WebHostingTalk.com – Where you can break the rules without breaking the rules.

I have been a member at WebHostingTalk.com, or WHT for short, since December of 2007. I can’t say that I haven’t run afoul of their rules on several occasions since then because I most certainly have. Although I have always personally done my best to make sure I understood and followed the rules there have still been situations where I have mistakenly broken the rules.

In the situations where I accidentally broke a rule it was always very helpful to be able to discuss the incident with the moderation staff in order to get a clearer understanding of what I did wrong and how to avoid it in the future. I’m human and by nature fallible – I will make mistakes – I am not perfect. What is important is that I am able to learn from my mistakes to avoid making them again in the future.

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SPAMMERS – I have a question for you…

While I don’t really expect to get any answers – I am a little curious.

I know that the reason spammers send spam is to make money.  I don’t think anybody sends spam for fun although I am sure some people have ‘spammed’ others to annoy them/etc.

With that said we get a lot of spam to “[email protected]”, “[email protected]”, “[email protected]”, etc…  Do you actually see a return on sending spam to these addresses or are you so readily able to send the spam that it really doesn’t matter?

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Goodbye MediaLayer, Rest in peace Gupreet.

Gupreet VirdiWhile I was not close to the founder of MediaLayer, Gupreet Virdi, I was always very familiar with their name and their services.  For the past 7 years MediaLayer has been competition for my company’s premium offerings and they’ve always done an excellent job of maintaining their reputation.  The owner has always taken care of customers first and made speed and reliability priorities.  It is unfortunate that Gupreet passed away unexpectedly and the industry as a whole will miss him as well as his company.

We have helped dozens of MediaLayer customers transition over to our services and while this has been good for our company it does sadden me to know why these new customers are heading our way.  Growth is good for us obviously but I wish there was more continuity planning at MediaLayer so that their customers did not have to scramble to find new services.

I hope that everybody affected by the closure of MediaLayer is able to transition to a competent and reliable provider quickly and easily.  It is my understanding that the MediaLayer servers should remain online for a week or two.  This will give MediaLayer’s customers some time to transition out but I generally would still advise downloading a backup immediately regardless.

Rest in peace Gupreet.

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Guardlex – DMCA Takedown Notifications over hyperlinks to non-infringing content

As I am sure many of you know, stealing another individual or business’ copyrighted intellectual property is theft with damages up to $150,000 per incident.  To fight online piracy of intellectual property the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA for short, was signed into law on October 28, 1998 by President Bill Clinton.  The DMCA outlines methods for reporting copyright infringement such as “DMCA Notifications” as well as what those methods must contain:

  1. 512(c)(3)(i)A physical or electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
  2. (ii)Identification of the copyrighted work claimed to have been infringed, or, if multiple copyrighted works at a single online site are covered by a single notification, a representative list of such works at that site.
  3. (iii)Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity and that is to be removed or access to which is to be disabled, and information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate the material.
  4. (iv)Information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to contact the complaining party, such as an address, telephone number, and, if available, an electronic mail address at which the complaining party may be contacted.
  5. (v)A statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
  6. (vi)A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

In simple terms, the notification must contain a statement that the notification is made in good faith, by an authorized agent, that it clearly lists the infringing content and that the information in the notification is accurate, that the individual or company submitting the notification is the copyright owner of the copyright or an authorized agent, the location of the original works that are being infringed upon, and a physical or electronic signature.

A DMCA notification, to be valid, there has to be infringement of a copyright.  When there is not infringement, a DMCA Notification in and of itself is not valid.

We have received two DMCA notifications [so far] from Guardlex.com where the DMCA Notice is centered on a simple hyperlink on the site of a customer of ours.  The link in and of itself is not infringing, the page in which the link is contained is not infringing, and the destination of the link is not infringing.  Guardlex.com apparently feels that they can supersede the First Amendment Right to Free Speech by submitting invalid DMCA Notifications.

This is unfortunately likely to be a growing trend due to Google penalizing sites for overzealous Search Engine Optimization, or “SEO”.  Companies who wish to have their sites listed high in Search Engine Result Pages, or SERPS, hire “SEO Agencies” to improve their search ranking.  There are positive and organic “SEO” methods that can be conducted such as optimizing the layout of a site and usability, creating quality content that others will want to link to, etc and there are negative and inorganic “SEO” methods that should not be condoned.  Negative and inorganic “SEO” generally consists of obtaining backlinks from as many sites as possible, often web directories and blogs, and keyword stuffing among other methods.

