It’s been a fairly crazy week in hosting and domain space. Nominet released the best of the .uk domains that had been reserved for the best part of five years and cPanel announced their first price increase for years, with some hosters moving from “reasonable” pricing to that which can only be described as extortion.

Our business is one of the earlier cPanel partners, a client ID under 500 and a contract from 2004. Their pricing was always on the higher side compared to the options at the time (H-Sphere and Ensim) but was worthwhile. H-Sphere was dying a death, customers wanted a nicer interface and so on.

Licences were only ever sold on the basis of a single cost for a one server regardless of the accounts in question. This made it easy to understand the costs to us and factor this in to the costs we charge.

cPanel have now stated that licences will be limited to X number of sub-accounts per server and anything over that will be 10¢ (USD) per account. This puts us and zillions of other hosts in a tricky position, especially those with resellers where their only constraint is disk space (or bandwidth). Some hosts offering cPanel allow “unlimited” everything, although on one server, we know is impossible but that is an entire different conversation.

We and others are now put in the position of absorbing the increase, limiting previously agreed packages on a retroactive basis and/or charging resellers per account over whatever their new limit could be.

Now, we’re not a bargain basement host and generally we don’t have resellers that create hundreds or thousands of accounts for “normal” usage but we have a number of resellers that use our servers for DNS only hosting, so each sub-account may have 1MB of disk space but solely done to use our Anycasted DNS network. Of course, those resellers go for the lowest or near lowest account, in the worst instance, £10 odd a month and has created 1200 accounts.

So for the exception to the usual, average usage rule… do we allow the customer to keep their £10 account with unlimited accounts and “deal with it” costing us $120 (£95~ as of today) a month, cap their account and say we’re going to bill the rest or simply ask them to leave?

Even if we capped their account, it won’t limit what they’ve already created but then how do we bill them for the extra accounts. cPanel have not given any foresight in to this or any reasonable way to do this.

This also puts us in an invidious position with our customers and certainly a way to annoy them. No company worth their salt would change the service offering after the point of sale and I suspect this will cause a lot of anger between end server owner and customer for many. Even if you explain this to customers, there will always be the minority that don’t accept it, refuse to understand it is out of the hosts control and go on rants about it. None of which the host can ultimately avoid.

What about servers that you’ve allowed a customer to create as many accounts as they want, or up to a limit and then they downgrade. Do you prevent the downgrade until they’ve removed those accounts, or then bill them after. What if there isn’t any way to count those…. there is real risk that someone could upgrade to add their sub-accounts, downgrade and we’re left with a bill. After all, what host checks all upgrade and downgrade orders? If you have a reasonable business volume, you generally don’t especially if they’re a known customer!

As a business, we now run the task of looking at logs to find what our customers actually use in cPanel and what other options there are out there. We will still likely offer cPanel for servers where the number of accounts is known and controlled but will have to find ways to limit for servers and resellers.

What however annoys me the most is that this is likely due to the buy out of cPanel, owned by Oakley Capital, a VC firm with offices in London and various other places. Notable for their involvement with Daisy Group, alternatively now know as Digital Wholesale Solutions. The same company that have failed to invoice and bill another entity in which I own an interest for over 10 years across two accounts.

I don’t think this is the end of cPanel as many are proclaiming. It will force those that charge nothing (or next to nothing) a year on hosting to revise their pricing and it’ll also shutter the “unlimited” reseller accounts and server licences you see and without a doubt, will stop this “master reseller” account non-sense. That was never a good idea, ever. For those hosts that offer shared hosting at a reasonable cost, the small increase in per account costs is manageable.

Whilst we remained firm and loyal with cPanel over the years, this will only mean that we offer multiple control panel options, even potentially including Plesk (owned by the same group) just to simply not have all eggs in one basket.

As a final note, I feel sorry for the front line staff. They’ll be getting hell, lots of abuse and no doubt feel pretty awful for the changes down from those on top. It’s been a fun ride over the years, not without fault but it is time to try something new.


Matt

I work in technology and communications, often for too many hours of the day. Can often be found in datacentres all over looking at the flashing lights of storage arrays.

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