So, You Want to Be a Web Hosting Reseller?

Reseller Web hosting is when a single user (or group of users, I suppose) takes the allotted hard drive space and bandwidth that he or she receives from a hosting provider and uses it to host websites for third parties not affiliated with the reseller's business.

Being a successful hosting reseller can be very lucrative if it's done right, but there are many things that one has to master to thrive in the hosting reseller market. For instance, resellers need to be able to speak openly, honestly and informatively about Web hosting in practical terms. They'll also be in charge of marketing their own services, evaluating different providers, managing security and how to use all of the tools at their disposal.

So, you want to be a Web hosting reseller? Make sure you read this brief handbook before you get started.

The "Need-to-Know"

The most important part of being a Web hosting reseller is being able to talk the talk with the greatest of ease, so that you're able to communicate the benefits of using your service to leads. This means being able explain the details of Web hosting in practical, easy-to-understand terms that business owners of varying degrees of technical background can understand. This includes:

-    That acquiring a domain through a hosting company means the company will retain ownership or that it will cost a lot to buy from them
-    That domain names don't need to be purchased through a hosting company, but can be registered separately from registrars like GoDaddy, Namecheap or 1&1
-    That bandwidth is amount of information transferred to and from a website or server during a prescribed period of time
-    That disk space is the amount of space available for users to house their website files on a host's server
-    The importance of conducting their own file backups in addition to the hosts regular backups, in order to ensure their files are protected
-    What it takes to manage their own hosting plans and configure different accounts as their needs change

For a quick starter reference guide, you can check out Website Magazine's Ultimate Web Hosting Glossary, which provides definitions for all of the most important terms in the Web hosting industry.

Marketing Your Goods

Initially, the safest and most rewarding way to market your reseller website(s) would be to find a specific niche or niches that you can get involved in. This allows you to narrow the scope of your target audience and to tailor your marketing messages to appeal primarily to them. It also gives you more information about potential leads and provides you with a solid foundation for marketing your services. Once your business grows from there, you can begin expanding into other niches and industries.

Choosing a Provider

When it comes to picking the best hosting provider to work with in your reseller business, there are four primary elements that you must examine to see which company can offer you the greatest benefit for the lowest cost, and will work well to achieve your specific goals in the reseller industry.

-    Technology - This is a broad topic to approach a Web hosting company with, but also a very important one. The technology that a hosting company chooses to use can make all of the difference in the world. This includes the platform/operating system that it uses (usually either UNIX/Linux, Windows or FreeBSD), the programming language(s) it supports and the particular type or brand of servers that are used to house data.

-    Cost - Although pricing may not be the most important consideration when it comes to picking the best hosting provider, it's still pretty crucial, particularly for resellers who are just getting started in the industry. There are three aspects of a Web hosting plan that each deserve careful attention. The first is the primarily annual or monthly cost that you'll be paying for the hosting services. After that is the cost of the domain name(s) you'll be purchasing, if you're going to be buying domains (many won't need to worry about this). Finally, you should be aware of any setup fees that may come with getting started using a particular hosting platform; these can range from just $10 to as much as $1500 for the one-time fee.

-    Functionality - It's vital to be aware of a hosting company's overall service functionality, the options it offers and ease-of-use. Some things to look for are how many MySQL databases you can create within your allotted disc space, what kind of interactive control panel interface comes with the service (if any), the service's track record with regard to reliability and uptime and, of course, the amount of space/ bandwidth that you'll get each month, which tells you just how much data you can host and transfer to/from your server. Bandwidth considerations are also often intimately linked to pricing.

-    Support - As with any kind of technological investment, customer service and support are a major part of ensuring that things run smoothly and successfully. Most Web hosting companies offer a variety of support options, including telephone support, email support, a knowledge base or FAQ section and, perhaps most importantly for many potential customers, a community network of forums and blogs that allow customers to help one another with common problems.

Tools and Services

There are also a number of interesting tools and services offered by hosting companies and third-party providers that can make your reseller Web hosting business simpler and more robust at the same time.

One such service that is essential for anyone running a website is email, which is almost always offered by hosting companies and typically allows users to create one new email account under their domain name for free, with additional charges for more email addresses. Most email services are either standard client/server Post Office Protocol (POP), Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) or Web-based. Plus, some companies allow you to have email forwarding and mailing list features, as well.

Another critical feature of hosting companies is the Domain Name System (DNS), which translates a domain name into an IP address, so that it can be accurately acknowledged by the Internet.

Speaking of acronyms, resellers should be familiar with FTP, or file transfer protocol, that is used to transfer files from one host to another. Most servers require FTP users to authenticate their presence through a username or password, and much of the content in a transfer is encrypted with SSL/TLS (or FTPS). FTPs are made up of a number of different standardized commands.

Finally, anyone involved in the Web hosting industry should know the concept of databases, including what the different types of databases are, and which ones each Web hosting company offers. Among those up for consideration are:

-    MySQL - The most widely used hosting database in the world is a central part of the popular LAMP open source Web application stack and provides multi-user access to a number of databases. Most hosting companies are going to have some sort of MySQL option.
-    Microsoft (MS) SQL - This relational database management system (RDBMS) is meant to store and retrieve data from other software applications as requested, whether that data is on the same computer or another one across a network.
-    PostgreSQL - This object-relational database management system is free and works a lot like MySQL, but with a handful of more "advanced" features.
-    Oracle - Another object-RDBMS, is incredibly fast and powerful, but also really (really) expensive.
-    SQLite - It should've be a surprise that SQLite is a small RDBMS that is contained in "350 KB in a C programming library. It does not run as a separate process to be accessed from a client application, but is instead an integral part of it.
-    Microsoft Access - This RDBMS combines the relational Microsoft Jet Database Engine with a graphical user interface and a large collection of software-development tools.
-    Interbase - A RDBMS from Embarcadero Technologies, Interbase leaves behind a small footprint, has almost no administration requirements and feature multi-generational architecture.
-    FileMaker - FileMaker is a cross-platform relational database application that integrates a database engine with a GUI-based interface and allows users to modify the database by dragging new elements into layouts, screens or forms.
-    IBM DB2 - This relational model database server is actually the name for three main products: DB2 for Linux, Unix and Windows, DB2 for z/OS and DB2 for iSeries.

Security Measures

When you're dealing with technology and the Internet, security is everything. That is doubly true when it comes to Web hosting, and particularly reseller Web hosting, as you'll be housing tons of mission-critical business data for your clients.

The biggest threat to sensitive data comes from hackers that want to uploading malware or malicious sites or code onto a server. Thus, one of the first ways to ward off these dubious individuals is to by carefully screening all accounts trying to access a server by requesting proof of identity and contacting new clients by phone before their accounts are activated.

Other ways to keep malicious hackers out are to install reliable firewalls with custom settings that allow you to ban IP addresses that present security threats, limiting the use of executable commands (especially in PHP) if you're offering shared hosting, and periodically changing all of the passwords used to access the server and files. In addition, some hosting companies even offer special software that specifically prevents against DDoS attacks, so if you're partner provides this software, maybe take them up on it.

Finally, use server-hardening techniques to make sure that improvements are made to the default configuration of your server(s), whether it's dedicated or shared. This includes basic security techniques like providing clients with secure access to their accounts, frequent password changes, specific extensions and programs that will ensure your server uses the best hardening techniques available to it.

But whatever you do, don't skimp on security measures, because one big mistake and your whole reseller Web hosting business could be jeopardized.