Maximum number of domain aliases with Google Apps Premier

We use Google Apps Premier to host Fubra’s e-mails, and on the whole I love it – I get a massively reduced level of spam into my inbox, and searching out old mails is incredibly fast. However, it does lack some of the flexibility of our old internal postfix based system, and this became apparent today when I decided I wanted to host the inbound e-mail for all our 100+ websites on Google Apps as domain aliases to our primary domain.

It turns out that there is a limit to the number of domain aliases you can have. For our account, the limit seemed to be set at 20 domain aliases. After contacting Google, and asking them to raise it, I was told that the maximum number of domain aliases is tied to the maximum number of nicknames per user, which in our case was set to 30.

The more domain aliases you have, the less nicknames you can have, and vice versa. This makes sense as every nickname becomes a valid e-mail address for every domain alias. So if they allowed too many they’d quickly end up with a huge amount of potential e-mail addresses to manage.

The golden rule seems to be:

Max Domain Aliases multiplied by the Max Nicknames Per User must not exceed 600

Therefore, you could have the following rations:

– 6 domain aliases and 100 nicknames per user
– 10 domain aliases and 60 nicknames per user
– 20 domain aliases and 30 nicknames per user
– 30 domain aliases and 20 nicknames per user
– 60 domain aliases and 10 nicknames per user
– 100 domain aliases and 6 nicknames per user

Looking through our 26 user accounts, I could see that only 2 of them had more than 6 nicknames. Initially, I thought this would rule out an increase to 100 domain aliases – but it appears that groups can be used to achieve pretty much the same effect.

Some testing revealed that groupname@primarydomain.com also received e-mails to groupname@aliasdomain.com, and so works in a similar way to a nickname.

So my next task is to remove some of the nicknames and replace them with groups. I should then be able to increase the domain alias count and migrate the remaining domains across!

Summary of the new Companies Act 2006

A new companies act was introduced in 2006, that has been gradually phased in over the last 3 years, becoming fully operational on the 1st October 2009. The full act of parliament is over 700 pages long (in PDF form), so I’ve decided to try to highlight some of the key points / changes in this post for quick reference. NB: I’ve not read the full act (and don’t plan to!) so this is certainly not a comprehensive list.

General

  • Private limited companies no longer need to have a company secretary.
  • Private limited companies are no longer required to have an annual general meeting (AGM).
  • There are new standard company constitution documents (memorandum and model articles of association). The model articles replace Table A as the new default articles.
  • Companies are no longer be required to specify their objects on incorporation.

Company Directors

  • Director’s general duties have been formally codified in law.
  • Company Directors are no longer required to publish their residential address for all to see.  They may opt to provide an additional service address for correspondence, which can be the same as their company’s registered office address. A residential address must still be given to companies house, but this will only be shared with selected 3rd parties (certain public bodies, and credit reference agencies).
  • Company Directors must now be at least 16 years old.

Accounts and Reports

  • The statements that appear on a company’s accounts have changed.
  • The accounts filing deadline has been reduced from 10 months to 9 months for private companies, and 7 months to 6 months for PLCs.

Members / Shareholders

  • Companies are able to make better use of electronic communication to communicate with shareholders.
  • It’s no longer as easy for external parties to demand to see a company’s list of shareholders. Interested parties must declare their name, address, and the purpose of their request. It must be for a “proper” purpose – whatever that means! A company can apply to a court to reject the request.

Forms

  • Lots of the companies house forms have been redesigned / renamed with much more logical names. Rather than being named after the section of the companies house act that describes them, they are named after their purpose. For example, the Annual Return is now Form AR01 rather than Form 363. The relevant law sections are now referred to within the body of the form.
  • Companies must now complete a Statement of Capital when they are first registered, whenever share capital changes, and every year when they file their annual return. This is a snapshot of the companies share capital at a given point in time, and also gives details of voting and dividend rights for each share.

