Web Host: Advice on choosing a host

N9ne

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N9ne submitted a new Article:

Web Host: Advice on choosing a host

Advice on choosing a host

Firstly, research, research, research!

Spend weeks looking for a good host as it WILL pay off.

Secondly, remember this: http://www.webhostingtalk.com
- Do not request hosting there, simply go into the web hosting forum (the first forum) and read, read and read!!! It's such a valuable resource, you won't believe it until you do it.

Thirdly, learn your stuff, if you know what bandwidth is, how servers work, the concept of overselling, bandwidth providers and so on, you will not make a mistake in choosing a host.

Also, remember that cheaper is NOT better. It is always worse. Never can a host maintain such great service, support at very low prices, do not believe it, no matter how much it appeals to you, no matter how much you want to believe it, do not believe it!

Don't jump to conclusions either, because if you see a nice looking site and think, oh, they've put effort into their site so I will go with them, no, wrong way to go about it, templatemonster.com sells templates at 30-100$ and a lot of hosts just buy these.

Don't go over the top with your plan either, because if you know you are pushing 20GB bandwidth now, and your forum is increasing at a steady rate, you do not need 80GB bandwidth per month. Scalability is a feature to look for in a host, will they be able to expand your account?

Test the host: send emails on random days at random times to their different email addresses asking questions. Ask ask and ask questions until both parties are tired! You will learn a lot and see if the host has patience or not.

Key phrase: you get what you pay for. It's true ;).

For example, you see a nice site, you see their plans page, say something like this:

Plan 1: 1GB space, 40GB bandwidth - $14.99 a month.
Plan 2: 2GB space, 80GB bandwidth - $29.99 a month.

These can't be. They will be lacking in some departments. Very rarely will a host be efficient in every section and maintain dirt cheap prices.

Ask for a speed test. Ask friends in other countries to download the speed test file. Download the speed test file at different times. If you're not getting a very high speed (for your modem) then the host isn't using a good bandwidth provider.

That concludes shared hosting in the majority, but some forums may be big enough to require dedicated hosting. This is where decisions are crucial.

You MUST take...

Read more about this article here...
 
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Ogden2k

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I personally would not go with an unmanaged server. I do not have time to mess around with Linux, mysql, php, etc. I like the host updating all of that.
 

N9ne

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Ogden2k said:
I personally would not go with an unmanaged server. I do not have time to mess around with Linux, mysql, php, etc. I like the host updating all of that.
And that's fine as long as you have the money, but the jump from shared to dedicated is very costly, and can be from $50 to $250+ a month.
 

The Sandman

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Wow - great post! I'm getting the feeling this Board might just work out the way we hoped it would...
 

N9ne

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I hope so too as there is a lack of administrative advice forums on the internet so hopefully this will be a prominent resource! :).
 

Wayne Luke

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It should be added that you always need to make sure there is an upgrade path. Don't choose a host that doesn't offer you options as you grow.

When starting a forum, you do not need a lot of space. With limits, you can put 10,000 posts in 30 or so megabytes. However as your board continues to grow, you will eventually need more space. Choosing a host that can automatically upgrade your space and bandwidth will allow this growth to happen seamlessly. There are even hosts that will allow transparent upgrades from shared hosting (hundreds of sites on a server) to Virtual Private Servers (10 or less sites on a server) to Dedicated Servers (your site alone) as you need it.
 

N9ne

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Wayne Luke said:
It should be added that you always need to make sure there is an upgrade path. Don't choose a host that doesn't offer you options as you grow.

When starting a forum, you do not need a lot of space. With limits, you can put 10,000 posts in 30 or so megabytes. However as your board continues to grow, you will eventually need more space. Choosing a host that can automatically upgrade your space and bandwidth will allow this growth to happen seamlessly. There are even hosts that will allow transparent upgrades from shared hosting (hundreds of sites on a server) to Virtual Private Servers (10 or less sites on a server) to Dedicated Servers (your site alone) as you need it.
Yep I made reference to making sure the account is scalable, which is very important for sites that may come across sudden burts of higher traffic.
 

Mr. J

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Good stuff there N9ne, very well detailed. I have something to add though because I don't think I saw it in there.

