Quest for the holy Web Host

[ page last updated: Dec. 10, 2005. ]

So i’m on a new mission: find a web hosting provider that meets my current requirements, test a couple out and slowly move over some of my current domains to said provider. i figured that i’d document my research and post it for any who might be in a similar situation. i’ll begin with a brief list of my requirements, followed by a summary of the hosting services being considered and compared. Lastly, i am going to try and sort out various features and determine which service would likely be the best match for my needs.

Key web hosting features (required):

  1. multiple domain add-ons (at least 15)
  2. unlimited mysql databases (or minimum 50)
  3. 1 Gb disk space or more
  4. no restrictions on email addresses, forwarding, autoresponders, mailing lists, etc.
  5. cpanel, with file manager, disk usage viewer, directory protection, etc.
  6. some type of backup (full site backups as well as individual mysql db backups)
  7. general domain management (including unlimited subdomains)
  8. lots of stats (site-wide stats, subdomain stats, overall bandwidth usage, etc.)
  9. other features: phpmyAdmin, ftp access, ssh shell

Many of the features mentioned above come standard with a mid-range web hosting plan priced at approximately $15.00US per month. Other features such as multiple domain add-ons will likely be harder to find in a plan of this price range. i’ll probably have to make some compromises here and there. The objective is to match as many of these features with one of the following provider’s hosting plans.

Here are the web hosting providers being considered for this comparison:

IX Web Hosting -
plan: ix Value Plan
price: $12.99/month
disk space: 10Gb
domain add-ons: 4
MySQL DBs: 4

trade off – only 4 domain add-ons and 4 MySQL DBs.
extras – aside from tons of disk space, this plan includes a free domain name registration, 50Gb bandwidth per month, unlimited email/ftp accounts, and 99.9% uptime.
verdict – probably not enough to make the cut

StartLogic -
plan: Virtual Server
price: $14.95/month
disk space: 5 Gb
domain add-ons: YES
MySQL DBs: YES

trade off – none.
extras – ssh shell, 100Gb bandwidth per month, unlimited email/ftp accounts, and backups on demand.
verdict – maybe, but the info on the site is a bit confusing. will have to email for more details.

Globat Web Hosting –
plan: Terabyte Packageâ„¢ T02
price: $14.95/month
disk space: 15 Gb
domain add-ons: ? (unclear)
MySQL DBs: YES

trade off – unclear how many domain add-ons. looks like only one, with the option to buy more (up to 5 domains)
extras – offers the most disk space of the plans being considered, unlimited email/ftp accounts.
verdict – probably shouldn’t even be on this list but.. 15Gb, so..

Clear-Data -
plan: Gold
price: $15.00/month
disk space: 1Gb
domain add-ons: 12
MySQL DBs: 12

trade off – only 12 domain add-ons and 12 MySQL DBs. also, only 24 email/ftp account (unlimited forwarders)
extras – weekly backups, ssh shell, 25Gb bandwidth per month.
verdict – not bad, but probably not enough to be the one.

Yahoo Web Hosting -
plan: Web Hosting STANDARD
price: $14.96/month
disk space: 10Gb
domain add-ons: ? (unknown)
MySQL DBs: YES

trade off – unknown how many domain add-ons.
extras – lots of disk space, 500 email addresses, bonus: more email storage than anyone else offers – 2 GB per address! (apparently not related to disk space usage), built-in Norton AntiVirus and Spam Guard, and hourly/daily/weekly backups.
verdict – some of the best extra feature in the lot, but again, will have to email for more details regarding domain add-ons.

Site5.com -
plan: Superhostingâ„¢ XTREME
price: $8.77/month (paid quarterly)
disk space: 11Gb
domain add-ons: YES
MySQL DBs: YES

trade off – none.
extras – losts of disk space, 400 GB bandwidth per month, Flashback automatic backups, True MultiSite (multiple domains with individual logins), Ruby on Rails Enabled, built in Clam Antivirus scanning, unlimited email/ftp accounts, ssh shell, hourly/daily/weekly backups, and 99.9% Uptime Guarantee.
verdict – looks good. the only issue is that you need to pay them every 3 months, instaed of monthly like almost everyone else. However, the 60-Day Money Back Guarantee is twice as long as any of other hosting plans so that should ease the pain a little.

PagesGarden -
plan: Business
price: $7.00/month (paid quarterly)
disk space: 4Gb
domain add-ons: 5
MySQL DBs: 5

trade off – only 5 domain add-ons and 5 MySQL DBs. also, only 15 free subdomains.
extras – 60 GB bandwidth per month, unlimited email/ftp accounts, daily backups (and something called archive manager).
verdict – not so good. you also need to pay them every 3 months.

