Which web hosting company is best

30 January 2008

Choosing the best web host

Sometimes friends and clients ask me to recommend a web hosting company. For the past couple of years I’ve done my own hosting on a VPS, so I don’t spend much time with shared web hosting accounts. But there are a few I’ve used or heard good things about, so here’s what I normally recommend.

Big web hosting companies

Some of the big boys are:

Hosting Facebook apps

I recently had a bad experience with DreamHost. I developed a Facebook app for a client and suggested DreamHost because I’d heard they were pretty good. The server was slow in responding at times which caused Facebook to show an error.

Facebook gives app servers about 10 seconds to respond and if they don’t, it tells the user there’s a problem. That seems fair enough; I like my websites to respond in about 1 second. But whereas a determined user can wait for a slow website to respond, they don’t get the option of waiting for a slow Facebook app. For Facebook apps, responsiveness counts.

The Facebook app I developed is now on a VPS and is much more responsive.

Overselling

Most web hosting companies oversell resources. This means they give customers lots of disk space and bandwidth on the assumption most won’t use anywhere near the amount. If everyone actually used that amount, there’s no way the host could deliver.

The poster child for overselling is probably Dreamhost. Currently offering 500 GB of disk space and 5 TB of monthly bandwidth for a fistful of dollars.

Overselling is part of the business and not much can be inferred from the numbers. Dreamhost is probably no better or worse than another host that offers more or less disk space and bandwidth. There’s just no guarantee of what you are getting. Your account is lumped in with hundreds of others and the performance you get depends what these neighbours are doing.

Smaller webhosts try harder

I would consider a smaller hosting company like:

I’ve heard good things about A Small Orange.

WebFaction has support for Rails and Django apps and generally seems a bit more savvy and flexible that the big boys.

VPS hosting for speed and flexibility

An alternative is to have your own VPS (Virtual Private Server). You have full control and usually very good performance, but need more geek skills.

Having a VPS is just like having your own dedicated server, but instead of your own machine, there are several virtual machines running on one physical server. Split the resources and split the cost.

Some VPS packages come with a control panel such as Webmin or CPanel. So if you know what you’re doing, but are not geek enough to do everything on the command line, a VPS may still be an option for you.

Dedicated resources with Xen

There are different virtualisation packages that allow hosting companies to split a physical server in to multiple virtual machines. Two of the big ones are Xen and Virtuozzo.

I recommend going for a Xen VPS. With Xen, a fixed amount of memory is assigned to each virtual machine. It’s not possible for the hosting company to oversell resources. This effectively limits how many VPSes can be run one one physical server which gives you a much better idea of the resources dedicated to you.

Here are some good VPS hosts:

I’ve had a UK based VPS from Xtraordinary Hosting for about 18 months and I’ve been delighted with it. Rock solid servers, very good performance and responsive and helpful technical staff. I highly recommend them if you need a VPS in the UK.

RimuHosting offers Xen VPSes mainly hosted in the US, but with an option to host in the UK or Australia. When Dreamhost wasn’t delivering the goods for a Facebook app, I moved it to a VPS on Rimuhosting. It too has been fast and reliable.

Slicehost has great prices and has been generating a lot of positive buzz. The servers are hosted in the US, so if you’re looking for a US based Xen VPS, consider Slicehost.

When good hosts go bad

Sometimes good web hosting companies start to suck. If that happens to your web host, you might need to jump ship. The gold rule is to always register your domain names yourself using a domain registrar and not get them as part of your web hosting package. That way, moving to another host is just a matter of re-pointing your domains.

Read the Reviews

It’s worth reading some reviews on WhoIsHostingThis.com to see what other customers say about a hosting company. But choose your reviews site carefully as some are full of shill reviews or are even operated by the hosting companies themselves!

Filed under: Hosting — Scott @ 11:30 pm

10 Comments »

  1. This blog was really well written and interesting. =)

    “Your account is lumped in with hundreds of others and the performance you get depends what these neighbours are doing.”

    The best hosts know how to sort those resulting struggles out fast and efficiently because they definitely will happen, even if the server is blazing fast and has only fifty accounts. Shared hosting = unpredictable. Yet, it will be efficient in the right hands.

    Comment by Kayla — 31 January 2008 @ 12:36 am

  2. I’ve tried quite a few (DreamHost, WebFaction, ASO and BlueHost) and I’m a big WebFaction fan: from what I’ve seen their servers seemed the fastest of the bunch. Their system let’s you install pretty much anything so it’s almost like having your own VPS without having to maintain it yourself.

    Comment by Mike — 31 January 2008 @ 9:08 am

  3. Thanks, Kayla.

    You’re quite right: the better hosts do have ways of dealing with customers who take up more than their share of resources. I hear that DreamHost places soft limits on the amount of CPU each account gets.

    With a Xen VPS, CPU can be allocated to each virtual machine, usually in proportion to the amount of memory. Your VPS has a guaranteed amount of CPU, regardless of what other VPSes are doing on that server.

    Comment by Scott — 1 February 2008 @ 10:15 am

  4. Hey Scott -

    Thought you should check out Linode Virtual Servers: http://www.linode.com/

    We’re one of the pioneers of the industry and believe our Linode Manager is heads above the rest.

    -Tom

    Comment by Tom Asaro — 4 February 2008 @ 6:38 pm

  5. Another interesting web hosting company I’ve been reading about is NearlyFreeSpeech.NET.

    Although one of its strengths is hosting “controversial” sites, the main thing than piqued by interest is the way NearlyFreeSpeech.NET charges for its services. The company offers shared hosting, but rather than overselling resources for a fixed monthly amount, you are charged only for the resources you actually use.

    Comment by Scott — 18 February 2008 @ 3:28 pm

  6. Overselling is one of the reason why I dont sign up with hostgator, bluehost, etc… If they can’t deliver, they shouldn’t advertise it, its misleading. If I upload 500gb worth of images/videos, they probably close your account for overusing their server resources. I use Host Jaguar they dont oversell and I am happy with them.

    Comment by Silvia — 3 October 2008 @ 10:43 am

  7. @Silvia
    Host Jaguar is currently offering 50 GB storage and 5000 GB of transfer for $1.99/month. Clearly they are overselling. There’s no way they could have dedicated resources for that cost.

    The average user is going to use only a tiny fraction of that, which is the whole basis of overselling. The difference might be that you could utilise those resources without having your account suspended. I couldn’t comment on whether they are better or worse than other hosts in this respect.

    Comment by Scott — 3 October 2008 @ 10:55 am

  8. All web hosting company oversells, the difference is to what extend they oversell. I have seen 2.5TB space being offered by other provider, and others even unlimited space. Unlimited space simply doesn’t exist, hosting company that sell unlimited space definately misleading their customer.

    Comment by Jonathan — 19 December 2008 @ 11:30 am

  9. Hi Scott,

    Well written article there. Worth checking out GigaTux’s VPS offerings too at http://www.gigatux.com/virtual.php

    We’re pretty reliable and also offer VPS installs of Turnkey Linux, providing for a pre-set up appliance, e.g. Django or Rails. Useful for when you need a bit more than plain webhosting.

    Marc

    Comment by Marc Warne — 18 September 2009 @ 10:00 am

  10. “media temple” hosting seems quite decent to me.

    Comment by aquaibm — 8 December 2009 @ 11:06 am

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