Updated Sept 2015 – Hosting is a complex, contentious topic. Even the self-proclaimed ‘professionals’ disagree. Web designers, even developers are often surprisingly ignorant upon what makes a good or bad host. The worst advice often comes from traditional IT people. It’s often a case of a little knowledge being dangerous.
I find most people tend to just follow the crowd, relying upon others or simply taken in by the slick sales pitch provided. The biggest issue is you often don’t know what it is you’ve signed up for until you’ve had the site running a few weeks. Even finding honest reviews is difficult. Everyone’s needs and budgets differ. Even the theme and/or plugins you use may mean you need a different provider or package!
Hosting too is a tough, competitive business. Even from the providers perspective, it’s hard to get the right balance between a hosts business objectives (making money), technology investment, security issues, providing good value and good customer service – Few get it right and when they do, is often temporary. Host companies are good cash cows, bought and sold regularly with new owners setting new priorities.
This is where computing resources are shared amongst multiple domains and users. This can range from 100 to 1,000, with 500 commonplace. Think of shared hosting as riding on an old, overcrowded Indian commuter train, except you’ve no idea how may others have boarded the same train. Generally the cheaper the monthly [host] cost, the more commuters you’re sharing the ride with, the more delays, the slower it runs, the less secure it is.
The Unlimited everything hosting scam
The selling of shared hosting doesn’t help. ‘Unlimited’ this and that is a common sales pitch and to me, a scam. Most WordPress sites only need 2GB max disk and finite number of email, ftp accounts, databases etc. Processing resources and RAM provided is more important and yet never mentioned. Never. A lack of available CPU resource and RAM is what slows things to a crawl or a crashed site, seldom a lack of disk space. With more ‘strangers’ using the same hardware and resources, shared hosting is also far more likely to suffer from nasty bot attacks too, that can disable servers as well as infect multiple sites.
Shared hosting means extremely LIMITED processing resources
The lack of CPU/processing resources in shared hosting can be dramatic. There’s often a resource link or icon in their control panel that even shows you when and how often you go over your very limited allocation. It doesn’t fix anything, but can tell you why you site has gone down recently.
They often include ‘resource limiting’ technology too, meaning that if you have too many website visitors, or run complex applications like WooCommerce, backups or security plugins, it may overload their pre-allocated resources and will go offline, sometimes for hours. Still if you’re only paying $10-15/month, you can’t really complain.
When can shared work?
If you’ve low traffic or just starting out, then shared hosting may well do the job for 6-12 months. Clubs, startups and non-profits with limited funds may have little choice.
Siteground is a good US provider that rates well for those starting out, or on a tight budget. And unlike NZ hosts, have 24/7 support. Site5.com was good for many years, but new owners in 2016 caused a drop off in reliability and support. These business changes happen a lot in the hosting world where buyups are commonplace. Most NZ hosts were sold off to the Auzzies years ago, causing a decline in support and value. New owners naturally want to extract more profits, which affects the quality of service they provide. What may be a good provider one year can turn nasty very quickly.
But don’t expect 100% reliability or highest speed with shared hosting. Cheap shared hosting always incorporates CPU-limiting technology and is somewhat risky if you run a busy eCommerce site or blog and want it to rank well in Google. These are all shared-resource, general purpose plans after all… Regardless of the provider, for something decent, you’ll need to sign up for a plan over US$10 per month.
If you must use a NZ host for company policy reasons and think the locals are safer or do a better job (they don’t), then the best I’ve found is Freeparking. with their $199/yr linux plan. They run a modern cloud system with users telling me their support is good and speed is average.
The trick with these low cost shared plans is to always ensure the images and content is properly optimised, plus add in some good caching, security and backup tools to the site. Call me for details.
Basically, it is just shared hosting, but with some additional software tools. WHM/cPanel combination is the most common. Budget hosts (e.g. openhost) have the inferior Plesk control panel. Plesk generally takes twice as long to setup, migrate or fix a site – And for clients, time is money. Host companies like it as the software licensing costs are lower, meaning better margins for them.
