Hosting Experience (2008 to 2015)

By Gabe Spradlin | Tech Blog - Under Construction

Feb 10

Looking for Hosting?

​Whether you are looking for hosting, need to switch hosting, or just want to know if your hosting could be better it is educational to read others' experience with various hosting companies. Below I list my experience with the hosts I've used the most over the years.

Overall most hosting companies I've used have at least adequate support. Some have support that is downright great. The few I've used that didn't have adequate support are not listed here. I got rid of them so fast that I hardly remember them anymore.

It always seems like a waste of money to pay more for hosting than absolutely necessary. But it isn't. First, when you have an issue and you hosting support leaves you waiting days in between responses that is costing you a lot of money and causing you a lot of stress. Second, the cheapest hosting you can find is often overloaded meaning your server's connection to the internet may be intermittent, slower than stated, or just plain unstable. Additionally, I always recommend giving your users the best possible experience. Speed is a major component of that experience. If paying more hardware than you really think you need means serving your customers pages in 1 sec instead of 3 sec it just might be worth every penny. Better hardware is an immediate improvement to your sites response times. It's also cheaper than an overhaul of the software that runs your site.

Large performance increases almost always require a complete rebuild of your site's software. But that's beyond the scope of this post so without further ado here are my experiences:

SiteGround: Where it all started

I started my online business with hosting at a company called SiteGround back in 2008/9. Their shared hosting plan was cheap and the support was good. However, one day my SEO efforts began to pay off and shared hosting was no longer good enough. At the time (2009/10 timeframe), SiteGround didn't offer anything other than shared hosting. I asked and begged and pleaded but they just didn't.

So time to move on...

DreamHost

I moved everything to DreamHost in early 2010. Their shared hosting provided me with more control over some the features I needed for my sites. So at first I didn't need anything more than DreamHost's shared hosting.

Later in 2010, my SEO efforts really took off and DreamHost's shared hosting wasn't fast enough. First, I tried a Virtual Private Server (VPS). With a VPS you have a certain percentage of a dedicated server that is dedicated to you. So you get less and pay less than you would for a dedicated server. With DreamHost VPSs you can just request more CPU and RAM whenever you need it. So as the traffic to my sites grew I requested more resources. One day I found I needed enough VPS resources that I was paying nearly the cost of a dedicated server. So I went to a dedicated server at Server4You with a lot faster web page loading than the VPS at nearly the same price. But I kept the VPS as well.

You might be asking yourself why I would continue to pay for the VPS and pay for the dedicated server. It's a good question to ask and the answer is pretty simple. I had a site where I was sending paid traffic (Google AdWords) and it was making good money until one day when it wasn't. The difference was that page load times had jumped for around 3 sec to over 5 sec (if I remember correctly - that was 5 years ago). So I decided to move that site to the dedicated server alone. The page times dropped back under 3 sec and I was making money from the paid traffic again. I wanted to keep the other sites running but didn't want them interfering so I kept them on the VPS.

Never underestimate the importance of page load time to your website's conversion rate or your customer's experience on site.

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Even though I don't need DreamHost for much today I stick with them for all the little things I need. Why? Over and over and over again the support at DreamHost has been excellent. I have an issue, I describe it, they dig, they find the answer, they give me instructions on how to fix the problem. That's rare.

Server4You

​For several years now I've used dedicated servers from Server4You. The price is hard to beat for servers with the hardware specs my business has needed. They aren't perfect though...

​Support

The support is fast enough and adequate when you know exactly what needs to be done. However, unlike DreamHost they aren't interested in helping you if you mucked something up. There is much more of a you broke it, you fix it attitude.

First, you better know what you are doing and be willing to Google a lot about what you don't know. I don't mean to say you have to be a *Nix expert to run one of their servers but the support isn't there to hold your hand either. I find the email support is usually reasonably fast but often terse or irritable. So am I typically by the time I've contacted them which makes for an unpleasant exchange.