The end result is that there are millions of companies out there that have hired “SEO Professionals” to optimize their SERPS without a clue as to what is actually being done, and now that the Google Panda update is live, we are going to see these companies fighting to have all of these negative SEO practices reversed.  Some companies are doing this the legal way by summating cease and desist letters or simply contacting the site administrators and requesting the links to be removed, but the downside is that the site operator has no obligation to comply with a cease and desist or a simple request.  When these companies are being told, “No,” they are then turning to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to have the links removed.

Now the issue comes down to a simple question, “Is a link that does not point to infringing content, infringing?”  I believe the answer to this question to be a plain and simple, “No.”  Unfortunately these DMCA notifications demanding that the allegedly infringing links be removed are not valid as the links themselves are not infringement.  There is no way to demonstrate what work is being infringed upon as no intellectual property is being stolen or infringed upon.  This can be equated to me giving directions and a means of travel to the nearest Wal-Mart as infringing upon Wal-Mart.  Just because I give you the location, and an easy way to get there – does not mean that infringement has happened.

Here is an example, with personal and identifiable information redacted, of an invalid DMCA Notification:

Hello,

My name is Redacted Redacted, I work in the Anti Piracy Department of Redacted (http://www.Redacted.com), we provide anti-piracy and Intellectual Property protection services for Redacted company (http://redacted-site-hosted-elsewhere).

As such I am personally authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the aforementioned company.

It has come to our attention that your website (or website hosted by your company) contains links to the Redacted company website (http://redacted-site-hosted-elsewhere) which results in material financial loses to the company we represent.

This material financial loss is due to search engine penalties resulting from the links originating under your control.

I request you please remove from the following website http://redacted-site-hosted-with-us all links to http://redacted-site-hosted-elsewhere website as soon as possible. Please see the list of website pages in question:
http://redacted-site-hosted-with-us

In order to find those links, please do following:

1) If this is an online website directory. Use directory’s search system to look for http://redacted-site-hosted-elsewhere links.

2) If there are any hidden links in the source code of website. Open the website’s home page and view its source code. Search for http://redacted-site-hosted-elsewhere in the source code. This will reveal any hidden links.

It is our understanding; the links in question have not been authorized for use by our client, its agents, or the law.

Therefore, this letter is an official notification to effect removal of the detected infringement listed above.

I further declare under penalty of perjury that I am authorized to act on behalf of the trademark holder and that the information in this letter is accurate.

Please, remove all links to http://redacted-site-hosted-elsewhere website within the next 48 hours.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you are at all unsure how to remove the links. We will be happy to assist you in any way to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

I ask, what is it going to take for this abuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to end?  I also ask, what law is there that states that one site operator must obtain prior authorization from another site operator in order to hyperlink?  Do we really want to live in a world where creating a hyperlink to a good site or useful resource requires an attorney?

Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney, this is not legal advice, this post contains the facts to the best of my knowledge at the time of publication.  Should any information represented as fact be demonstrated to be inaccurate or non-factual I will be happy to make adjustments.  Any information not explicitly presented as a statement of fact is my opinion.

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[Updated] – EzeeLogin Customers Beware – License and Pricing Changes without Notification (Admod.com)

Update 02/17/12 at 10:42 PM EST

We’ve worked all of the issues we faced out with Admod/EzeeLogin.  I’m going to leave this post live as a reminder for Admod/EzeeLogin and other companies who read this post to be as open and transparent about their actions that affect customers as possible.  Had Admod/EzeeLogin gotten in touch with us, and their other customers, and explained the change-over and how it does or does not affect them – this entire post could have been avoided.  On another note, had Admod /EzeeLogin responded to our ticket quickly – this post would have been avoided.  If you have any questions, comments, or concerns – feel free to make them known in the comments.

Continue reading if you desire, but our issues that resulted in this post have been fully rectified.


If you’re currently using EzeeLogin and you signed up before the new “EzeeLogin.com” – be aware that when your current license expires there will be no option to renew it at Admod.com leaving you with no gateway.  This is apparently due them moving all of the EzeeLogin functionality / billing / licensing over to their new EzeeLogin.com domain.  While this is not a major issue in and of itself, it does require action by customers using their service prior to the new domain – and they sent no notices out making their existing customers aware of action required on their part.