Companies House is holding a number of seminars to help businesses understand the implications of the new Companies Act. They will also give some demonstrations of how to use the web filing system to file forms online. You can book a place a the seminar online and, at the time of writing the next ones available are:

Basingstoke
Holiday Inn Basingstoke, Grove Road, Basingstoke. RG21 3EE
Thursday 11 February 2010 at 9.30am and 2.00pm

Norwich
Holiday Inn Norwich, Ipswich Road, Norwich. NR4 6EP
Thursday 11 March 2010 at 9.30am and 2.00pm

Working with Government APIs

It may have been a long time coming, but I have to say the UK Government has now made pretty good progress when it comes to making their services available online – and we have taken advantage of this with our online accounting system, Clear Books.

Clear Books integrates with a number of Government APIs, including:

  • Companies House WebCheck – Lets you purchase official documents (annual accounts, annual returns, director appointments, share allotments) that have been filed for most companies registered in England & Wales.
  • Online VAT Filing – Allows you to generate and file VAT returns online. Also allows you to pay by direct debit, so no need to send a cheque in the post.
  • Online CIS Filing (coming soon) – A feature specifically for the Construction Industry – this lets you file monthly CIS300 returns and verify sub-contractors from within Clear Books.

In the future we plan to add a number of other services, such as:

  • Online Filing with Companies House – File your annual return, annual accounts, and other forms electronically.
  • PAYE forms filing with HMRC  – File P14 , P35 , P45, P46 etc online.

We have also made a lot of our code available as open source under the php-govtalk project, so if you are interested in collaborating with us – we’d love to hear from you.

Cloud Hosting Providers

Over the past year or so there has been a massive surge in the amount of companies offering Cloud Hosting services. In this post I’m going to outline the key players.

There are also some Cloud Management Platform providers, who generally offer tools to help you work with other Cloud Hosting services, these include:

And there are even some open source projects to help you build your own cloud:

  • Eucalyptus – Elastic Utility Computing Architecture for Linking Your Programs To Useful Systems – is an open-source software project for implementing “cloud computing” on clusters. Essentially a vendor neutral, EC2 compatible cloud platform.
  • Nimbus – An open source toolkit that allows you to turn your cluster into an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud.

 

Go Grid

Go Grid allows you to deploy and manage your own virtual servers from their control panel. The servers can be of 4 main types: Load Balancer, Web / App Server, Database Server and, Cloud Storage.

The site doesn’t give a lot of detail about what happens once you’ve created your servers, apart from to say they are Real servers with Full Access. Presumably you would then need to configure the software (Apache, IIS etc..) on each server individually.

Billing Model

GoGrid charges based on Server Ram Hours and outbound data transfer. CPUs and Storage are fixed relative to the RAM chosen for each vserver.  

CPU’s are guaranteed at a minimum ratio of 1 Xeon Core per 4 GB of Ram, therefore if you create a server with 1GB of RAM, it will have 1/4 of Xeon Core reserved for it’s use.

Server RAM Core Guaranteed 
(P4 2.0 GHz equivalent)
Core Burst
512 MB 1/8 1
1 GB 1/4 1
2 GB 1/2 1
4 GB 3 3
8 GB* 6 6

Storage is also determined by the amount of RAM chosen for each vserver, however additional storage can be made available through the Cloud Storage system.

Server RAM Storage
512 MB 30 GB
1 GB 60 GB
2 GB 120 GB
4 GB 240 GB
8 GB 480 GB

1 x 1GB RAM x 24 hours x 30 days = 720 Server RAM/hours.

Prices start from $0.19 per Server Ram hour, therefore a 1 GB / 0.25 Xeon Core machine would cost $136.80 per month. However this would drop as low as $57.60 on their Enterprise plan, with a minimum commitment of $2499.99 a month. Bandwidth charges would be on top of this, and they start from $0.50 per Gigabyte dropping to $0.17 per Gigabyte if you commit to 6 TBs a month ($999.99).

Summary

Go Grid is currently very much a “build your own cloud” solution. The system will not scale automatically to adjust to spikes in demand, you would need to anticipate them and create spare capacity in advance.

