Super Speed Sheffield – Local Business Gets A Speed Boost

Less “information super-highway”, more like “information cart track”

You know how it is, you’re downloading something on the web and your connection starts to grind to a halt and it takes forever to complete

Now imagine that same problem in an office of 20+ staff, who are developing websites, writing mobile apps and uploading them, all with a connection that just about manages 0.5Mbit/s upload speed. This was the problem former KDA office neighbours 3Squared faced when they moved to a larger office to accommodate their rapidly growing team.

Lots of busy developers need a lot of bandwidth

Lots of busy developers need a lot of bandwidth

With an ever expanding team and no options for “Fibre Broadband” 3Squared needed a solution if they were to keep on delivering their world class applications on time to customers. Fortunately we were able to help them out, with a real fibre leased line.

Fibre termination and media conversion

Fibre termination and media conversion

“We’d all been really excited in the office, waiting for our install date to come around and now it’s installed we’re not disappointed. The difference it makes when we’re uploading and downloading is huge.”

James Fox, Commercial Director, 3Squared Ltd.

Real fibre, to your office

With a KDA fibre leased line, you get fibre all the way in to your office meaning we can offer you speeds from 100Mbit/s to 10Gbit/s and that’s not just download either, you can upload just as fast. Fast uploads are essential for today’s creative and digital industries – the sooner you’ve uploaded or downloaded something, the sooner you can be using it/testing it and on with your next task, providing increases in productivity your clients and your bottom line will appreciate.

An End-to-End solution

Our fibre leased lines are easy to use. We provide all the equipment you need to connect to your existing network, pre-configured and if you’re in the Sheffield City Region then we’ll even come out and connect it all up for you, free of charge.

A Juniper SRX router provided by KDA.

A Juniper SRX router provided by KDA.

If you’d like to see how a KDA fibre leased line can help your business please contact us and we’ll be happy to help.


An Open Letter to Digital Region

As a small business based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire we take an active interest in what is happening in the region, especially when it comes to anything technology related.  When Digital Region was announced in 2009 we looked forward to seeing the whole of South Yorkshire provided with world-beating broadband speeds and thought what a great asset it would be for the region.  Unfortunately as things progressed slowly we began to realise that it wasn’t going to be all that we had hoped for, especially when we looked at the commercials from an ISP perspective.

Jumping forward a few years we recently tried to get ourselves connected to Digital Region as our current broadband provider (Be There) have had a number of issues over the last year and we’ve had enough and Origin Broadband were offering a “max” product that could see our very short line achieve speeds of >100Mbit/s down and >20Mbit/s up.  Unfortunately this just highlighted how wrong things are with Digital Region at the moment and we can no longer hold back our thoughts on the whole issue.  With this in mind, we have written an open letter to Digital Region which you can find below:

An Open Letter to Digital Region (pdf, ~310KB).

We really want to see Digital Region succeed and fulfil its initial promises, we hope that this will spark useful and interesting debate on the subject and lead to changes and improvements at all levels.


Learning from other people’s web hosting mistakes

As the new series of Dragons’ Den on BBC2 starts it seems that some people in this world are doomed to keep repeating the mistakes of others without learning anything from them.  Every year it is the same without fail, someone will make a pitch to the Dragons and their website instantly becomes unavailable – robbing them of publicity and more importantly, customers.

Even Worse…

It gets even worse when the website is your business!  Last night you may have seen The Present Club do their pitch to the Dragons, like thousands of other people I thought I’d take a look at the website – although more to see if it was still working than anything else.  Unfortunately like so many before they had not prepared themselves adequately for what is probably the largest amount of publicity they are likely to receive in the short term, loosing themselves many potential customers and showing themselves in a poor light to any potential investors – You have to remember that an offer on Dragons’ Den is not binding and may not go ahead once due diligence is completed, but other people may be thinking they are a good business to be involved with (Despite what Duncan Bannatyne may think, you need to keep your options open to get the best deal if things don’t work out).

What can be done?

If you find yourself in such a situation, where you’re going to appear on TV, or your product/service will be featured prominently on Radio/Magazine/Large Event then you need to talk to your web hosting company as soon as possible and ask them what they can do to help you cope with the increase in visitors to your site – of course some of these things will not be free, but as a business person you have to work out the cost of lost customers.

