Recently I wrote about 3 Steps to Finding the Perfect Web Host for your Business. With so many hosting companies out there, it's difficult to know where to start. I recommend having a look at the article, which goes through the different options and what questions to ask.
I started writing basic websites when I was at University in 1995- when the world wide web was in its infancy. However, it wasn't until 2000 that I bought my first domain names and looked at the world of building and hosting my own website. I opted for a small Scottish hosting company called XCalibre. I had a very good experience with them to begin with- they had good customer service and they went out their way to help novices such as myself. Initially I started with basic shared hosting, but after I founded my business, Select Performers Internet Solutions, with my dad, it wasn't long before we upgraded to a reseller account and subsequently a dedicated server.
Unfortunately XCalibre sold it's web hosting division to WebFusion to concentrate on its Cloud Services product, Flexiant. It was at this point that everything went down hill in a big way. I'll spare you the sob story, but suffice to say the time when our dedicated server died as a result of a fire alarm going off in the Web Fusion data centre was the least of our worries!
We had invested so much in the set up we had with XCalibre, that moving to a different hosting provider was always going to be a difficult task. After a lot of time researching we came up with three possibilities and we contacted them all. We decided to take the plunge and move over to Clook Internet after a very helpful chat with the managing director. It was a long drawn out process for us, as it meant updating just about every page on all the websites we managed.
Thankfully we were in good hands- Clook were incredibly patient and helpful as we migrated all our sites across to our new server and they went over and above what I would have expected any hosting company to do. This included a one-to-one walk through of the control panel- cPanel where we could ask questions and learn how to use it.
Chris James (known to everyone as Jim!) was kind enough to let me interview him for this blog post. I thought it would be interesting to have a bit more insight into what it's like running a hosting company. Clook are a smallish hosting company, but they offer a wide range of services including shared, reseller, virtual servers, dedicated servers, content delivery networks, SSL certificates and domain names. They're not the cheapest- but what you do get is amazing customer service- and I mean amazing! They don't always get things right, and there have been a few issues over the past few years- but you get that with any hosting company. I think the proof of a good hosting company is what they do when things go wrong. Do they admit the mistake and go out of their way to sort things out or do they fob you off and blame the customer?!
Interview with Clook Managing Director, Chris James
Ian: Hi! Can you introduce yourselves, where you are from and what you like to do for fun?
Jim: Hi! My name is Chris James and I am the founder of Sub 6 Limited which runs the web hosting brand Clook Internet. When I’m not running the business or tinkering around with servers I can usually be found trying my hand at various home improvements (and usually failing!), walking the dog or hurtling around a racetrack as fast as possible.
Ian: How did you get into the hosting business?
Jim: I started out designing websites in the late 90’s which usually involved arranging the web hosting services for design clients. I realised this was an area I preferred so found myself learning about servers and all of the things associated with the web hosting industry. Following on from this I setup the business in 2001-2002 to focus only on web hosting services which is still going strong today.
Ian: With so many hosting companies out there, why should someone choose Clook? What's different about you? What kind of people and businesses are you targeting?
Jim: We've always aimed our services at the high end consumer/individual and SME’s but have customers ranging from consumers right up to multi-national companies with a few household names and celebrities thrown in.
I think one reason why many customers come, and stay with us is that they can stay with us as their requirements may change over time. We have a lot of customers who started on one of our lower shared or reseller hosting package and have grown over the years to multiple dedicated servers or a clustered solution.
Ian: Can you tell me a little bit more about the team behind Clook, where you are all from/based?
Jim: Most of us are from the North West of England whether that be Preston, Manchester, Bolton or Liverpool. In addition we have a couple of people who hail from further afield such Worcestershire and Suffolk. To complete the 24/7 support team we have a few based in the US from the state of Indiana.
As for interests and hobbies throughout the team (outside of computers, web hosting and all things techy of course!), this is as varied as it gets ranging from mountain climbing, go karting, dog walking, guitar playing and blog writing. Currently leading the race to be the activity at the Christmas “do” is go-karting
Ian: You offer 365/24/7 support. How do you manage this with different locations, customers and time zones?
Jim: We put together a nice system some years ago whereby the UK office handles all support during UK business hours and towards the end of the day/evening in the UK, support shifts to the US office. With the use of technology such as centralised support systems and VOIP phone servers this is quite an easy task and really helps us in the provision of 24/7 support without anyone needing to do a “graveyard shift” in their timezone.
Ian: What's the tech scene like in Preston? Why choose this location?
Jim: It’s a growing tech scene but with Preston located at a nice distance from both Manchester and Liverpool this is a benefit when recruiting.
Ian: How did you come up with the name Clook?
Jim: It was initially meant as a play on words/letters with the letter “c” meant as “see” which goes with “look”. In addition, it was a made up word that wasn’t in use as any other business name or brand which avoided any kind of issues related to our name being too similar to another already in use which was a factor when in an international marketplace.
Ian: How has it been? Have you been pleased how things have been over the years? What's been encouraging and what has been discouraging- the ups and downs?
Jim: Things have been going great and as we like – continued growth in a controlled and stable way. Like every business there have been a few bumps in the road but the highs far outweigh the lows.
Not wanting to sound too cheesy but I don’t think I’m the only one in the business who considers himself very lucky for being able to earn an income doing a job I like doing so much and I plan on this continuing for a long time to come.
Ian: The hosting business seems a little "cut-throat"- how did you compete with the big businesses that seem to offer the earth for so little money?
