Web Host Manager Administration Guide

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By Aric Pedersen
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  1. Introduction to WHM and Dedicated Server/VPS Hosting

About this book

WebHost Manager is a package used by web hosts to manage their servers and the individual user accounts they hold. It is part of the same package as cPanel, so the host uses WebHost Manager while the client uses cPanel. WebHost Manager is at the core of many web hosts' business. Using web host manager, you can keep track of the accounts on your server, monitor their bandwidth and disk space usage, and much more.

If you are running a web host or web space reseller then the chances are you'll be using WebHost Manager. This book shows you how to get the most from the software, for both you and your customers. It provides solutions to common WHM problems and pitfalls, leading to better customer service provided at lower cost.
You will learn how to set up WHM securely, offer a variety of account styles. You will see how to use WHM to elegantly manage multiple domains, SSL certificates, and various databases and server-side technologies such as PHP, MySQL, Perl, and Apache.

Download Appendix A: The /scripts Directory, Appendix B: Resources and Links, and Appendix C: Glossary from the book, Web Host Manager Administration Guide.

Publication date:
August 2006
Publisher
Packt
Pages
296
ISBN
9781904811503

 

Chapter 1. Introduction to WHM and Dedicated Server/VPS Hosting

Thanks again for showing interest in this book. Based on your choice of reading material, it is clear that you are seriously considering buying a server that comes with cPanel and WHM. However, there are several things you'll probably want to take into account before we jump into working with WHM, such as:

  • What WHM is and how it relates to cPanel

  • What the system requirements for use of WHM and cPanel are

  • A few important considerations about what kind of server or VPS you may need for your business

  • How to shop for a dedicated server or VPS that includes WHM and cPanel

These are the things this chapter will deal with. If you have already purchased a server and are clear about what WHM is, then you can safely skip this chapter and head to Chapter 2, where you will learn how to set up your server and ensure it has the proper settings before moving paying clients (or yourself) onto it.

 

What are WHM and cPanel and How Do They Work Together?


cPanel and WHM are two sides of the same coin and are always sold together as a single product. cPanel Inc. is the name of the company that makes cPanel and WHM. cPanel is the name for the web-based hosting control panel for end users (customers or clients of yourself or your resellers). WHM is the web-based control panel for both server administrators (you) and resellers (clients of yours that host other clients' websites).

WHM helps you manage your entire server, install and maintain software, check systems, create accounts, assign features, and view the usage of resources on the server. It also helps your resellers manage their client accounts and features. The feature set of WHM on dedicated servers and VPS servers is very similar, since a VPS acts just like a mini dedicated server.

In order to understand just what WHM can do for us, we also need to be clear on what WHM cannot do.

What WHM Can Do

As noted above, WHM can do many important things, including:

  • WHM can be used to control vital services, and install and manage important software that every web server needs. This includes web server software (Apache), databases (MySQL or PostgreSQL), mail server software (Exim), DNS (Bind), SSH (OpenSSH, which provides secure access to the command line interface for your server), and other important services and software.

  • WHM can install, manage, or remove clients from the server for both you and resellers.

  • WHM can control which features clients and resellers have available to them.

  • WHM can scan and notify you or your clients when certain problems arise (services go down, clients use too many resources, there are some security issues that need to investigated).

  • WHM can help you move accounts from one server to another (assuming you have appropriate access to both servers).

  • WHM can automatically update itself and automate some tasks (site backups, updating critical system files, process web log files, and more).

What WHM Cannot Do

For all of the wonderful things WHM can accomplish, there are a few tasks that it cannot do. In most cases you will have to go to third-party software if you want to help automate these things (or do them manually).

  • WHM cannot handle client billing.

  • WHM cannot handle automated setup of new accounts. (It can create the accounts, but you need to provide the information manually or rely on third-party software to automate the process.)

  • WHM cannot automatically remove (terminate) old/inactive hosting accounts or backup files. You have to handle these things manually in WHM or through some other software.