The Maths

If your appearance on TV brings in 200,000 visitors to your site and you usually convert 3% of visitors to customers then that’s 6,000 new customers for you – But only if your website is up and running.  Maybe 5-10% of those will come back the next day to take a look at your site, so now you’re only talking about 300-600 new customers – that’s a significant drop.  If your average sale is £20 then that’s a difference of £114,000 at the worst case (£120,000 – £6,000).

Can You Afford To Throw Away £120,000?

If so then you probably don’t need to be reading this blog post at all and congratulations, you’ve done very well for yourself.  If like the majority you can’t then you need to sit down with your web hosting supplier (or better yet, give us a call about our business web hosting and dedicated servers) and work out a plan – even if it’s only for a temporary increase in capacity for your website.  There are a great many things that can be done, quite a few of them for free that can help your website survive an increase in visitor numbers and help you capture new customers – for <1% of that £120,000 of new business you could potentially increase the capacity of your website by 3-4x, if not more in some cases.

I’d Like To Know More

If you’d like to know more about how we can help you with your web site hosting problems then please get in touch with us to discuss our business hosting solutions.


Secure Offsite Data Backups – For Servers and PCs

How do you backup?

Hopefully the answer isn’t “we don’t”, hopefully you at least take backups to a server in your office, or to disk and keep it in a fire safe.

Data is the key to all businesses, without it there often is no business left, or it soon goes out of business quickly after a data loss – so looking at backups is something you should do right now if you haven’t, and if you have then you should review the situation every year to make sure your current system still meets your needs. Could you survive without payroll data? Without your customer lists? Without your inventory data? Without your emails? Work in progress?

Not just servers

It’s not just servers you should think about taking backups of either, more often than not employees will store critical data on their desktop and laptop PCs, even if company policy says not to. Even if all of your data is stored on a server, you need to think carefully about where you back it up to – we’ve seen a lot of people fall in to the trap of, “Well it’s got RAID so it’s fine” or “It’s got a USB drive attached to it” and leave it at that. RAID isn’t a backup mechanism and a locally attached USB drive isn’t going to help when it’s burnt to a crisp with your server, under 2ft of water or in the back of someones van!

We have the solution!

This is where we can help you, we are proud to announce the launch of our new Protexia® DataSafe backup service providing affordable, secure data backups for servers, desktops and laptops.

  • Secure: Files are encrypted before leaving your machine with AES, TwoFish or 3DES and sent to us over a secure encrypted data connection
  • Fast: Files are compressed before sending, only changes are sent
  • Flexible: You can have multiple backup sets with different backup schedules and retention policies
  • Cross Platform: Supports Windows, Linux and Mac
  • Easy To Use: Windows and Mac have easy to use graphical interfaces for managing backups from the machine and all clients get a web based interface for managing backups and restoring files
  • Databases: Supports backup of MS SQL, Oracle and MySQL Databases
  • Email: Supports Lotus Notes and brick level MS Exchange Backup

We are providing free 30-day trials of Protexia® DataSafe with 50GB of storage space ahead of our full launch. Once you’re happy with the service at the end of the trial you would pay:

  • £20/month + VAT for the first 50GB
  • £15/month + VAT for subsequent 50GB blocks

If you have any questions about the service or backups in general then please contact us.


.uk Short Domains (and Reserved)

As many of you will already be aware (we’ve already applied for some of you) Nominet (the organisation that runs the .uk domain name space) is releasing a large list of previously reserved domain names – most of these are either single or double character domains. At the moment we’re in the open landrush phase – so anyone can apply for any of the remaining 2640 domain names.

How much does it cost?

Nominet charge a fee of £10 + VAT per domain name for applying for a domain name – if you’re the only one that applies then you’ll be allocated the domain name, if more than one registration is received by June 15th then it will go to auction. If you’re successful at either stage then KDA will charge our usual fee of £14.95 + VAT per domain name to register it for 2 years.

How do I apply?

If you’d like to apply then you’ll need to open up a support ticket with us, as we’re currently doing all the reserved domain applications manually – so we can make sure everything runs smoothly. Once we’ve submitted the request, we’ll send you a code, which you’ll need to enter at the URL we provide – this will allow you to pay the £10 + VAT fee to Nominet.


