Being Better – The state and future of S4

It’s been more than two years since we started working on our hosting platform, and almost 24 months since we launched it, and to be honest we are pretty happy with what we’ve achieved so far.

We started out with a mission statement to try and make the internet a little bit better with every site that we host, and on the whole we feel like we are living up to that.

That means a couple of things, firstly not hosting anything that we can’t agree with ethically, but mostly that we will aim to make sure that all of our servers, and the sites they contain, are as Sustainable, Speedy, Secure, and Stable as possible. It’s right there in the name 4 S’s.

Many of our customers have been startup businesses and projects. We have had the pleasure of working with some amazing and inspiring individuals and companies. Some of those have become successful, some have failed to make it and disappeared, but in all cases we want to thank them for choosing to trust us with their online presence.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t do and be better.

Apart from anything else, it seems like self deprecation is a little bit cool and sexy these days and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that. Putting that aside, there are very real things that we can improve and new services and plans that we want to turn into reality.

At times we have overreached and underperformed in some areas, and that had led to us falling a little bit out of love with what we do, and that’s just not good enough.

You’ve got to find what you love, and that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. […] the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do.

Steve Jobs – Stanford speech 2005

Passion is incredibly important in anything you do, whether it is personal or business, and we’ve been doing a bit of collective soul searching to remember that and to get ours back.

We had a tech roadmap that we’ve fallen behind, largely because we failed to take into account scaling, or specific technologies that different projects and clients would need, sometimes because we made less than perfect choices starting out.

The internet and the technologies that power it are constantly and quickly evolving, and over the last year we found that we needed to change, build on, and develop new systems and practices as we went along.

We have been, and continue to be, learning and evolving at the same time, developing our infrastructure, skills and vision, and now we’ve taken some time to remember why what we do is so important.

Moving forwards

We are constantly adding and refining services, little incremental improvements that fly under the radar, and of course we are never going to stop doing that. But we also have much bigger plans for 2022, and for the first time we are putting those out here publicly, so that not only ourselves but also our clients can hold us accountable and keep us honest when it comes to hitting the goals we are aiming for.

In the next few days we will be publishing a public roadmap for the coming months and years, that will outline our goals for our infrastructure and services. Of course it’s not going to be set in stone, we know where we want to go but some of the routes might change and wander a little as we travel along the way there.

We also have a a 5 year plan that is much bigger and bolder, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Please be sure that when we say bigger plans that does not now and never will mean that we are going to sell the company to anyone, and it also doesn’t mean an increase in clients and a corresponding decrease in the same personal service and support and human system administration that makes us who we are.

On the ethical front can we do better, we think we are doing pretty well, but we have some ideas about how we can do even better, and we are always open to suggestions.

There are plenty of things that we do have plans to improve and build on this year, including this little lot…

Building a better control panel

During the last few years we have flirted, but failed to fall in love, with a whole host of different open source control panel solutions. Each and every one has been lacking in some fundamental way, and while we have working solutions right now, none of them make us really happy.

Our solution to that is create something new. We don’t want to create a proprietary panel that serves only us, but instead to spearhead development of a new open source server control panel and billing system, one that is light, fast, intuitive, and does all of the needed things well without any useless bloat. There will be a lot more details of that coming out, including how to get involved in development and direction over the next few weeks.

Communicating what we do

We don’t want to bombard everyone with loads of information about every exploit we patch, every software update we make, etc. but we do feel that we could communicate more with our clients about what is going on behind the scenes at S4. From now on we will be creating a monthly newsletter that looks at what we are doing and green trends in the internet industry more generally.

We will be migrating to a new status and monitoring solution, with options for client alerts as well as our internal alerts and a vastly improved public status page

We will also try and push out more frequent blog posts and knowledge base articles because this is one area that we haven’t invested nearly enough effort in up till now.

Even better disaster recovery

We already keep multiple levels of backups in more than one geographically separate data centre, but you can never be too careful. We have been looking at ways to improve our resilience and disaster recovery strategy and we will be putting those in to practice during the next few month.

Being faster from anywhere

Last year we built a new DNS system with nodes in Europe, North America and Asia and significantly improved the TTFB (Time To First Byte) speed of sites that we host from across the globe.

This year we plan to build on that and implement something that will have a much bigger effect on site speed for visitors outside of Europe. We are building a simple CDN (Content Distribution Network) sharing the same locations in green data centres as our DNS servers.

Improving customer support

We like to think that one of the many things that makes S4 different is the level of customer service and human support, it’s at the centre of what we do. We aim to deal with any issues quickly and to go above and beyond with troubleshooting and problem solving.

A few times in recent months we haven’t managed to live up to our own expectations, we haven’t been as fast or efficient at resolving things and finding solutions as we should have been, and that’s not good enough.

From today, we have new internal systems in place to make sure that should never happen again.

Online advertising, done ethically

Yes, everyone uses Google Ads, but we think that everyone is wrong.

The privacy concerns alone should be enough to put any site owners and their site visitors off if you care at all about what happens to your personal data, but those are just the tip of the iceberg. Your climate friendly business should really only be carrying ads for product and services that have the same moral standards that you do, and our aim is to build a system to make that a reality.

We want to build an ethical online advertising network with vetted advertisers and with data privacy and information tracking safeguards built in. It’s a work in planning right now, but watch this space!

We’ve got plenty of other things in the pipeline too, including integration with a climate impact monitoring service, and free quarterly checks/reviews for clients WP sites – to cover speed, accessibility, security, best practices, etc.

It should be an exciting rest of 2022 and we are looking forward to making our ethical hosting platform so much brighter and better than it already is.

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