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Monthly Archives: July 2008

Blackbriar is here!

If you've wondered why there haven't been any posts to our blog in the last few weeks then wonder no more!

I have been busy at work on the latest version of our customer management system codenamed "blackbriar" (see our blog entry about "Alcatraz" for what the system is all about)

The two key features of this release are:

  • Windows Server 2008 / IIS7 support out-of-the-box. All existing control panel features now work with any Windows server in our fleet, regardless of whether it is 2003 or 2008.
  • Hyper-V support for managing our Virtual Private Servers product. Currently only our staff have access to the new features but we will be releasing a VPS Manager for the customer control panel soon.

We'll be releasing an IIS7 based Web Hosting service to the public soon, but in the mean time power users may be more interested in our new Hyper-V VPS service which comes with Windows Server 2008 and IIS7 as standard.


Meet “Alcatraz” – Our customer management system

Alcatraz Island: a prison surrounded by water.

On the surface i’ll admit it doesn’t sound like such a great name to call a customer management system.
We were thinking more along the lines of the security aspects the name implies rather than the concept of our staff feeling imprisoned while using it!

Alcatraz or simply “Management Client” is the system our staff use to manage customer accounts on a daily basis.
Take a look at the screenshot below: (click to view full size)

What will be immediately obvious to anyone who has worked in the web hosting industry before is that Alcatraz is an actual program and not a web site.
Most if not all off-the-shelf hosting management systems (such as Plesk etc) are web based and this can significantly increase the time it takes for a staff member to attend to a query.

Alcatraz on the other hand is super fast!


Alcatraz was built from scratch to suit our unique way of doing things here at Studiocoast.
Some of the reasons why Alctraz is great:

  • Complete. A member of the Studiocoast support team only needs one program to manage every aspect of our web hosting services. From billing to hosting to payroll!
  • Fast. Setting up an account for a new customer for example takes less than 10 seconds. Best of all, only a single button needs to be pressed.
  • Powerful. Through the Storage tab our staff can access customer backups and restore them within seconds.
  • Extendable. New features can be added in record time thanks to a centralised system.
  • hostControl. Our web based control panel for customers links directly into the Alcatraz system. Restoring databases through the program is exactly the same as doing it through the control panel.
  • Did I mention it does everything?

Technical Details

If you’re a programmer you may be interested in how it all works behind the scenes:

  • Built on .NET 3.0.
  • Management Client and hostControl both connect to a central WCF (Windows Communication Foundation) server.
  • Server primarily utilises WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation) to communicate with all the servers in our fleet.
    (For tasks such as creating sites in IIS)

The Future

So what does the future hold for Alctraz?

At the moment I am hard at work on version 3.0 codenamed Blackbriar.
It will feature native support for IIS7 and MySQL 5.0 plus much much more.


I hope this post has been educational. If you have any questions about “Alcatraz” feel free to post in the comments below.
Perhaps you are a customer and would like to see some new features in hostControl. I’m all ears!

FTP 7 Passive Firewall Setup

Just a quick note on FTP 7, the new FTP server software for Windows Server 2008.

A guide I found on iis.net describes setting up passive port ranges and opening them up in the firewall one by one.

I have found an alternative method which I think is a lot easier to setup:

1. Open up Windows Firewall with Advanced Security from Administrative Tools
2. Right click Inbound Rules and select New Rule
3. Select the Custom Rule option and click next.
4. Select All Programs and then click Customize next to Services
5. Select Apply to this service and select from the list Microsoft FTP Service
6. For all the next steps simply click Next accepting the defaults.
7. For the name call it something like "Microsoft FTP Firewall Access"
8. Click Finish


Note: this rule allows access to any ports the FTP Service opens. This is usually port 21, and any passive ports it opens for client connections.

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