Archive for March, 2008

My children amaze me…

Monday, March 31st, 2008

My children amaze me. The other night I was putting my 5 year old twin boys to sleep. I briefly sang a passage from one of the songs from the play “West Side Story”, and one of them said he thought he remembered that song from somewhere (Which is amazing by itself since I can’t string two in tune notes together to save my life!!). So we spent the next hour downloading songs from West Side Story, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, etc.

They LOVED the music, which really isn’t a surprise as their mother is VERY musical and even though I can’t sing I know every word to all the plays/musicals I mentioned above and many others. I was happy that they loved this type of music.

What I was surprised about is that they wanted to watch the plays over and over. West Side Story is a play with complex racial issues and deals with love and hate in an adult way. Phantom of the Opera is a wonderful play and the movie is almost as good as going to see it done live. It deals with a lonely, love starved individual that turns to evil ends in his desire to force someone to love him. My 5 year olds seem to get and understand all these messages in a very grown up and understanding way. I didn’t think there was any way they would sit through an almost 3 hour movie that is portrayed through song the entire time.

Sometimes we don’t give kids credit with the ability to feel, and think through complex emotions and situations. I think they are smarter than we give them credit for (I know I made that mistake). So next time I say to myself – They won’t like that, Ill reconsider and give them the chance to enjoy something that I thought they maybe wouldn’t have loved as much as myself.

Matt Heaton / Bluehost.com

MySQL Woes…

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Shared hosting is a balancing act of epic proportions. Bluehost/Hostmonster/Fastdomain has thousands of CPU cores, petabytes of information (thousands of terabytes), and half a petabyte of main system memory. We try and distribute these resources as fairly as possible across hundreds of thousands of customers and close to 900,000 domains. Its a monumental task, but we have many tools to help us get up for the challenge.

We have some very good custom software that was developed in house to separate and segregate CPU allocation for users over a given period of time. Memory management is accomplished and monitored effectively by user, but there are a few areas where tools don’t exist or aren’t good enough for to do the job. Disk I/O management by user still falls short, although we are ALMOST there with respect to assigning all activity by customer. The killer for us right now and the bane of most shared hosting companies is MySQL!

MySQL is far and away the most popular database application for shared web hosts. There are many other popular and fast alternatives such as postgres, etc, but MySQL services about 95% of our customers database needs. The problem is that for whatever reason MySQL CAN NOT give us the proper detailed usage statistics we need. Breakdowns by user, and rows affected by user, and ACCURATE cpu time used by user (Not including wait times for blocked IO devices) simply doesn’t exist for MySQL. It is extremely frustrating that a database as popular as MySQL and one that strives be an an enterprise class database would lack these basic features. This one application can literally kill the overall performance of a server. So what can we do?

First, there are some patches that give some of these capabilities to the MySQL server. However, they aren’t actively maintained and they can’t be applied cleanly to the newest code bases of MySQL. As of today I have decided to have these patches picked up by paid developers and cleaned up and maintained so that they will work for current and future versions of MySQL. I will continue to pay to have these maintained and updated to serve the community as a whole. I will release the patches to the public so all can benefit from these changes (Even though they probably should be withheld as a competitive advantage for Bluehost and Hostmonster).

I will also put as much pressure as I can to have these patches added and made a part of the permanent MySQL source tree. It really is astounding to me that MySQL has not addressed these issues since day 1. If anyone has any strings they can pull at MySQL PLEASE have them consider what I have written. Turning their nose away from these problems won’t make them go away.

When these changes go live it will bring us one big step closer to having completely stable and high performing servers available for all our clients.

Thanks,
Matt Heaton / President Bluehost.com / Hostmonster.com

Customer types…

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

The web hosting business is an extremely tough business because so many customers need different services and support to meet their needs. This is VERY difficult when you need to manage and balance those needs across hundreds of thousands of customers as is the case with Bluehost and Hostmonster. In web hosting specifically, I believe there are basically three types of customers.

The first type of customer constitutes 80% of our customer base. These customers needs are moderate on most levels. They require stable email and hosting services. They usually require support services only during the first 30-60 days while their site is set up and configured the first time. From a financial aspect these are the “golden” customers. They don’t eat up system resources and they don’t consume more than their “fair share” of support services.

The second type of customer is the power user that pushes the envelope of what a shared hosting client should be. They usually are more educated in terms of hosting than the average customer. They don’t often use support services, but when they do it is usually a difficult task that requires at least a level 2 support rep and often is escalated to our team of admins. These customers are the ones who make shared hosting difficult because CPU and memory usage is extremely disproportionate in their favor. These 10% really do consume 90% of our system resources. If these 10% were 90% instead I would run for the hills and never dream of doing web hosting as a business!! This customer base is also VERY useful to us for one specific reason. They drive us to be better and to implement features and enhancements that we would normally never put in place, and that helps everyone in the long run. So while these customers cost us money – we make no money at all on these type of customers – we are grateful to have them. They push us to be better and in most cases we respond positively to that.

