Billing software for hosting - a winner!

For a few years now I have used Modernbill’s hosting billing and management software for all my hosting. It has not come without a lot of issues and quirks. Problem was, each time I got a quirk I ended up having to pay Modernbill to get the quirk fixed. More often than not the problem wasn’t actually fixed, instead I was just given a work around to keep the software going.

Well, a few days ago I sat down to send out an invoice. That, in theory should take about 10 minutes, including writing in the details and ensuring everything was correct. Then click send and off I go to do my other work.


I clicked send and got a Failed message from Modernbill’s cache. Those of you who have used Modernbill probably know what I mean, or so all the forums say. So I checked all my bits and pieces out, they looked good, tried again. No go.

So I started down a path that was 2 hours long. This path is that all too familiar trouble shooting path of searching Google, reading posts, trying things and full circle back to Google. Finally, after my forehead turned black and blue from pounding it on the desk, I sent a trouble ticket into Modernbill.

Their response, “Should take less than an hour, so $75 will cover the fix.”

Two years ago my response to that email would have sent shivers down anyones spine, and I would have resulted in me been told to piss off. But no, I kept my cool and sent back a nice response explaining my situation, and exactly why I was against paying anymore money.

They responded with a nice email that said they understood my dilemma and a win-win solution would be to buy a 6 month support plan, and then they could fix the problem. Yeah, that is sorta of win win, but I lose my money still. Keep in mind that at this point I have now spent close to $300 on a software package that never really did everything it was supposed to. At least I couldn’t get it to do everything it was supposed to.
At this point I am late for a breakfast date with the wife, but still in a fowl mood not worthy of breakfast. Back to Google. This time on a trek to find a replacement program for my online billing needs.

I should interject here that I only use the billing software to handle subscriptions, fast invoice sending that is to be paid by Paypal, and in theory to keep track of my profit margins.

After less than 30 minutes I found a pretty slick looking replacement app. Albeit only for cPanel, and I have Ensim, but as I mentioned two seconds ago, I don’t manage the actual server with this software. Not yet! So I looked at the time, 30 minutes late for breakfast, what’s 30 more minutes.

Within 30 minutes (30 more minutes that is) I downloaded, installed, configured, imported all my Modernbill clients and accounts, tweaked all the accounts, and sent out my invoice that I started out to do almost three hours ago.

Can you say ... WoW! I did. And I still am.

If you have read this far, then you deserve to know what software I am referring to. WHMCompleteSolutions is the place I found my reprieve from billing insanity.  Not only is their interface slick and really fast, but their pre-sale customer support was amazing. They were able to answer everyone of my questions within 30 minutes (there it is again!) and sometimes within 10 minutes. WoW! From the website they say this:

“The complete client management, billing & support system”

WHMCompleteSolution is the complete client management solution for Web Hosts & Dedicated Server Providers looking for Online Automated Recurring Billing, Flexible and Easy to Use Client Management and Integrated Client Support Center including Support Tickets, Knowledgebase, Announcements & Live Server Status.

  • Powerful & Flexible Billing & Client Management System
  • Support Ticketing System with Full Email Piping Support
  • Automated Account Creation, Suspension & Termination
  • Payment Tracking, Accounting Features & Statistical Reports
  • Multi-Language Support
  • 100% Customisable using Templates

It is four days later, and I have purchased my full license, complete with refugee pricing having come from a competitor (you know who so I won’t repeat myself).

Do yourself a favour, if you are looking for a billing package for a small hosting business, check out WHMCompleteSolutions. The 15 day full functioning trial is FREE, so you have nothing to lose but a little time. It might even save your marriage! Speaking of which, the wife did not shoot me as she had other things to do, and we ended up having a great breakfast over Boccacinos in the West Island of Montreal.

DISCLAIMER: I realize that this solution is not for everyone. A lot of people probably get along well with Modernbill and their support staff. This rant is strictly from my point of view is not meant to say that MB sucks.

PS: But I really do like this new solution and really didn’t like having to work with MB.