HostGator -
plan: Swamp
price: $9.95/month
disk space: 5Gb
domain add-ons: YES
MySQL DBs: YES

trade off – none.
extras – 75 GB bandwidth per month, unlimited email/ftp accounts, instant backups.
verdict – also looks good. you can pay monthly.

A Small Orange -
plan: Medium
price: $10.00/month
disk space: 1Gb
domain add-ons: YES
MySQL DBs: YES

trade off – none.
extras – 25 GB bandwidth per month, unlimited email/ftp accounts, Daily off-site backups, Ruby on Rails Enabled, built in Clam Antivirus scanning.
verdict – looks really good. you can pay monthly. the only thing to consider is the 99.5% uptime guarantee – friend or foe? [see comments]

Final Notes -

Some obvious things to look out for when deciding on a web hosting provider:

  • don’t go with a provider who’s own company website appears to be slow. chances are, if their site runs slow, yours will too.
  • don’t go with a provider who’s own company website is sometimes unavailable. if you go to their homepage twice in two days and one of the times you get: “The page cannot be displayed”, check that you typed the URL correctly in the address bar. if you did, then it might be time to move on. that’s 50% uptime, since your users are likely not interested in calculating averages over time.
  • don’t go with a provider that doesn’t display the prices for their hosting plans until well into the signup process. ask yourself, why would they be trying to hide something that every other company is trying to put directly in your face?

Comments 25

  1. Alterion wrote:

    have you looked at asmallorange.com? i think they seem to offer most of the stuff your looking for in their $10 a month plan

    Posted 10 Dec 2005 at 8:23 am
  2. elran wrote:

    thanks Alterion,

    i took a look at asmallorange.com and it definitely looks interesting. i’m going to add them to the list and seiously consider them as an option. the only draw-back i can find seems to be the 99.5% uptime guarantee. not that this is such a big deal (it is a big deal but just keep reading..), because from what i read on most of these host providers’ forums a 99.9% uptime guarantee is an extremely difficult (some say impossible) promise to keep. At best, it’s their way of saying, “we don’t mind giving you your money back for the month, if you happen to notice that your site was down for an extended amount of time”.

    anyway, i might have to try out a couple of these to find the one that’s right for me. but i was hoping that some people out there (like yourself) might have seen similar or better hosting packages and be willing to use the comments to bring them to my attention. so, good eye on that one.

    Posted 10 Dec 2005 at 5:12 pm
  3. Randy wrote:

    Did you make your decision? I am curious if you have additional feedback on any of the providers.

    Thanks

    Posted 04 Jan 2006 at 1:56 pm
  4. elran wrote:

    hi Randy,

    actually i had definitely hoped to have my decision made before the new year. as it turns out, i haven’t settled on any one host as of yet. i’ll be proceeding very carefully through this endeavor and plan to set up an entirely new domain name to test any new host out before moving some of my existing sites over. Yahoo is still offering $2.99 domain registrations and as long as the host provider offers domain addons, multiple domain names shouldn’t be a problem on a single account.

    anyway, i plan to write a full review once i have made my final decision. But just between you and me, i’m leaning towards either ASmallOrange or Site5 (both offer RubyOnRails support and have active forums with plenty of useful info). Also, if you’re the type who doesn’t like to pay monthly, for a limited time, STARTLOGIC has 1 year hosting for $30 (no domain addons) and ASmallOrange has a “lifetime” plan for $150.

    to be honest, i’ll probably end up with 2 or 3 new hosting plans when all is said and done.

    Posted 04 Jan 2006 at 6:16 pm
  5. babaganoosh wrote:

    What about getting around port 25 blocking? (here’s where I show my ignorance:) The only 2 I know about seems to be gmail with an SLL alternate port for smtp (465) and aplus has port 587?

    I would think:
    a) this is an important feature. Someone with a laptop who wants to use their own host’s SMTP service needs to use gmail to send out or keep changing their smtp server depending on what ISP they are using at the time. and
    b) Love to know why / if port 25 blocking really does anything. Just like these places offer alternate ports for SMTP, spammers would use that alternate port too? / the ISPs will block these alternate ports also?

    I have been using flighthost.com, crystaltech.com and aplus.net and would like to hear what you think of them (I don’t know the competition well enough to recommend them, but would like to know how they compare with your list). They certainly don’t have all the criteria you listed, but it’s nice to be able to get someone on the phone at most any hour (crystaltech and aplus) / the place is small so you know the techs (flighthost). But then again, how often do you need to call them!!?

