alwaysdata is one of the few “premium” hosts to offer a free offer – and since we first started operating. This is rather exceptional: on one hand, the vast majority of hosting companies offering free accounts provide a relatively basic service (often reduced to PHP / MySQL) and on the other, the great majority of the more comprehensive hosts never make such a free offer.
Our free pack enjoys great popularity, and a growing one: Currently, dozens per day are being opened. Many will hardly be used, others will later migrate to become paid accounts, and of course some of them will host real sites. We have hosted active free accounts since early 2007 and are delighted about it.
One drawback of offering free accounts is to attract some noxious accounts, bent on phishing, spamming, proxies, script kiddies, etc… We naturally boast many safeguards and tools enabling us to track these abuses, but total and absolute protection is technically impossible.
Until now, free and paying accounts used to share the same servers. This has some advantages, including making it very easy to switch from a free pack to a paying one (or vice versa): The files need not be migrated from one server to another.
The DDoS attacks we have suffered from in early December were linked to a free account, which convinced us to make a distinction between free and paying accounts. We had already considered this possibility before that, but the benefits / drawbacks ratio still seemed too low. No longer today.
Free accounts will henceforth be hosted on HTTP servers separate from paying ones. It is effective as of today for new accounts, and the older ones are being migrated gradually over the next few days. In parallel, we will quickly establish a mechanism for automatic migration when an account moves from a free pack to a paying one (and vice versa). Finally, it will soon be required to start paying on the day the account is opened, to check that clients do not have fraudulent intentions.
Free accounts service quality will not change for all that
The risks related to free accounts, to date, concerned all servers. From now on, only free accounts risk being affected by them. Therefore, this does not change the quality of service thereof.
Paying accounts service quality will increase
By completely insulating free accounts on separate servers, paying accounts will be less exposed to some threats, including:
- being hosted on the same IP as a phisher / spammer;
- attempted local attacks or abuse of services.
Of course, the risk cannot be totally eliminated: if a client with a fee paying package is attacked by a DDoS, for example, the entire server will be concerned: this is at the root of the principle of shared hosting. But experience has shown that risks are lower than with free accounts. To be sure never to experience downtime due to another account, we have been proposing dedicated servers since the end of the Summer holidays :)
Moreover, the various updates and developments that we regularly deploy will initially be performed on the servers reserved for free accounts. This is a great advantage: if the update meets with problems, paying accounts will not be impacted. This scenario has already occurred previously, especially during our transition to our new architecture, last February. Despite our numerous upstream testing operations – and we always try to make them comprehensive – the shift to production may indicate a past problem hitherto unnoticed…
In conclusion, although the insulation of free accounts represents a significant step forward in increasing our services availability rate, this is only one measure among many others. We always work a lot, even more so currently, to make our architecture more resilient. And we keep in mind the new features, too. Coming soon: MongoDB and CouchDB!