The parent company behind CatN, Fubra, has long had aspirations of providing a web hosting service. As the company has grown over the past 12 years it has had to overcome a multitude of hosting related problems and has always thought it was well positioned to help others when they found themselves navigating the same twisty road. Various versions of Fubra’s hosting product reached different levels of maturity; some never making it out of the conceptual stages, some never quite having the development resource to make a polished product. None ever made it to market. In 2010, however, the idea of the CatN vCluster was born. Fubra required a platform which could cope with the traffic levels it’s own sites were generating while being cost effective — they had outgrown traditional hosting offerings and therefore began to develop a new web hosting platform.

The first version of the CatN vCluster was built from an engineering point of view: it was feature rich but hard to maintain, stable but not designed for customers to interact with day-to-day. A team of web developers were brought into the project to develop a control panel which made a large part of the backend engineering code accessible to users and it was this which was launched as the vCluster public beta. This is the system which the majority of CatN vCluster clients currently use. However, while this system proved a large number of the key vCluster technologies, there were still a number of problems with the system which needed to be ironed out. Firstly there was a large amount of  duplication in the management layer of the system and, while users didn’t see it, a number of settings were stored in multiple locations requiring each to be updated when any changes were requested. There were also speed issues with the control panel, as well as a number of other technical problems meaning the system required quite frequent maintenance. So in March 2011 a second round of development work started.

Development of vCluster version 2 alpha was driven much more by how users needed to interact with the system. It removed the layers of duplication making day-to-day tasks simpler and quicker. Indeed the speed of the v2 alpha interface was infinitely better than that of the v1 interface. It was also the playground for a number of new technologies — the underlying way the hosting stack worked was re-engineered — as well as a testbed for some new pricing models. The v2 alpha was previewed in July 2011 at WordCamp UK and received some very positive feedback. It was released to testing around the same time and currently hosts some of Fubra’s biggest traffic sites. There were still improvements to be made, however, and a lot more development work was undertaken in the run up to v2 beta.

Development of v2 beta began very early in 2012. It took the very best parts of both v1 and v2 alpha and rolled them into one system. Development again was driven by user interfaces with a focus on powerful, intuitive functionality. The control panel was completely re-written from the ground up. The backend web hosting stack became a hybrid of the previous two versions as well as receiving a number of improvement. An improved caching layer was added and a number of features were introduced to the control panel which removed the need for the level of manual intervention required by the previous control panel builds. Feedback was taken into account from both the preview of v2 beta and from current users of the v1 system and improvements were made. Along side this the billing model was tweaked to make vCluster even more cost effective to users across the board.

But there is still more to come. v2 beta still needs to mature. While we are confident it will out perform both previous versions, we want to make sure it is rock solid be before it is launched. We also have grand plans for the future — we know that once the control panel is being used by our remarkable customers, comments and suggestions will flow our way and while we intend to base our continued development off those ideas, we also have a number of developments on the drawing board we know our users will love.

The new vCluster and control panel is slated for launch over the summer months, but if you can’t wait to get a sneak preview of the latest developments in the control panel then you’ll want to check out Steve’s next blog post where he will guide you through some of the best bits of the new system.

Jonathon Head of Infrastructre

Jonathon is responsible for miles of cable and thousands of lines of code which, combined, keep Fubra and CatN both online and at the cutting edge of web technology.