Server Monitoring and notification by email and SMS

A few weeks ago one of my servers had a melt down. Luckily, I had fairly good backups and survived. A lot was learnt about quality backups, so next time I will be even better prepared.

Running a small hosting business is hard sometimes, and one of the biggest worries I have, and most likely others in the same boat have, are finding out quickly when a problem with a server occurs.

Our co-location facility has a great system that will monitor all our servers, and if a server goes off line, or one of the services goes down like HTTPD, SMTP etc, the co-lo’s monitoring system will know within 60 seconds. We also have the option of having the co-lo be notified of the problem so they can fix the issue as soon as possible.
That is a good start, but I still want to know as soon as possible if there is a problem. What happens if I am out having lunch or in a meeting and a problem occurs? Email is okay, but not always possible depending on where you are.

After a brief search for a service that would monitor my servers reliably and notify me of any problems by email and by SMS, I found a good solution. They are not expensive and come with a ton of features too. Sign up is FREE, and SMS’s cost 20 cents each. Addtional options are of course available for a fee.
If you are in the same boat as me, check out

I am in no way affiliated with hyperspin but really liked what they offer. If anyone has other thoughts on a similar service, please let me know.

Use sa-learn to teach spamassassin what is spam

For a couple of years now I have been using Spamassassin with great success. Over time I occasionally would teach Spamassassin what spam is with the ‘sa-learn—spam mboxdata’ command. It has been awhile since I did this and figured it was time once again to teach Spamassassin a thing or two about spam.

Locally I use only Apple for my computers, and for my software, but this will work equally from Windows machines. My servers all run RHEL4.

For a couple of weeks I collected any spam that got through to me, into a folder I call SPAM. Then when I think there is enough spam in the folder—in this case 487 spam—I export the SPAM folder into an mbox format file. On Apple this is easily done using this hint from MacOSXHints. Windows users I am not sure about, but a quick search on Google should reveal some results.

Next we FTP our mbox folder to the server. Then we simply run:

sa_learn—mbox—spam mboxdata

Replace ‘mboxdata’ with the name of the file you uploaded. You should see a message that looks similar to this:

Learned from 473 message(s) (487 message(s) examined).

My reason for posting this is that I forgot to add the—mbox flag and simply got a message that looked like this:

Learned from 0 message(s) (0 message(s) examined).

Have fun with it. Let me know if you see anything I missed.

Makewhatis gives ‘zcat: stdout: Broken pipe’ errors

This morning I noticed for the first time in my nightly cron jobs, that Makewhatis on my RedHat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) box, was giving ‘zcat: stdout: Broken pipe’ errors.

A quick search on the now defunct EV1Servers forums showed that skeeter1jd had the solution:

Edit /etc/cron.weekly/00-makewhatis.cron:

change the this line:

makewhatis -w


makewhatis -w -u

What is makewhatis (man makewhatis):

makewhatis reads all the manual pages contained in the given sections of manpath or the preformatted pages contained in the given sections of catpath. For each page, it writes a line in the whatis database; each line consists of the name of the page and a short description, separated by a dash.  The description is extracted using the content of the NAME section of the manual page.

Blank emails, or ‘Failed to link message body between queues’

Occasionally I get a server that starts tossing out emails with no message body—blank emails. Today I noticed that I also get a ‘Failed to link message body between queues’ error in my daily (nightly really) LogWatch. After a little research I re-discovered the fix to the blank email message body… I hope.

The solution, rebuild the Bayes database. This is easy to do and only takes a couple of minutes at most on a modern machine. On this computer in particular, I am running Ensim 4.x on RHEL. All updates through up2date are installed. From the CLI (command line interface) do the following. Note you must be root:

# su
# sa-learn –-sync (that is two dashes not one)
synced Bayes databases from journal in 0 seconds: 4 unique entries (4 total entries)

Note that rebuilding the Bayes database has also been known to fix stuck spamd processes. So if you see one or more spamd processes stuck on ‘top’, this might be the solution on that too.

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