From our blog:

A few weeks ago, I tried to explain to my brother one of the differences between Modwest and a lot of other hosts. After failing to succinctly describe the advantages of our web hosting system on the phone, I took some time to write it all out. Here's the result:

Many web hosting companies set up standalone servers, each providing all services for the customers on that server. In contrast, Modwest runs a load-balanced cluster of servers to distribute the task of serving web pages and handling email among many servers.

The standalone server philosophy adopted by many of our competitors is pretty simple. It has the benefit of being easy to get started, since you just need one server. You install all the server software to support required internet services clients expect (such as a hosting control panel and the alphabet soup of HTTP, MySQL, POP3, IMAP, DNS, FTP, SSH), and then start selling. In theory, as your customer base grows, you eventually get a second server, a third, and so on.

While it has the advantage of simplicity, one way the single-server approach can get you into trouble is when one or more customers on a server gets a sudden influx of traffic, whether due to a big advertising campaign, a link from a popular site, or just viral word-of-mouth success. Suddenly, the server goes from humming along nicely to an overloaded condition: alarms sound, performance slows to a crawl -- or fails completely -- for all customers using all services on that machine.

We do it a different way.

Google found many years ago that it makes a lot of sense to deploy massive computational power not with huge expensive "enterprise" servers, but by using thousands and thousands of commodity machines. So, when any one server fails, the impact on user experience is generally non-existent. And Google can obviously handle massive amounts of traffic.

While nowhere near Google's scale, we've pursued a similar strategy with the Modwest hosting system. We have a large group of servers responsible for serving the web pages of thousands of our customer sites, we have a separate group of servers responsible for handling their mail services, and multiple MySQL servers that do nothing but database queries for these websites.

We call this "group of groups" the Modwest Grid. Click for full-sized image.

Is this the same as "cloud hosting"? Not exactly. There is some similarity in that with both Modwest and cloud hosting you have massive computing resources available should your site suddenly need it. But with the cloud, you pay variably based on computing resources actually used. At Modwest, you get get it all for one price. Cloud hosting is more similar to the standalone philosophy, except that the standalone server can expand and contract its computing resources (and bill you accordingly) as demand fluctuates.

What does the Modwest Grid mean to you, the site owner?

  • If you (or another customer) gets a link on the front page of Digg or Huffington Post or MSNBC, there's a lot more "headroom" at Modwest to accommodate the increased traffic. That's because sudden influxes of web traffic are divided among multiple servers, increasing the work each must do by just a fraction of what a single standalone server would suffer.
  • If another customer's script runs out of control and somehow takes a server down, there are plenty of others to pick up the traffic and avoid any interruption in service.
  • If a webserver physically fails for some reason, other servers seamlessly pick up the workload.

As this more detailed explanation sunk in, my brother had an "a-ha" moment. Hopefully you too now have a better understanding of the benefits of the Modwest hosting architecture.