Web Hosting recommendations aren’t hard to unearth on the Internet. I just typed in web hosting reviews into Google and got back 162 million results — yes million. Now the real question is how many of those reviews are actually genuine and trustworthy. You’d probably have an easier time finding a kid who hates Christmas.
So its fair to wonder why the web is simply stuffed to the brim with web hosting recommendations if no one is actually telling you the truth. As The O’Jays would say “Money Money Money Money … Moneyy!” There is lots of money to be made in getting people to sign up for web hosting services. Like wheeling an ATM machine in your living room kind of money. You can regularly find web hosts willing to pay $100 to $150 per referral to affiliates who send qualified customers their way. Often, hosts will sacrifice an entire year’s hosting fees because they know they will make their money back many times over through hosting renewals during the life of the account.
Also web hosting companies tend to enjoy relatively healthy profit margins. Venturebeat recently reported that Amazon boasts an eye popping 80% profit margin on their cloud services. Yes there is a considerable initial investment building the hosting facility, setting up the redundancy and security measures as well as hiring a support staff. Once the infrastructure is set, adding a new client to the mix is close to a zero cost proposition.
Bogus reviews on the web have become so pervasive and such a headache that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has stepped into the fray, mandating disclosures be published by those sites being compensated for reviews or free products. Fines can stretch up to $11k for offenders. You’d think that this threat would clean up the space, but instead its led to articles being tagged with a footer disclosures which most readers will never make that far to ignore. Others simply ignore the FTC link disclosure assuming they’re way too small a fish to pop up on the FTC’s radar. While that may be true in many cases, do you really want to play Russian roulette with the FTC? Sooner or later that financial bullet is going to catch up with you.
So if the web is simply littered with trash hosting reviews what makes this one different? Simple. We don’t have affiliate relationships with any of these hosting companies. We have no financial incentive to steer you in one direction or another. We are going to tell you about hosting companies that we have actually had accounts with for years at a time. We are going to lay out the good, the bad and the ugly of those experiences so you can make an informed decision. At heart, we are a web and systems development firm. Our hope is that you’ll have a great experience with your new host (or at least realize their limitations on the front end) and come back to us for your other development needs.
Before we dig into the companies, I need to qualify the different kinds of hosting services we’ve used and what each means.
Shared Web Hosting
This is basically the entry point of web hosting. Most small businesses and personal blogs, who don’t entertain a flood of traffic, can get away with a shared hosting account. They normally run around $5 to $15 a month and include personalized email accounts, access to a hosting admin panel as well as technical support. With shared hosting, the support response times could be delayed since requests may get shoved behind the needs of higher paying clients.
The key to shared hosting is right there in the title. You are sharing a computer’s resource. You are given a slice of the hard drive and could be playing in a sandbox with 200 other websites. You jockey for processor cycles and bandwidth which could delay load times if your neighbor is serving up his hundreds of cat pictures or is busy building the next Pirate Bay.
Dedicated Server Hosting
A dedicated server hosting account has all the amenities of shared hosting without as many drawbacks. You are given your own server. Your files fill up the hard drive. The bandwidth pipe is exclusively yours. The processor can’t get bogged down during somebody else’s Cyber Monday promotion. The big difference is the cost. A dedicated server will run between $100 to $250 per month. Its a big jump for most, but one a lot of businesses have to make.
Hosting in the cloud is a relatively new phenomenon within the past five years. It is basically like a Virtual Private Server (VPS) with a lot more flexibility. If your traffic bursts upward of five to ten times your normal traffic during certain promotions, the cloud servers can scale to meet this temporary demand. You only get charged for the additional resources used during that short window instead of devoting expensive hardware and bandwidth that sit idle most of the time. Cloud hosting tends to be more reliable since it isolates your site from the stresses put on it by other sites. Being in the cloud, the data is distributed across redundant servers, protecting it against hardware failures.
Windows vs Linux Based Hosting
Another key distinction when choosing a host is what technology is underlying the box you are on. If you are using WordPress, Joomla or Drupal, you will be throwing your allegiance behind the Linux penguins. Linux can support the PHP-MySQL foundation these CMS systems run on.
