We talked earlier about the importance of redundancy. Naturally, an equally critical concern is security, both of the data itself and the servers that host it. After all, if you choose the wrong web hosting provider, your e-commerce site might end up stored in their basement or garage.

Host Duplex spares no expense when it comes to protection. Steadfast‘s Chicago data center houses the majority of our servers in the Equinix building, renowned throughout the industry as a fortress to be reckoned with. (Just getting into the building requires a background check, for starters.) There, each server has two power supplies, each with its own feed, battery backup, and diesel generator capable of running each machine for hours. Beyond even that, Steadfast has a contract with a local fuel provider to bring in extra diesel fuel immediately should any major outage ever occur. Not to be outdone, we have our own large stock of parts stored at our facility, ready to remedy any hardware issues at a moment’s notice.

On the software side of the occasion, our automated monitoring system keeps a constant watch for exploits, vulnerabilities, and any suspicious behavior, keeping our live staff alert around the clock. Our management service, should a client choose to make use of it, also installs and configures the client’s firewalls, while at the same time optimizing server performance, running updates, and performing weekly checks across all systems. (Clients always have the option of installing and configuring their own firewalls, of course.)

Together with some of the industry’s brightest minds and strongest facilities, Host Duplex ensures that your data is as safe and rock-solid as it possibly can be.

When you hear the words “customer service,” what comes to mind? Most likely, frustration. Too often, paying customers run up against convoluted voicemail systems, long wait times, and, if they’re patient and lucky enough, disinterested phone reps who may or may not care about the issue, may or may not be able to fix it, and may or may not speak their language.

That’s not to say that there aren’t good customer service reps. There most certainly are. Unfortunately, it’s the negative experiences that tend to stick in our memories more than the smooth and positive ones. Good businesses are aware of that, and take steps to ensure that every interaction with a client goes as smoothly as possible.

Needless to say, that goes double for the business of web hosting, where time is measured in milliseconds, and every millisecond of down time is a potential drain on a client’s income. A paying client deserves stability and security, but more than that, he or she deserves to know that, should any issues ever arise, customer service will be on the job at once.

How It’s Done

To ensure that the dozens, hundreds, or thousands of active clients all receive the attention they deserve, a worthwhile provider uses both live, 24-hour technicians and a system of automated monitors. The automated system keeps constant watch, always on the lookout for anomalies of any kind; should one ever occur, the system notifies the live techs at once with a chain of alerts and notifications. With this system in place, a client rarely has to call in at all.

Treating the Client Right

On those occasions when a client does call in an issue, there are certain expectations of professional courtesy that every rep and technician should meet. A worthwhile web hosting provider treats each client with respect, not only as a paying customer and as an individual, but as someone who’s entrusted a part of their livelihood, sometimes a critical part, to the provider’s care. Whatever the issue might be, a web hosting provider’s customer service and tech support departments have the professional and ethical obligation to guide the client toward a solution, and to do it in a friendly, approachable manner.

In a perfect world, we’d all associate customer service not with frustration and disappointment, but with hardworking, courteous professionals who’d help us out right when we need it most. For now, what we can do — right here in this business, where customer service is crucial — is work toward that ideal by setting an example every day.

When choosing a web hosting provider, it’s tempting to go with the cheapest possible option. After all, why pay anywhere from $10 to $40+ a month when you can pay five bucks or less?

Well, several reasons.

Since the early days of the internet, fly-by-night providers — and even a few of the larger, more established ones — have been offering ridiculously low prices, often packaged together with impossibly lofty promises (check out the earlier entry on “unlimited” bandwidth). Before signing on with that kind of deal, here are a few things to consider:

