Dublin, 27 September 2016 — freistil IT Ltd is pleased to announce the launch of three new product tiers for freistilbox, their managed hosting platform for Drupal and WordPress websites. With these new tiers, the Dublin-based IT services company expands its high-performance web hosting options to cater to any size of website, from small business to global brand.
Same power, less complexity
For more than six years now, freistil IT provides specialised web hosting services with the purpose of helping web development shops focus on their core business. It was both internal and customer feedback that led freistil IT to launch a simplified product lineup at DrupalCon, the biggest conference for Drupal users in Europe.
“While our previous ‘T-shirt sizes’ met most common demands, we encountered edge cases where we previously haven’t quite been able to offer an economic solution.”, explains Jochen Lillich, founder and managing director of freistil IT. “This was especially true at the ends of the spectrum where customers have either fairly low requirements or pretty high ones.” Now, customers can simply select one of three base setups depending on the type of their projects.
Capacity on demand
The new middle tier of freistilbox is based on a distributed hosting infrastructure that allows for both scalability and high availability. Named “freistilbox Pro”, this product is optimised for web developers who manage multiple projects. It is similar to the previous product line but drops the S-to-XL levels in favour of simple capacity upgrades.
Lillich comments the reasoning behind this change frankly: “I think that the T-shirt sizes created too much complexity on both sides, especially where customers used a ‘mix & match’ approach. We have users who grew their setup over time to something like ‘L+L+M+S’; on the other hand, a few of our customers might not even know they could do that. With freistilbox Pro, all customers start from the same base setup and simply add things like storage capacity or request processing units on demand. And since redundancy is now built in by default, there’s no need anymore for doubling a plan just to make the setup more reliable.”
Hosting at scale
A new high-end plan is geared towards business-critical websites with millions of visits per month. freistilbox Enterprise uses the same distributed software infrastructure as the Pro tier but runs it on dedicated physical servers and includes an enterprise-grade service level agreement.
“A lot of high-traffic websites such as the Rolling Stone Magazine or Doctors Without Borders depend on freistilbox to deliver their content reliably to a huge audience”, Lillich says. “In order to meet their growing demands, we often built custom setups like ‘3x XL plus dedicated database cluster’. And still we encountered occasional performance bottlenecks. With freistilbox Enterprise, we eliminate the risk of resource contention by providing customers with a fully dedicated IT infrastructure on physical servers. As a side effect, this isolation also has positive effects on security.”
What distinguishes freistilbox from the competition is that both the Pro and Enterprise tiers are not billed per website or by number of incoming requests. Customers are free to set up as many websites as they like, at no additional cost. Lillich regards this approach as the most economic for both sides: “We provide a managed hosting platform with a certain capacity. It’s completely up to the customer if they use their hosting power to run a single web application or if they share it between thirty websites.”
New solution for small projects
With the previous hosting plans, this argument fell apart when a customer actually had only a single website to run. Due to the high entry price, some customers looking for a simple but powerful hosting solution found freistilbox appealing from a technological perspective but simply not affordable.
“It may have taken us some time to respond to that particular demand but that’s exactly why we’re launching freistilbox Solo today”, Lillich admits with a smile. This hosting plan offers customers similar technology as its siblings but is limited to a single production website and 3 staging environments for development. At a monthly fee of 49€, it is priced at less than half of the former entry-level plan.
DevOps instead of tickets
The hosting infrastructure for all three plans is purpose-built for Drupal and WordPress. Each plan comes with all the services required by high-performance web applications, for example a Varnish content cache, SSL encryption, an Elasticsearch indexing engine and a Redis database for storing internal application state. The whole system is fully configured and managed by the freistilbox operations team.
“I don’t doubt that web developers have the skills to do their own hosting”, states Lillich. “But building amazing websites is hard when you spend your nights resolving server issues. Our managed hosting platform offers a better alternative: While we take care of all the operations aspects, our customers can work efficiently and sleep peacefully.”