    Posted 07 Jan 2006 at 8:48 am
  6. babaganoosh wrote:

    Oh, and as for Yahoo hosting – when I tried it, (unless I was going something wrong), you had to set up an email box at mydomain.com AND create a yahoo.com account for each mailbox!? users would log into yahoo to check mail (and that yahoo account likely wasn’t the same as their email address? Tell me I was doing something wrong!

    Posted 07 Jan 2006 at 3:00 pm
  7. babaganoosh wrote:

    And sorry, I like to think I am not a newbie but you mention:

    multiple domain add-ons (at least 15)

    You can pay that single $10 – $15 and host a bunch of domains all sharing that storage / bandwidth? And each is totally unique / stand alone / have their own control panels? I am used to using mydomain.com, godaddy.com or zoneedit.com to set up a redirect to a subdirectory of a hosted domain and they stealth the page so it doesn’t show up as http://www.domainA.com/domainB.

    And mydomain.com and godaddy let you set up mail redirects also so bob@domainB.com is forwarded to bob@domainA.com. a cheap moneywise way to deal with extra domains… but labor intensive.

    this way is better / different?

    Posted 07 Jan 2006 at 3:13 pm
  8. babaganoosh wrote:

    RTFM – I see that these hosting companies are doing what I described – domainB iis a subdirectory of domainA, but can be accessed with http://www.domainB.com. But when I do it using an outiside service like mydomain.com, if you bookmark the page, right click and view properties of the domainB page, etc. it very often says http://www.domainA.com/domainB and the properties of the page are a single 100% framed page made by mydomain.com with the domainB page in the frame.

    When the hosting companies offer it, do you still simply get domain B’s pages framed?When I set up a 2nd domain as I mention above? Any examples people care to offer?

    Posted 07 Jan 2006 at 4:48 pm
  9. admin wrote:

    baba,

    i’m going to address your first comments/questions regarding port blocking, etc.

    1. “getting around port blocking”:
    -port blocking is not cool. any host that attempted to block any port on my server is not getting my business.
    -port blocking is the kind of thing your residential ISP does, not a quality web hosting company (ie: if your host is doing this get out while you still can, that’s just my opinion though.)
    -port 465 and 587 are secure ports used for smtp (similar to insecure port 25 – your email is sent as clear text)

    2. “this is an important feature”:
    -the issue of port blocking is not a feature normally associated with a particular hosting service, more a product of you email client setup (web hosting offers web based email. no port blocking. even if there was, it wouldn’t matter since you log in via web – no clumsy smtp setting to change)
    -port blocking does something. but not much. in the past, it was used to offer some level of security from email based exploits. these days, as you said, many spammers simply direct their attacks at anything other than port 25. at most, i would think that today, with many of these old automated attacks still going from server to server trying every known attack on port 25 – it becomes cheaper (ie: cost less in terms of server resources) to simply silently drop all packets headed for port 25 and conduct normal email services on some alternate port. so, i guess the bad guys spoiled port 25 for eveybody and alternate ports allow a kind of do-over.

    3. “flighthost.com, crystaltech.com and aplus.net”:
    -haven’t heared of these 3 hosts, but i’ll try and take a look at them to see how they measure up..
    -good customer service is important. but, i tend to think these are the people whom i hope i will never have to call (solid hosting = no telephone calls), so..

    anyway, hope that clears a few things up.

    Posted 08 Jan 2006 at 1:47 am
  10. babaganoosh wrote:

    Maybe I worded it bad / wrong – yeah, port 25 blocking is done by the ISP. I have clients that have email hosts and can’t reach their SMTP server at home / travelling because the ISP blocks port 25. So they have to either use an alternate gmail account that I set up for them that uses SSL SMTP alternate port 465 or use that ISP’s SMTP server. a nuisance either way. Some (gmail and aplus.net) hosts offer another port to connect to to send smtp mail to get around port 25 blocking.

    I’d like a web / email host that offers that? and the first 2 hosting companies I mention don’t offer it. seems like they are in the majority?

    Posted 08 Jan 2006 at 12:42 pm
  11. admin wrote:

    you just descibed one of the main benefits of web-based email. (not to mention server-side virus scanning in the case of gmail)

    to answer you question: i honestly haven’t confirmed if any of the hosting providers i’ve mentioned in this comparison offer alternate email ports.

    this problem is not new, although i have seen a resergence of complaints on the web recently regarding clients with similar problems (i think AOL has recently started blocking this port)

    i guess the best advice i can give you is to explain to your clients that you cannot be held responsible for the actions of their local ISPs. i mean you could just find a hosting provider that offers an alternate port, but what will you do if in 6 month from now these local ISPs start blocking that new port as well? back to square one..

    this is a client side problem, gmail is a good solution but ultimately the choice is up to the individual and their preferences.

