Reseller hosting is a completely different ball game compared to regular hosting plans. True, many of the factors necessary for personal and business hosting remain the same – SLAs, great customer support, ease-of-use and pricing. But resellers have to do a lot more, configure a great many options, design their own branding experience, and decide how they want to go about offering their own hosting services. Many web hosts provide essential services for resellers that enable them to easily set up an online presence and start selling hosting packages as soon as possible.
Resellers will also need to decide upon the best products for provisioning, managing, and billing accounts. While the default cPanel/WHM combination is great for administrative purposes and for everything a client will need to manage a particular account, it doesn't contain the necessary tools for all of the associated aspects of reseller hosting. For example, you need to have a ticketing system to easily track and solve customer issues. Billing integration is also an absolutely essential aspect of customer management software.
Add to that the ability to mix-and-match hosting packages, provide discounts and coupons, have a seamless check in process, and a proper email system for automatic communication, account suspensions etc., and you can see that a reseller is going to have their hands full when they set up shop. So let's take a look at some of the few essentials that they need to be aware of as well as a brief rundown of some of the popular billing and customer management software products out there.
This is pretty much a standard when it comes to managing the admin and client-side of reseller hosting. The cPanel interface will be what the clients of the reseller will see. WHM is the administrative backend that does all of the heavy lifting when it comes to things like server management, DNS configuration, security, and all of the tiny but essential tasks that go into server management.
WHM also allows you to define "packages" which form the backbone of further billing products set up. You can create a variety of hosting plans, each of which has its own bandwidth, disk usage, email addresses, FTP accounts etc. Once you have these packages defined, your customer management software like WHMCS, Clientexec, Blesta etc will be able to assign them prices and create individual packages for sale.
WHM access is provided to resellers – though not the full version for security reasons. This is not necessarily a VPS or a dedicated hosting server where you have complete root access to everything. However, enough flexibility is provided so that you can create new accounts and hosting packages.
When it comes to providing a user interface for billing, invoicing, and account management, there are a few big names like WHMCS and Clientexec, as well as some up-and-coming services that have been getting a lot of traction lately.
These billing products will connect with the backend WHM installation via the means of something called a "remote key". This enables secure communication between the two and seamless integration. Each product has a different paradigm for accounts and hosting packages and they need a little bit of getting used to.
To a great extent, much of the choice of which billing system to use will come down to familiarity. You can save yourself a great deal of time and effort by using a system that you already know well. However, if you're just getting started with reseller hosting, you can do a basic price comparison as well as take a look at some of the major differences between the customer management software products.
Widely considered to be one of the most well-known and widely used billing solutions, WHMCS stands out for its feature set and a decent interface. It has had some historical problems with security and long-standing bugs. Moreover, many of the files are encrypted meaning that they can't be changed and so this limits its user based customizability.
WHMCS has some excellently priced plans especially when it comes to owning the product instead of merely leasing it. As of this writing, you can purchase a WHMCS branded license for $250. This includes one year of support and updates, after which you can purchase further support on an ad hoc basis for $60 every six months. If you want to take your branding one step further, you can buy an unbranded version for $325 instead. This will not contain the WHMCS link back and will allow you to present your own branding to your clients.
Clientexec has a completely different interface compared to WHMCS. When you first set up hosting products, it gives you easy preconfigured options that you can customize. One quirk of working with Clientexec is that you need to set up a separate process to automatically approve and activate new clients. It's annoying especially if it increases your workload significantly. Luckily, you can create a security exception and a separate Cron job to automate the process.
The cost of purchasing Clientexec outright is significantly more compared to WHMCS. At $500, it's exactly double. Even the monthly licenses are ever so slightly more costly. Still it's a very pretty interface, though some find WHMCS to be somewhat more stable. You occasionally get pages in Clientexec that don't render properly and need to be reloaded.
This is a relatively new billing and customer management software product that's been getting some amazing reviews across the board. Like WHMCS, the branded license for outright purchase is $250 and the unbranded is slightly cheaper at $300. However, there is yet another license you can purchase which gives you unlimited support and updates in perpetuity. This means that if you're interested in making a long-term investment in client management software, Blesta can be a an excellent deal. Otherwise, you have to pay $39 whenever you want to make use of support or updates.
Another selling point of Blesta is that almost all of its files with just a couple of exceptions are unencrypted. This means that you can customize it to your heart's content to create a branding experience that is completely unique. Add to that, it has been getting excellent feedback for fast customer support and a very friendly and active community.
HostBill is unique in that it provides a huge number of versions of its software as well as offerings that are simply unavailable elsewhere. For example, it allows customers to manage even Plesk hosting instead of just cPanel. In addition, it has advanced provisioning capabilities with its "All Inclusive" edition with support for advanced cloud technologies such as RackSpace. Moreover, it doesn't sell any periodic or monthly licenses and instead chooses to only offer licenses for outright purchase.
All of this power and functionality comes at a heavy price though. The all-inclusive package costs a whopping $5000 whereas the cheapest Enterprise edition is $1000. Clearly this is a solution only for the most advanced users who require its powerful capabilities to offer services far beyond what a regular hosting reseller provides.
With so much choice in the reseller hosting market, it's easy to get overwhelmed. However, you can take comfort in the fact that there is no significant difference in the feature sets offered by various well-known products in the market. You can always opt for a monthly license and test out the various management solutions for yourself before settling on one for the long-term.