Modern DevOps practices are central to how the freistilbox team works with their customers. Keeping the dreaded support ticket only as a last resort, the freistilbox team prefers a casual chat with their customers via services like Slack and Intercom. “I’m proud of how our distributed team culture reflects in our customer relationships”, says Lillich. “In modern IT we have left the dark ages behind us where development and operations worked in their separate silos and viewed the other as either an enemy of progress or a threat to uptime. We love to cooperate with our customers day by day, answering questions, resolving performance issues and recommending ways to get the most out of our hosting platform.”
Starting today, freistilbox Solo is available at a monthly fee of 49€, freistilbox Pro starts at 159€ per month, and freistilbox Enterprise has an entry price of 1800€. For details see www.freistilbox.com.
About freistil IT
Founded in 2010, freistil IT delivers high-performance web hosting solutions for leading open-source content management systems Drupal and WordPress. With their product freistilbox, the Dublin-based company provides customers with a fully managed, scalable and reliable hosting platform. A distributed team of web ops experts guarantees that business-critical websites hosted on freistilbox operate at optimum performance and availability.
27 Sep 2016
Alright, we’ve booked the party venue, got the drink vouchers printed — now all that’s left is for you to show up!
If you are attending DrupalCon Dublin, we’d love to meet you at the freistilbox Happy Hour on Wednesday night! And where else would we celebrate DrupalCon in Ireland and the launch of our new Drupal hosting plans than at one of Dublin’s finest pubs? Join us for some great craic — first few rounds will be on us!
There’s limited space, so we’re keeping the venue a secret until right before the party. Make sure to sign up early to get our invitation email!
It might also be worth a try to chat with Jochen at the freistilbox booth on Tuesday (only!). Maybe you’ll be able to tease something out of him ahead of time?
(Image ‘Alluring glow’ by Brendan Atkins)
16 Sep 2016
A recent unrepresentative study among our customers revealed that there is no such thing as too much performance for Drupal and WordPress websites. 😄 So we did a bit of brainstorming about what we could do to enhance website performance on our managed hosting platform even more. The feature we found is: boosting your website’s asset delivery.
Our Varnish-based Content Cache is already increasing content delivery speed for Drupal and WordPress websites significantly. But especially with asset-heavy websites, its limited RAM capacity can lead to low cache efficiency. For example, if visitor traffic is distributed over lots of pages containing high-res photos, the cache reuse ratio will not reach the same impressive levels that we see with websites that have only a few hot spots at any time (e.g. start page and the latest blog post). Increasing Varnish cache size might help for a while but because of diminishing returns increasing cache memory will not be a cost-effective solution in the long term.
That’s why we’re adding a new optional feature to freistilbox: the freistilbox CDN.
To be honest, at the moment it’s not so much a Content Delivery Network but a few Content Delivery Nodes. We’re launching this feature on a limited number of servers in our European data centres. Later, we’re going to expand this service to a real CDN by adding content delivery nodes at key locations all over the globe.
Before we enter the global stage, we’d like to give this new feature a thorough burn-in test. That’s why we decided to run a free beta for a limited time. If you’d like to see how your Drupal or WordPress website can benefit from the freistilbox CDN, get in touch! We’ll let you test drive the freistilbox CDN option for eight weeks at no additional cost. Simply send us a support request from the Dashboard page of your website!
(Image ‘courier’ by Sean Jackson)
14 Sep 2016
Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks are a serious threat to the availability of websites and web applications. Malicious parties use these attacks to overload the bandwidth and capacity of a website’s hosting infrastructure with data packets. Most often, this traffic originates from lots of compromised computers, so-called “bot nets”. The result is that reaching the target website becomes very slow or even impossible. For all practical purposes, the website will be offline for the duration of the attack.
With bot nets being offered for lease commercially at extremely low prices, DDoS attacks have become more prevalent recently. They’ve almost become a fun sport.
