Who Do I Host With?

I get asked this question a lot. Most often because I’m the one setting up hosting for the people I work with. I usually try new hosting companies just to have an opinion on them, but there are always ones I come back to. With that in mind, I’m going to list the good, the bad, and pointers on what to look for if you’re in the market for a host.

The Good

  1. Hostdime
    Hostdime has been my solid choice for almost the last 2 years. I like dealing with competent, always-ready staff that cares; great uptime and server features; and their willingness to help personalize any hosting situation. Their flexibility is key, and as one of their clients they can easily provide you with any hosting package whether small (shared), medium (VPS), or large (dedicated). I haven’t come across another host with the same combination of powerful resources and personalized attention. Plus, I always like to support Orlando businesses.
  2. Rackspace
    Be warned: this is not for the inexperienced. For developers, Rackspace will meet your every need for whatever budget you have. Rackspace provides you with a blank canvas for you to paint on it however you wish. But this means you literally start from scratch, configuring Apache and languages yourself, and without the aid of the all-familiar cPanel or phpmyadmin. This is not for the faint of heart. But its amazing support and completely configurable setup always makes it a perfect fit for your web project (if you have an able developer by your side).
  3. Hostmonster / Host Gator / Bluehost
    As far as I know, these three companies don’t have anything to do with one another. But they’re so similar they might as well be the same company. While they provide competitive pricing with hosts like iPage and Fat Cow, they provide a markedly better service for your money. As of my last dealings with them, the latter provide you with a very, very limited control panel that prevents Remote MySQL connection, SSH access, and advanced DNS zone configuration. Hostmonster, Bluehost, and Host Gator give you all of these, and provide decent customer support. Even though these are all low-tier hosting companies, there are still clear differences between them.

The Bad

It’s with regret that I list these off, and I try to often take my own personal experiences with a grain of salt when extrapolating it to an entire company. But as a whole, I recommend people to not do business with certain companies out of consideration for them based on many things I’ve observed.

  1. 1and1
    I’ve had to deal with this company on numerous occasions, and I tell people every time: you will get your services cheaper, but at the cost of any support whatsoever. Transferring domains from 1and1 has been nothing but a hassle, and they are to date the only host company I’ve encountered that charges fees to cancel their service. Additionally, 1and1 has a history of sending collection agencies after their own clients for literally fractions of a dollar (myself included). In short, their lower prices do not justify their fee-heavy pricing model, utter lack of hosting features, and completely absent support.
  2. GoDaddy
    While this company has been on an upswing lately with improved dashboards and better customer service, they’ve had a history of nickel-and-diming customers, as well as past involvement with SOPA (which they later reversed due to customer outrage). To be completely fair, I realize that I have subjective aversions to GoDaddy based on their scandalous brand and profit-centric domain auction which I feel promotes domain squatting. But collectively those opinions result in not taking pride and joy in supporting an all-around wholesome company that genuinely cares about its customers. And that justifies my recommendation that people move away from them.
  3. Lunarpages
    To state: this company is not ethically terrible in the same way I feel 1and1 and GoDaddy are. But my isolated experience with them has left me less than enthused, and so in all honesty my opinion of them comes from one bad dealing with an unknowledgeable staff, limited support, and lack of hosting features. My client was paying them a good deal of money for high-level VPS hosting when the site went down for a half a day. After an indeterminable length of downtime, my client then brought it to the attention of the staff who still had no idea a server had crashed. This was only a year ago. While I believe they can provide good service, this is mainly a reminder to myself to try and avoid opening new accounts with them.

Pointers: What to Look For

Trying to choose the right host from your hundreds and hundreds of options may seem daunting, but after knowing what to look for exactly, the choice becomes fairly easy. Whichever host you go with, make sure you prioritize the following things (if you were wondering what I meant by hosting features in some places above, I meant these):

  1. Remote MySQL
    This is essential. This usually goes hand-in-hand with cPanel (#2), but not every host offers this (typically some of the cheaper / simpler hosts don’t allow this). This dramatically reduces the amount of time a developer works on a site by having direct access to the database. Phpmyadmin, a common database interface, provides the same functionality but is dramatically slower and impedes most developers’ workflow.
  2. cPanel
    This is pretty common among hosts, but you’d be surprised how many still don’t offer it. While SSH root access is much more valuable to a skilled developer, cPanel generally allows for a large gambit of server operations made accessible with an easy interface. cPanel can be customized to each host, but having cPanel generally means you’re in near-complete control of your server space.
  3. SSH
    Similar to the above, having SSH access to the server allows your developer to control nearly everything. On shared setups operations are limited, but on VPS and Dedicated accounts, this means the developer can install pretty much any language needed (such as Ruby or Node).
  4. Technical Support
    This seems like a no-brainer, but having knowledgeable support staff is everything, even if you or your developer knows what they’re doing. For a developer who doesn’t have root server access, it’s up to technical support to install missing PHP modules so a particular web application works. If their support doesn’t get more technical than helping you setup your Outlook email, it’s time to switch to a new host so you can actually build websites.
  5. Advanced DNS Zone Editing
    This is only mandatory in unique situations, but it’s nice to have control regardless. Some domain registrars strip away full access to your own domain, but if you own it, why would you allow that? Great registrars like Gandi give you full access by default, while GoDaddy charges you a premium for full access to your DNS. Granted, it is very easy to mess up your domain if you don’t know what you’re doing, but for those that need advanced DNS customization, picking the right registrar is nonnegotiable.

Other features are a great bonus, but having a handle on the essentials of what helps developers do their job quicker and more efficiently dramatically increases the quality of your online service. And if developers are happy, you’re happy.

If you read through this entire post and could only think “‘With WHOM do I host?’ WITH W-H-O-M!” you’re all right in my book.

Drew Powers is a frontend developer at Envy.