In late 2015, I was given a new brief by an existing customer. The company was branching into news, media and publishing and the directors wanted a YouTube/ Worldstarhiphop style website to front the brand.
Following an initial meeting with the client I knew my next step would be research, then more research. worldstarhiphop.com doesn’t allow users to upload content directly from a PC, only from YouTube and such like. The site doesn’t appear to have a direct upload option anyway. That was very different to what my client required; he wanted to self host the video.
I had integrated video into many customer websites in the past, including a site for a sound design company whose large showcase portfolio was made up of mainly video content. On that build I developed a masonry wall of video content for the client, not the same, but similar to the planned new site. The video was not on the scale of this new build, but I still ran into performance issues.
After suffering a loss of connection numerous times during development while on the client’s own shared hosting, I tried to convince the client to let me move the website to us so I could offer assurances about uptime and performance.
The client had already paid for one year of hosting upfront so they insisted on staying put; I had made my point though. As it was, I used Vimeo to deliver the video through embedded URLs as the client had put together an excellent Vimeo portfolio. The ‘to remain nameless’ host’s uptime was the main issue, the performance delivered by Vimeo powered by Fastly via the client’s host was acceptable.
The new brief was different though, the client wanted the ability to self host video. With some hosts, how you allow users to upload video can greatly effect the amount the hosting is going to cost, this was a major concern of mine. However, there are clear advantages to be gained by hosting the original content, in particular one is in a stronger position when it comes to monetising the site.
Of course, original content can be stolen; however, URL’s can be changed every now and then so the links break.
Nevertheless, as the site grows it can come at a cost. When user numbers start growing the hosting costs can increase inline and quickly reach numbers in the £100s, according to research.
After informing the client that self hosted video websites are not straight forward, can be expensive to maintain and to that end there are many blog posts advising against building them, I asked the client if they were 100% sure they needed to allow users to upload video content, as opposed to using embedded video. I got a definite ‘yes’.
As a developer, I understood the importance of ensuring good levels of website performance and I knew that a number of factors could lead to negative usability issues if I got things wrong.
At the start of my research, I already had a few alternative architectures in mind that could potentially deliver the performance needed to self host video: cloud vs. content delivery network (CDN) or both. My main concerns surrounded performance usability and cost to the client. Therefore, I focused my research on the individual offerings of suppliers.
This was new ground I was treading as I had limited experience of self hosted video on a scale the client required. I only wanted to do this once, but I knew that if I got the video content delivery aspects of the build wrong and the site became unusable I would have to rebuild the site on another platform at my own cost. Equally, I knew the client would be less than pleased if the monthly hosting bill rocketed from an acceptable amount into £100s per month.
Customers want guarantees, or at least assurances. I pride myself on having a strong reputation for customer service and quality and I was aware that one misjudgement could possibly tarnish this with the client
Each option had pros and cons which varied according to price, performance, scalability, compatibility, complexity, setup and configuration. I had to try and find a good balance.
Questions needed to be asked; so, I started with our own Windows hosting supplier, Web Wiz, based in Poole, Dorset. Web Wiz are excellent for what my average customers need: reliability, performance and excellent customer service. Bruce who fronts Web Wiz customer service is particularly good and really knows his stuff. I highly recommend Web Wiz to anyone for your average site or reseller hosting. If you use our contact page I will setup an account for you.
Unfortunately, even though I was proposing to use a content delivery network (CDN) to deliver the video content, Web Wiz still did not want the resource hugging video website on their servers.
Therefore, I left hosting for the moment and moved to the major CDN suppliers. Out of all of them MetaCDN were about the only company offering to let me test the network without signing up. However, even after follow ups, I never received an account activation email.
So, I tried MaxCDN. The customer service at MaxCDN seemed efficient, but I wasn’t sure if my card would be debited just for testing their service and they didn’t confirm otherwise even though I asked. All the other CDN companies seemed to charge whatever.
All I needed to do was hook up a CDN using the W3 Total Cache plug-in to see whether the delivery of video performed better. What I thought would be a straight forward test started to take days to sort out.
Although, my research into the best way to host the site and deliver the video content was not going straightforward, I saw the hard work as an investment in the future, because I’m sure to be in this situation again at some time, at which point I will be much more informed.
Due to not having great luck trying to setup a video through CDN test, I shifted focus to cloud solutions with or without an integrated content delivery network.