What Rock-Bottom Prices Really Mean

  • A provider’s hardware budget comes, in large part, from their hosting fees, or lack thereof. A provider who charges pocket change isn’t likely to have much more than pocket change for maintenance, upgrades, or overhead. It’s not uncommon for budget providers to host their clients’ sites on ramshackle custom-built machines, machines that often fail, without enough redundancy in place to keep their clients’ sites up when they do go down. It goes without saying that even a few hours’ down time can cost an e-commerce site hundreds, thousands, or more in lost business — much more than they “save” on hosting fees, and that’s if a few hours is all it takes for the site to come back.
  • On a related note, a provider who skimps on hardware isn’t likely to spend much on customer service either. When it comes to e-commerce, tech support has to be decisive, effective, and immediate — and more than that, a paying client has the right to know that it will be. Sadly, there’s an entire genre of stories about poor customer service, much of it online. A fly-by-night provider might take hours, even days or longer, to answer back, and may or may not be able to solve the problem. In the worst cases — they’ve been rare, but they do happen — entire websites have been lost.

Bargain-bin rates are certainly eye-catching, and they may appeal to your pocketbook, but be aware of those long-term costs, and always read the fine print.

When you invest a little extra, you’re investing in better hardware, ongoing upgrades, higher security, capable customer service, and, above all, reliability. What it all adds up to is peace of mind, and that’s something more valuable than any discount.

Hello all.

I wanted to step in and provide some advice (while trying to be as unbiased as possible, of course) for those of you shopping for web hosting providers.

While there are hundreds of hosting providers out there, there are many areas you should research when it comes to your next hosting purchase. I’ve personally read and heard hundreds of horror stories. Believe me, asking questions and taking your time will save you hours (sometimes days) of time and effort, not to mention headaches.

I listed some topics and questions to ask and think about when making a decision on your next web hosting provider. These are especially important if you’re generating income from your site.

1. Background
What type of technical background do their employees have? Are they a legitimate company? Have they incorporated? Are their employees in-house or do they outsource? Ask questions. Call them, email them, chat with them.

2. How long have they been around?
You would be shocked at the number of fly-by-night operations around. Hosting companies come and go more often than you can imagine. Horror stories about them are scattered all over the internet, stories so bad that they’re almost unbelievable. Some of the clients we’ve brought in were burned in the past by those same companies, and burned badly. In the worst cases, the companies lost all their clients’ data, which is especially heartbreaking since several of them depended on their websites for their sole source of income.

3. What do their clients (past and current) say about them? Read reviews.
Google is your friend. Search forums. Do they have a Facebook page? Read testimonials.

While doing your research on reviews, be wary of fake review sites. There are many of them. I’d avoid the ones that display “Top 10 Hosting Companies” on their homepage, etc. Many of our competitors like to create their own hosting review sites, and consistently rank themselves at the top.

4. What is the average response time to support questions? (Experienced techs are key!)
Response time is important. You don’t want to be waiting until the next day to hear back. Resolution time is more important. There are companies who boast about a quick response time, but what good is that going to do if the issue is prolonged and hasn’t been resolved? This is where it pays to go with a company with knowledgeable techs.

5. How many clients are on each server? What is the average load on the server?
I’ve seen companies pack as many as 5,000 clients into a shared environment onto one machine. Yes, it may be a fast server, but any more than a few hundred small sites is asking for trouble. I like to call these companies “shared jam operations.” You’ll see this with providers who offer plans at <$5 per month. Things may be great at first, but as they pack on more clients, you’ll quickly notice the performance decline.

6. Where is their datacenter?
The geographic location itself isn’t always important, but are they in a legitimate datacenter and not in their own basement?

7. Do they provide network redundancy?
Who are their network carriers?
Note: As a heads up, be wary of ones that use Cogent as a primary carrier.

8. Power redundancy?
Ask for more details; how far do they go to ensure constant power? A battery backup from Best Buy won’t do anything to keep your site online. How often do they test their generators? Have they been performing maintenance and replacing the batteries in their UPS (Uninterruptible power supply) systems?

9. Hardware Redundancy?
Do they offer RAID? If you’re not familiar, RAID provides protection against the failure of a hard drive.

What types of hard drives do they use? Are they consumer grade drives or enterprise grade? While performance between some consumer grade and enterprise grade drives are nearly the same, consumer grade drives have a much higher failure rate, and you’d be surprised at the number of providers using them. Enterprise drives are thoroughly tested and built with better components.

