Web hosting can essentially be placed into three categories.
- Shared or virtual
The most common is shared, where you have an account with a hosting company to whom you pay a monthly or yearly fee, in exchange for a pre-determined amount of space, bandwidth and a few extra’s like PHP or ASP support (or both), and CGI etc. Often, each shared hosting account allows you to host one domain at a time, with a single control panel — and that’s pretty much it. Most of the time, that’s all people require, and so the need for these types of hosting environments will always exist.
Often, when a host is first starting out, they won’t have enough capital to afford their own server, and sometimes they don’t have the time to commit to server maintenance as well as trying to market and grow their new Web venture. Websites need to be hosted on a server somewhere, but if the company offering the hosting services is in this situation, how can they offer competitive hosting packages without the increased expense of buying or renting their own server?
This is where reseller-style hosting comes into the picture.
What Is It?
Reseller hosting is where a Web host buys a bulk plan from the reseller hosting company, and then subdivides that plan into smaller pieces to on-sell or "resell" to individual users.
The reseller host provides large scale hosting packages where, for a fixed cost, substantial packages of space and bandwidth are made available, together with the ability to host bulk domain names. The individual Web host can then concentrate on providing packages and plans to attract customers, without having to own, manage and maintain their own server.
Who Operates the Server?
The sever is run by the reselling company, and all server issues are taken care of on behalf of the reseller’s customer: the Web host. The Web host is generally free to claim the server as "theirs", although they rarely have full access to it. However, this doesn’t mean they can’t ask for things to be done to the server. For example, if a particular host needs a module installed to help run a script they have, they can request that it be installed — most reseller hosts are more than happy to install these items for their clients.
So Why not Go Straight to the Reseller Host?
Most site owners’ Web hosting needs are met through relatively small amounts of space and bandwidth. A reseller-style account involves a large amount of space and bandwidth, generally too much for a single site to ever use.
Additionally, prices are generally more expensive at the reseller host than at the shared host; after all, the on-seller subdivides these larger chunks into smaller lots suitable to the average site owner’s needs.
What is Unbranded Reselling About?
When a reseller host says they offer unbranded reseller plans (sometimes referred to as ‘private label’ plans), it simply means they provide their Web hosting services to their customers in such a way that it appears they do not exist.
How this works is that the reseller host uses an ambiguous domain as the primary name for their servers — they choose not to brand that domain with their own logo or name. This allows the smaller hosting on-seller to tell their clients that the server and associated domain name belong to them. This gives the impression that the on-seller is somewhat larger than it actually is, and that it owns and controls its own servers.
Who Uses Reseller Web Hosts?
Many Web hosting companies are in fact reselling the server space and bandwidth of another company. Using a reseller is an extremely effective way to break into the Web hosting industry, as it generally entails a reasonable monthly cost without the worries of server management, maintenance, and dealing with data centres. It’s essentially a stepping stone for new and small Web hosts, initially allowing them to provide hosting services and then, when they’ve outgrown their reseller hosting, they can easily move on to their own semi-dedicated or dedicated server.
Reseller hosts are useful for the following type of people:
"Overselling" — What’s It All About?
Overselling is a fairly common practice among Web hosts. Consider that a typical Web host might be allotted a set amount of space and bandwidth (for example 1000Mb of space and 10,000Mb of bandwidth), which they divide up to sell to their customers. Now, suppose the Web host offers plans that comprise 200Mb of space, and 2,000Mb of bandwidth. Without overselling, the Web host will be limited to only five of those plans before they’ve used up all the space and bandwidth they’ve purchased from their reseller.
Overselling works on the principle that, even though the plan may be 200Mb of space and 2,000Mb of bandwidth, the individual customer will not actually use that much space or bandwidth. This gives the Web host the ability to sell 10 or more of these plans, even though, technically, they’re doubling what is actually available to them. Overselling is based on the hope that none of the host’s customers will come close to their allotted limits. It can work, but it can also turn around and bite the host — particularly if a customer genuinely does need the amount of space and bandwidth they’ve purchased.
Control panel software that actually prevents the host from overselling your space is available — some software will allow it completely, and some that give the site owner the option to choose whether overselling on their account is enabled.
Where does Reselling Fit?
Reselling, and hosts that offer reseller plans, are more or less the "middle ground". What I mean is that, if you look at the categories I mentioned above, reseller hosts are the middle ground between shared or virtual hosting, and a dedicated hosting situation where you have and control your own server. Reseller services are often seen, and used as stepping stones for the host who’s moving from the position of a "start up", to achieving dedicated hosting status.
I need a Reseller Account! Who do I Pick?
That’s a tough one! Each reseller provider offers different packages at different prices. The old adage "you get what you pay for" is certainly true when it comes to reseller Web hosts, and as such, price isn’t always the most important factor when it comes to reseller hosting. Often, the factors cited as most important by a customer of a reseller Web host are:
Take your time, look at different companies, and go to places like www.sitepointforums.com or www.webhostingtalk.com, and search the forums for discussions on the companies you’ve looked at: see what others have to say about their service and professionalism. Email the company to ask a few questions, and be specific! For example, if you want to know what their policy on overselling is (regardless of whether it’s discussed on their site or not), email them and ask! Never feel that your questions are "silly" or "obvious" — if you’re unsure, ask. You’ll be able to determine from their response whether you like the "tone" and depth of their reply, and whether you’re satisfied with their service or not.
All these things will contribute to your overall perception of the company. Communication is valuable, so make sure your host of choice communicates clearly to their customers. If you want more "real-world" opinions on the host, join forums and ask for other people’s opinions — maybe even ask for existing customers to make comment.
Good luck in your search. May you and your chosen host have a successful reselling partnership!
Nathan has extensive experience in both the traditional networking and Web hosting industries, and worked extensively with Microsoft products before moving to Unix. He's worked on some of Australia's largest Web identities, and is still asked to consult on networking, internetworking, Web development and deployment. He also runs ResellerSpace.