The third type of customer is the toughest by far. These are the people that are generally new to web hosting and have expectations that are almost impossible to meet. They demand the world, don’t/won’t understand what responsibilities fall under their control (domain issues, script security, etc) and what is under our control (servers, network connectivity etc). Often they will call as many as 50 times in a single month for support and hand holding. These are the people that REFUSE to learn on their own and constantly require us to do everything for them. For their $7 a month they expect instant answers to their questions via phone, chat, and email, and tolerate no faults on our side as if they have a cluster of managed dedicated servers. These customers cost us 10-50 times what they pay us and threaten to leave when things don’t go their way.

I am not trying to anger customers, but I think it is important to understand that we are a business that operates for profit (A dirty word I know). As I mention above, 90% of our customer base is extraordinary. We are happy to work our tails off for them day and night. I don’t know another hosting company that has so many people that REALLY care. I guess even the CEO gets to rant every once in a while :)

Matt Heaton / Bluehost.com

850,000 Domains Hosted…

Friday, March 14th, 2008

We are getting VERY close to 850,000 domains hosted on Bluehost/Hostmonster/Fastdomain. I think we have about a week to go. I am simply amazed at the number of domains added every day. I am excited to see the incredible things that people create and host with us. Everyday I am shown different sites on our network. The variety is astounding as is the amount of traffic pushed. Everyday tens of millions of visitors pass through our network on the way to view a site we host. We now host about 1.4% of all domains on the entire internet. That is an impressive number when you consider the size of the WHOLE internet :)

Thanks again for all you do and for sticking with us during this time of growth. We are constantly working on improving our organization and technical ability – I hope it shows for most of our customers!

Matt Heaton

Apple Take Two…

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

Apple Computer loves a controlled environment. What do I mean by a closed environment? When it comes to their computers it means that they build the hardware, they write the operating system, and they control and update the main APIs that most third party software utilize and adhere to when creating software. The Iphone is a chip off the old block – it has the same benefits and drawbacks.

This view is great for several reasons and bad for just as many. Lets explore the good first – When you have limited hardware to support you generally can maintain very good driver support for that hardware. SO many of Microsofts problems come from poor driver support by hardware manufacturers that have buggy or incomplete hardware support. This makes Windows XP/Vista appear far more buggy than it actually is, and Microsoft is generally blamed by the end user when when this happens. This problem is mitigated when you have a limited set of hardware to maintain. Another benefit to this model is that you can have a clear direction and focus for where you want to take your platform. Do you want to appeal to the very low end cost conscious consumer? Only the high end? Apple has ALWAYS been about quality first – even when it hurt the bottom line. Apple has sacrificed market share to develop products that they think are superior. Let me be clear (Because I know I will get email about this!!) – This is not intentional on Apples part. They want the most market share they can get, but when faced with cutting product quality and producing cheaper hardware vs making a quality product they almost always choose the latter option. I like that about the company. There are VERY few companies that I trust to make a quality product every time, but Apple is one of them. The last reason I will write about is perceived by many as a problem at Apple, but I see it as one of their biggest strengths. Because they control their environment so closely they can and will make “drastic” changes when necessary to take the hardware/software in a new direction that ultimately will benefit their users. Often these decisions alienated a portion of their user base, but overall I see this as a huge positive. Examples of these changes are (Starting from my first experience with Apple at age 14 – 22 years ago EEK) – Changing Apple II OS to a completely different outlook with their Mac 128/LISA computers with a mouse, switching to the 720K 3.5″ drives when everyone still used 35-40 track 5.25″ drives with 90K storage per side, “all in one” design, using 68000 series processors when 6502s/8086-88 were the norm for the time. REAL multitasking with the 68040. Skip forward to their decision to abandon Mac OS, and base a new OS on the rock solid BSD kernel – OS X is born. Other recent “painful” decisions include their decision to switch to Intel processors when all their code was based on the power processor. This change was hard for MANY companies, but necessary. Microsoft is too beholden to other companies to make such a switch – they still are trying to maintain backward compatibility with software that is 15 years old. That is a recipe for software stagnation.

Whats bad – Economics! No competition on hardware makes the cost higher. I don’t care what anyone says, Apple hardware is more expensive. I buy millions of dollars of hardware every year. I used to own three computer hardware stores. I know hardware! To me the value is there so I buy Apple products, but I know I pay more when I buy the machines. This is the number one reason Apple isn’t sitting where Microsoft is now. Cost is king and always will be for the overall marketplace. Second problem – As good as Apple is its “micromanage” everything attitude makes it impossible to grow as fast as it could. You need to “let go” to take over! Steve Jobs is way too much of a perfectionist to ever let that happen. Apples nimble nature with regard to its software and hardware changes also makes it a poor choice for enterprise customers that demand longevity and compatibility with legacy systems. Given the choice between innovation and compatibility Ill choose innovation every time, but that is a hard thing to force on customers that don’t share that vision.

What do you think? Did I peg Apple right on, or am I worse than a clueless pundit?

Matt Heaton / Bluehost.com