Control Panels: Who’s in Control?

A control panel is an online interface that allows you to monitor and control Web server applications in addition to completing basic administrative functions. Including a Web-based control panel as part of a your hosting package gives you the ability to complete basic administrative functions, change and update web sites, create email accounts and forward mail, view site access logs, and many other options.

Users with access to a Web-based control panel have the ability to back up and restore data online. Control panels offer a variety of preferences for email management, including customized mail and spam filters, the creation of accounts and generation of mailing lists, access to Web mail, auto-responder set up (automatic email responses with specific information), and entering mail exchange entries into the domain name system.

Control panels offer access to statistical logs and programs. UNIX platform control panels may feature access to Webalizer Web and FTP stats in addition to more basic and commonly used packages like Analog and AWStats.

Many Web-based control panels allow you to view your bandwidth usage, latest visitors, and your site’s error log. You should be able to manage multiple FTP accounts by adding, removing, and changing passwords. A control panel will also give you the ability to change FTP login messages, end FTP sessions, and enable and disable anonymous FTP access as you choose.

By using a control panel, you will be able to password protect specific Web site directories in addition to changing site and FrontPage passwords. Your control panel should allow you to implement Web site redirects; you’ll also be able to edit and develop customized error messages.

More complex control panels enable you to edit MIME (multimedia) types, in addition to editing Apache handlers, which determine how the Web server will respond when a particular type of file is called. You will be able to install and uninstall FrontPage extensions, which permit Microsoft’s site builder to interface directly with your Web site from your client computer.

Newer control panels also feature marketing functions that allow you to submit your Web site to search engines. More complex control panels provide file managers for removing and deleting files within your site’s directory.

New users can take advantage of the pre-installed CGI or ASP scripts which allow you to deploy scripts through the control panel instead of having to prep and configure them. Other pre-installed scripts often include a bulletin board, a live online chat application, a counter generator, random HTML generator, an advanced guest book, internal search engine, in addition to banner and e-commerce applications. A Web-based HTML editor and Perl script checker may also be included in some control panels.

Ultimately, a control panel should provide access to your database system. You should be able to add, remove and change passwords. You should also be able to add access hosts for SQL-compatible database services.

It is important that the control panel you choose offers technical support. You should have access to a knowledge base, a frequently asked questions board, and a clearly written support manual in case you encounter any problems. Many control panels will provide a trouble ticket system that allows you to report and follow any problems or incidents. You should also be able to update account contact information without having to contact live customer support through the panel.

There are many things to consider when choosing a hosting package with a control panel; ask yourself what features you expect to use for your particular needs and make your decision accordingly.