  • WHM cannot notify you of serious problems if the server is overloaded or offline for some reason (because it won't be able to contact you). WHM may tell you about the problem after the server gets back to normal, but then it's probably too late. You'll need to use third-party services or software to let you know about such serious problems, so you can deal with them quickly. You can learn more about third-party add-ons in Chapter 9.

Understanding what WHM is and isn't capable of will help you make better decisions about how to run your business and what other tools you might need to use.

 

System Requirements for WHM and cPanel


In order to install cPanel and WHM on a server, it must meet certain basic system requirements. At the time of publication of this book, the requirements are as follows:

  • Intel Pentium 2/266 MHz CPU or better (or equivalent CPU)

  • 256 MB RAM

  • 4 GB of free hard drive space

A clean install of one of the following supported operating systems:

Operating system

32-bit OS versions supported

64-bit OS versions supported

cAos

2

2

CentOS

3.x -4.x

3.4- 4.x

Debian

3.0*

Not supported

Fedora Core

1.x -5.x

3.x -4.x

FreeBSD

4.2, 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, 4.8, 4.10, 5.0, 5.3, 5.4

5.3, 5.4

Mandriva

7.2, 8.0, 8.1, 8.2, 9.0, 9.1, 9.2, 10.0, 2006

2006

Red Hat Enterprise Linux

2.1, 3.x, 4.x

3.x- 4.x

Red Hat Linux (Fedora-Legacy)

7.3, 9

Not supported

SuSE

9.0, 10.0

9.0, 10.0

Trustix ES

2.0, 2.2

Not supported

Whitebox Enterprise

3

Not supported

* Debian support is currently in beta testing.

The latest system requirements and supported OSes can be found at: http://cpanel.net/

Tip

As with most published minimum system requirements, you could successfully install the product on such a system, but you wouldn't have much room or horsepower left to actually host any customers. A more realistic minimum would be:

  • Intel® Celeron® 2.0 GHz CPU or higher (or equivalent CPU)

  • 512 MB RAM

  • 10-20 GB free hard drive space

  • The latest supported version of a supported OS (listed above)

For VPS systems, you should try to at least match the minimum requirements with the resources allocated to your VPS (though it is likely that you won't have a choice of what operating system your VPS uses).

 

Important Considerations before Shopping for a Server or VPS


Before you fire up your web browser to go shopping for a server or VPS, you should take some time to sit down and flesh out your needs and business plan. Hopefully, you've done this before picking up this book, but if not, now is the time to do it before you waste money or time on something you don't need or that doesn't make good economic sense. Given below are a few things you need to consider.

What Do You Plan to Do with Your Server or VPS?

Are you planning on hosting paying clients' websites, or just host personal friends/family? Friends and family are more likely to be forgiving in case of interruptions in service. If you're hosting paying clients you don't personally know, don't expect them to be so forgiving. Are you going to primarily sell hosting, or do you also want to offer other services like game servers or streaming media services? Generally, it isn't a good idea to offer cPanel hosting and run other CPU-intensive services from the same server, as this will adversely affect server performance and slow down your clients' websites. If you really are serious about offering other services, you might want to consider getting a separate dedicated server just to run these other services on or putting fewer accounts on your existing server.

Do You Currently Have Any Experience of Offering cPanel Hosting to Paying Customers?

If not, you might want to consider cutting down on your up-front costs and looking for a reseller account from a reliable web host first. This will allow you to focus on learning how the business works, without the added stress of learning to manage an entire server or multiple servers; then when you are sure your business can support the costs of a dedicated server or VPS, and you are familiar with running a hosting business, you can trade up.

What Kinds of Hosting Customers are You Going to Focus On?

Generally, you can divide hosting customers into three segments—low-end, mid-range, and high-end.

Low-End Customers: Cheap and (Hopefully) Cheerful

Low-end customers are typically very price-conscious. Mostly, you'll find individuals looking for bare-bones hosting and very small "mom and pop" type businesses, who aren't looking to do much (if any) business online but do want people to be able to find their business contact information on the Web. They may be looking to upgrade from a free web hosting service that offers them more flexibility and better support. This group will typically be somewhat more accepting of a certain (limited) amount of downtime or connectivity problems (since they aren't paying much). Also, this group's resource (disk space and bandwidth) usage will be modest. However, you are also much more likely to need to provide very basic support to this group. They may not be familiar with how to create web content or how to get the content they do have onto the web, and they will turn to you for help.