Unfortunately, things aren’t as trivial on the receiving end. Since it does not originate from a single address but from an always changing set of machines, separating malicious traffic from valid requests requires sophisticated network technology and lots of bandwidth.
We’re happy to announce that Drupal and WordPress websites hosted on freistilbox are now protected by an Anti-DDoS system based on specialised hardware from Arbor und Juniper. This system mitigates attacks effectively in multiple stages:
- Automatic detection and classification of attacks — By measuring traffic volume and packet flow, first the type of attack is identified precisely. This allows the DDoS protection system to choose the most effective measures to mitigate the attack. For example, while a UDP flood with 500,000 packets per second is quite harmless, 500,000 TCP packets could cause problems. That’s why classification is an important first step.
- Traffic filtering based on known attack patterns — In this stage, common attack patterns are filtered efficiently by dropping packets early in an upstream filtering network. This mitigates attacks like DNS reflection, NTP reflection or UDP floods on port 80.
- Challenge/response authentication and dynamic traffic filtering — This stage mitigates attacks such as SYN floods, DNS floods and invalid packets.
This DDoS protection technology allows a flexible and reliable response to each type of attack as well as a high degree of automation. By refining the filter algorithms with each attack, the effectiveness of the DDoS protection system is improved continually. The new DDoS protection system is active all the time; in case an attack is detected, the filter kicks in within seconds and starts to mitigate the attack. Thanks to a dynamic adaptation algorithm, legitimate website traffic will normally not be affected by the protection system.
Keeping your website available and secure is our top priority. That’s why we make this DDoS protection available to all freistilbox customers free of charge. It’s just another element in our service mantra:
Work efficiently. Sleep peacefully.
Interested in what freistilbox offers you beyond high availability?Get our white paper!
05 Sep 2016
You’re coming to DrupalCon, right? We’d love to see you at the Irish Community Welcome Party on Tuesday night! It’ll be right outside the Convention Centre — on the MV Cill Airne Boat Bar!
Although we had already maxed out our modest conference budget to represent freistilbox at DrupalCon with a booth and our Happy Hour on Wednesday, when the local community team called and asked if we’d like to support the Irish Community Welcome Party, we immediately searched the couch cushions for some cash and joined our customers Annertech and iterate as well as fabulous Dublin Drupal Meetup host dara creative as sponsors.
Come and party with your fellow Drupalistas to celebrate the start of a fantastic DrupalCon week in Dublin! (If you meet Jochen, ask him about the secret venue of the freistilbox DrupalCon Party!)
And yes, THIS BOAT IS REAL.
31 Aug 2016
It’s what we at freistilbox call “Suffering from your own success”: the debacle when your web application can’t cope anymore with the number of motivated visitors flooding in. Sometimes, you create this traffic artificially with a promotion; sometimes it’s due to a mention by an influential source (the classic “Slashdot effect”). And in the best of all cases, it’s because your offering simply hits the nerve of your audience. That’s what happened to Niantic, the creators of Pokémon Go, who are urgently looking for somebody to help them fix the servers:
Niantic can use the help — as the company scrambles to keep up with the continuing influx of demand, the game’s servers have been unreliable since launch, and certain features flat-out aren’t working.
Just when you’re generating peak interest is unquestionably the worst time for your hosting infrastructure to give in under the load.
The effects of not being able to deliver your content to your visitors even go beyond image and financial damage. It can also prevent you from building upon your current success:
At the San Diego Comic Con, Niantic CEO John Hanke announced that the company wouldn’t be adding any new features to the game until the server situation stabilizes.
Now, building a scalable IT infrastructure is not trivial. The kind of person Niantic is looking for should be familiar with “real-time indexing, querying and aggregation problems at massive scales of hundreds of millions of events per day, all on a single, coherent world-wide instance shared by millions of users”. Building a scalable web hosting platform requires expertise in topics such as web protocols, distributed computing, caching technologies, database optimisation, and many more.