When you try to log in at EzeeLogin.com using your email address from Admod.com, your address will not be found (i.e. they did not migrate over your license *or* your billing account).  This means when your license does expire – your EzeeLogin Gateway will effectively be rendered useless with no way to renew.  Had Admod/EzeeLogin contacted their existing client base to let them know they needed to sign up for a new billing account at EzeeLogin.com – then this post wouldn’t exist.

Upon searching Admod.com for any public notices of action required by their clients, the only information I could come across was less than detailed and did not indicate that any action was required:

 2011-08-08 07:07:54
New website for Ezeelogin
New website lauched @ www.ezeelogin.com

Taking this all a step further pricing has also increased without notice.  Prior you could get a license to connect to up to 50 servers for $42/quarter where as now $40 will only get you 10 servers on a monthly lease.  Increasing pricing is not a problem – when you let your existing customers aware of the price change.  When you increase prices without prior notice for existing customers it has the side-effect of pissing them off.

In my personal opinion, EzeeLogin/Admod are taking these steps because they’re too comfortable.  Their actions (and lack of notifications) alone have resulted in at least three larger providers I’m aware of saying “Hell, we’ll just develop and market our own product for less then EzeeLogin.”  While Admod/EzeeLogin likely had a monopoly on this niche need due to their product working well, their apparent failure at customer notification and public relations may very well have cost them their top spot in this market.  The providers that I know of that are going to develop their own gateways have the funds and capabilities to push a product out very quickly that not only is superior, but will be priced lower.

We reached out to Adod/EzeeLogin over 2.5 hours ago and have yet to receive a response from representatives of either site.

Admod/Ezee – you’ve made a seriously glaring error by not notifying your (previously) quite loyal customer base of these changes.  We ourselves have been customers since July 1st, 2010.

…. /facepalm

Update 02/15/12 at 10:00 PM EST

We finally did hear back from them, the representative that responded seems to believe that the “login” feature being removed from the old site is an oversight. They stated that we could maintain our old license through the old site although we would not be able to upgrade through the old site. Any changes to the plan would require moving to the new site/pricing (at roughly a 1500% increase).

I’m waiting to hear from a higher member of management to confirm this and to get some additional details as well as waiting to see if the “login” button does come back to the old site.

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Intellectual Property, Copyright, and “HostYourDream.net” – Site Ripper and Thief

It was just two weeks ago when I brought to light that the provider “Coomme Hosting” was using our design illegally and today I find another provider about to use our design, again, illegally.  While it is flattering that our design is so good that everybody else is deciding to use it without permission, it is very depressing that these “providers” would sink to the level of blatantly stealing a design rather than creating their own or having one created for them.

Here is the ripped version of our site (that is not live, yet, as of this posting), side-by-side with their current site, and the MDDHosting Site.  Click on the links for full-size.

While I sincerely hope that this “provider” chooses not to use our design illegally, if they do – I will do my best to make sure any of their potential clients are aware of their illegal use of our copyrighted intellectual property.

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Intellectual Property, Copyright, and “Coomme Hosting” – Updated August 11, 6:47 PM EDT

At MDDHosting we have worked hard over the years to build our reputation and we always put quality of service and support above appearances.  We eventually, after over 3 years in business, hired a designer to professionally create a new design for us.  The design itself was very expensive and was created by vReplay.com over the course of several months.

Recently an individual associated with the domain “xthosts.com” decided to rip a copy of our design and make it available for public download.  While they haven’t realistically done anything that anybody with basic skills couldn’t do if they spent some time doing it, they did make our copyrighted intellectual property illegally available to others in a fashion which proliferates the illegal use of our design. Continue reading

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Seeing the big picture… Why most hosting providers fail.

ServersIt’s no surprise that there are hundreds, if not thousands of new hosting providers that are started every day as there is simply little to no barrier to entry.  Anybody who has $5 to $15 can sign up for a reseller account and be their very own hosting company within minutes and this has some very unfortunate side-effects for the industry as a whole.

Many think that selling hosting is as simple as taking the disk and transfer allocations, splitting them up into their individual plans, and then sitting back and waiting for the money to come rolling in.  This usually ends up in the person who tried to start said company realizing, after a few months, that they aren’t going to get rich quick like they expected and that hosting really is a lot of work.  What happens to somebody who starts a business to get rich instead of because it’s what they are passionate about do you ask?  The answer is simple: the business folds.