If you host low-end customers, you can often pack several hundred accounts on a single mid-range server, and you'll probably need to, because you're not going to be getting much money per customer. It may also be helpful to offer a site building program of some kind because that will directly fill a need many customers in this category will likely have (see Chapter 10 for more information on some site-building programs that work with cPanel).

Mid-Range Customers: Growing Needs, Growing Profits

Mid-range customers are less price-conscious and typically more concerned with reliable and flexible service. Resource usage is going to be more. This class of customers includes small business owners, and individuals with more popular websites or more complex needs.

Basic support costs are likely to be less, since users in this category typically have some experience already with putting content on the web. However, these customers will probably be looking for more advanced features and assistance. They may request things like remote database access, additional functionality from PHP and Perl, and advanced mail handling. These customers are going to look for a certain amount of uninterrupted service and are going to want to know what you plan to do if service drops below that percentage.

High-End Customers: Welcome to the Big Time!

High-end customers are going to primarily be concerned with reliable service and top-notch 24/7 support, preferably via multiple methods of contact (phone, e-mail, live online chat). Basic support needs will be almost nothing, but they will expect fast and flexible service, and plenty of available resources. Support requests from these customers are likely to be complex when they do come. They'll want access to advanced services like SSH, FXP, SFTP, and WebDAV, the latest versions of PHP and Perl, and perhaps even additional languages like Ruby on Rails or ASP.

High-end customers include small to mid-sized businesses that cannot afford their own server, individuals who have very popular websites, or who are programmers and looking to design or run web services. Price isn't going to be an issue, but you'd better be able to provide the service and resources to back up the higher prices. These customers often outgrow shared web hosting, and may come to you looking for VPS or dedicated servers. It will be harder for a small company to attract these sorts of customers, but if you have the skill and resources to provide properly for these customers, their business can be quite lucrative for you.

Note

If you are just starting your business, you should probably try focusing on the low-end and mid-range customers until you have the infrastructure to support the high-end customers.

What Kind of Server do you Need?

If you have outgrown reseller hosting, getting a VPS may seem like the next logical step. VPS are cheaper than full dedicated servers and provide much of the same flexibility for your business. A VPS may run at 40 USD to 100 USD per month or more, while a dedicated server rarely starts under 70 USD per month. So if money is a serious concern, a VPS is a good idea. It may also make sense if you're just hosting your own sites and need more flexibility than a reseller account or shared hosting provides, but cannot afford the increased costs of a dedicated server.

However, a VPS does have some limitations. There may be several VPS on a single server, so you share CPU time with other VPS customers on the same server. In addition, there are some limitations to what you can do as an administrator in a VPS environment. In order to protect the division between VPS customers on the same machine there will be certain commands you won't be able to use in the command line, and certain files and directories may be "protected" so that you cannot edit them. The exact limitations will depend on which VPS software your host is using.

Some commercial software may require that you purchase a special version that works with VPS, especially software that typically gets licensed on a "per server" basis. So always be sure to check before you purchase expensive software, whether it will work on a VPS if you plan to use it on one. Later, if you upgrade to a dedicated server, you may need to pay an additional fee to relicense. Contact the software provider to see if this is the case.

Finally, moving paying clients from one server to another can be a tricky business, so it's a good idea to try to keep such moves to a minimum to avoid bothering them too often. If you've outgrown a reseller account and think your hosting business will continue to grow at a steady pace, it might make sense to move directly to a dedicated server. Of course, you'll need to do the math to be sure that it makes best economic sense.

 

Shopping for a VPS or Dedicated Server


Once you have a clear business model and a vision of where you want your business to go, you are now ready to go shopping for a VPS or dedicated server.