Upgrades and Additions

We’ve had a few people ask us exactly what we were doing in our recent scheduled downtime sessions during April, so here we are:

New Datacentre Facilities

The main bulk of the time has been spent moving the majority of our servers from our current point-of-presence (PoP) at Interxion in central London to our new PoP at London Hosting Centre in the Docklands area. There are a number of reasons for this move, which we weighed up very carefully with the inconvenience that would be caused to you:

  • Inability to get extra power to our racks – we were running them half empty as we could not get extra power without moving our equipment to a different part of the building.
  • A change in focus for Interxion – they are moving towards fewer, much larger corporate customers.
  • Above market rate pricing – year on year we have absorbed price increases, unfortunately the latest price increase we would have had to have passed on and would have resulted in prices rises of between 15-25% for you, this is not something we would have been happy doing and something a number of you told us you wouldn’t want to pay.

When we weighed up these 3 main factors we took the decision to find alternative facilities to run our services from, we are confident we have made the correct choice of facilities. We have always set out to work with partners for the long term, working as we did with Interxion for over 7 years.

The eagle eyed among you will have noticed a plural in the above statements, that we have chosen facilities to work with, not just a facility. Our network and services are now present in 3 geographically diverse datacentres, along with London Hosting Centre we have setup PoPs in:

Manchester

We are now present in Manchester, with our first services planned to go live during May (more of which below). We take network connectivity in Manchester from two providers, as well as having a gigabit link between Manchester and London.

Woking

We also have a presence in the Sentrum IV facility in Woking. This is a highly secure, Tier III+ facility providing excellent options for customers who need to be outside of London, but not so far outside that it causes them major travel problems.

Network Upgrades

A major part of our work has been to upgrade our network so that it is now Juniper powered in the core and distribution layers. For LHC this means using the latest Juniper MX80 3D line of routers and EX4200 switches. For Manchester this means Juniper J-Series routers and EX4200 switches. Woking is currently connected via diverse Layer-2 services back to LHC for routing – as any network connectivity in to the building is predominantly back-hauled to London first anyway, so it would currently serve no purpose carrying out routing from there.

As time passes, the needs of the facilities change and traffic levels increase we will be reviewing the equipment used at each facility, with the plan being to bring them all in-line with each other utilising the Juniper MX 3D series of routers.

Gigabit for all

During the move to LHC we took the opportunity to replace the last of our 10/100 switches and replaced them all with new 48 port Gigabit capable switches – all existing customers will now find they are connected to our network with a Gigabit port if their equipment supports it – a free upgrade that many providers charge monthly for!

IPv6 Support

A major driver in replacing all of our routers has been IPv6, it is something that has been long overdue in its implementation on our network and will be formally rolled out in June. Unfortunately many software vendors still aren’t supporting IPv6, so this does mean that for some services we still won’t be able to support IPv6 – unfortunately one of those vendors is cPanel, so for the time being our shared business hosting still won’t support IPv6. This is something we are putting pressure (along with many other companies) on cPanel to implement as soon as possible.

Increased connectivity

We’ve increased our public Internet facing network connectivity by 100% in anticipation of take-up on our new services and also to match ever increasing broadband speeds.

The Future…

We’ve got a couple of new products on the way in May, as well as making some changes to the way we do certain things – but you’ll have to come back later to find out about those :)


Microsoft Office XML MIME Types

We’ve had a couple of customers ask about this recently, where documents created in newer versions of MS Office don’t download to the browser correctly. Instead of downloading as an MS Office document they download as a ZIP file.

The reason behind this is because they are new file types and are basically XML files inside a ZIP archive and servers setup before these new files came on the scene don’t know what the correct type of file is, so they check the file and it looks like a ZIP archive, so that’s what they tell your browser.

All of our cPanel based business class hosting fully supports the new MS Office MIME Types – so your files will download as MS Office documents and not as ZIP archive files.

