January 6, 2006

Finding a web host

Finding a new webhost sucks. It's gotta be the most tedious and dizzying process ever. There are so many web hosting companies, and so many resellers, which all offer so many similar-looking but difficult to interpret deals. They all try to outdo each other with bombast and ever-increasing promises of space, bandwidth and features. But it seems that in each one there is something that just isn't quite right.

I'm trying to find a new web host that gives plenty of space (1 GB+), PHP/MySQL, I prefer cPanel, and I'd like at least 5 add-on domains. Pre-installed mailing-list software is a plus, and fantastico is nice too. IMAP email too. A definite plus is host friendliness toward open source web publishing. And I'm looking in the under $200 dollar a year range.

I've found some that seem to meet these criteria, but it always seems there is a catch with each one. When dealing with shared server space, of course you are at the mercy of others on your server in terms of speed, and in terms of things like getting your IP blocked because someone else on your server is spamming, and then having people not receive emails you send because it gets classified as spam. Good service is nice too, but honestly in my 9 or so years as a small-time volunteer webmaster for various small organizations, I've rarely needed to ask for much help. I guess I haven't had to do many very complicated things.

Where to Look?

First I looked at the forums on the Content Management System I mainly use, Drupal, to see what hosts other Drupal users use. I got a lot of ideas there, then checked out the website of each one. From that I narrowed it down to 11 choices: digitalclouds.net, site5.com, dreamhost.com, opensourcehost.com (which I've used before and like, but they give very little disk space), hostgator.com, servage.net, totalchoicehosting.com, hostpc.com, ace-host.net, webhostingbuzz.com, and textdrive.com.

Then I made a spreadsheet listing each one, and listing the prices and features that are most important to me, so I could do a side-by-side comparison. This is necessary because each host lists their features somewhat differently and list different features altogether in some cases. This helped me narrow it down to about half of those options.

Next I searched on the web for things that current users say about these sites. The most helpful is www.webhostingtalk.com. There I read alot about site5.com, dreamhost.com, hostgator.com, and servage.net.

Textdrive.com seems very oriented toward open source publishing, but the info on their site is not incredibly specific, they're one of the few to have a setup fee, and it appears that they charge extra for add-on domains, while most of the others don't. Opensourcehost.com is excellent, but they give a pittance of disk space compared to the others. To get even close to 1 GB (700 MB) you have to pay double what the others I'm looking at charge. Another source for info is www.findmyhosting.com. There I learned about webhostingbuzz.com, since it came up first on my search for what I want. Their pricing is about half of what the others charge, which sounds great but leaves me somewhat suspicious (i.e. you get what you pay for).

I read alot on webhostingtalk.com. This narrowed it down to site5.com and hostgator.com. Dreamhost.com is close, but they don't use cpanel, and they're a bit more expensive. But I'd still consider them. Servage.net seems close too, but people complain that their web statistics package sucks, which is actually pretty important to me. But they are also still in the running.

I read alot of negatives about site5.com, but frankly it still sounds pretty good. They offer 11 GB of disk space and 400 GB of bandwidth. People are complaining about having their servers blacklisted as spammers and not having site5.com do anything about it. But I think all shared hosting is vulnerable to this, and site5.com reps responded and said they are now agressively pursuing cases like this to have their servers un-blacklisted. That's satisfying enough for me. People complain that their tech support is not good or not fast. But it seems like their service is actually quite quick and thorough. People complain of slowness at times. Probably true, hopefully they'll take action to fix it. I don't like that site5.com has a proprietary control panel, as I already know and like cpanel and don't really want to learn something new. But someone said it's actually based on cpanel, so it's probably no big deal to learn. Another advantage of site5.com is that they give you 5 add-on domains, each with their own separate control panel. The others give add-on domains but all controlled from your main domain's control panel. Site5.com also claims to give you a Private IP, which none of the others do.

Aside from site5.com, Hostgator.com also is among my final two. They use cpanel. They offer 5 GB of disk space and 75 GB of bandwidth. They seem to offer unlimited add-on domains, though I want to verify that they are not just talking about subdomains. They have good stats (AWStats and Webalizer), and they claim 24/7 phone support, which none of the others I looked at claim (many offer 24/7 but only via email, chat, etc). Hostgator also wins major points from me because they have a very good and educational article on their site about how to avoid getting scammed by a web host. This helped me look at all the hosting companies with a more informed and critical eye. Like site5, they are friendly to open source content management systems. Like site5, there are complaints on webhostingtalk.com about slowness, and about IP blacklisting. Others then spoke up and said that never happened to them. One person complained that they are no longer allowed to run phpmail() function, then a rep from hostgator.com explained that this is one action they've taken to reduce spamming, and they provide an alternate, secure mail function you can use.

Finally, I googled site5 and came up with a very useful resource. There are a series of sites: site5reviews.com, hostgatorreviews.com, etc, which compile user reviews of these hosts from webhostingtalk.com. I've just started looking at this, and I'm guessing that this will help me make my final decision, which for now is between site5.com and hostgator.com.

Whew! I'll write more when I make my final decision, and then later on after I have some experience with my new host.

Posted by sigal003 at January 6, 2006 10:12 AM