Most new hosting companies are operated by individuals who have little to no business sense or experience and many times they fail to plan or to even see the big picture.  These individuals purchase a $5 to $15 per month plan and then expect to compete with the larger providers purely by cost but they fail to realize that in this industry that the less somebody pays, the more they expect from you and your service.  The individual who jumps from provider to provider looking for the best possible price tends to be the person who causes the most trouble and due to the naivety of these new hosting companies they become overwhelmed by cheap customers.

New hosting companies that manage to stick it out more than a year or two have a small chance of actually becoming profitable if they plan accordingly and make all of the right decisions.  Too many times have I seen a provider that appeared to know what they were doing but in reality they had no technical know-how and relied heavily upon friends and others in the industry to essentially run their business for them.  These hosting companies often will go from design to design mimicking as closely as possible, without directly copying, the providers that they themselves see as successful.  What these hosting companies don’t realize is that it’s not just the site design that makes the provider successful but the whole package.

I’ve said numerous times in the past that any company can try to copy what we do but more often than not they will fail to see the big picture and simply copying one aspect of how we operate our business will not give them the reputation and growth that we’ve worked hard to obtain over the years.  You can copy a design, you can copy an advertisement, you can post in the same forums, but none of this in and of itself will lead to success.

At the end of the day if you have a solid business plan, the time, the money, the desire, and the passion for running your own hosting company then you very well may succeed.  If you’re simply starting a provider in an attempt to make some quick and easy money, I suggest you stop now before you damage our industry any more than it already has been by the countless before you.

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R1Soft – CDP 2.0, CDP 3.0, cPanel Integration, Delays, and Poor Support (Updated)

R1SoftLet me start by saying that R1Soft, when it works, is an excellent solution that has on a few occasions saved us from partial or complete data loss in the event of an unexpected hardware failure or other unexpected data issue.  That is about the extent of what I have to say good about R1Soft which is extremely unfortunate.

My experiences with R1Soft formally began on March 12th, 2009 when we first obtained our trial R1Soft license.  I was in contact with David Wells from R1Soft after having faced an issue with some lost MySQL databases due to a mistake made by a technician when performing some maintenance on a server.  When discussing the issue with David he made it clear that with R1Soft backing up the server not only could we have restored those destroyed databases but we would also be protected against total data loss such as a catastrophic server failure.

We used the original trial license until March 30th, 2009 when we purchased the R1Soft Linux CDP starter pack for $500 including 5 Linux CDP agents, 1 MySQL addon, and 1 Archiving addon.  This was an excellent deal and up until this point R1Soft had lived up to every promise and we were very happy with the software.

David at R1Soft mentioned CDP 3.0 was coming out soon and mentioned, if memory serves, within the next quarter.  Promises were made such as faster backups, faster restorations, more reliable operation, cPanel integration, a more streamlined interface, and a lot of other features that surely anybody else running R1Soft 2.0 would love to see.  I’ll cut straight to the point – it was nearly 2 years before the 3.0 version of the R1Soft CDP was released in beta and even then it didn’t include all of the features that were promised and was even missing many of the key features of 2.0.

R1Soft 3.0 beta was released as a “standard edition” which only allowed backing up to the same server on either a secondary disk or network mounted storage.  There was no centralized backup server and when I looked into it no bare metal restoration – both features that had been available in 2.0 for over 2 years.  When the “enterprise edition” was finally released in beta, years after it was promised, it did not include bare metal restore or cPanel integration.  You are reading this correct – basic 2.0 features were totally absent from the 3.0 version of the R1Soft CDP even with it having been released nearly 2 years after it was originally promised.

With version 2.0 over the years and 3.0 the short period that we’ve been using it – we’ve always had strange issues that we’ve reported that have been entirely ignored.  We’ve had issues where 2.0 would cause kernel panics, would simply fail to back up, or would fail to restore that support either stated they could not replicate, that they claim don’t exist, or that they claim will be fixed in “the next release” or “sometime soon” that still happen.  We’ve had tickets where we gave them full and complete access to a server to diagnose and reproduce the issue, view and download logs, or anything else they needed to do and gotten back canned responses telling us how to do things on WINDOWS R1Soft backup servers or agents when we run exclusively Linux and made it clear in the ticket.