Amazon Web Services

Amazon Web Services consists of 3 main products:

  • Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) – A xen-based virtual server hosting platform. You can upload machine images to their platform, and then run them as virtual servers. 
  • Simple Storage Service (S3) – A cloud storage solution. Let’s you store files safely and reliably in the cloud.
  • CloudFront – A content delivery network enhancement to S3 that copies your files to a global network of edge servers. Requests for files are automatically routed to the nearest edge location, so content is delivered with the best possible performance.  

Billing Model

CPU power is measured in EC2 Compute Units. One EC2 Compute Unit provides the equivalent CPU capacity of a 1.0-1.2 GHz 2007 Opteron or 2007 Xeon processor. There are 5 main instance types, each providing a different level of processing power, storage and memory.

Prices for EC2 Unix / Linux instances hosted in the United States are as follows:

Standard Instances Price CPU Memory (GB) Storage (GB)
Small (Default) $0.10 per hour 1 1.7 160
Large $0.40 per hour 4 7.5 850
Extra Large $0.80 per hour 8 15 1690
High CPU Instances
Medium $0.20 per hour 5 1.7 350
Extra Large $0.80 per hour 20 7 1690

A small instance running continuously would therefore cost approximately 0.10 x 24 x 30 = $72 per month.

Bandwidth is charged on top of this at the following rates:

Data Transfer In  
All Data Transfer $0.10 per GB
Data Transfer Out  
First 10 TB per Month $0.17 per GB
Next 40 TB per Month $0.13 per GB
Next 100TB per Month $0.11 per GB
Over 150 TB per Month $0.10 per GB

Summary

Amazon web services is a very competitively priced platform that offers a great deal of flexibility, however it also requires a fair amount of technical expertise to get up and running and it doesn’t come with any load balancing system, so you would have to build your own.

To address these problems, some third party companies have emerged who offer control panel and management systems for AWS. Examples of such companies include RightScale and 3tera. Their products are sometimes referred to as Virtual Private Data Centres, or Cloud Management Platforms. 

Rightscale offer Website Edition package, which comes with all the tools and images you need to deploy a load balanced web / database cluster on AWS. For $500 a month, it will let you manage up to around 20 servers.

Fubra Investment Roundup Feb 09

Since the summer of 2008, we’ve invested in a number of start-up companies. We’ve been looking for businesses that compliment our own, and specifically where we could leverage our existing assets and benefit from the economies of scale. As I’ve mentioned before, we look for people with a unique idea, who are prepared to work hard and who can build the product/service themselves. All of the following companies met that criteria:

Clear Books Limited

Clear Books is an online accounting software service run by Tim Fouracre. He’s a chartered accountant, entrepreneur and programmer and has been working on the system for 6 months now. We’ve been beta testing it for our Fubra Accounts, and we’re really happy with its progress. The intelligent bank statement import feature has already helped us cut down the amount of time we spend book keeping from 10 days a month, to 2 days a month! We’ve also used it to complete our quarterly VAT returns, and our 6 monthly FSA regulatory reporting.

Screenshot of Clear Books home page.

UMPC Media Limited

UMPC Media is a joint venture between Fubra, Matthew Dunham and Steve Whiteley. The company aims to develop a number of web based communities, mainly in the area of Ultra Mobile PCs. The first site in the portfolio is a forum about Dell Mini PCs called MyDellMini.com

Screenshot of MyDellMini home page

Niggle Limited

Niggle specialises in providing customer feedback systems for businesses. They offer a comprehensive service which spans both the online and offline worlds, with everything from paper based postal feedback cards, to mobile / SMS and online feedback forms. In a recession consumers will be especially picky as to where they spend their hard earned cash, and we believe the best placed companies will be those that listen to their customers.

Screen shot of Niggle home page.

Bytewire Limited

Bytewire is a games development company run by Dave Heward and Elliot Reeve. They are working on a number of online multiplayer browser based games, the first of which is a Mafia type game called Street Crime. The game has been running for just over a month now, and already has 2000 players!

Screen shot of Bytewire home page

Screen shot of Street Crime home page.

Renegade Games Limited

Renegade Games is another games development company run by Pete Zaborszky. The company is in the early stages of developing a number of projects, so watch this space for more information.