If you want to run Microsoft-based solutions like ASP.NET then Windows hosting is your only way to go. Pretty simply, you are a Linux or a Microsoft guy (or girl). Make your choice and blaze your path.
Over the years, we’ve had both Linux and Windows shared hosting accounts with Godaddy. We still have a Windows account that serves up some of our internal ASP.NET systems. These aren’t mission critical systems, but they do get used on a daily basis by a team of users. Very rarely do I have one of our team write me to say the site is down.
Godaddy’s reliability is a blessing because their customer support leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve written in on a few occasions, and the support reps seem to just copy & paste answers that usually have nothing to do with your issue. Also, they may take 24 to 48 hours to generate one of these worthless replies. This is a major deterrent for most, but if you are a developer who doesn’t need a lot of hand holding it can be convenient to house your hosting in the same place where you register your domains.
We currently have a few test sites running on iPower. Basically, we use this account as our building grounds up until the point where we finalize the details and ready the site to be rolled out into production. iPower has been fairly reliable in our time with them. Obviously, you don’t want to sink hours of work into design changes and coding updates only to have the site fail to load once the client goes to look at it.
Strangely, iPower doesn’t use the cPanel management interface that seems to be the gold standard among hosting companies. Their management console takes a little getting used to, but the functionality is basically the same.
Everything you would expect is here. You can host multiple domains underneath your shared hosting account. You can setup email accounts and utilize their extensive script libraries. Support normally contacts you within the hour on most issues. For a shared hosting option, iPower is one of the better choices.
(Dedicated Server Hosting)
By far the most disappointing of our hosting experiences came courtesy of InMotion Hosting. At the time of the switch, we were doing our hosting with Godaddy and BlueHost under shared hosting accounts. We were running mission critical sites that couldn’t be down. Every time we were down meant we were losing money. The money we were saving on hosting fees was a fraction of the money that was flowing out from lost sales.
After exhaustive research on dedicated hosting providers, we settled on InMotion Hosting. Things were better overnight. Moving from shared hosting to a dedicated server was like going from eating cube steak to Filet Mignon. Website response times were very fast.
Things trucked on like that for a year and a half before disaster struck. One morning, our websites were running very sluggish. I opened a chat window with support, and they said they’d have a technician go out on the floor and reboot the box. So the websites went down as I awaited their return following the reboot. The only thing is, they didn’t. A ticket was logged to explore the issue further. Hours bled into hours with no response as to what the status was on the server or when we could expect it back up. After twelve hours or so, it was revealed that the hard drive had crashed, and they were attempting to recover it. I went to check on my backup routines, and they been running but were sending me empty files. In other words, total data loss.
Obviously, I shoulder the bulk of the blame for this, and many will chalk up this bad review on my own stupidity. Its a fair conclusion, but if you are forking over $250 a month in hosting fees shouldn’t backups be standard? Just from a customer service point of view, I would think this only makes good business sense. You know they aren’t thinking twice about backing up those shared boxes. They aren’t going to lose 200 customers in one fail swoop. Why can’t the same be said for their high-end customers?
Ultimately, InMotion Hosting couldn’t recover any data from the drive. I asked them if we could buy the drive and run it through some tools on our side which seems a perfectly logical request. After all, that was our server we’d been renting, and the drive had been effectively rendered as little more than an expensive paper weight. They wouldn’t even entertain the idea. So in the 18 months since we’ve ditched InMotion Hosting, they’ve lost out on $4500 we would have shelled out in hosting fees. Good move guys.
BlueHost is very similar to iPower in my mind. We still have a couple sites hosted over there. At some point, we’ll probably consolidate our smaller sites under just one of these hosts, but for now the status quo seems to persist. They are a relatively stable host who we’ve always found to have decent support. All shared hosting have their drawbacks, but I can say BlueHost is a solid option.
