2018 Featured Expert 000webhost — The Challenges of Scaling a Free Hosting Platform While Optimizing Learning Experiences for Users

000webhost Scales Free Hosting Platform

TL; DR: Behind a passion for making website creation easy and affordable, 000webhost offers full-service — and free — shared hosting to more than 16 million users worldwide. With the company facing a unique set of challenges in 2017, Head of Marketing Daugirdas Jankus gave us a peek into how 000webhost continues to expand its business under such tight margins. The company’s work to improve its infrastructure, while also exploring novel ways to educate consumers, makes 000webhost worthy of the 2018 Featured Expert distinction.

After 000webhost began offering free hosting services in 2007, the platform grew rapidly and organically. The company attracted millions of customers with cloud-based infrastructure, unlimited server resources, and a promise to never force customers to display ads or pay for hosting.

Much of the momentum, however, stalled in October 2015 when a data breach exposed more than 13.5 million usernames and passwords. An attacker had exploited a vulnerability in an old version of PHP to upload malicious files and gain access to 000webhost systems. To Head of Marketing Daugirdas Jankus, though, the attack triggered a new, inspiring energy at 000webhost.

“2015 was a wake-up call for the whole company,” he said. “It sparked an idea, and people decided they wanted to do things that matter. We really want to change the world.”

Since the breach, 000webhost has overhauled its infrastructure, added new features, launched educational programs, and coordinated meetups — all while still refusing to charge its customers for hosting. Our final featured expert of 2018 is all about sharing lessons learned, scalability, and community-driven development.

“We are a really small team, so we can’t allow ourselves to do meaningless work,” Daugirdas said. “When our customers are happy, we’re happy.”

Scaling and Optimizing Infrastructure With Website Sleep Schedules

The strong and easy-to-use service bolster’s 000webhost’s popularity, but Daugirdas said the company faces tough challenges each day. The hardest, according to him, involves scaling and supporting the platform with the zero-dollar price tag.

“It obviously costs a lot to maintain this project,” he said. “If we don’t manage or optimize it effectively, it will become too costly for us to continue.”

To scale quickly without losing performance, 000webhost spent nine months in 2017 building and implementing an automated database management system that lets the company answer more than 1 million unique user queries per minute.

000webhost logo and image of Daugirdas Jankus

Head of Marketing Daugirdas Jankus has seen the company triple in size since last year.

Using MariaDB in LXC containers, 000webhost now routes queries using HAProxy and ProxySQL. The platform uses heterogeneous hardware and added more than 50 new servers; automated load balancing migrates users between nodes as they become overloaded. Company representatives presented the architecture at Percona Live Europe, a top open-source database conference.

“We’re very happy our solution was seen by the big minds within the industry,” Daugirdas said. “We were really happy to share our findings with SysAdmins working within Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others.”

To further ease the strain on the network — and the employees tasked with supporting, developing and maintaining the growing systems — 000webhost takes websites offline for an hour each day. Site owners can schedule their downtime and continue working on their project, but 000webhost will not serve it publicly during the sleeping period.

“It was a very hard decision, and one we were very afraid to make,” Daugirdas said. “We were really flattered with the community’s reaction and support, however. Everyone saw how the performance increased on their sites. We are able to give even better service than we did before.”

000webhost Combines Customer Feedback With Agile Development

According to Daugirdas, 000webhost capitalized on two somewhat conflicting trends the company uncovered: People are eager to learn how to develop an online presence, but they expect top-notch service for a very low cost.

“It’s really challenging for hosting providers to leverage on this movement,” he said. “Five years ago, it was normal to have accounts on social media. Now, it’s common sense to have your own blog or online space where you share your portfolio. More and more people are turning to the internet, and the web hosting market is becoming a commodity.”

When it comes to creating new tools and services, Daugirdas said the company “leaves it to the community to decide.” After launching a feature request functionality in 2017, developers are working on access management tools and improving the company’s custom control panel.

Email management and search engine optimization tools are coming down the pipeline, he said, along with features for site optimization, backups, and SSL certificates.

“We’re always listening to our customers, even though we don’t know what we’ll be working on later in the year,” Daugirdas said, adding the company plans biweekly dev sprints three months in advance. “The market is changing quickly, so you can’t plan for a full year. Whatever our customers want, we’re pretty confident we can deliver.”

Fostering Community Discussions and Events in Dozens of Languages

Rather than staffing the 000webhost user forums, Daugirdas said the company relies on longtime customers who volunteer as moderators.

“There are lots of advanced users who are so thankful for the 000webhost service that they stay on the forums to help new users,” he said. “I think they see themselves from a few years ago and want to pay that help forward.”

Images of 000webhost and Hostinger support teams

Hostinger and 000webhost support teams assist customers from around the world.

Every employee at 000webhost and parent company Hostinger spend at least one day per month working in the customer support department. A more-popular-than-expected Black Friday sale had team members from every department working long hours helping new customers set up accounts, Daugirdas said.

“With 000webhost, we have a very tight community,” he said. “We work as moderators of a discussion. We know where we can help our customers, and we really love our product.”

To most effectively communicate with customers, 000webhost and Hostinger have localized their content and user interfaces to more than 40 languages.

“We understand that English is not always the most popular language,” Daugirdas said, pointing to Indonesia and Brazil — areas where the company has seen recent growth. “People still want to learn and develop, so we’ve invested a lot into providing a localized experience for them.”

Emphasis on Education: Showing Users How to be Successful Online

Hostinger reinvests a large portion of its profits into keeping 000webhost operating as a free service geared toward promoting educational opportunities for people to learn about hosting and experiment with web development.

“We believe that everybody in the world should have free access to learning tools and the ability to build great things online,” Daugirdas said. “We don’t necessarily expect everyone to become IT professionals, but we at least want people to understand technology and the internet in general.”

In addition to the blank slate of shared hosting server space, 000webhost plays a featured role in BitDegree, a blockchain-based online education platform.

Learners can take MOOCs, or massive open online courses, and earn BitDegree tokens as an incentive or currency to be used for future coursework. Essentially, tech companies looking for specific skills will offer the financial incentives to attract motivated and aspiring developers.

“We’re really focusing on education and helping people succeed online,” Daugirdas said. “That’s our primary goal, with whatever project we take on.”

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