Ted, Where Should I Host My Website?

Considering the level of appreciation I got from my previous list of recommended vendors for t-shirts, buttons, postcards, biz cards and more, I have done the same for web hosting.

“Where should I host my website?” is a question I get a lot. Requested needs range from personal (which I usually end up hosting ;) to small business (see below) to massive business plan estimations. (E.g. “Dear Mr. Rheingold would you agree that $8,000/mo is a required expenditure to maintain sites like Dogster/Catster” … no, I’d say $2,250). So with no further ado here are my answers to where I would recommend you find hosting.

Web Hosting: Single Site
San Francisco’s Laughing Squid is the gold standard of web hosting. For not much more than bargain basement prices you’ll enjoy the most reliable web hosting ever offered. SF culturalist Scott Beale treats all his clients with a NormalRockwellian level of respect. In the rare event a server or service is down, before I know it, there is an email waiting for me describing the failure and the expected solution. If there is a delay in the resolution, there will then be another email explaining the unexpected set-back. Once resolved, there will be an email detailing the entire extent of the problem and a stated plan of action for ensuring it doesn’t happen again. They also now have a status blog (on a third-party server with up-to-the-minute news and a permanent archive of all problems. How many companies do you know that offer a permanent archive of all their bad days?) Laughing Squid is also very committed to the arts and offers great artist and student discounts.

Web Hosting: Bulk Shared Hosting
I can’t really recommend anyone at this level. I used to use WebIntellects and have moved to the better DreamHost. DreamHost’s quality, however, appears to be slipping as they increasing their hosting accounts by the hundreds. These services are ideal if you want to very inexpensively host a multiple of sites. But for the price savings, realize that hundreds of other sites are sharing your server’s apache, mysql, bandwidth etc. and if they go down, it’ll all be down for at least 20 minutes. Expect such downtimes at least 2-3 times a month.

Web Hosting: Dedicated Server
Dogster uses ServerBeach, an inexpensive server rental farm now owned and run by Peer1. We rent servers that are plugged into their network. We’re responsible for all the software, they are responsible for all the hardware and helping us when the server needs hands-on attention. Here as well, I can’t formally recommend them due to a couple really stressful problems, but the price is right, and their servers and support are, for the most part, pretty good. They also have some good forums that are free.

Another option is Servstra, a new Australian company. Their prices are as cheap as you’ll find and their support has been good enough so far.

A big step up would be RackSpace where they manage the software as well as hardware, provide backups, emergency response and will even hold your hand and tell you everything will be okay. But it’ll cost you. About 3 to 4 times what the above two options are.

Above that is buyng your own servers and renting space and bandwidth from a server farm, but if you’re doing that you don’t need my advice.

9 thoughts on “Ted, Where Should I Host My Website?

  1. Scott Rafer

    Never, ever use rackspace for anything but the most braindead of projects. We had a 50% HDD failure rate for Feedster 1.0 when we were hosted there.

  2. Boris

    Hi Ted,

    I think what every entrepreneur looks for is a cheap but scalable solution. In other words: almost free until you get visitors, then a bit more expensive when you get a bit more visitors and then still cheap when you turn into the next google (yeah, everything scalable expect the price!). So where do you go for that? It seems that when you start at Laughing squid you are in trouble when your business is succesful? Changing IP adresses etc while you growing isn’t what you want. So I still don’t know where to host…

    Boris

  3. ted Post author

    Boris, in regards to going as cheap as you can as long as you can with web hosting is something I definitely recommend unless you have clear revenue expectations. Dogster started on a shared host and it was only after I took it down did I know I could risk hopping to a dedicated server.

    >Changing IP adresses etc while you growing isn’t what you want. So I still don’t know where to host…

    This is not a problem in the slightest. When you change a host you simply update DNS entry with your domain registrar about where to point to the new host’s nameservers. As long as you keep the old host and new host live during the 24-72 hours update period users won’t know there was a change.

    Another more technical option is for you to host your own nameserver fromt he get go so you have complete control over what IP to point to, but this requires a dedicated server from the get-go.

  4. David Corking

    You wrote: “As long as you keep the old host and new host live during the 24-72 hours update period users won’t know there was a change.”

    You are right, for a static site.

    It is not so easy if you have any kind of dynamic content (perhaps blog comments or a web application.) You will have to figure out a way to keep the content synchronized during the change.

    The simplest way may be to just block updates for 72 hours (is this what you did with Dogster?) But if the site is busy, you may disappoint many of your users, unless you invest time in configuring or customizing and testing a sophisticated synchronization tool.

    A web store should be OK – as long as you remember to update stock availability on both servers. Each server should happily keep taking orders during the changeover (but for goodness sake do a trial run first.)

    How did you keep the Dogster users happy during the IP change?

  5. ted Post author

    Of course, how flippant of me …. With Dogster they key has been running our own name server, bind9 (on linux), before that we had a friend act as our name server. Once your registrar is pointed to this DNS, changing IPs is as easy as chaning the text file and restarting the name server. (not forgetting to reduce the TimeToLive(TTL) setting to a low amount like 10 minutes so it isn’t cached for long.)

    If you actually have to change the name server’s IP with your registrar then yes, the situation you describe will require some more planning. If you trust the db on the new environment, you can point both the old and new webserver to that db so all data is stored at that one source. It’s harder if you use files or other data sources for your data. But with a database (you trust) it should be pretty easy.

    Also, I’ve found that the DNS change propogation takes btwen 24-48 hrs max. So I normally kick it off Friday 6pm PST. If I have to take a site down for a day (or view only), c’est la vie. A nice message for a one-time move is usually quite acceptible by users unless you’ve got them really addicted ;>

  6. swerbo

    Hey, not to knock the Squid, because lord knows they are a great host, and how could we live without the Squid List Calendar. BUT…

    I’ve been using a host called LunarPages for years now, and they are one SWEET host with a ton of funcationality for almost ridiculously low prices. Their support has also been great whenever I’ve had a problem. They have starter accounts under $10 that provide 5 GIGS of space and 400 GIGS of bandwidth per month (lots of GUI control panel-based capability, but no shell access in the low level accounts). They probably won’t cut it for some higher-end applications, but on the lower end, they offer an incredible deal for the money.

    – Swerb

  7. Andrew Virender

    Nice thread here. One aspect I find essential for me is good live tech support. You also want a company that is well established for years and where down time is minimal. That is particularly important when you have e-commerce site or may be selling one or two items.

    If you are going to make multiple sites, then get a reseller account.

    Any one know a good SEO hosting site? This is special hosting where you can host multiple domains on different IP addresses?

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