How to invest in a UK Limited Company

Once you’ve found a limited company to invest in, the next step is to complete the legal work required. So what’s involved? Generally the process is as follows (where company refers to the company receiving investment):

  • Agree the terms of investment, and make a contract / shareholders agreement based on this.
  • Check through the company’s Articles and Memorandum of Association.
  • The company should pass an ordinary resolution issuing new share capital if the company does not have enough unallocated shares to complete the desired transaction.
  • All parties sign the contract, and then the investor and investee should swap any monetary consideration for a share certificate.
  • Finally, the company should inform Companies House of the updated share structure by filling form 123 – increasing nominal share capital (if necessary) and form 88(2) – allocation of shares.

Contract / Shareholders agreement

The contract / shareholders agreement could include:

  • Clarity on the ownership of assets. If any company assets are registered personally to the Directors, then they should be transferred to the new company.
  • Pre-emption rights to take part in any new share issues on the same terms as other share holders.
  • Commitment guarantees from the Directors, e.g. they will work on the project for at least x months, or will relinquish some shares as a penalty if they wish to leave early.
  • Details of when the investor expects to be able to take a dividend, e.g. the current Shareholders / Directors can take a remuneration package of up to £x per year, after which the investor may take a dividend.
  • Full disclosure of all company assets and liabilities.

Web Filing with Companies House

WebFiling is a secure and reliable way to file your company information. As well as saving you money on your Annual Return (£15), WebFiling allows you to file most of your company information free of charge. This includes changes to your registered office address (form 287) director and secretary changes.

To use Web-Filing you need to follow 2 steps.

  1. Register for a web filing account, and a security code – this will be emailed to you.
  2. Apply for an authentication code. A company may already have one if it was set up online, otherwise it will be sent out by post to the registered address.

Great British Businesses

With all the bankruptcies and job losses of recent months, and as we watch sterling slide against all major currencies, you’d be forgiven for thinking that UK plc is heading for the economic scrap heap. And in many ways it is – just look at our total government and personal debt, and the predicted budget deficits over the next few years. Yet, despite all this doom and gloom, there are some areas of the economy that have a bright future.

It may seem that all the UK has exported in the past few years is an army of borrow-to-let investors, but rather than focus on everything that was wrong with that, I’d like to look at what we’ve done right – and to celebrate some of the successful businesses that have been created by the real entrepreneurial spirit that exists in our country.

So, here are some world class companies that I’m proud to say are British:

  • Dyson – Reinvented the Vacuum Cleaner.
  • Imagine Technologies – Makes graphics chips for mobile devices, including the iPhone.
  • ARM – Makes microprocessors. Has gone from powering the humble Acorn computer, to nearly a quarter of all electronic devices in the world, including the iPhone.
  • HSBC – Although a multi-national bank, they are headquartered and listed in the UK, and have British heritage (founded by a Scot). The only major UK bank not to need bailing out as a result of the financial crisis. They even sold their Canary Warf offices at the peak of the boom, and bought them back recently for alleged £250 million profit.
  • Tesco – Like marmite, you’ll either love them or hate them, but there is no doubt they are good at what they do! Now the world’s fourth third biggest retailer, they have led the way in analysing their customer data (club card scheme) and retailing via the Internet. Watch out Wal-Mart!.
  • BBC – Although owned by the British tax payer, and some might say a little on the bloated side, they certainly produce some world leading content (Top Gear, Blue Planet, BBC News Online) and have pushed out some innovative technology over the years (BBC Micro, BBC iPlayer, Dirac Codec).
  • Rolls Royce – Have mastered manufacturing as a service by leasing their engines by the hour, and providing lucrative maintenance and repair contracts.

The list is going to start small, so please send me your suggestions and I’ll try to add them. I’d like to stick to British firms who have been truly innovative in recent years, rather than just listing out the FTSE 100.

iPhone over the air sync with Google Calendar

We’ve been desperate for a centralised calendar solution that can sync with all our desktop PCs and iPhones for a while now, and yesterday one of our developers, Matt, found a solution for us.

