Monthly Archives: December 2014

How to Make cPanel Work for You

Most of our customers never log into their cPanel account; they are completely happy to work within their WordPress Dashboards and never worry about what else might be available. This is, of course, completely fine; however, there are many things inside cPanel that might be beneficial for you to know about.

So! We’re writing this quick cPanel primer to help you learn about some handy features you can access therein.

What is cPanel?

cPanel is the user-level domain management control panel we use on our shared servers (and on many of our VPS and Dedicated servers, too.) It allows users to oversee and manage nearly every aspect of the domain, including backups, email and FTP accounts, bandwidth consumption, statistics graphs, subdomains, software installations and more – all within an easy-to-learn-and-use graphical interface.

How do I Access cPanel?

When you first signed up for your BCH account, you received a “Welcome” email that contained your cPanel URL, username, and password. If you don’t have the email anymore, we can easily re-send it to you.

The format of your cPanel URL will always be “https://” followed by your hostname (something like roost.blackchickenhost.com) and then “:2083” which is the port (to tell the server you want to access cPanel and not some other service.) An example would be:

https://roost.blackchickenhost.com:2083

If you can’t remember your server’s name, you can also use your domain name:

https://yourdomain.com:2083

The one caveat with using your domain is you’ll receive a security warning about the SSL certificate not matching the domain name. This is because the SSL is for our server’s hostname, not your domain – it is completely safe to proceed through the SSL warning here.

First steps inside cPanel

Once you’re in, what your cPanel looks like will depend upon which theme you have selected. Older accounts will have the x3 theme by default, while newer accounts will have Paper Lantern. You may change your theme by using the “Switch Theme” selector on the main page.

Despite cosmetic differences, the functionality remains the same. Most customers are interested in the following cPanel areas:

Backups

cPanel backups are outstanding – they are a full, exact snapshot of your entire account in one handy file. It will contain everything from databases to email to themes to widgets. If something goes wrong with your website which cannot be fixed or undone, reverting to the last cPanel backup will put everything back in place as it was at the time the backup was taken.

We strongly advise downloading a cPanel backup to your home computer from time to time, just in case of the unlikely event something catastrophic occurs within our datacenter.

Our courtesy cPanel backups are very robust, but they are a courtesy service only – they are not guaranteed.

You can access cPanel backups within cPanel under the Files area. If you click up Backup Wizard, you’ll see options to Backup or Restore.

Backup restorations are typically best left to us to perform, so I’m going to skip over that for now, and focus upon how to generate and download a cPanel backup.

Within the Wizard, please click on Backup, and then on Full Backup. On the next page, select Home Directory in the Backup Destination, and then enter your email address in the field below to receive a notification when the backup process has completed. Click “Generate Backup.” Depending upon how large your account is, the backup may take anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours.

When you receive the completion email, log back into cPanel, and this time, go into the Backups icon. In the Account Backups drop-down menu, select the date from the backup you took in the step above, and then click Download.

Voila! You now have an off-site copy of your entire cPanel account. It’s easy and worth the peace of mind.

Email

The next area we’d like to discuss is email. If you’d like to set up email accounts under your domain and are not using a third-party mail provider such as Google Apps, you can set up email accounts within cPanel.

Log into your cPanel account, and look in the Mail section. There are a lot of options here, and today we’ll just focus on a few: Email Accounts, Webmail, and Forwarders.

Email Accounts

This is where you will set up new email accounts, as well as editing or removing existing email accounts.

Creating a new email account is very easy. Let’s say I want to set up the address me@mydomain.com. Under Email Accounts, I would enter “me” without quotes in the first text box, and then make sure I have “mydomain.com” selected in the drop-down menu to the right.

Next, I select a strong password and enter it twice. Lastly, I choose how much disk space I would like to have the email account to be able to use. 250MB is the default, and you may enter any whole number in that field, or you may select “Unlimited.”

Click Create Account, and there we are – a new email account!

Changing Passwords

To change the password for an existing email account, we also go into the Email Account area. To the right of the email account, there will be a “Change Password” option. Click that, and enter the new password, then save it.

Once you change your password, do be sure to change the password inside all of your email clients (including on mobile devices!) lest your IP become blocked for too many failed login attempts on email.

Webmail

If you’re having troubles with your email client, or if you’re not on your own computer, webmail is a good alternative. You may access webmail by entering your hostname, followed by :2096 as in the following example:

https://hive.blackchickenhost.com:2096

Your username will be the full email address.

You may also access webmail from within cPanel under the Mail area, on the Webmail icon.

Once you’ve logged in, you’ll be presented with three options: Squirrel Mail, RoundCube, and Horde. I recommend trying all three to see which you like best, as the formats are quite different.

