My personal 6 month experience with Cyberwings began in January of this year. I found the need for additional hosting capacity to handle sites I was developing. My rock steady normal host, Hosting Matters, was a bit expensive for the playing around I wanted to do. They are the gold standard in virtual hosting, but I didn't need gold standard. I needed cheap.
I first heard of Cyberwings on the WebHostingTalk forums. This watering hole of hosting suppliers and users makes you feel like you're in an intergalactic bar. People from all over, with varying backgrounds and goals meet to discuss hosting. It's also the only site on the internet that you'll find frank, honest and advertising free reviews of web hosting companies. It seems to draw people in like a huge gravitational force and never lets them go. Add to this that hosting companies routinely show up to advertise their services and mill about and you have an extremely lively forum.
The owner of Cyberwings, Shawn White, posted to WebHostingTalk under an advertising forum. I decided to follow-up with him and learn more about the reseller accounts he was offering. Through our emails Shawn and I developed a friendly relationship and he was extremely customer service focused. He worked with me to help me understand not only what a reseller account encompassed, but how to work the control panel called Plesk that I was unfamiliar with. On the control panel front he assigned one of his crew to work with me on it.
From the first day I was with Cyberwings two things struck me. The first is that I knew Shawn was trying to grab as much of the market as he could. My email box was filled weekly with new sales, new add-ons, etc. that were usually under market prices. Not one to dismiss good offers, I even availed myself of one of them. As my first month drew to an end I ended up with one gigabyte of space and 20 gigabytes of bandwidth for $27.00 a month.
The second thing that struck me was the promotional Cyberwings juggernaut. Shawn wasn't the only cheerleader for Cyberwings. There were people so fervently pro-Cyberwings that it bordered on cult status. What Shawn said was the word. If you have seen the new Men In Black movie these folks were like the aliens in the locker.
From what I came to understand my account was on a Plesk based server hosted by Rack Shack. At the time Cyberwings also had Cobalt servers, but I am not sure where they were based. Support was handled by this distinction and by all accounts things were rock solid and support was swift and efficient. I had all of three trouble tickets that were resolved in a quick and efficient manner.
In March Cyberwings lost SMTP services from their upstream provider on the Plesk servers. This was a pain, but a workable pain. Cyberwings indicated that seven different spamming incidents caused this to happen. To bring back SMTP services Shawn setup a page for donations. I thought this was odd, but then again Cyberwings was extremely community based where the one for all and all for one attitude was in full force.
As time went on I noticed that chatroom sales and specials offered by Shawn became a way of life. In May I attended a couple of chatroom sales and saw incredible prices for reseller, all you want and lifetime accounts being sold. I popped onto WebHostingTalk to ask other web hosting owners about the viability of these offers and almost everyone indicated that it'd be close to impossible to make money off those prices.
At that point my referrals to Cyberwings stopped and I began letting people know that you get what you pay for in web hosting. It's a golden rule I learned while a customer with CiHost and seemed to be extremely fitting with Cyberwings.
Of course, I didn't follow my own plan. I was supposed to be using my Cyberwings account for developing sites and then moving them to another host when they were live. I didn't do that for two sites I worked to get up and running and it came back to bite me.
In the beginning of June my server was down. Hard. You couldn't ping it and it was off the internet. My tickets went unanswered at Cyberwings, so I ventured into the chatroom. Experiencing the chatroom is much like attending a MLM sales meeting. Everyone is positive. Everyone believes in the product. Everyone wants you to believe in the product. You feel a little uncomfortable if you're the only person in the room swimming against the tide.
I pressed for information on the issue and very little was forthcoming. No Cyberwings employees were chatting with the communication left to the Cyberwings zealots. Eventually I was able to chat with a Cyberwings employee who indicated that the accounts on the Plesk servers at Rack Shack were down due to a technical issue.
Being the technical kind of guy I am I proceeded to find out what was the exact issue and what was the root cause. I prodded, probed and communicated. What I found was that it wasn't a data communications issue as other Rack Shack servers were fine, it wasn't a hardware issue as it affected all the Cyberwings' boxes at Rack Shack and it wasn't a data center issue as Rack Shack's other customers were fine.
