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Is there a missing tier of Web hosting?

There are a lot of old Web sites out there these days. Plenty of organizations have had a presence on the Web for upwards of ten years, and like it or not, their Web sites are showing their age. It seems like I run into more and more groups who have old, crufty Web sites running many applications written in a variety of languages. What I’m wondering is what the best option is for these organizations is in terms of Web hosting?

If they are just running static HTML and maybe some PHP or CGI applications, then shared hosting is perfect. They just need a place to upload files and perhaps Web-based database administration. Shared hosting is cheap, and it’s up to the hosting provider to make sure the servers aren’t running a some Russian mafia member’s IRC server to control a zombie army.

Organizations with enough invested in the Web to have their own systems administrators are in OK shape, as well. They can go with managed hosting, or colocation, or even just buy some connectivity and run the servers out of their office. Their budget is large enough to pay somebody to make sure their Web sites work, so they’re really beyond the scope of what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about those people in the middle. Maybe they have a relatively low traffic Web site that has some old CGI scripts, a Java Web application, and a ColdFusion application or two. Their setup is too complicated for shared hosting, but they don’t have the staff or the budget to take on managing their own Web servers. What’s the best option for them right now? Do they need to subscribe to managed Web hosting and then outsource their system administration to an outfit like Pythian?

It seems like what I see most often for these groups is that they have their own server running out of date hardware and infrequently patched software, being tended by the person in the office who’s in charge of making sure that people can get email and that their antivirus software is up to date. Usually these servers are down a lot and are sitting ducks for whatever malware happens to cross their paths. Surely there must be a better way.

Feedback much appreciated.

3 Comments

  1. There are a number of hosting companies that provide “fully-managed” hosting, which means for an extra fee they will provide your organization with all of the duties and responsibilities of a sysadmin.

    These typically are dedicated servers (expensive) or VPS slices.

  2. A really good question. If I were more of an entrepreneur, offering this on top of EC2 would be an awesome way to have a little business.

    Too bad I hate sys admin work 🙂

  3. I am the founder of Pythian, and thanks for the mention.

    The nice thing about services like mine for the circumstance you describe is that our cost is in direct linear proportion to our effort. It really is very easy, once an environment is set up well and stable, to run it. The work required to keep it stable and running at a high degree of reliability is really not more work than the work required to troubleshoot it when it’s not being well-run. As a result it’s a relatively inexpensive way to do a better job.

    Most but not all of our competition has a “flat monthly rate for a scope of work” model that is frankly hostile to the client’s interests, in that those companies have a profit model that can be summed up as “do the minimum amount of work possible in exchange for our fee”, or rephrased as “let’s take on the maximum number of environments possible with the minimum payroll”. Our model is more like Costco’s – we expect to make a modest margin on all of our work, but then all of our work is there and available and we expect to actually deliver it with no pre-defined scope imposed by us. (It goes without saying that some scope management in task allocation is a best practice in production engineering work; it’s just that in our model we don’t impose it on the client.)

    Cheers Paul

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