Forwarders

You may also set up automatic forwarders within cPanel. There are two options for these:

1.) Forward an existing email account
2.) Forward an email account that does not exist

There are two important differences here. When forwarding email for an account that does exist in cPanel, incoming mail will be delivered to that email address and then also forwarded to the destination you set up. When forwarding email for an account that does not exist, it will only forward to the destination, and will not be delivered anywhere locally within cPanel.

To set up a new forwarder, simply log into cPanel, go into the Mail area, and click on the Forwarders icon. Click “Add Forwarder,” and then enter the first part of the email address. From the example above, “me” would go here. Then, select the correct domain from the drop-down address.

In the Destination area, keep the first radio button checked and then enter the destination email address in full – like me@gmail.com. Then, click Add Forwarder. Boom! Now all email will be forwarded to me@gmail.com.

Summary

That’s a lot of information to throw out at once, so we’ll wrap this installment up for now. In coming cPanel posts, we’ll tell you about:

Bandwidth graphs
Server-side stats
Subdomains
Addon Domains
Hotlink Protection
CloudFlare
Softaculous

In the meantime, please feel free to open a support ticket anytime you have questions or concerns about cPanel functionality, or any other aspect of your hosting experience.

 

 

What is Bandwidth?

From time to time, you may get an email from your server that says you’re approaching your bandwidth limit for the month – what is that?

In a nutshell, “bandwidth” is the volume of data being sent from your server out to the internet. Some elements, such as images, are larger and will consume more bandwidth. Text takes up very little bandwidth.

If you have an image that is 5MB in size, it will take 5MB of your bandwidth allocation every time someone loads that image on your site. Busy sites consume more bandwidth.

Why did I get the email?

We have our servers configured to send out emails to our customers when they are approaching their monthly bandwidth allocation. Most servers will send out emails at the 80%, 90%, 95%, and 99% marks, which typically gives ample time to plan for a bandwidth increase.

If you receive the 80% notice, and there are only a few days left in the calendar month, you likely will not need to add additional bandwidth. If you receive the 90% notice, and there is only a day or two left in the calendar month, you may be able to get away with that, too.

However, you should be aware that once you hit that bandwidth limit, your account will automatically be suspended. This is a fully automated process that will occur unless bandwidth is added or other arrangements are made in advance, regardless of the time of day or night the limit is reached. Your site will be offline, and the message “Bandwidth allocation exceeded” will be displayed to anyone trying to access the site.

Why do I have to pay for more bandwidth?

We pay for the bandwidth our customers use, and we include a reasonable amount of “free” bandwidth in your monthly hosting fee. Because we ourselves have to pay for the total amount of bandwidth used by our customers, we can only allow so much “free” bandwidth before we start losing money.

Our network carriers make money by charging us for the bandwidth we use. You can think of bandwidth like water utilities: The data is like water, the internet cables are like pipes: The pipes/cables are always there, and the water/data flows through them. The amount of data flowing is metered and charged for, just like water. The utility company/internet carrier charges for the volume used.

Because we’re a Mom and Pop shop, and not a big-box host like our competitors, we unfortunately pay a higher rate for bandwidth than they do.

How is bandwidth measured?

Bandwidth units are bits, bytes, kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, et cetera, just like disk space; however, they are not the same thing. Just as an ounce can be a unit of weight or volume, a gigabyte can be a unit of space or volume, depending upon its context.

Overall server bandwidth is measured by network equipment called switches. Network topography is likely something you’re not terribly interested in learning about, but to sum it up, a switch is a device that connects your server to the network, and it also directs traffic to destinations on a network. Your server is connected to the switch by a network cable that connects to a port on a switch. Each bit that comes through the port is measured and routed by the switch.

Your account’s bandwidth usage is measured by the server itself, through various scripts.

How do I know how much bandwidth I’ve used and how much I’m allowed?

You can always check on your bandwidth consumption versus allocation in your BCH Customer Portal. Click on “My Services” and then on the green arrow to the right of your shared hosting account package. The next page will show various statistics about your account, including bandwidth usage. It will look something like this:

Bandwidth usage: 112544MB / 500000MB (23%)

You may also log into your cPanel account and click the “Bandwidth” icon to get a graphical overview of your recent bandwidth utilization.

How can I decrease my bandwidth usage?

Many times, high bandwidth consumption is caused by large images being served from a site. Be sure to optimize your images for website usage – don’t use the giant original from your digital camera, and always resize images to the size at which they’ll be displayed. The built-in WordPress image “resizer” only changes the displayed size – it does not reduce the amount of data sent to the browser.

Here is an excellent image optimization article:

http://www.shopify.com/blog/7412852-10-must-know-image-optimization-tips

Google has a more technically-in-depth article here:

https://developers.google.com/web/fundamentals/performance/optimizing-content-efficiency/image-optimization?hl=en

There are a number of WordPress plugins that can go through and resize all of your images; however, some of these can cause high load on the server, while others can radically decrease Dashboard performance. Use caution and only select plugins with a hefty number of good reviews.

