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What would be required to create a web host? Servers? Nameservers? Software? Cpanel? DNS?

If you were to start a web host from the ground up, what would you do? What technologies would you use? Security?

Thanks

edit to clarify: Be a web-host provider. I'm interested in knowing how these operate, what is entailed in creating one. What kinds of software is needed, what kinds of concerns there are, etc. (What to look for when choosing a host...)

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Please clarify .. do you want to host a single web site, or be a "hosting provider" (a la DreamHost) hosting many different sites for other companies? –  tomjedrz May 15 '09 at 14:38
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7 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I have done exactly what you speak of before. I found the industry has a very strong barrier to entry, but here is what I did.

  • Rented a dedicated server with a control panel, in my case Plesk (linux or windows)
  • Bought a domain name to be the "home" of my hosting business
  • The server you buy will likely come with 4-7 IP addresses, you can use these to establish nameservers.
  • Got a Billing platform that integrated directly with plesk for instant setup, in my case ModernBill
  • Get yourself well versed in Linux/Windows security, because as Plesk will handle most of the setup for you of your hosting environment (email, apache, application, dns, etc), it will not do much to really secure the box.

Among many many other little things along the way.

Basically, you can do it all from one server, and if it is beefy enough, you can probably host 100 or so very modest websites on it, but you will find a lot of trouble competing.

In my personal experience, I wound up with about 20 customers, and I was at the break-even point dollars wise, but I was unable to really support the customers and servers as I wanted, being a solo operation. I was not making enough money or growing enough customers fast enough to expand the business so I wound up closing it down.

One thing you really need to consider is the commitment you are making. Once people have a site hosted with you, you are not only dedicated to keep the business going for them, but to maintain uptime and stability. You can't just log into the server at your whim and do things that might affect your uses.

If things start going south, and you decide not to purse the business anymore, it is a real headache assisting your customers with finding a new host, and migrating them to it.

I don't mean to discourage you, but as others have said, it will be near impossible for you to compete with some of the other hosting providers out there, especially in terms of bandwidth/disk storage.

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Web hosting is so cheap nowadays. People buy domains and hosting accounts just for fun anymore. Once you've decided on your platform and specialties, you need to automate, automate, automate.

When someone signs up for an account, they want to use it right away, not wait for someone to pick it from the queue and manually create all the directories and config. It's industry standard to have a control panel UI that gives you all your site config, billing info, and administrative functions available.

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At it's most basic, all you need is a server and a place to plug it in. And you can even rent those from someone else!

As an end user, when looking at a web host the lowest level requirements are: - the ability to host the platform I am using - the ability to host DNS for the domain - easy startup (as spoulson noted). - the ability to manage the site and account myself

Having never been on the other side I can only speculate, however I imagine you need: - a big server and a big internet pipe. - the ability to setup the site account very quickly. - the ability to accept payment electronically. - a management console application for the end user. - a whole bunch of technical chops.

The fact that you can't create a bare bones answer up front should worry you.

Be aware .. hosting is an extremely competitive business; you are competing with 1on1.com, RackSpace and Google. Google "cheap hosting" and you get over 15 million results returned. You might want to pick a specific platform (WordPress and SharePoint are "hot" right now) and start in that niche. Even if you offer some kind of value add or specific skill, it will take a long time and a lot of customers to become viable. It takes a lot of customers at $10/month (or less!) to pay for everything and have something left over for yourself.

Good luck ...

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I am not looking to start a web-hosting provider. Purely searching for knowledge :D. I know a lot of the stuff mentioned, I am also curious as to the "tools of the trade" so to speak. –  kgrad May 15 '09 at 15:32
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Becoming a web hosting provider is becoming very competitive these days. There are so many of them out there. Basically you need a few servers to start with

You can

  1. Roll your own servers but rent the facility, this falls under co-location. This is too much overhead for a small hosting company as you would need expert technician(s) and a qualified network engineer.

  2. You can rent a "lot of" (set) of dedicated servers. There may vendors out there. This is fra cheaper since they would take care of the DNS, NAMESERVERS, NETWORK AND HARDWARE

  3. Then you need your "Hosting Application"...PLESK is pretty popular.

  4. You would also need a CRM Application to track details on your customers. There are many Vendors out there.

  5. You would need your company's web portal which would integrate your e-shop.

Just saw your edit ~ "What to look for when choosing one" - well that a whole new ball game. That process entails

  1. Your component needs lile ASP, ASP.NET, PHP, AJAX, SQL SERVER, MYSQL etc.

  2. Cost.

  3. Hosting Type like SHARED or DEDICATED vs COST

  4. Reliablilty

Look at cost and experience and not just a quick startup.

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What exactly is a "web host" for you? It depends what you want to do.

  1. you should start with the operation system you want to use linux/bsd/windows etc.
  2. next step would be to choose a webserver apache/lighttpd/iis
  3. after this you could add extensions like php/asp/perl/ruby
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It's a very subjective question. For starters you would need to decide what OS you are going to offer, will you offer Windows and ASP.net, or Linux, will you offer PHP, Rails, Java hosting. Before you make any decisions about hardware you need to decide what market you will be aiming at.

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These are certainly some of the concerns I would need, It's not meant to be a definitive answer, more of a what is the scope of the problem type question –  kgrad May 15 '09 at 14:44
    
Yes, but without know what sort of hosting you want to offer, then I can't suggest what sort of technology you need. –  Sam May 15 '09 at 15:11
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Another option would be to use a "cloud" provider. Leverage Amazon's EC2 and S3 to provide hosting services for your clients.

First, create an EC2 image for each service you'll provide. For starters, Apache, FTP, SSH, etc. Also another for databases and another for mail servers. You get the picture.

Then use S3 to actually host the files for the webserver, database, etc.

And you can even let Amazon handle the billing.

It would be a very complex endeavour, integrating everything and such, but you'd get a pretty sweet deal if you can pull this off, IMHO, because you'll charge your clients a fixed monthly fee, but you'll only pay Amazon what they actually use (which most of the time is a very limited amount of resources).

On the downside, you depend on Amazon services's uptime. On the upside, you depend on Amazon service's uptime :D

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