Just as with standard web hosting, there are a bewildering number of companies offering VPS and/or dedicated servers for sale. Some even offer colocation. Colocation means that you buy your own server and ship it to the company, and rent space in their facility specially designed to host servers often referred to as a data center (DC) or network operations center (NOC). They then provide the Internet access and maintain your hardware for you, but it is owned by you. If you don't wish to colocate with the company, they will send your server back (though they will likely charge you a fee).

Finding Deals

It will be very helpful for you to know what sort of product you are looking for (VPS/dedicated server/colocation) and how much you are willing to spend for that service.

Once you know what you want and how much you're willing to spend, it's time to go looking for deals. Dedicated server and VPS offers change even more often than shared hosting offers do with new hardware, features and prices, so it is a good idea to shop around awhile before ordering.

Thankfully, many of the places you'd go to look for opinions and deals on shared hosting are also places that you can go to explore VPS and dedicated servers.

Here are a few good places to start your search:

  • http://webhostingtalk.com/: WebHostingTalk (or WHT as it is often referred to) is a central hub for information and discussion about all things related to hosting. This includes dedicated servers, VPS, and colocation. Lots of companies advertise specials here, so if you are very price sensitive this is a good place to visit regularly.

  • http://www.findmyhost.com/: FindMyHost is a hosting search engine that also includes dedicated server hosting in their database. Customers also come here to rate their hosts.

  • http://forums.cpanel.net/forumdisplay.php?f=22: In cPanel's own forum, you can find special deals on servers, hosting and services in the Ads and Offers area.

Of course, doing a search for VPS, dedicated server or colocation on a search engine will turn up a number of other options.

Important Things to Consider Before Sealing the Deal

Hopefully, now you've got a sense of what is available out there, and perhaps, you even have your eye on a few deals that seem to be most interesting.

So what should you look for in a company that you are going to buy a VPS, colocation or a dedicated server from? (Other than pricing that meets your needs, of course.)

Support is Critical

The importance of good support cannot be underestimated. Even if you are a seasoned server administrator, you need to make sure the company you work with has support policies that meet your needs. Remember, even if you don't think you'll need much support, it's unlikely that you will have physical access to the hardware, and you'll need to have someone at the data center reboot your hardware or check for hardware problems occasionally. In those instances, you definitely don't want slow or sloppy support.

The problem is that every company promises top-notch support. So how do you figure out which companies are the best at support? One good way is to watch what customers say about the companies you are interested in. You can see this at some of the sites mentioned above. Some companies also have public forums that you can visit. Of course, people are more likely to complain when there is a problem than they are to praise a company when everything is going well, so you'll want to take such reports with a grain of salt. Still, if you see many complaints about a company or if you see clients complaining about negative forum posts being removed, then that isn't a good sign.

In addition to that, it is important to understand what sort of support you can expect, and what it will cost you. Many companies offer some free support, but what that support covers varies. Does the company offer support by phone, e-mail, or live chat? Is the support available all the time or only during business hours?

If a company tells you that a VPS or dedicated server is self-managed, this means you can only expect the most cursory support for free. You are expected to handle your own server. If you need assistance of almost any kind, expect to pay (probably lots of money) for it. Self-managed servers tend to be cheaper, but the costs for support if you need it can quickly wipe out any savings.

If a company offers managed servers, this typically means that some amount of support is included for no additional charge. Every company is going to have a different definition of what sort of support is included. Be sure you know what kinds of support are covered for free before signing up, especially if you are new to dedicated server hosting. Managed free support could include server reboots, setup assistance, software installation assistance, general hosting assistance, service monitoring, administrative time (this typically refers to anything that requires an employee of the company to access your server that isn't covered in other categories of service), hosting account transfers, and security scanning and consultation.

Additional Fees, Included Extras, Upgrade Charges

Lots of companies offer cheap deals on VPS and dedicated servers. Be sure you understand the terms of any deal before you give a company your money. Often the cheapest deals don't include important software (like cPanel/WHM) or skimp on the hardware (a slow Celeron processor with 512 MB RAM and a 20 GB hard drive, for example). Some companies will allow you to upgrade your server later, but be sure you know what the options and charges are.