It’s exactly what we at freistilbox specialise in. Our team members have experience in operating web portals with millions of users, oversaw the backup service for a data centre with 50,000 servers, and ran the billing infrastructure of an international ISP. We know what it means to suffer from website downtime and how to prevent it. That’s why we’ve built the freistilbox hosting architecture with scalability in mind from the start.
Does website downtime hurt your business?Talk to us!
22 Aug 2016
DrupalCon Dublin is only a few weeks ahead and boy, are we busy with preparations: We’re about to launch our new hosting plans, Jochen is going to give a talk at DevOps Summit, we’ll have our own booth, and there’ll even be a freistilbox party!
With DrupalCon coming right to our front door, we’re going to make as much of this opportunity as possible with a small team.
First of all, we’re going to launch new hosting plans in September. We’ve been working hard to make freistilbox a great hosting platform for all kinds of projects (as long as they’re based on Drupal or WordPress, of course). The feedback we get from prospects and customers tells us that one size doesn’t fit all, though. Young startups and brochure websites have low demands; global brands require massive infrastructure and services. So, where there is today only one kind of freistilbox, there will soon be three!
Would you like to be the first to try our new plans for free?Sign up
We’re also trying our hands at (deep breath…) marketing. Since we’re a company run by techies, we’ve decided to take baby steps onto the DrupalCon business floor. Instead of choosing one of the big sponsor packages that would require us to build and staff a booth for the whole conference, we’ve decided on a “Drupal Love” sponsorship. This way, we can both support the community and have a freistilbox booth on September 27. Let’s have a chat over in the Drupal Village; you really should not miss it!
At the freistilbox booth, you can ask us anything you’d like to know, and we’ll tell you more about the freistilbox Happy Hour! In Ireland, getting together for some savage craic is par for the course. That’s why we’ve booked one of the best pubs in Dublin for 28 September. Sign up and we’ll let you in on the secret location!
Want to arrive early and grab one of our free drink vouchers?Sign up
It’s great to see that DevOps practices have become important enough that DrupalCon now has its own DevOps Summit. And we’re proud to announce that Jochen will give a DevOps Summit presentation on “Developing resiliency under relentless pressure.” While this is a non-technical topic, it’s an enormously important one. In today’s IT organisations with their long backlogs and rapid pace, mental health is an issue we just can’t ignore.
Wow. It’s great fun to announce all these news. But making them happen is going to be a real challenge for our small team. There’s so much stuff we need to get done with only a handful of people. For the new hosting plans, our ops team is working on improvements that will enable us to scale the freistilbox infrastructure faster than ever. At the same time our back office team is getting all the preparations on the sales and marketing side sorted, for example booking the pub, getting drink vouchers printed and preparing gear for the freistilbox booth. We’re many things, but bored isn’t one of them!
Fortunately, the huge efforts we put into systems automation, project management and customer self-service over the last year are finally paying off. Focusing on the important things for us has never been easier than today. And our most important goal is defined in our business vision:
Providing world-class hosting services to customers who mean the world to us.
We’re terribly excited to be a part of DrupalCon, and we hope to meet you in Dublin!
Are you going to be at DrupalCon?Get our updates!
12 Aug 2016
Today Drupal security advisory SA-CORE-2016-003 was published, announcing a highly critical security vulnerability affecting Drupal 8:
Drupal 8 uses the third-party PHP library Guzzle for making server-side HTTP requests. An attacker can provide a proxy server that Guzzle will use. The details of this are explained at https://httpoxy.org.
In order to mitigate this vulnerability, we have applied specific changes to our freistilbox infrastructure. Our Edge Routers will now remove any malicious HTTP header trying to inject external proxy server addresses.
Despite these security improvements in our hosting platform, we recommend that customers upgrade their Drupal 8 web applications as soon as possible. Drupal 8.1.7 is already available and fixes the vulnerable library.
18 Jul 2016