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ColdFusion Authors: Yakov Fain, Maureen O'Gara, Nancy Y. Nee, Tad Anderson, Daniel Kaar

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ColdFusion: Article

How to Find the Right Hosting Service

How to Find the Right Hosting Service

ColdFusion developers are faced with lots of choices when trying to find a ColdFusion hosting service that meets their needs. It can be tough locating a host that offers the right combination of features, service, and support at a price that's right for a variety of developers. In the March 2003 issue (CFDJ, Vol. 5, issue 3), we conducted our first interview with a ColdFusion hosting provider. This month, we interview CEO Vlad A. Friedman for the skinny on his company's ColdFusion hosting services.

CFDJ: Tell us a little bit about your company. How did you get started in the hosting business?
Friedman: was started almost 5 years ago as a division of ACS&S, Inc., a 12-year-old systems integration and consulting firm. As our consulting arm grew into development of Web technologies, we started utilizing the services of several hosting companies for our clients. After a relatively short time, we realized there was a great divide in the marketplace between the service providers and ColdFusion developers (their customers).

Few if any of these companies offered what we would have considered quality hosting and support services, and most treated their customers quite poorly. At that point we began to offer hosting services with service-level agreements and a quality of service and support that we felt customers deserved. ACS&S was retitled and was born. Our growth was paced and managed effectively to completely remove any dependencies on outside funding. This has allowed us to maintain high quality of service even through tumultuous financial markets, as most of our competitors continue to lose staff and resources. After 5 years, we have grown and built a state-of-the-art data center facility that hosts tens of thousands of Web sites, and allows us to effectively handle our exceptional growth rate, which has exceeded 80% per year.

CFDJ: Why ColdFusion hosting?
Friedman: We chose ColdFusion for several reasons. First, we already had a staff of developers that were familiar with the product. Second, ASP was not yet a mature development environment. Last, we felt that we could provide better service than any other provider in the marketplace since we already had the in-house talent to provide support services. Originally, our goal was to bring in more consulting business via the relationships we built with the clients. Over time we learned that our original premise was flawed. There were so many developers upset with the service they received from their hosting providers that they swarmed into our data center. Now, hosting has become the primary service that we offer, accounting for over 85% of the company's revenue. Developers now encompass over 90% of our clientele, and consulting has become just a convenience service that we offer to a few select long-term clients.

CFDJ: What version(s) of ColdFusion do you support?
Friedman: We offer ColdFusion 5, ColdFusion MX, as well as ASP and .NET hosting. We are also investigating additional opportunities to potentially begin offering BlueDragon hosting.

CFDJ: What do you feel separates you from other companies that offer ColdFusion hosting?
Friedman: I would say it's our focus and tools specifically designed for developers and resellers. Our primary goal as part of our mission statement is to provide our customers with the best service experience they have ever received from any IT company, no exceptions. This is the primary goal of every engineer on our support team. Every call into our support center is answered by either a Level 3 CF developer or NOC (Network Operations Center) engineer. There are never any confusing phone trees or trainees answering calls in our facility.

Although none of us is perfect, our Real-Time Error Notification service allows our developer customers to appear that way. Our servers deliver real-time information to developers on all errors that occur on their customers' Web sites, including the page, refer, error, all CGI variables, browser, and several other useful tidbits of information necessary to debug coding errors. That way, problems can be corrected before the customer even knows about them.

We've developed a unique technology called The ColdFusion Self-Healer, which runs on every server in our facility. It monitors for a number of different ColdFusion and IIS problems, and automatically resolves 90% of them with no human interaction in 60 seconds or less. In these scenarios, most problems are resolved before a user even has the opportunity to pick up the phone and call to report a problem.

Our support system has been developed from the ground up with developers in mind. It allows for multiple technicians/developers/site owners to manage all of their sites, configuration, and support tickets from one console. One central administrator can monitor all of their sites, as well as tickets for all of the developers with access to each of the sites.

Our reseller plans allow developers to start receiving up to 50% discounts off our retail prices almost immediately, as compared to the 10-20 required accounts with some of our competitors. This compensates developers for the time they already spend with their clients handling Level 1 support tasks.

We have always believed that resellers and developers are our most important customers, and they have been the essential key to our growth. One of the keys in providing reliable service in a shared environment is not overutilizing your servers or infrastructure. Even on our entry-level CF accounts, we place no more than 65 Web sites per server. This ensures that the appropriate server resources are always available to our customers when they need them.

Many of our clients utilize our managed CF dedicated servers. This allows them to operate on a dedicated high-end platform without the knowledge and experience necessary to operate their own server. All backups, DNS, statistics, security patches, security management, e-mail, along with a number of other tasks, are handled by our NOC engineers, freeing our customers to focus on their greatest strengths: acquiring new clients and coding CF applications.

Our robust facility, powered by Cisco with N+1 redundancy built in, serves as a stable base of operations that achieves 99.998% network uptime for our clients. With advanced GlobalRoute technology, we can even automatically reroute traffic around most Internet brownouts, providing unsurpassed traffic delivery.

CFDJ: In terms of hosting ColdFusion sites, what aspect do you find most challenging?
Friedman: The most challenging yet fun aspect of hosting is diving into our customers' code (at their request) to troubleshoot an issue. We are often asked to determine the cause of performance-related issues caused by coding or design problems. It's quite stimulating to get a grasp on a customer's application architecture (that they may have spent years developing), in a relatively short time frame, and offer design and implementation suggestions that can often double or even triple performance.

CFDJ: Can you give our readers an overview of the types of hosting plans you offer, as well as the costs?
Friedman: Our entry-level shared ColdFusion account, Expert CFM plan starts at $49.95 retail ($24.95 for resellers/developers) per month. It includes CF 5 or MX, 75Mb of disk space, real-time Web statistics, and e-mail with POP3, IMAP, SMTP, and Webmail, as well as a wealth of additional features. As requirements grow, our Master CFM account at $99.95 ($49.95 for resellers/developers) per month includes 200Mb Web and 200Mb SQL Server 2000 space, SSL, and additional e-mail accounts. At our highest shared level, Semi-Private Service at $249.95 ($124.95 for resellers/developers) per month, we place only six Web sites per machine, allowing for the greatest reliability and flexibility for high-traffic sites.

CFDJ: If you could ask Macromedia for one enhancement to ColdFusion that would make your life as a hosting provider easier, what would it be?
Friedman: Instead of requesting a technical enhancement, I would ask Macromedia to spend its resources to provide better support and help the CF community grow. We believe strongly in ColdFusion as a platform and in Macromedia as a leader in Web technology, but for CF to grow and succeed there needs to be a large base of developers who understand both the benefits and the implementation of CF technology. This is the reason we provide free hosting to so many CFUGs and CF community Web sites. The larger and more educated the developer base, the larger the opportunities in the marketplace. Remember, most often, the technologists, not management, drive architecture decisions.

CFDJ: Who can readers contact for more information, or to open an account?
Friedman: Readers can contact our sales department at 888-428-2752, e-mail [email protected], or just go to our Web site at to read more about what types of services we offer. Our engineers are always ready and able to answer your questions.

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