July 26, 2002   From the Desk of Sam C. Chan

The Birth of Mach-4 Network

Many of you heard back in May that we're launching a new web hosting service on June 1. Here's a behind the scene look...

First, a backgrounder on the industry. There are 3 classes of web hosting companies. 1. Affiliates. 2. Resellers and 3. Dedicated Hosts. Affiliates are simply private branding, earning commission for account referrals. Resellers rent a portion of space, known as a "virtual host" on dedicated servers and do their own business and technical administration. Dedicated hosts actually own and operate their own physical servers.

For the last 18 months, we've been reselling web hosting. Profit motif not being a priority, we recommended plans between $5/ and $15/month, and we did not "upsell" all those needless goodies, while we're being charged all kinds of fees for setup and changes. It became clear that we must raise prices, or become a substantially subsidized branch of our consultancy. Alternatively, we took the high road: invest in our own server with major capital and operational commitments. The economy of scale and elimination of "middleman" would result in significant savings for our clients.

As a bonus, we no longer have to share an aging server with 200 other sites. Our new server is fast, spacious and extremely under-utilized, which translates to high performance. We can also run any software we wish, including our own DNS servers and have direct physical control over the host. Plans are underway to roll out such services as online backup, disaster recovery, site replication, custom corporate portals, etc.

Please be assured that our directions and philosophy have not changed. This is not intended to be a profit center. Instead, it'd become yet another vehicle for us to deliver our IT services, with improved control, quality and reliability.

Why the delay? Quite simply, itís a monumental task. The server was up and running within 2 days. 9 of our own sites were transferred, along with 3 client sites for beta testing. We spent last 7 weeks refining the system and the processes. Despite my 18 years of experience in SCO UNIX, there were many new things to learn. It's been a humbling yet rewarding experience. Those of you who are responsible for running corporate servers would appreciate the challenges and pressure. When it came down to paying $500 extra for 2 months of delay vs. risking a premature switch, the decision was easy!

For you techies, here's a summarized list to give you a taste of what's involved:

  • Load Linux O.S. Load and configure drivers. 

  • Administer user accounts. Configure time sync. with atomic clock. 

  • Schedule cron jobs for clean-up, log generation and bandwidth management. 

  • Maintain a mirrored system locally in-house, for experimentation and troubleshooting purposes.

  • Design, implement and test firewall strategies and rules. 

  • Install Ensim patches. Ensim is what we use to create virtual hosts for our clients. Yes they each have their own virtual host, complete with their own seperate CGI's and even SSH and Telnet, not just a subset within a reseller's space. 

  • O.S. patches to block known Linux security holes. Installing utilities for our operations: Gzip, Zip, etc.

  • Install DNS servers. Configure BIND. Load patches. 

  • Install subdomain features "hacks" for Ensim so that we can offer such domains as partners.bravotech.us 

  • Disabling of unsafe programs such as telnet. Testing SSH clients. 

  • Install Squirrelmail for web access to our IMAP server. 

  • Upgrade Squirrelmail to the lastest 1.2.7 version, with many new features added. 

  • Customizing Squirrelmail to include needed plug-ins. Patch Apache for known vulnerabilities.

Remember, each step has many sub steps and each of those could have problems and glitches. In short, it's a "great" way to spend 10 to 20 solid days with no life. 

Welcome on board! We're cleared for takeoff!


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