Jim: It’s a very different industry than it was when we started and having a reputation and history that is already built is very helpful.
Having said that, no matter how many “big boys” there are in the industry, there will always be room for smaller companies as they can always offer that more personal service with the flexibility that many clients demand.
I’m pleased that clients can (and often do) call us up and speak to the same person that helped them previously then can discuss their hosting situation before discussing the solutions we can offer whether that be a fairly standard solution or bespoke, custom hosting environment to perfectly suit the requirements.
Jim: We have never competed solely on price and I feel this is one of the things that has seen us through our first 10 years in business.
While price is important and will always be a factor, there are so many other things we feel are important such as level of service, after sales care, server uptime and so on. It can be seen that having that personal service along with the solid levels of service is worth a little bit extra in the price as we hear so often from customer feedback and we intend remaining at the price point of not being the cheapest but far from the most expensive.
It should also be mentioned that we try to include everything in one simple cost with nothing hidden. When compared even with “big names” who charge extra for every addon that we include as standard (including a fee for every support request in some cases) that is when “expensive” may start to look like “good value”.
Ian: Can you tell me a little more about the technology you use at Clook? For example the data centres, networking, hardware etc?
Jim: Since day one we’ve always tried to use top of the line facilities and equipment to ensure the most stable service to customers. We’re at the Centro data facility which while being fairly new (under 5 years old) is run by a company who have operated datacentres for much longer and have provided us with the solid datacenter and network services ever since we started offering UK based hosting in 2002.
As for hardware, for some years now we have used blade based hardware from vendors such as HP and Dell. Not only does this allow for better use of power in our racks, it also provides features such as remote KVM (keyboard-video-mouse), full equipment management and monitoring at the hardware level which makes all the difference when managing servers from outside of the datacentre. This puts all of the control in our hands when dealing with servers without having to wait for datacentre engineers to hook up a monitor to any server and relay to us what is going on which can take a long time.
Ian: How should a business or individual choose between shared, reseller, virtual or dedicated servers?
Jim: This is a question we’re often asked and all depends on the requirements of the client which we’ll talk about before recommending any solution.
Our shared hosting packages are often best for those with a single website or a few to host within the same end user account. Reseller accounts are used by those reselling web hosting to their own clients or to host a number of personal accounts to achieve better value for money than taking on a separate shared hosting account for each.
vServers and dedicated servers are usually chosen when a more powerful hosting environment is required or if customization of the environment is needed. On these systems we can install custom software, apply specific settings and can tailor it to the specific requirements of the client.
Ian: It's quite of generalism, but IT people are considered by some people as geeks or nerds who have a lack of people skills. That's certainly not been my experience with Clook (I'm talking of the lack of people skills here!). Why has this been so important and do you think there is any truth in that statement?
Jim: For customer facing roles, having skills in this area is always a benefit and often overlooked. While it may be great to be very technically minded it’s pointless if this can’t translate when dealing with customers to account for the huge variations we see in the knowledge of customers.
Here at Clook I think we have a nice mix of skillsets with some more technically minded and others more customer service minded. Overall, I think the balance is there and this shows when applied to real world customer support situations.
And yes, we could all probably be described as “geeks” on some level or other but I don’t think that has any bearing on people skills
Ian: You've concentrated solely Linux servers. Why is this, are you anti-Microsoft?!
Jim: Not at all 🙂
A Linux based operating system lends itself nicely to a web hosting environment with all of the features available in a stable and tested environment. This is why our primary services started on Linux and have continued on this operating system. As we know that Linux hosting is a strength of ours, this is what we have always stuck to rather than branch out into other areas that we’re not 100% comfortable with.
Ian: What's WHM and cPanel and why did you decide to choose these?
Jim: cPanel is a piece of software that acts as the control panel to most of our hosting services. This allows end users and resellers to manage their account using an online GUI to carry out common tasks such as setting up email accounts, managing databases, viewing web stats and a whole lot more.
We have always used cPanel as we believe it was the best software for the job when the business started and still believe this now. Not only is it feature packed, it is stable and allows for the flexibility and customization we need for providing services based upon the software.
With control panels being so detailed and complex nowadays, expertise in the control panel(s) being provided is of huge importance. As we have been using cPanel for over a decade and with the team here having over a century of combined experience with the software I can safely say that we know it inside out which makes life much easier when working with the software (both for us and clients).
Ian: You offer a CDN service (content delivery network). Can you de-geekify this? What advantages does this give and what kind of websites would benefit from using it?
Jim: A Content Delivery Network is the act of putting static content (such as images, downloads, etc) on different servers spread around the globe so that those who download those files grab them from the closest server and therefore get the fastest website speed.
We often recommend using the CDN for websites which offer downloads but it can also be a great benefit to regular websites, large or small, due to the speed increases and lower cost bandwidth when using the CDN for files, especially as some search engines are now using website load time to help determine their rankings.
Ian: What are your plans for the future?
Jim: We have some big service enhancements planned for the next 12 months including a total revamp of our vServer line, a new improved email cluster and the continuing improvement of our backup infrastructure.
Much of this is still at the R&D stage currently but these improvements will help keep the company foundations strong for years to come.
Ian: What software or apps do you use and love on a regular basis that you would recommend?
Jim: I’m a recent convert to KeePass for password management which is a great way of keeping passwords secure. I’m also an avid user of Trello for project management and Evernote for keeping my huge list of notes organized.
I'd love to know your hosting experiences. Have you had any horror stories or have you had a good experience? Please let me know in the comments below.