It combines the following technologies:

Essentially Google Calendar is used to provide a central calendar, this is then synced to the iPhones via Nuevasync, which provides a free exchange interface. The calaboration tool makes it easy to sync your iCal with the Google Calendar, and then MobileMe is needed if you want to have a private calendar on your iPhone as well.

Matt has written some in-depth instructions on how to set up over the air calendar syncing on your iPhone, over on his blog.

Business Angel Investments

Part of our strategy at Fubra is to invest a portion of our cash in business start-ups. In this post, I’m going to give you a few inside “secrets” as to our thinking when companies approach us for funding. If, after reading this, you think we sound like a good match then you should get in touch.

What we look for in an investment opportunity…

  • An amazing unique product.
  • Backed by a team of competent, motivated and hard working people who can deliver.
  • The ability to build your product yourself. For web sites, this means you need a developer in your team as an equity partner. We’re not interested in ideas that someone else has to build, as costs will quickly escalate and we may as well do it ourselves.

What we can provide…

  • Cash.
  • Marketing assistance – We have a network of well over 100 websites, 6 million visitors per month and 3 million subscribers – so plenty of scope for cross promotion. We can advise on all aspects of online marketing e.g. PPC and SEO.
  • PR assistance – We have an in-house PR team and press contacts database. Our sites regularly feature in the mainstream press; printed, radio and TV.
  • Development assistance. We have Linux, PHP, MySQL and JavaScript gurus who can assist with complicated bits of coding.
  • Data mining – We have web spider experts who can help analyse and extract data from around the web.
  • Hosting – We have racks in several data centres, including our own 14 rack private DC at our head office in Aldershot. We have also developed a hosting cloud infrastructure to help scale web applications to meet demand and this would be available to you.
  • First line customer support – When your product takes off, we can integrate it into our support system and provide first line customer service.
  • Office space – We have a 4000 sq ft office in Aldershot, which has a few rooms to spare.
  • Mentoring and advice – Fubra has been around since 2000 so we know a thing or two about building web businesses. We would make this knowledge available to you as needed.

What we ask for, from an investment…

  • A Realistic Valuation – You shouldn’t be looking to get rich from the investment round itself. The cash is there to help the business succeed, and that’s the point where you will be financially rewarded. How is your business worth half a million pounds with no sales or customers?
  • Thrift! – You should keep your overheads as low as possible for as long as possible. Do you really need to hire a PR agency? If you’re product is that good it should sell itself. Can you justify paying yourself a “market” salary? If you are paid a full market salary, what risk are you taking to justify your equity stake?
  • Hard work and delivering on promises.

It could be argued that now is a better time than ever to start up a business. While established firms are more focused on cutting costs than delivering new products, start ups can seize the opportunities they miss.

Cash is king (and always was in my opinion!)

There is an interesting article in this week’s Economist, All you need is cash, which talks about the new rush by businesses to accumulate cash in contrast to the massive leveraging that has taken place over the past few years. Of course, not all companies took on huge loans to expand, and the ones who hoarded cash are now in a much stronger position relative to their debt-laden counterparts. Just to look to Japan where their cash rich companies are on target to make a record year in acquisitions. So far they have spent $78 billion on foreign takeovers, as they snap up other firms at knock down prices.

It has always been my view that companies should aim to keep a reasonably large cash buffer. It means that other people will want to deal with you as you have a strong credit rating and you can pay your bills on time, that there’s money in the pot for a rainy day, but most of all, it means that you can be ready to invest in value opportunities when they occur, without piling debt on to your balance sheet and being at the mercy of the credit markets. As Warren Buffet says, be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful.

At my company, Fubra, we prefer to leverage our knowledge and intangible assets rather than our balance sheet by seeking investments where we can add a lot of value for both parties at little marginal cost to our existing commitments. We look for companies who are a good fit to our current operations, and who have realistic valuation expectations, but if they meet those criteria we can act fast. This is the advantage of having strong working capital.

Of course, having cash has some downfalls. While Barclays are happy to pay Abu Dhabi and Qatar 14% interest on their cash, they only pay their sterling business savers 2.5%! All the more reason why you need to be ready to spend it when the right opportunities arise.