Jumping back into the Cyberwings chatroom I learned that there was an issue with Rack Shack and that Shawn would fix it tomorrow. The issue wasn't technical in nature as Shawn had to talk to Rack Shack customer service and that department was closed. It wasn't a good feeling knowing that I had to wait over overnight to get my sites back up.
What really irritated me about this situation was the lack of communication and professionalism by the Cyberwings crew and Shawn. I felt like I was putting them out asking them for details. It was so bad that any attempt at nailing down real information was met with defensiveness. I can deal with servers being down. Tell me how long and why and communicate updates to me. Leave me in the dark and you have an irritated customer.
The sites did come back up the next day after Shawn spoke to Customer Service. No one really knows what the issue was with Rack Shack and the only communication from Shawn was that his lawyers were preparing something, but for the time being it had to be kept confidential. He promised to keep us in the loop. Unfortunately, no further updates ever occurred. I have no idea whether the issue was caused by lack of payment, bad hardware on only the Cyberwings boxes or a misunderstanding between companies, but the lack of information was key to my making a decision to move.
After the Rack Shack issue I began to look at other hosting companies to limit my exposure. I bought an account at another reseller site for more money and proceeded to make the changes necessary to move my site. Over the next few days I moved my sites and by the time the first week of June was over I had moved all my sites. I sent Shawn a nice message letting him know why I was leaving, but I never heard back from him or Cyberwings outside of receiving two automated invoices.
In the beginning of July the topics concerning Cyberwings started to heat up on WebHostingTalk again. Having been out of the Cyberwings loop I wasn't sure what was happening, but it did resolve around the servers in Maine being unavailable. To me this was odd as Cyberwings had their own datacenter in Maine, so any issues should be correctable by them. I read the posts further and was surprised to see that it appeared that the Cyberwings data center was in actuality collocated servers at Lightship.
Some people spoke about Cyberwings owing money to Lightship, but Shawn indicated that it was a confidential matter and that the decision had been made to move their data center in Maine and to Virginia. After this decision was made dates were set and plans set in motion. All during the time those with accounts on the unavailable servers had no access to their accounts or more importantly their data. Imagine not being able to access your data or your customer's data going on two weeks. Everyone knows they should back up their data regularly, but it takes something like this to really force you to realize that.
As it was now Saturday I decided to pop into the Cyberwings chat room and see what was up. I am no longer a customer, but have the same pull to watch what is happening as you do when you pass an accident on the highway. You want to see the blood, the guts, the wreck. It's a primal feeling. It didn't take long before I was actually laughing out loud at the posts. I was able to find out through a status page that there was a delay in getting the new servers up and running. The status page was put up to communicate to customers as the main site was down. At that point I really started to feel for the customers. Delay after delay with no hard information or dates to go on. A few apologists were still hanging the Cyberwings banner high claiming that getting new servers online could take weeks, but the more technical savvy in the crowd knew it wouldn't take that long. But this was a darker, more cynical crowd in the room tonight.
I stayed and watched and laughed. Someone decided to check the Wayback Machine for copies of Cyberwings' old site and that was interesting.
Someone else decided to check Google groups for posts from Shawn's email address. Who knows if this was Shawn or someone using his email, but the posts are here.
Two that stood out included:
1: Shawn attempts to sell you the Golden Fleece that promises to make you $10,000 a month.
2: Shawn would like you to lose weight and make money with The Ultimate Diet.
Checking on the WHOIS for myultimatediet.com you'll find it is registered to Shawn White of Cyberwings. Again, it could be someone else using Shawn's information.
As the night wore on I had to get a few things done around the house and when I checked back around 9:30pm CT the chat room was switched to moderated posts only and a new update was posted to CWSTATUS. The update didn't have any new information, just a thank you for patience and support.
What happened to Cyberwings? Why did things go from being great to being not so great in a short time? The only person who knows is Shawn White and he's not effectively communicating.
It's sad to see this situation develop on multiple levels. The first is that Shawn had a great community and a good start on a business. I was a Cyberwings booster and would have liked to have continued with them. The second is that there are many people whose sites have been down for going on two weeks and that is the real heartbreaker here. One hopes Cyberwings makes it back to the form that made it so popular.