10. What type of technology do they use? (Control Panel, Virtualization Technology)
Does it include 1-click installation of popular apps/software?

Everyone is going to sell you on their control panel. It may not be the most important factor. IMHO as long as it is very secure, easy to use, and does not affect performance, you should be fine. cPanel is the most widely-used control panel in the hosting industry today, and it has been for years. We use them because it is the most tested and secure system available. Plesk is another very reputable control panel company.

If you are purchasing a VPS or going with cloud services, be sure to read up on their virtualization technology. Some systems are built much better than others, but all have their pros and cons. A VPS is much better than being on a shared platform, and all of these technologies provide isolation from other clients in one form or the other. We chose XenServer technology because it provides the most isolation of anything available today. IMO, it’s even better than dedicated servers because of its scalability. You can dedicate more CPUs, RAM, and/or hard drive space, all on demand.

11. What type of scripting/programming languages does your site require?
If you are having your site designed, be sure to ask your developer what programming language they are using. Is it PHP, ASP, ColdFusion etc? If you are using ASP, you’ll want to be hosted on a Windows platform. (There are some providers that have managed to provide ASP using Linux, but I wouldn’t recommended it.)

12. Feature set
What features do you require? WebMail, email forwarders, 1-click installs? Be sure to ask the host if it is included in their packages.

13. Bandwidth and Disk Space
In the last 5 to 7 years, there has been an ugly trend in the hosting industry. Many companies are now using the terms Bandwidth and Disk Space simply for marketing. The average shopper looks at the numbers. Most will ask, “How much disk space am I provided with?” “How much bandwidth?” A number of companies advertise 1TB of disk space, 3TB or even worse, “Unlimited Disk Space, Unlimited Bandwidth. All for less than $10/month.” Think for a second; is that possible? If it were true, Facebook would be on this $10/month plan. Clearly, it’s not. It’s all about numbers.

Once you go above a certain threshold with a provider, it’s very likely you’ll be suspended — or sometimes even terminated — for either too much CPU usage or resources. Read the fine print. Many companies state that if you use 10% of the server’s resources, you may be suspended or terminated immediately. IMO, if you plan on expanding, you should avoid these “unlimited” plans altogether.

Hopefully, these questions will help your decision making.

We pride ourselves on service, support, and provide personal attention. (Yes, I know it sounds cliché, but read our reviews, and check our Facebook page; it’s true.)

If have questions about about us or hosting in general, please feel free to contact us anytime 24/7 by phone. 312-957-6000 or call us toll-free 877.7.DUPLEX

HostingCon 2010 is off to a great start. An estimated 1500 attendees are at Hostingcon. This morning has been filled with great speakers.

I recently had a run-in with a certain appliance company when they came into my condo to perform maintenance on a refrigerator.  I was appalled at how rude, discourteous, insulting and borderline racist the repairman was.  I won’t go to into details what happened in the altercation, however swift action was taken.  While I was upset at what had happened, I was pleasantly surprised at the caliber of professionalism of the customer care staff.  They promptly offered multiple apologies and assured me of swift punishment for the said individual.    I’m actually still receiving emails and tweets with apologies from the company.

Within 30 minutes of sending the formal complaint via email, there were representatives immediately calling my direct line to offer apologies.  This kind of response is absolutely necessary in our industry.  Web hosting needs to have immediate response and readily available technicians at all times.  There is nothing more frustrating than having downtime or a problem and having no one to turn to.

Ever since our launch, we have always stressed excellent customer service.  Having great customer service isn’t a hard task.  We keep our formula simple to make life for you guys easier.

1. Quick Response – We receive real time updates so the instant we receive a ticket, we are immediately at work to answer your questions.  If there is an issue, our philosophy is FCR, that is first contact resolution. We do our best to make sure the first response you receive is a resolution. Our executive staff receive live updates and are under the same protocols as our regular staff members. Many of our new customers have worked directly with our CEO to bring their websites over, we are always ready to work.