Second, I find that it is hit or miss as to whether or not support will put any effort into truly understanding the issue.you are having. The times I've been most displeased is when they respond with answers that don't appear to pertain to the issue. It almost always turns out to be relevant but they provided no explanation as to how and the fix is often to change a config setting in some system process I'd never heard of before. If you are a sysadmin then the context is probably obvious. I've learned a lot over the past several years so I don't have this problem with them often anymore.

However, when you are able to very precisely explain the issue they respond quickly. When I can precisely determine and explain the issue at hand I can usually Google an answer in less than 5 minutes so....

I will say that on the occasion you get a support person who will dig into the problem for you they seem to know their stuff. They will then present some results from a diagnostic test, explain it a little, present a few options, and ask how you want to proceed. This is invaluable but it happens very rarely.

Hardware​

Over the years I've had as many as 5 servers at once with Server4You and I've upgraded and upgraded again. In total I've probably had about 10 machines with Server4You​. Of those 2 had hard drives that failed. Both hard drive failures have been on my primary money making machine. Ouch. The first of those failures really almost killed my online business. I upgraded my servers to newer equipment and added a server to be a live backup of my primary revenue server. A couple of years later the second hard drive failure occurred. Unfortunately, this failure occurred over 3 months and just killed my revenue. I eventually figured it out and that my live backup wasn't quite what I'd intended. However, the live backup was essential in getting a new primary server up and running quickly.

I've also had a couple of RAM issues and some mysterious other issues I can't be certain are hardware related but they strike me as hardware of Server4You configuration related. Either way, I always keep a server as a backup now.

Honorable Mentions

Digital Ocean

Right now I use Digital Ocean for experimental sites. These are typically brand new sites that I don't expect a lot of traffic to right now. With some basic caching even their low end offerings can handle quite a bit of traffic. Digital Ocean is a cloud hosting company so at the low end of the offerings you get a unique IP and more power for a little more than the standard hosting.

Digital Ocean offers you an image to put on your server. The images of most interest to me are just a bare OS, a LAMP setup, or LAMP + WordPress. The bare OS doesn't come with a lot of the programs you need to run a modern website so I don't use that image often. The LAMP image is an image that includes the OS and all the programs most modern websites need as a bare minimum. But I was planning on putting up a WordPress site so I chose the LAMP + WordPress image.

I've had almost no reason to use Digital Ocean's support but this LAMP + WordPress image didn't work as it was setup so I had to contact support. They were quick in their response but not quite as thorough in their attempt to help as I would have preferred especially since I was having a problem with their image without having messed with it. Honestly, the image should have worked without any need for intervention on my part. But it didn't.

One of the things both DreamHost and DIgital Ocean have in common is a very thorough set of articles on how to do almost anything with their servers. If you have the tech skills you can use these "how tos" to install and configure almost any software you might want on your server. You don't have to be a customer to use these resources but it also speaks towards their desire for an easy customer experience.

Media Temple

​I was only with Media Temple for a short period of time. They were running Cloud hosting at the time. I primarily remember them for their wonderful service. I had moved my primary revenue site away from DreamHost but hadn't landed at Server4You yet. Nothing about the site should have required the level of resources that it was requiring and I wanted to know why as well as determine what kind of hosting I really needed.

Media Temple charged by the amount of CPU your site used and so had a number of tools for helping you determine what was costing you the most money. Between their tools and some excellent support I found a WordPress plugin that was causing my page load times to be very slow. Ultimately, their support helped me realize that they weren't the right hosting company for me and I respect that.

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About the Author

Gabe Spradlin Gabe has a BS in Mech Eng and an MS in Elec Eng. Control Systems was the emphasis of my Masters. The Master culminated in a very long and esoteric thesis about automatically identifying anomalies in International Space Station telemetry. Eventually he ended up using Controls to point lasers very precisely at targets a long, long way away. Some lasers were used to talk; others to put holes in things. In 2009 it was time to start an aerospace consulting business. By 2010 it was time to shift from aerospace to online entrepreneurship. He has worked in his pajamas .... errrrr .... basement ever since.

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