    Posted 08 Jan 2006 at 4:17 pm
  12. babaganoosh wrote:

    Thanks for your thoughts…. I feel gmail HAS a good solution (using a different port), but I don’t view it as the solution – I’d much rather prefer the email hosting company using another port than 25. And yeah, if its just a case of using a different port, what’s the ISP going to do? Block all ports? (in other words, what does the world really gain from port 25 blocking other than lots of nuisance.

    And web based mail? a) I wouldn’t think you would have promoted that vs. something like outlook / Exhcnage (or are you thinking OWA?) b) I had a problem with interland a bunch of years ago – their web mail was on some weird port that the bank I was at was blocking. I didn’t know about mail2web till after leaving there. that was a while ago so they likely got away from that non-standard email port.

    Posted 08 Jan 2006 at 6:47 pm
  13. admin wrote:

    yeh, i guess gmail would be more of a work-around to this kind of problem (from the client’s perspective).

    the reason i favor webmail over client softwares (like outlook):

    1. less risk – emails are on server (or at least copies) which are good as backups and adds some measure of security (gmail pop access with virus scanning)

    2. compatibility – everyone with a web browser can access their email. otherwise, you got issues with exchange server, dependancies on specific clients like outlook, etc. (OWA is probably good here, cause i think it will let you set a non-standard port at the server level -but you still got dependancies)

    3. portability – check your email from anyone’s internet connection (good in coffeeshops, friends, school, etc). no nasty pop/smtp setting to mess with (just username/password -simple)

    webmail uses an alternate port by default (ie: a port other than 25) but you connect to your hosting provider’s email server to send/receive emails. you’re clients may have residential ISPs looking for an easy was to secure their email servers (ie: block port 25 or some future port) but this won’t matter because you effectively by-pass them in this process. don’t need their email servers anymore, using your web host provider to send and receive.

    that’s the best long term solution i’ve come up with to deal with this type of problem.

    Posted 08 Jan 2006 at 8:09 pm
  14. babaganoosh wrote:

    What’s going on with this? Make a decision?

    Posted 27 Jan 2006 at 11:30 am
  15. admin wrote:

    i still haven’t come to any kind of decision yet. good research takes time. and when it comes to choosing a hosting provider i am in no kind of rush. the last thing i need right now is to get burned by making a hasty decision.

    Posted 27 Jan 2006 at 7:34 pm
  16. Brian White wrote:

    HostGator is not the way to go!

    HostGator hacked my site’s file system, bringing the site crashing down. I didn’t know until emails started arriving.

    When I contaced HostGator, I received an email with a link to cancel service.

    After moving the domains elsewhere, and registering hostgator-sucks.com, HostGator started attacking all of my domains with ICANN complaints via. an anonymous email account – emails which conicided exactly with HostGator’s IP addresses accessing hostgator-sucks.com.

    Just about every day, mostly during peak evening times, my sites were not accessable for 5-30 minutes at a time while at HostGator, which I had been putting up with for quite some time.

    When I demaned a refund, I received an email from HostGator that said I had to ‘ask nicely’…

    This is NOT a company you want to deal with, no service, no support, bad people.

    I wasted a weekend moving a bunch of sites to a new host, instead of on skis, just to get out from under HostGator as soon as I possibly could.

    Posted 05 Apr 2006 at 2:30 pm
  17. admin wrote:

    well brian,

    thanks for that first-hand account. sounds like you had a thoroughly miserable experience.
    i guess no one ever really leaves their web hosting provider with a “happy” story.

    otherwise, why leave in the first place?

    still, you are the first person to comment who has actually tried one of the web hosts.
    i’m sure every provider has their share of horror stories – you can only read them and take them into consideration.

    my best advice still serves me well:
    1. try to take it as slow as possible.
    2. always have a hosting provider “on deck”
    3. read all the forums for any user feedback

    Posted 05 Apr 2006 at 10:42 pm
  18. Robyn wrote:

    Thought I ought to mention that PagesGarden is a major problem at the moment. I had been happily with them for several years but ran into problems a couple of months ago. I sent emails but they bounced and tried using their contact page. A google search showed I wasn’t the only one having problems and that some who had tried could not sign up with them so I moved to a different host on the 1st of October. I was unable to contact PagesGarden to cancel my account and on the 4th of October Pages Garden took another year’s fees from my bank account.

    Posted 25 Oct 2007 at 6:07 am
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