2. Courteous Professional Technicians – To work as a support staff, credentials aren’t enough.  I don’t care if your last name is the Michael Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Our staff has to be personable, friendly, and professional additional to being knowledgeable.  I cannot stand when I contact a company and their customer service representatives sound like they absolutely hate life, or when then they’re outsourced and can’t speak my language.

3. Updates – Should an issue arise, we will immediately begin updating our customers using not only via traditional methods including email and phone support, but also via social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

These 3 simple rules serve as the umbrella for the conduct and protocols of excellent customer service.  By keeping it simple, we eliminate any ambiguity on how our customers deserve to be treated.

There’s been a very ugly trend in the web hosting industry as of late regarding ‘unlimited’ bandwidth plans.  Web hosting providers are advertising ‘unlimited’ bandwidth in order to seem like they can provide something they cannot.  This is simply an IMPOSSIBLE task.  When a customer then exceeds their cpu LIMIT as stated in the terms of service their service often gets suspended or even completely terminated (wait i thought you said it was unlimited?!).

The reason for the existence of these plans is that for the majority of websites who consume such a small amount of bandwidth, bandwidth seems unlimited because they don’t have the capability to exceed.  If you’re never exceeding and there’s no problems, then the bandwidth does in fact seem unlimited.  However, websites that have high traffic, i.e. online retailers that have plenty of graphics and customers will be affected by high bandwidth.

Keeping it Simple

Disk Space: The space on the server you have to completely store your website

Bandwidth: Amount you have to transfer web pages from the servers to your browser (FF, IE, Safari, Google Chrome) etc. that the visitor is using.

Think of a car,  The entire car is the disk space.  Some cars can hold 2 people, some can hold 8.  The gas would be like the bandwidth.  What affects your bandwidth would be the things that affect gas mileage.  The more of those things you have on, the less mileage you get.  Now imagine, an automaker advertising that they are offering cars with unlimited gas tanks, and gas mileage is a non issue.  Sounds fishy doesn’t it?  Now lets take the car for a drive with the Air Conditioning on until the gas runs out.  We now go to the automaker and complain, and they simply say that according to the terms of service, we weren’t allowed to drive a certain distance anyway, so to remedy the situation, we have to buy a bigger car with a bigger gas tank.

OR, you exceeded your bandwidth so you now have to buy a bigger plan that allows more bandwidth and is much more costly because the webhoster lied that they could provide unlimited service.

Now What?

To avoid situations like these, simply estimate your bandwidth and choose the appropriate plan or our specialists can help you with this process.  You may have noticed that HD does not offer an unlimited plan.

Happy Earth Day!!!

One thing that I’ve noticed with today’s industry (and not just with web hosting) is that companies are trying their best to reduce if not neutralize their carbon footprint. In our industry, where data centers consume almost 5% of the all the worlds power, carbon reduction is of the utmost importance.

What companies are really doing is they are neutralizing their carbon footprint to offset their carbon emissions. They can do this through funding different green projects such as wind and solar energy, and by reducing their own carbon emissions through more responsible energy consumption

What are we doing?

1. Data Center: Our Data Center is now using more efficient HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, Air Conditioning) systems.  An example of of one of the measures our data center has taken is that we are using water cooling to cool the servers, which in turn much cleaner and much more  efficient then traditional methods.

2.Virtualization: Virtualization technology has revolutionized the IT industry.  We have fully utilize virtualization for our own in-house purposes packages that efficiently utilize each of our servers.  We have also created VPS packages for our users.  If you do not need an entire server, why pay for one?  You’re saving money, space, and power.  We offer Virtual Private Servers which are based on your needs,  segments an entire portion of a server.  You’re usage and space is yours alone, and now you are using your space as monetarily and technologically efficient as possible.

3. Server Utilization:  Some web hosting companies may overlook utlization.  4 servers being used at 50% capacity still all use 100% power.  We use virtualization in our servers to maximize efficiency.  By using one server to process multiple virtual machines that handle different applications we can now maximize the space used while minimizing power consumed.  i.e. instead of using 8 servers (4 redundant pairs), we can use two servers using virtualization to efficiently maximize all the capabilities of each server.

