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Unlimited hosting vs reseller – Choosing the right hosting plan for your web design business

This article was posted in: Web Hosting

Following on from our previous article investigating the advantages and pitfalls of running your own VPS Cloud, today I’m going to take a look at the differences between our Unlimited hosting, and Reseller hosting accounts.

This article is primarily aimed at people looking after several websites for customers and are unsure whether to:

1.) run multiple websites from a single cPanel account or
2.) buy a reseller plan and control multiple cPanel accounts

It’s important to understand what these two types of accounts offer and what they don’t – so here’s the gritty overview without any sugar frosting. It’s quite long and ugly in places, but stick with me, because this is important stuff to grasp before you embark on hosting your websites.

Unlimited Hosting (Ruby)

If you haven’t already guessed, the title isn’t entirely accurate. In fact anyone selling unlimited hosting plans are doing so with their tongue, to some degree, in cheek. They would have to be, otherwise Mark Zuckerberg would be paying just a tenner a month to host the worlds largest social network!

The idea behind unlimited hosting is to provide a cPanel account with very few restrictions so customers can run their websites and email without having to worry about running out of space, mailboxes, databases, number of domains etc. It should be noted, that our Unlimited hosting packages are not designed for resellers. That is to say, if you plan on using one to host dozens of websites for your own customers, then you will be breaking our AUP and we will ask you to stop.

Essentially it’s an all you can eat buffet – but like any sensible restauranteur, we do limit the size of your plate! In hosting terms, the size of your plate means memory, CPU power and I/O capacity (the ability to read and write data from and to the server’s disks).

These limitations shouldn’t come as a surprise – in fact, you’ll find most reputable hosting providers apply them, because they protect other users should your account be abused.

The advantages of unlimited hosting

Greater performance than Amethyst and Topaz plans – If you are running just one or two websites from your cPanel account, and need greater performance (i.e. more memory, CPU, and I/O capacity to serve pages faster) then upgrading from our entry level Topaz plan is usually a logical and wise choice.

More space – being an unlimited account, you no longer have to worry about the mailbox, database, addon domain (and other) limits placed on the Amethyst and Topaz plans.

 The disadvantages of unlimited hosting

Memory and CPU are not unlimited – In practice, while you are welcome to install 100 websites on your Ruby plan, you are probably going to come unstuck when a handful of those sites become busy. This is because the collective memory, CPU and I/O requirements may exceed what the server will allocate to your single cPanel account. When this happens the server will either queue processes or refuse to allocate more memory for your processes, and performance may be affected. By the way, you can always see if this is happening by checking your cPanel resource usage stats.

Poor portability of addon domains – If a customer wants to move hosting, or upgrade, you will have to manually extricate their data, databases, email etc from the rest of the websites on the same cPanel account, and then copy it all, manually, into another account. This is very time consuming and more likely to create disruption for your customers.

Monolithic security – All of the data stored in your cPanel account (files, email, databases etc.) is accessible from the cPanel username and password. This means that every time a customer wants to make a change to their mailboxes, databases, or their files, you have to do it for them – or let them log into your cPanel account (shared by all of your other customers – not wise!).

A more serious aspect if this security model is the level of exposure to unauthorised access. Should ANY website in the cPanel account fall prey to a vulnerability, or if your cPanel login details fall into the wrong hands, then the attacker will gain access to all of the websites hosted on the same cPanel account. I’ve explained this a few times to budding web designers over the years (always after a hacking has happened), and it invariably produces several seconds of thoughtful silence on the phone.

Reseller Hosting (Trinity)

A reseller plan gives you access to WHM (Web Host Manager), a web based GUI – separate from the normal cPanel one – that provides the tools to design your own cPanel hosting plans. You can then create cPanel accounts using those plans as templates. WHM allows you do a lot more besides (not all of the features are available to resellers, but most are) – providing all the tools you need to manage your customers’ cPanel accounts. A Trinity plan initially allows you to manage up to 50 cPanel accounts and allows a total of 25Gb disk space, but this can be extended.

Each cPanel account can use as much or as little of your overall space allowance as you allow. Again, we limit the amount of memory, CPU power and I/O bandwidth that each of your cPanel accounts can consume. The limits are actually quite generous and each cPanel account’s resources fall just shy of our Topaz plan (which itself is currently £5.99 a month for a single account), making Trinity excellent value.

So, if you are hosting several small to medium sized websites, then a reseller plan makes a very wise choice indeed.

The advantages of reseller hosting

Improved user experience – Your customers can take ownership of their own cPanel account, looking after their own email settings, access stats, and creating their own backup files for example.

Improved resource management – Because each customer uses a separate account, then no single website can hog all of your memory, CPU or I/O resources – avoiding disruption for your other customers.

Much easier to move/migrate – If a customer’s requirements exceed what your reseller plan can provide, then upgrading them to a dedicated cPanel plan, or moving them to another host is much easier since cPanel accounts are very portable and easily moved.

Improved Security – Because each customer uses a separate account, there is a useful security air-gap between them. If one of your customers’ accounts is hacked then the attacker will only be able to access that particular account. Your other customers’ accounts will remain safe. It’s a recipe for sound sleep!

The disadvantages of reseller hosting

What’s not to like about a Trinity account? Not much to be perfectly frank. Granted, it costs 2.5 times as much as an unlimited Ruby plan, but you do get to run 50 accounts that have only slightly less power than our Topaz plan (£5.99/m at time of print). That’s pretty good value in anyone’s book.

Conclusion

If you haven’t already guessed – hosting a lot of websites on a single cPanel account, whether thats a Ruby unlimited plan or any other plan, is almost certainly not a good thing to do. It makes it difficult to disentangle customers later on, exposes them to unnecessary security issues, and means that a single website might hog all of the power, making other websites slow down.

Of course, we certainly won’t stop you doing this, but don’t say we didn’t tell you so when things go awry. Far be it from Krystal to offer business advice, but if you make a living from hosting your customers’ websites then trying to do it all on a tenner a month just might be an economy too far. Instead look at the Trinity reseller plan.

There is a learning curve associated with managing a WHM reseller account, but it’s by no means huge, and the benefits for any business that looks after customer accounts clearly outweigh the problems associated with cramming everything onto a cPanel account. Don’t take our word for it. Here’s just one quote from a happy reseller…

“We very soon realised that using a re-seller account was the way to go. As our client base became more educated, letting them handle their own accounts saved us time and gave them more a sense of ownership”
Andy Calloway (www.callowaygreen.com)