If you’d like to modify your own server so that it supports the new MS Office file extensions and file types then you need to place the following entries in to you /etc/mime.types file (for plain CentOS/RedHat) or /usr/local/apache/conf/mime.types if you’re running cPanel.

application/vnd.ms-word.document.macroEnabled.12                          .docm
application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.wordprocessingml.document   .docx
application/vnd.ms-word.template.macroEnabled.12                          .dotm
application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.wordprocessingml.template   .dotx
application/vnd.ms-powerpoint.slideshow.macroEnabled.12                   .ppsm
application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.presentationml.slideshow    .ppsx
application/vnd.ms-powerpoint.presentation.macroEnabled.12                .pptm
application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.presentationml.presentation .pptx
application/vnd.ms-excel.sheet.binary.macroEnabled.12                     .xlsb
application/vnd.ms-excel.sheet.macroEnabled.12                            .xlsm
application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.spreadsheetml.sheet         .xlsx
application/vnd.ms-xpsdocument                                            .xps
application/vnd.ms-powerpoint.template.macroEnabled.12                    .potm
application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.presentationml.template     .potx
application/vnd.ms-powerpoint.addin.macroEnabled.12                       .ppam
application/vnd.ms-powerpoint.presentation.macroEnabled.12                .pptm
application/vnd.ms-excel.addin.macroEnabled.12                            .xlam
application/vnd.ms-excel.sheet.binary.macroEnabled.12                     .xlsb
application/vnd.ms-excel.template.macroEnabled.12                         .xltm
application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.spreadsheetml               .xltx

Once done, restart Apache and you should be good to go with MS Office Files downloading correctly.


Network Upgrades

On the evening of Saturday 16th April from 22:00 we will be performing essential network upgrades and maintenance. This is work that we hoped to have completed before we began moving any equipment from one facility to another, but unfortunately due to lengthy delays in the supply of some essential equipment this was not possible.

As part of this work we will be installing new Juniper Networks routers and switches to upgrade our routing capability. For the curious amongst you we will be using Juniper MX80 and EX4200 routers and switches.

The main bulk of the work that is service affecting will be migrating customer VLANs from the old routers they are terminated on, to the new equipment. The impact on service should be no more than 5 minutes per VLAN in two phases and we expect much less if everything goes to plan and as per our testing.

Please accept our apologies for the relatively short notice of these works, we would not be performing them at this time if it were not 100% necessary at this time. If you have any questions at all please do let us know.


Facility Migration

As many of you will already be aware we are currently in the process of moving our equipment from the data centre facility we currently use to a different one (whilst also expanding our hosting network to cover two other facilities). As part of this we obviously have to physically move servers.

Around half the notices to dedicated server customers have already been sent, starting with those who will be moved first.

In terms of our virtual/shared hosting we will be moving servers on the weekends of 1st/2nd April and 8th/9th April. To find out when the server your site is on will be moved, please use the following tool: Server Move Date Checker. All server moves will take place starting at 23:00 on the day given by the tool and will carry on until 06:00 the following day. We expect downtime to be between 1 and 2 hours maximum.

We thank you for your patience and understanding during these moves.

[Update]

We’ve had a couple of people ask if anything will be changing with regards to the servers/settings/software etc. Nothing will be changing on this front, we are moving the physical servers as they are between facilities – all software, settings, IP addresses etc. will remain the same.


Securing File Uploads

We’ve noticed recently a small number of customer websites have had issues with defacements and generally having malicious content added to them and they’ve all had one thing in common – The way in which they were hacked. In all instances recently it has been down to the sites allowing users to upload content to them.

The problems with this are:

  • Most scripts upload to a publicly accessible directory
  • Most scripts don’t even perform basic content checks
  • Most scripts allow any type of file to be read/executed from the upload directory

When we combine all 3 together we end up with a situation where someone can upload a PHP script to your uploads directory and then trigger the running of it from their web browser – basically giving themselves the same level of access to your account as you would have via FTP (As we run PHP under each users own username via SuPHP so that one users problems can’t affect another user).

So what do we recommend?

  • Keep your upload directory outside of your document root (generally public_html) if you possibly can
  • Make sure your upload scripts only allow the content you want to be uploaded – basically check it against a whitelist, if it’s not in the whitelist don’t allow it. Deny everything, allow only what you require
  • Make sure only content you allow can be accessed from the upload directory, you can do this with a .htaccess file, an example is shown below:

Allow only JPEG, GIF and PNG files to be accessed:

<FilesMatch ".*">
 Deny from all
</FilesMatch>

<FilesMatch ".(jpe?g|gif|png)$">
 Allow from all
</FilesMatch>

There are more things that can be done, but these should serve as a starter for improving your site security.