. Sure you can outsource your support to BobCares. But does Bob really care as much about your business as you do? Chances are no, because Bob is looking to answer support requests, not propel your business into the stratosphere.

    Of course, not all hosts are quite that dedicated. It all depends on what you want to put into it. Of course, that will have a direct effect on what you get out of it.

  14. #14
    bobcares is offline [email protected]
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    Actually bob does really care on how your business moves. We have said bye to customers many times if we feel what they are doing is unethical or would put them in problems. The only reason for all this is simple. When our client grows it means we too grow. Everybody wants strong business clients where both have a dependency on each other. If we were to look just into tickets we may not have lasted till now.
    We feel happy that we have some customers who have grown from a single server to over 10 servers in 6 months odd. That equates to us getting 10 times more from a single customer and we know the client and his servers well...

    My point here is that it is all about having the right providers and clients... Alliances help the growth. As one said that we really can't learn everything and then start. For that we must know tech , marketing , accounts , etc... That is a lot to know.

    One must have a strong business plan and a desire to put in effort and money then hosting can really be a great business.

    Have a great day

    Regards
    Amar
    A student once asked his teacher, "Master, what is enlightenment?"
    The master replied, "When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep. When you need care, come to bobcares...."

  15. #15
    Thanks a lot to everyone for the above replies. I appreciate your sharing.

    I'm still not sure just how much one needs to learn to be a fully qualified host technical wise -- just where the line is between what one does and does not need to know -- nor how long it might take to learn all the stuff one needs to know and if a company like bobcares.com can in effect shore one up when one gets over one's head system admin wise.

    I know a person could get a managed server. But I suspect to be profitable long term, one would need to manage one's own servers -- and develop the ability to do so, thus my posting this thread.

    Thanks again to everyone -- and best wishes to all,

    Louis

  16. #16
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    Originally posted by akash

    2) stay up for 20 hours straight, living on coffee and suckers....
    Now, now, we like to refer to them as "Customers", not suckers .

  17. #17
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    good one allan
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  18. #18
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    stlouislouis,

    I'm still not sure just how much one needs to learn to be a fully qualified host technical wise -- just where the line is between what one does and does not need to know -- nor how long it might take to learn all the stuff one needs to know and if a company like bobcares.com can in effect shore one up when one gets over one's head system admin wise.
    If you are still on for input, I would say that the most valuable experience will come:
    - when the network was down
    - when one of your client is using too much bandwith
    - when something went wrong with the server
    - when your router was down
    - when someone tried to hack your servers
    - when the backup failed
    - when other disasters occur

    I thought I knew something, but the longer I am in this business, the more I felt that I don't know enough. It's a lifetime learning, so you have to start somehow.

    The knowledge will come to you in due time. Experience comes with age. True you can prepare yourself, but not until that time comes, that your skill will be tested and you'll learn even more. The difference is very similar to college education and real life work.

    The general basic skill that I think would be most important for you to measure whether you are ready or not:
    - backup and restore -> very important
    - firewall (ipchains, iptables, etc) for your protection
    - logs and port monitoring
    - at least intermediate knowledge about command line, php, mysql, perl, cgi (if linux), or whatever applications you support

    In terms of provider, make sure that you do a background check first. We got burnt once (although we did some background check already), which cost us about $10K in one month to fix. Also, it is good to have true redundancy, because dependency is bad in this business, but innevitable. If you can spread the load to minimize the risk, that would be preferable.

    Hope this helps

    Best regards,
    ___________
    Reyner N.

  19. #19
    Hi Reyner,

    Yes, I am still up for input on this thread. Thank you very much for sharing!

    Anyone else with something to contribute, please do!

    FWIW, I've been a mainframe programmer for 13 years. Having production responsibility for large mission critical systems, I do understand the difference between what one learns in school and what one learns in the trenches as the years go by.

    In the mainframe programming world, lots of folks find it takes about three years of full time experience before one is generally regarded as fully qualified -- which does not mean one knows it all, but instead that one can pretty much handle one's programming, testing and implementation work task without needing to ask too many questions too often of the more experienced people in one's work group.

    There is another level of being"fully qualified" as a mainframe programmer at about 5 years, still another at ten years, and yet another at twenty years. Most of the difference is from having seen the rare problems that creep up every few years on average for most folks, but can take a long time to remedy the first time they are dealt with. There is always some new problem to figure out one has not seen before. With time one's solutions become better due to experience that only time provides.

    I'm hoping in the webhosting arena it's a matter of months rather than years -- but I simply don't know which -- months or years, nor how many months or years to become fully qualified to offer hosting and do it well.

    My impression is that if one doesn't have the skills to keep the servers running and handle the problems that come up, the amount one would have to pay to have those things done would take most of the profit out of webhosting. At least if one doesn't intend on overloading one's servers (lets say 250 accounts per server on average).


    I agree with you that one learns the most handling the difficulties that come up. I know I have. However, in the mainframe programming world, it's pretty much a team effort where one has teammates that handle lots of non programming and testing task (i.e. database and system admin, etc.) -- unlike what seems to be the case with webhost, where the owner might do everything (with no help desk to call nor "experts on staff" to dive in and work with you to take care of the really tough problems).

    What I find most interesting even now is how little of the workweek the typical programmer actually spends programming. Anywhere from 5 to 30 percent on average most weeks -- except for certian crunch periods where one spends 12 hours days of which 80% or so is spent programming, but that's less than 20% of the year for most folks.

    I hear you on the backup and recovery skills. What most worries me is what happens if one's server goes down due to crackers, one restores from backups, but the crackers just keep taking you down again and again because the same vulnerability is there -- and you don't know enough to close it because it's not something simple that applying a patch or writting a rule would solve; maybe it's taking advantage of some vulnerability that hasn't been mentioned on bugtrac yet.

    It seems to me that protection from security threats is the biggest "need to and is essential to learn" subject area knowledge and skill wise. This is the area I am most unsure of as to what level of knowledge and skill is enough. Please let me know if you think I'm regarding security as more difficult to be fully qualified in than in reality it is.

    To me, running a webhosting company seems attractive, since one can have a source of income independent of a regular job that can both grow into a nice full time income over time and that is a business one can run from home.

    However, being able to provide quality and satisfying service to one's customers and as close to 100% uptime as possible (yet still be profitable and have time for a life too) is quite important to me.

    That's why I'm wondering exactly how much of what I'll need to know skill and knowledge wise before I offer shared hosting on my own dedicated server to paying customers.

    I want to give great service and value, so I want to know I can support customer needs by keeping everything running well. Yet I don't want to fall into the trap of spending forever learning "just one more thing that's essential to know and be able to do" before starting; yet I want to know enough to have a high probability of being successful long term.

    Unix, system admin and networking is new to me. So unlike programming I don't have a feel for how much knowledge and skill is enough. Especially due to the security threat of crackers.

    In the mainframe world everything is very locked down by experts -- and the software is very mature, since the software and "best practices" have been evolving for over 30 years -- and is both well documented and handed down generation to generation pretty well in the mainframe world.

    As a budding webhost, one not only has a lot to learn to function as a "one man band", but learn what to learn, how much and with what priority to assign to each area to make the best use of learning time without benefit of a team of more experienced mentors there who have many years of experience to guide you and that you can learn from.

    It almost seems too much -- yet many here seem to have made it OK -- and have been doing well and growing over time. So I know it's doable, as many here have. My biggest limitation is that I'll have to do it as a one person company to keep start up cost affordable, else it's a no go.


    Thanks again for sharing. I very much appreciate everyone's input.

    Louis
    Last edited by stlouislouis; 10-13-2002 at 10:36 PM.

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