After undertaking research into cloud hosting and CDNs it became clear that a number of cloud hosting options were available and there were pros and cons for each.
I looked closely at Azure, but I stumbled across too many posts about slow website and dashboard performance, as well as large bills, so I decided that Azure was a no go until they could speed things up and for a cheaper price.
Amazon Web Services stood out. Out of the AWS cons, two were repeated across posts time and again. The first was the fact that AWS is particularly complicated to setup. This held no fear for me though, as I do this for a living. AWS have also put a lot of documentation online and there a number of tutorials available.
The other con that kept cropping up for AWS, was the fact that a DNS attack or a really busy month could mean a large bill. This was a concern, but I figured this is pretty much going to be the case across the board.
As most of the research pointed to AWS that is what I recommended. There were more favourable blogs about AWS than any other cloud hosts, AWS offered an integrated CDN too, so AWS seemed to be the cloud host that the majority, who write blogs anyway, were using.
On that basis, along with other mixed research I determined that AWS combined with CloudFront was the way to go.
I reservedly recommended Amazon Web Services with CloudFront to the client.
Amazon CloudFront is a content delivery web service. It integrates with other Amazon Web Services products to give developers and businesses an easy way to distribute content to end users with low latency, high data transfer speeds, and no minimum usage commitments (aws.amazon.com, 2016)
Through research I learned that if one is only using Amazon S3 (and not CloudFront), when videos are paused the video will continue to load all the way until the end even if users never watch it all. But with CloudFront enabled, the video will not continue to load, users only pay for the bandwidth that is used.
So, I emailed the client notifying that I was satisfied I had a way forward in respect of the hosting and that I was ready to start work in earnest. Something was still bugging me though, I don’t know why, call it being obsessive about getting things right, but I just still wasn’t happy.
Without the client knowing, I broke off and did a little bit more research just on AWS. It was then that I found a couple of posts discussing horror stories of AWS users getting $400+ bills for their scalable hosting after publishing really popular blog articles.
Digging deeper I discovered that there was no way to set a spending cap on AWS. My client wanted to host original video content, so I wondered what the bill would be if one of the videos went viral and there was only one version online, theirs
Then, everything changed while reading a post by another AWS customer that had a large monthly bill from AWS after posting a popular article. At the bottom was a small comment from somebody saying, “This happened to me, try Flywheel.
What’s Flywheel? So, I continued my journey, this time to the Flywheel homepage. I read on: monthly limit, managed WordPress, integrated CDN, pay nothing until the site is built then transfer billing to the client, affiliate kick backs, this was all music to my ears.
So, I dropped Flywheel an email about my dilemma and asked if they would welcome a worldstarhiphop.com style site but with self hosted video on their equipment. Flywheel efficiently replied with a yes.
Better still, if the client’s site started hugging resources Flywheel wouldn’t take the site offline when the spending cap is reached like the other cloud hosts, they send an email out instead recommending you scale up.
So, I set up a Flywheel account, installed and configured WordPress and any associated scripts, then started uploading and playing self hosted videos in the most commonly used browsers.
What about the performance? The performance was great, we didn’t even need the integrated CDN at $9.99 per month. That card is up my sleeve if the site needs it some day.
This is how good the performance is, Flywheel has a range of packages (below), the client is on the Personal plan. Remember this is a YouTube style site delivering pages of self hosted video.
- Tiny @ $15 p/m
- Personal @ $30 p/m
- Professional @ $75 p/m
- The integrated CDN is an additional $9.99 per month
Flywheel is dedicated to WordPress and managed. So, forget updating WordPress, that’s taken care of.
The dashboard is simple, which is great, because I love simple. There’s a handy backup dashboard too with daily backups for the previous 10 days or so.
Designers can build sites for clients without paying a penny and then transfer billing over to the client, neat.
There are different types and levels of affiliate programs too. Bigint is now a Flywheel affiliate. If you would like to sign up with Flywheel we would be very grateful if you signed up through our affiliate link for sharing the good news with you.
Hopefully, all this will save someone else time and effort. If you need a WordPress site that performs well with self hosted video try Flywheel through our affiliate link below. Best of all, it won’t cost you a penny, because you get two weeks of free hosting to develop the site (I asked this to be extended by email – no problem), then you just hand over billing to your client when the site is ready to go.
So, this story has a happy ending. Happy for me, happy for the client and happy for you if you have a WordPress site you need hosting. I guarantee you will not be disappointed, if you Get Flywheel.