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.
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.
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 web hosting reviews 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!