What to Look for When Choosing Hosting Automation Software - Business Functions
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So what kinds of functions should you look for in a control panel? For openers, you need to make sure it works with your operating system and the OSes of your customers. cPanel, for instance, doesn’t yet support Windows, though it does handle many flavors of Linux and FreeBSD. Plesk supports both Windows and Linux, while H-Sphere supports Windows, Linux, and FreeBSD.
Another point you might consider is ease of use. Lots of features are wonderful, but having too many of them can get to be confusing for both you and your customers. Obviously, you and your customers won’t be using the same control panel, but many companies (including the three I’ve mentioned) provide control panels for both the reseller and the customer. When you look at the control panels, consider the level of technical expertise of the people who are going to be using them, and strive to find the right balance between finely grained control and ease of use.
So what should be automated? Account creation is an obvious candidate. You will want some safeguards in place, though, to prevent spammers from taking advantage of this feature. Having your prospective customer type in a word that can’t be automatically read and typed in by a computer is one way an account creation program might protect against this.
There are also a number of administrative functions associated with account creation and account management. These include everything from creating packages, adding and suspending sites, modifying passwords, monitoring and logging bandwidth and disk space usage by account, parking domains for your customers, installing SSL certificates…the list goes on and on. A control panel should make these functions quick and relatively painless.
As I mentioned above, billing and invoice management is another function that a control panel should automate for you. Ideally, it should operate almost invisibly. Get this right and it’s hardly noticed; get this wrong, and it could easily cost you customers, to say nothing of the headaches you’ll suffer from complaints.
Credit card processing is closely related to this. Make sure that the control panel can handle not only your merchant gateway, but an assortment of them; after all, if you’re hosting ecommerce websites, you may not know what merchant gateway they’ll be using.
You will probably need to email your customers for all sorts of reasons, not just to send them bills or let them know they’re running over on their bandwidth. You may need to warn them about server maintenance, for instance. In that case, it helps if you can automate your email notifications.
You’re going to need some kind of help desk module. Any automation you can do here will probably speed things up and make your customers happier, assuming you can solve their problems in a timely fashion. Automated emails can help, but your customers will also want to know that there are real humans efficiently taking care of their problems.
While it may not be absolutely necessary to automate domain registration, it’s something that’s nice to have. If you have customers who want to register a lot of domain names, they’ll thank you for it. Check how well the control panel integrates with domain registrars. Even if you don’t have automated domain registration right away, you may find that you need some kind of domain management system.
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