But these reseller accounts seldom include additional performance, CPU resources or security. It’s just another Indian train variation, suffering the same limitations as shared hosting – Just packaged differently to suit those that want to self-manage more domains.
Providers to avoid
In our view shared and reseller hosting providers to be wary of include: openhost, net24, 1stdomains, godaddy, crazy domains, umbrellar, Hostpapa or local internet service provider offerings from Spark, Orcon, Vodafone etc. They each tend to run old and/or heavily overloaded servers to maximise profit margins.
Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting
For web designers and most businesses, running a VPS is the ideal option. A VPS provides pre-set resources that are only for you and your domains. You know exactly what it is you are purchasing, with more control and security. However the trap is that VPS offerings vary a lot too with you having to select disk space, CPUs, RAM, software and more. Some of these require a high level of expertise to configure, others easy.
The best value VPS host provider we’ve found is inmotion in the US. You get multiple 2.5 GHZ cpus, 4GB RAM, 60GB (SSD) disk space and WHM/cpanel software included for US$30/mth. And this is a managed VPS, meaning unlike most VPS packages, you don’t need to add or configure complex software to run it. The equivalent VPS1000 configuration setup locally in NZ starts from $200/mth and seldom includes any WordPress-specific support or forums.
Cloud Web Hosting – Highly Variable
The sales pitch is that cloud hosting offers the best performance, is more reliable and expandable, plus some allow the ability to only buy the resources you need. Yet cloud hosts are not inherently fast and require extra work to get good speed using caching and CDN options.
Large public distributed clouds like Amazons, when used for web hosting, reveal performance bottlenecks that don’t occur with more traditional host options. This is the negative side they don’t tell you about (or want you to know). Those with a computer engineering degree and understand PC/Network architecture, will know what I’m talking about.
Cloud hosts – Let the buyer beware…
To me, much about cloud website hosting is just smoke and mirrors. The benefits really tend to favour the hosting company or reseller, not the user. Some are good, some nasty.
There may be a higher business risk too, especially if considering Amazon or Rackspace. Both entice customers in with entry 1-CPU plans, that soon need upgrading, with monthly costs then spiraling. The response is discounted long term contracts to lock users in. And after any contract ends, migrating away to another provider is often difficult and costly.
From my own and third party analysis my conclusion is that most public ‘cloud hosting’ options end up at least twice the cost of a good VPS of similar size, performance and reliability. And you get some WordPress support, which isn’t included with the big cloud services.
Dedicated Physical Server Hosting
Dedicated hosting, where one domain using it’s own computer setup, not shared with any other can offer incredible performance needed for high traffic sites. Setting up dedicated host servers in single or multi-tier hardware configurations takes considerable expertise, beyond what any amateur could do. As with any computer, the range of options around hardware and software are endless and beyond the scope of this article. The extended version video of the above above gives an idea of how quick good dedicated servers can be against the new cloud offerings….
Who owns and maintains the technology?
Selecting a host is not at all like buying a car or a home appliance where the brand is important, providing a rough guide as to the quality of the product or support. It’s common that competing host companies may have a common owner, each providing different options. Often, the host servers used is owned, housed and maintained by a separate third party company altogether, all from the same building.
p.s. Local or Oversea Hosting – does it matter?
There are inherent advantages to using local NZ hosting. Once upon a time it was because your ranking may be improved hosting in the same market you sell to. However Google advise that this is no longer the case. Of the 200+ parameters Google use to decide your ranking, where you host is located isn’t one of them now.
Secondly, performance. The internet is a big busy network that gets overloaded at certain points, which can vary from minute to minute depending where you are and where the host is located. Certainly I do see more variation is speed, viewed from NZ when using a US or Auzzie host, compared to a fast local NZ host. The theory says the differences should be minimal, but practically I’ve seen up to a second or more gained. But often a good local caching setup can more than overcome this. For example, our www.wordhost.co.nz website was on a NZ host for years and we recently moved to Inmotion in the US. I see no difference in speed or load times.
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