The first business website I built was for my father’s previous company, Ezfuel, way back in 1999. Yes the Internet did exist back then. Even though it did technically exist, there weren’t a lot of hosting providers and even fewer who specialized in running Microsoft ASP scripts. I was a devoted reader of 4 Guys From Rolla at the time so I figured whoever was hosting their site had to be good enough for our needs. At the time, it seems like Orcsweb was on the high end of pricing in the shared hosting market, charging between $30 to $40 a month.
Granted, its been almost fifteen years since we worked with Orcsweb, but their service and reliability were always spot on. In visiting their site today, I’ve noticed they’ve largely abandoned the entry level market, and they still focus solely on Windows-based hosting. Their shared hosting starts at $69 a month, but they seem to really push their Cloud and Dedicated solutions. Price may be a deterrent, but you could certainly do worse if you were looking for a Windows-based host.
Fresh out of grad school, I had a few personal websites I enjoyed playing around with. I had no money for hosting fees so when I stumbled across the $1 hosting of WebHost4Life my only thought was where do I sign up. That old adage that you get what you pay for is really true in most circumstances.
The relationship started out fine. They gave me the tools I needed to host my Microsoft.NET based account. Support was slow, but when you pay $1 a month you expect to solve a lot of problems on your own. They would have periodic outages, but nothing lasting more than an hour or two.
About six months in, our site went down and didn’t come back up. Support was unhelpful regarding the cause and provided no ETA. This stretched on for a full week with no urgency or immediacy in getting us back online from WebHost4Life. At the time, we jumped ship for BlueHost.
We’ve never used WebHost4Life again. We got burned to the point where we can’t afford to dole out any second chances. With that said, the last time we were a hosting client of WebHost4Life was around 15 years ago. Whatever plan that $1 hosting account was seems to have evaporated. Their bargain shared hosting plan runs $4.95 a month. With the passage of years, their service may have improved. Unfortunately, we’ll never know.
As Vanessa Williams would say, we’ve saved the best for last. Rackspace is our current web host for the critical sites in our portfolio. After the debacle at InMotion Hosting, we went looking for the best of breed and that led us to Rackspace. I can say we’ve been very happy in our year and a half at Rackspace. They advertise fanatical support, and they deliver on that promise. I sign onto chat once or twice a month to resolve some issue, and the support staff are always very friendly and extremely knowledgeable. Very seldom do I have to log a support ticket, but in the times I have the turn around has been very prompt.
So often when you contact hosting support, they want to pass the buck. “That’s not a problem with our hosting service. That is a plug-in issue or something with WordPress. You need to contact you’re developer.” Being a developer, I know that’s just not true and only after I’ve gone out of my way to show them its not an issue on my side will they actually take steps to resolve the issue. Not the case with Rackspace. They seem genuinely intrigued by the issue and want to see its resolution as much as you do. Its a curiosity factor or something.
Obviously, our backup issue held primary importance when we switched over from InMotion Hosting. The Rackspace admin advised us on how to most effectively setup our backup routines. Now we have three sets of redundancy on our backups. Armageddon may come crashing down around us tomorrow, but we will still have our data.
The most comforting part of hosting with Rackspace is I can count on one hand the times we’ve been down over the past year and a half. Before you wonder if I spend all day clicking the refresh button, I have a monitoring service that pings our site every five minutes, and will shoot me an email when its spotted a problem. Not having to worry if your website is down can be priceless.
Now its not all rainbows and unicorns at Rackspace. Its not cheap. You basically tailor your cloud hosting account based on your traffic and data needs. Our account runs about $380 a month. You are paying a pretty penny for that reliability and high grade of support. Since we run a web business, the cost is easily justified. Most small businesses will rightfully balk at such a price tag, but for medium to large businesses or anyone who supports high traffic loads, it is an essential cost no different from the rent on your office space.
Also disappointing is that email is not included in the monthly cost. It is an additional cost item that isn’t a lot (assuming you aren’t setting up a ton of mailboxes), but is a shade annoying. I think Rackspace is the first host I’ve run across that doesn’t include this service with your hosting fee.
Server Image Courtesy of Shutterstock