Reducing the number of images on your pages will help, too.

Another method to reduce your bandwidth consumption is to utilize a CDN (Content Distribution Network) solution, such as CloudFlare. CloudFlare has many advantages (discussed here,) among which is decreased bandwidth usage. This is because the CDN caches images and other content off your server, and send it to your readers from their nodes – not your server itself.

If you’d like us to help you learn how you might be able to lower your bandwidth utilization, just let us know in a support ticket – we’ll be happy to help!

Is A VPS Right for You?

We get many questions about when the “right time” is to upgrade to a VPS (Virtual Private Server.) There are many cases when a VPS may be better than a shared server, and when the time is right for you and your site is will vary from someone else’s.

Here, however, is a bit of a primer on things to consider when contemplating whether you want to stay on shared hosting or upgrade to a VPS.

One of the most important elements in this decision will be server resources. Our shared servers are very powerful machines with a lot of CPU and RAM; however, a lot of customers share those resources and they can impact your site’s performance. Having your own VPS (as we run and configure them here at BCH) means you won’t have “noisy neighbors” consuming resources you need – your resources are your own with a VPS.

Server resource over-utilization is one of the most common reasons people need to move to a VPS. If one site is extremely resource-heavy, it is unfair to the other customers on a shared server; one busy site can cause slowness or outright downtime for the other sites. In those situations, upgrading is seldom optional (unless we are able to help optimize the busy site to use fewer resources – something we’re always happy to work with!)

If you have tweaked and tweaked your site, removed a bunch of plugins, reduced the size and complexity of the page, implemented a caching plugin, et cetera, and your site is still causing load or other troubles upon your shared server, we will very likely ask you to upgrade to our Developer Class hosting or to a VPS.

Another important item which comes up frequently with our customers is email deliverability. Deliverability refers to whether email sent from your server is able to reach its destination without errors, being marked as spam, or outright rejected. On a shared server, everyone sends their mail from the main IP address. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of mail going to the third-party mail providers, such as gMail, AOL, and AT&T. Sometimes, the sheer volume of legitimate email causes the IP to become blocked for no other reason.

Most importantly, though: If any customer’s account on a shared server becomes compromised and begins relaying spam, that will adversely affect everyone on the server when the spammer gets the server’s IP blocked at AT&T, gMail, AOL, or Yahoo. 

With a VPS, the only email being sent from your IP address is yours; the only account you have to worry about being secure is your own.

The next element to consider is customizability. Within a shared server environment, there are only so many changes we can make to the server, because many people share it, and a change that works for you might break someone else’s site. If you have special needs for PHP, MySQL, or other server-side aspects, a VPS may be the best way to meet them, as we can tailor the VPS environment to suit your use case.

Traffic is another point to consider. If you’re expecting a huge increase in your traffic, it will almost assuredly be best to move to a VPS ahead of the time you’re expecting the surge. There are two main reasons for this:

1.) Protecting your site – If your site suddenly becomes very busy on a shared server, it may cause server instability and load, which adversely affect all other customers on that server. If the instability becomes unsustainable, we will have no choice but to temporarily suspend your account.

2.) Performance – As I’ve mentioned many times thus far in this post, a shared server environment means you are sharing resources – memory, CPU, disk, everything. The other sites on that server are consuming portions of those resources – portions you may really want (or even need) to handle your incoming visitors. Your own server means only you are using those resources.

Lastly, we have to discuss cost. A VPS server is going to be significantly more expensive than a shared hosting account, because it is for your use only – there are no other customers sharing the expense of maintaining the server.

Most of our VPS customers pay between $6 and $10 per day for their VPS’s. Many of them upgraded “temporarily” to make sure their expected traffic spike went smoothly – and never looked back to shared hosting. It’s very nice to have your own environment!

It is possible for customers to split a VPS between themselves; we call this our Semi-VPS package. Having a VPS “roommate” or two can really help defray the costs of the VPS while maintaining most of the same benefits.

Our VPS servers are charged by the day, so you only pay for the time you need. In 99% of all cases, upgrading and downgrading is free of charge.

Additional benefits of VPS hosting

  • Nightly, full-server-image backups, as well as individual cPanel backups
  • Solid State Drives
  • Easy up/downgrades to different VPS sizes
  • Core-managed and Self-Managed options available at a reduced cost (no cPanel)
  • 5 TB included outbound bandwidth (inbound is always free)
  • Real-time monitoring of your specific server
  • Additional off-server firewall for increased security available at no charge
  • RAID configurations available
  • Load-balanced VPS’s available
  • Virtual Dedicated Servers available

If you’re interested in learning more, please send us a support ticket, and we’ll be happy to help!