One issue that we, as well as several providers I network with, have faced with CDP 2.0 is when an end user starts a restoration and does not select the “overwrite files” option and “overwrite failed” errors cause the agent to fail on the restoration.  Now it wouldn’t be quite as bad if the agent just failed out and quit – but it actually fails “on” and consumes a full CPU core indefinitely until an administrator manually kills the restoration process.  There are several valid reasons to do a restoration without overwriting such as if you wish to replace any deleted files inside of a directory tree from a backup without overwriting any files not deleted – this error makes this impossible.  One provider I speak with opened a ticket about this on or around April 9th, 2009 and this issue has yet to be resolved.

Right now R1Soft 3.0 is extremely unstable on OpenVZ kernels, and has been since it has been released.  I know of approximately 5 kernel issues that R1Soft 3.0 has on various CentOS, CloudLinux, and OpenVZ kernels that cause the backups to either simply fail, or worse, for the entire server to hang or lock up.  Not only are R1Soft agent licensed extremely expensive, but they will take your production servers OFFLINE which is unacceptable.  I’ve gotten word that these issues have been resolved and will need to go through 10 business days of QA testing meaning, at minimum, 2 weeks before these serious kernel incompatibilities are resolved assuming all of their testing goes well.

With what R1Soft charges for new licenses, charges for maintenance, and the number of licenses they’ve sold, I simply do not understand how they cannot have a solid development team that can resolve issues in a timely fashion as well as building the new revisions of the software that have been promised.  Why does it take R1Soft 2 years to go from 2.0 to 3.0 when it was promised and why is the software so ridiculously unreliable, buggy, and incomplete when it finally makes it to the market?

Update 02/17/2011

R1Soft 3.0 has some “kernel” issues that occasionally causes a server under specific circumstances to lock up entirely forcing a reboot.  Their development team apparently has recently just finished finding and fixing all of these issues however the next step is to push those updates through “Quality Assurance” and then they’ll be available to those using the software.  While I am all for “QA”, I’m more for us not having to reboot servers twice a week due to the backup process causing the server to hang.

Last night the R1Soft process killed one of our servers at around 5 AM EST and unfortunately it occurred during a period of time that did not have staff coverage. The staff member who was supposed to be watching the process that decided to go awol which meant that bringing the server back online quickly fell onto my shoulders.  Coincidentally, knowing that we had staff coverage, I set my phone on silent for the first time in over two years and it just so happens that this is the night that R1Soft causes the server to hang up, while a staff member is not working like they should, and my phone is on silent.  I’m not trying to make excuses as the staff member should have been doing their job and that is definitely a failure on our part.

It is however a bad situation that should never have happened – if the R1Soft CDP Agent and Kernel Module would work like they’re supposed to the server never would have crashed and been offline.  While yes, the staff member certainly should have been doing their job which would have involved rebooting the server within minutes and avoiding extended downtime, ultimately the failure is due to the R1Soft Software.  I hope for R1Soft’s sake that no competitor brings a quality product to market although I dream about it every night.

It’s bad that a backup system that we rely on to protect our customers’ data also causes us to have to make sure we have somebody awake and watching in case the backup system takes one of our servers offline.  Hopefully R1Soft will have the fixes for these issues pushed out within the next two weeks although I won’t be holding my breath.

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Comcast – EXTREME Lack of Customer Service

Comcast Bill showing $50 "Unbilled Activity"

Let me first begin by saying that I’ve had Comcast Internet and Television service for well over 4 years and for the most part I’ve been satisfied with the service itself.  I’ve rarely had to use customer service as generally I’ve not had issues with any of my services and when I did for the most part Comcast fixed those issues in a timely fashion.  I’m not entirely sure what has changed over the last year or so, but things have gone seriously down hill when it comes to customer service.  I’m going to do my absolute best to detail exactly what happened, how it happened, and why it happened so that you can hopefully make an informed decision as to whether you wish to go with Comcast, to continue your existing Comcast service, or to shift to/choose another provider.

On September 27th, 2010 my wife and I moved in to our new apartment a couple of minutes away from our old apartment and we had previously called to schedule Comcast to come out and perform a transfer of service to get our DVR Box and our Cable box online in our new apartment.  Comcast came out and performed the transfer of service free of charge and since we were moving into a larger apartment we opted to go ahead and get another digital box for one of our bedrooms while we were at it.  The technician that came out explained to me that this was his first installation where he was on his own and apologized ahead of time if it took longer than we expected.  I told the technician that I understood and that it wasn’t an issue. Continue reading

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