On the other hand, some companies will throw in extra hardware or software to attract more customers. Make sure you know what you are getting and what, if any, limitations there are on these extra products. Don't forget, when comparing deals between companies, to factor in what it would cost you to purchase these extras separately, if you didn't receive them for free.

The Data Center Itself

Look for data centers that have multiple connections to the Internet through various large providers (MCI, Level 3, AT&T, etc.) and lots of well-maintained networking equipment. Sometimes, a single bandwidth provider will have problems, so it is important to host in a data center that has more than one major connection to the Internet, or people won't be able to access your server. Make sure that the data center can survive a major power outage in their area and that the interior of the data center is carefully temperature controlled. Lots of hot servers in close proximity without good temperature control are a recipe for disaster.

Location, Location, Location

While the physical location where your VPS or server will be located isn't as important as the quality of the data center in which it is hosted, it can make a difference. Generally, a server hosted in a data center that is close to the bulk of your customers will perform more quickly than one that is many thousands of miles away. However, a high quality data center thousands of miles away from your customers may still outperform a local data center that doesn't have as many or as good connections to the Internet. Most companies will offer test links if you ask them, so that you can measure the speed of service from their data center to your location.

Billing and Cancellation Policies

Billing costs and times should be clear. Do you get charged for your server on the anniversary of the date that you first paid for the service or does billing always happen at a particular date? What happens if you are late with payments? Do they offer a grace period or do they disconnect your server immediately? Is there a fee to reconnect your server if it is disconnected due to late payment? How much does additional bandwidth cost if you go over your monthly allotment and how and when does it get billed?

Even if you are thrilled with the company you choose, there may come a time when you need to cancel a server. What is the company's policy on cancellations? Is there a money back guarantee if you cancel soon after signing up because you don't like the service? How much notice are you required to give before the next billing cycle so as to avoid further charges? Are there any additional fees for cancelling the service? Are you required to pay for a server for a set period of time (a contract) or can you cancel whenever you like?

The company you choose should have all of these items clearly articulated somewhere, or at least be clear about the policy when you ask. If a company doesn't answer to your satisfaction, you may want to look elsewhere.

 

General Purchasing Advice


A dedicated server or VPS is not something you want to skimp on. Purchase the fastest hardware with the most resources (disk space and bandwidth) that you can afford based on your planned usage. Low-end hardware may look like quite a bargain, but these servers typically won't be able to handle lots of business. You may find that your old reseller account was faster than your new low-end dedicated server, if your old host used high-end hardware. You also don't want to spend so much on your server or VPS that your business is losing money. Don't forget to factor in the cost of your cPanel/WHM license also if the server or VPS you've purchased doesn't come with it. Most NOCs will provide reduced cost cPanel licenses, so it's generally a good idea to get your license from them. The key is for you to find the best balance possible between performance, reliability, and overall cost.

 

Summary


In this chapter you've learned what WHM is and how it relates to cPanel, and what sorts of things WHM can and cannot do. We explored the minimum system requirements for a server with cPanel/WHM. We delved into some important things to consider before purchasing a server, including what you plan to use the server for, what types of customers you want to attract, and what those customers are probably going to want from you. Next, we looked at when purchasing a VPS makes best sense, and when purchasing a dedicated server is called for. Finally, we learned where and how to shop for our VPS, dedicated server, and colocation needs.

In the next chapter we will discuss proper initial setup of your new server or VPS with cPanel/WHM. Even if your host has done this setup for you already, you should definitely read the next chapter because there are a lot of settings that most hosts don't bother with during setup that may be important for your business.

About the Author

  • Aric Pedersen

    Aric Pedersen has been using cPanel on a daily basis for over 6 years both as an end user for his own websites and as a systems administrator. He currently works as a systems administrator for several hosting companies and also for http://www.netenberg.com, the creators of Fantastico Deluxe (a popular script auto-installer for cPanel). Aric has been providing companies and end users with web hosting and related documentation for several years.

    Browse publications by this author

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