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Home Web Hosting – Is It a Good Idea?

Introduction

Many times people ask me help on how to setup home web hosting, I always ask them first what they really want to do with the server, because that may be either a good or bad idea.

Some people want them for web developing and testing, what is a good idea, but only if you are developing from more than one computer or it’s actually a team developing, if that’s the case, the server can even host a SVN (subversion) or any other software versioning / revision control system, something that is very important but few people keep it in mind.

On the other hand, most people actually want to start a web hosting company from home, and this is an entirely different subject and most don’t even know how deep it really goes, and it turns out to be a bad idea, here is why.

Electrical costs

Electricity costs is something almost no one keeps in mind… Web hosting devours electricity. Of course there are green and low power servers, but they don’t perform that well, either a CPU (Central Processing Unit) has lots of performance and consumes lots of energy, or it does consume very little power but it’s performance is far from what’s needed. Actually, the electrical costs from a low power server are still more expensive than a shared web hosting plan on almost any web hosting company. Just this fact alone, when taken in account, makes most people give up from the idea.

Hardware costs

Almost everyone that I meet that wanted to start a home web server came with the idea of using their old desktop computer (or even laptop!) as a server… that is just a terrible idea! It is even more terrifying that very few really understand that it can go so very wrong.

Servers are not built from the same material as your Personal Computer, they are not expensive simply because companies are greedy (well… sometimes it’s true that some server prices are exaggerated!), they are expensive because they are made with hardware with better build quality and better components that actually gives a higher MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures). When you buy a server (at least a good one) you will see in the sheet the MTBF being referenced, something that you don’t see in Personal Computers, because they are not built with that in mind. It is true that top gaming hardware sometimes uses components that are also used in servers, still they are not made with that in mind and they are still expensive also.

In servers you need them to have a hardware enterprise level RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) or equivalent, you need to make everything redundant in the server, actually, you need to apply redundancy to the server itself and end up with two servers configured in a way that if one fails, the other will take control and continue to provide a seamless (or almost seamless) experience to the guests that are using its services, or some other equivalent infrastructure.

Servers are also built with expansibility in mind, it is normal to find used, 4-5 year old servers, built to handle up to 192GB of ram, when most desktops could only handle up to 8GB of ram. There are more technical differences between desktop class and server class, but this is enough for anyone to get the idea that they are different worlds.

The bill isn’t over yet, you also need a good router (your typical domestic router or modem can’t handle as many connections as an industrial one), firewall (hardware level firewalls), switches (industry grade network switch), UPS (Uninterruptible power supply) and a generator (in case of a power failure for more than a few minutes). The UPS and generator need to be connected with your router/modem, switches and servers (it isn’t very helpful to have electricity going to an offline server because someone forgot that to have an active internet connection they need to keep energy flowing to the router also!).

Internet Speed and Cost

Downstream VS Upstream

So you have an excellent internet connection, you can’t avoid that smile in your face when downloading something big in a few minutes with that 100MBPS+ internet connection, so you have a perfect connection to start your home web hosting business right? Guess what? Wrong! Domestic internet connections, even small and medium office internet connections are in no way close to what a web server needs.

While for home use internet connections keep the downstream in mind (the “download” speed) they are advertised in most cases without mentioning the upstream (the “upload” speed) and it is usually very low. For web hosting, the upstream is the most important because you have to quickly send data to all those “domestic” high speed connection users that are sending requests to your home web server. With a low upstream connection, sometimes a dozen of guests accessing to a web page on your home web server is enough for a natural DoS (Denial of Service) since the server won’t be able to send more data to the guests because the upstream is already full, like traffic in rush hour.

Domestic ISPs problems

You need also to check the ToS (Terms of Service) of your ISP (Internet Service Provider) since most of them don’t let you run home web servers, some even block incoming connections to port 80 (the default HTTP port) that you really need for web hosting.

Also, almost all domestic ISPs give you a dynamic IP, which is very bad business when you want to run a home web server. You don’t want to daily update the IP on the domain names, right? There are “tricks” to actually update them automatically and point “cname” to them, still, it isn’t perfect and neither Google neither your customers will like it.

Congestion ratio

Congestion is something that also almost no one remembers… Most internet connections have a congestion ratio of 20:1 or 50:1… what does that mean? To put it simply, imagine it as the number of persons that are actually using your connection, so if you have a 50:1 congestion ratio on your 100MBPS connection, it means that in “rush hour”, when it hits the peak of users connected to it and pushing it to the maximum, you will end up at best with a 2MBPS connection. Yes, the internet connection that you may had think it was only yours it is actually being shared by 20… 50 persons, and if all of them push it to the limit, you’ll have to share what is left of it. Turning of the WIFI will not affect in anything, this is controlled by your ISP in order to keep the prices of the backbone connections down.

Internet connections used by web hosting companies are 1:1, which means that are dedicated to them, they are usually build from the closest ISP backbone all the way to the company, they are very expensive either on setup or maintenance.

Conclusion

Home web hosting is not a great idea, here I just scratched the surface of the problems of why it is actually a bad idea. The investment needed for such a thing is huge! There’s why datacenters are built and rent to companies, only big companies have their own datacenters.

If you really want to enter the web hosting business, there are ways of doing it cost effectively, but be advised they require a good amount of investment and there are so many web hosting companies out there that is very hard to have a slice of the market.

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