Ok, switching Internet Hosting has been a bigger deal than I thought it would be. Here are a few thoughts that I learned through the process. Please feel free to add any comments or things you have learned.
Here’s what happened. I had had a good experience with Lunarpages in the past. The sales people spoke English well and were very helpful. So, when I wanted to host my own website, they just made the most sense. I did the math, it seemed like it would work out, and I went for it.
Now, it’s been a year, and my “contract” is up. I had an incident with the technical support that left me wondering. It was probably my fault. I had used the website to transfer some pictures, and I left both the pictures and some site backups on the site wasting drive space. The backups were generated using the backup tool on their CPanel, but they sent kind of a threatening email about my using the account for something that I was not allowed to use it for. When it was all said and done, instead of them simply asking me to delete the files, I began to question how well they knew their system. They didn’t seem to know about the backup tool and then they said it included database backups when it didn’t! I ended up writing my own backup tool that included everything instead of relying on their’s.
Couple that experience with finding my admin tool not responding a couple of times, and I decided it was time to move. We’ll see if that was a good decision, but that brings me to where I am today.
Lesson #1: Choosing a host is hard
I found that there are tons of hosting options out there. For the most part, they have the same features, but there are slight variations. Aside from a few expensive ones, most of them were somewhat closely priced. Sometimes, it was hard to tell that an option was closely priced because everyone had different discounts through different channels.
What I finally did was create a Google Spreadsheet with the different options. I tried to figure out as much information as I could from each host’s website. Then, for the ones that looked promising, I went back and chatted with a Salesperson to clarify and ask questions on items that I couldn’t find. I had one row for each option, and these are the columns that I used:
- Host name + link to site
- Sign up link (when I talked to a rep, I wanted to capture their information so that if I signed up they would get credit. Some had a special link that would give them credit, others just said to mention them in chat or when signing up)
- Monthly price
- Total price (my target time frame was a year), including setup fees if applicable
- Price including SSL (I was unsure if I wanted to pay for private SSL)
- Promotion link (As you research, you will probably come across links or special codes that give you discounts)
- Private SSL
- Script installer (Sure makes installing new applications like WordPress much easier; they come in different names: Fantastico, Softaculous, Script Barn, 1-click installs, etc.)
- PHP (version 4 or 5, etc.)
- MySQL database support (version 4 or 5, also watch for quotas in either the number of databases allow or storage limit)
- Disk space (most were unlimited but not all)
- Email (quota on email addresses, web interface)
- Transfer (fee in transferring the domain name?)
- Java support (usually pretty expensive, and most apps work on PHP)
- Git support (not many had this, but one did. Git is handy if you do any development. You can always compile a binary and upload it to the site, but already having it installed saves some headache.)
- SSH access (You can always use PHP Shell instead)
Note: You can link to information from a Google Spreadsheet with the hyperink() function. The format looks something like this:
=hyperlink(“<link URL>”, “<Text to Display>”)
Lesson #2: Reviews are hard to evaluate
I found tons of reviews for hosting all over the web. The question is which ones can I believe?
First, as I was reviewing the companies, several looked very, very similar. Finally, I found that Endurance International Group owns a number of hosting sites. On my list, that included Fat Cow, iPage, Just Host, and Blue Host. This thread on Web Hosting Talk has a small unofficial list. These companies all may be great, but when you find a top 10 list of hosts, and they are all part of the same parent company, you begin to wonder about the quality of the review.
After signing up for Web Hosting Hub, one of the technicians accidentally sent me a “How-To” link for another company (I think it was Inmotion). Come to find out, those two companies are sister companies. The price and sales may be different between all of these companies, but the support is the same. So, if you switch from one to the other, don’t expect any different technical support.
One reliable way to find out issues is to look up the Better Business Bureau. You can see the number of complaints against the company there. I don’t know how many people actually go to the Better Business Bureau or do they complain in forums and such. So, forums may be a better place to look.
Lesson #3: Plan Ahead
Your current host will probably automatically renew your domain name and your hosting. Lunarpages sent me a reminder/warning that they were going to renew, but I think you should be at least starting to plan what to do a month before your service is up. Here’s what you have to allow time for:
- Give your current host notice that you are not continuing
- Research time to pick your new host
- Time for migrating your pages, applications, databases, etc to the new host
- Transferring the domain name: there are waiting periods for the host to transfer, plus multiple companies and steps involved
All in all, you should probably allow a month of overlap between the two contracts.
Lesson #4: Monitor Better
When on Lunarpages, I had a couple of issues where I visited my site, and the database was unreachable or the site wouldn’t load. It was intermittant, and I never could nail down any exact problems.
I ran across this service: pingdom. Please comment if you know of other methods to monitor. Then, if I have issues, I know how bad they are and have concrete proof.
Lesson #5: SSL is Expensive
I still haven’t found a definite solution to SSL. The issue is that using any kind of site that requires a password is insecure if you don’t have an https page. The biggest danger is if you access your site using your password on a public network: restaurant, airport, library, etc.
The issue is that to do SSL, you have to have a dedicated IP address. Then, you have to pay for a certificate. Price it out, and I think you will find that this might just double your cost.
The two options that I need to research are shared SSL and Start SSL. The problem with shared SSL is that you can’t use your domain name to access your site. So, I have to figure out how to configure WordPress to work with that. Start SSL claims that they will give you a free certificate, but Web Hosting Hub told me that it would cost $25 to install the certificate.
I have tried looking into different encryption schemes and Open ID to at least prevent sniffing passwords, but I keep coming back to the same thing. There is no alternative to SSL.