4. LIGHTING:  I stress this because so many people overlook something as simple as efficient bulbs, and even simpler, turning lights off when not in use.  A couple measures we have taken are to use reduced wattage bulbs as well as LEDs.  We are also in the process of installing timers for the lights for facilities such as the restrooms and kitchens.  Another simple measure, is opening all the blinds during work hours.

5. Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs): Offsetting our carbon emission to create a greener planet and we are always trying to offset our carbon footprint.  One of ways to do this is through RECs.  These are  certificates fund different projects throughout the world to create renewable energy sources.  We are currently very interested in researching solar and wind energy.  The companies we have expressed creating partnerships with are among the top REC distributors following all EPA regulations and creating their renewable energy sources in sites that are as carbon neutral as possible.

In the world of web hosting, there’s plenty of terms that get used without companies providing adequate definitions.  I wanted to take some time and share a few words with you about Redundancy.

Redundancy is in layman’s terms backup.  There are also several different types of redundancy: Network, Hardware, Power, and Geographic. A solid web hosting company will have multiple layers of Redundancy to ensure that your data is safe and to maximize your uptime.

Network Redundancy:

This backup is simply for the network a web hosting company uses to get you online.  Reliable proviers have multiple internet carriers that their servers use to ensure that your website never goes down.

Hardware Redundancy:

This backup is for the physical pieces of server hardware.   For instance one layer of redundancy is for the hard drives.  Here at Host Duplex, if a hard drive fails in our Dell PowerEdge servers, your site will not go offline, we have hot spares in place so our RAID arrays are immediately rebuilt.  We have a similar system for our sticks of RAM.

Power Redundancy:

These are the backups for the power that keeps your servers and data center running.  All of our servers have redundant power supply units.  Each PSU has a feed from a different utility company.  Each feed is also connected to it’s own UPS (uninterrupted power supply) which hold 3 hours of battery backup should the data center lose power, which is also connected to diesel generators should a power outage last longer than 3 hours.  So if an entire feed fails, including the feed’s UPS and generator, there is still a second feed from a separate electric provider with its own UPS and generator to keep your site online.

Geographic Redundancy

Finally there is geographic redundancy.  Host Duplex provides geographic redundancy services so that in the case of a complete datacenter failure, your site can be rerouted to a different datacenter.  I’m proud to say our data center is protected like Fort Knox and has enough redundancy to remain operational through natural disasters.  However, should the apocalypse take down our data center, Host Duplex offers services to have your site working non-stop in our Denver datacenter.

Hopefully this clears up any confusion or questions regarding Redundancy.  If you have further questions, feel free to comment, or shoot us an email directly.

Presenting at The University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial CenterI’m very pleased to report that our presentation at the University of Iowa Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory (BELL) for student entrepreneurs went without a hitch.   My first reaction was that there was an excellent turnout, even though it was the Friday (April 2, 2010) before a holiday.  My second reaction was there was an abundance of Papa Johns Pizza!  A big thank you goes out to Lynn Allendorf of the John PappaJohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) not only for lunch, but also for the amazing opportunity to share our experiences and knowledge with upcoming entrepreneurs who came to the BELL

We held some very interesting conversations with Jordan Tivers of, Iowa City business owner Mokotsi Rukundo of The CorNroC, Golf Database, Hawk City Productions LLC, SMARTERX, and others.  We were very excited to hear of their successes.  I am convinced that our success can help our fellow entrepreneurs in the future and am very excited to continue relations with the rest of the Bedell entrepreneurs.

This opportunity was a great one to not only educate the students on what to look for when searching for the appropriate web hosting company, but to also offer our web hosting services.  I was very pleased to hear the entrepreneurs were interested in our Virtual Dedicated Servers.  I am confident that this first step will lead to a long lasting relationship with the many generations of University of Iowa Bedell student entrepreneurs to come.