You should make sure to find out what kind of money back guarantee the host offers if you aren't satisfied with the service. I've seen a couple companies offer no refunds whatsoever if the customer wasn't satisfied with the service they recieved and that didn't sit too well with me at all.
 

raxafarian

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We started on a shared host. I had a personal site and while testing noticed that the forums ran very bad on that site. I was lucky and found a shared host that was fairly new and was not overselling. Vbulletin ran very well on her server (server was at rackshack) and I don't think she had more than 20 sites on the server, with ours being by far the most active with 50-100 concurrent users.

For several reasons we decided to switch to our own dedicated. I went with a reseller for Nocster. Ran fine there for a few months. I was a little leary about the reseller thing..... not much recourse if they bail and site would be down for a long time while trying to straighten any potential messes out.

I had been shopping for another dedicated for a month or so when an apache update caused massive problems. The datacenter kept telling me I should be all set.... wrong. After a day and 1/2 of calling them, recompiling apache, etc. I was done with them (remember... I'd already been looking to move... ).

I found another datacenter, but didn't want the site to be down for days while setting up another server.

I went with a bargain basement shared host just to get the site up... set up the site, changed my dns zone to point to my 'new' shared webspace, and viola... site back up. I got control of my new server later that day and started setting it up. Come monday afternoon I get an email from the bargain basement shared host: "umm... you have had over 100 concurrent users all day, we cannot host you". I asked that they give me til that evening, which they agreed to do.... so I moved the site to the new dedicated server.

Knock on wood... 2 months and going good.

Moral: if you are starting out, try and find out (if you can) if the host will boot you for having too many members online. I've read of others getting the boot for "using too many resources".

I'm not affiliated with any of these, but www.cc-hosting.com is the shared host I was satisfied with.

I'd consider nocster in the future, but not thru a reseller.

We are currently at server matrix and very happy.
 

welo

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One thing I would add is once you identify a potential host, make sure to WHOIS their domain and verify they've been around at least a year. Two years is better, but the first year of business is the toughest, so if they've managed to stay around that long they are a reasonable bet. Even with this guideline in place I've had to switch hosts twice because they either went out of business or sold the company.

Nowadays I run my own server because I basically got tired of switching hosts. Dedicated and colo solutions are a whole new ballgame though, so if you're considering that then do a whole lot of digging. Most places offering dedicated services are just middlemen for someone else's NOC, so if you can track down the actual source you'll get better service cheaper.

And N9ne is right: Expect to do some cramming is you want to manage your own server. There are basically two ways to look at it:

1) Learn everything you can first. Advisable long as you realize you can really talk yoruself into a rut once you start realizing just how much there is to know about managing a server. If you need a dedicated server expect a steep six month learning curve while wrapping your head around it. While this happens it might be advisable to spend the extra $40-$100/mo for a managed solution.

1) Trial by fire. To some extent this is inevitable. No matter how much you read, ask and otherwise probe, nothing beats hands on experience. The important thing is to not get paranoid. At some point you will get hacked because you neglected to apply a security patch no matter how carefully you keep up on them, your server will get borked through hardware failures - the list goes on. All the research you do beforehand will basically give you a good grounding in where to look for help with this stuff when you need it.

(oh, and if you want to run a cPanel-equipped box, don't expect too much practical help from the cPanel forums :); sometimes I wonder why they even run that board)
 

N9ne

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welo said:
(oh, and if you want to run a cPanel-equipped box, don't expect too much practical help from the cPanel forums :); sometimes I wonder why they even run that board)
Hehe good point - I have a cPanel box and they aren't any help there. However, my box is at ev1servers and they're quite helpful at their forum.
 

welo

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I've been lurking over at ev1servers for awhile now. Since I'm gonna hafta dump some cash to do something about my RH 7.3 situation real soon, I've been quietly looking for practical alternatives as a backup plan in case my current place fails to come through with something.

Sure wish it looked like ev1 had a RHEL solution ready to appear, otherwise servermatrix is looking pretty good... I'd like to find a decent NOC here in Portland so I could have physical access to the box when I needed it though. For Intel country this place sure lacks dedicated and colo solutions.
 

movielad

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It'll cost $49 to re-image the drive, though, which is going to involve downtime. And if you've got the Ensim control panel (like myself) then you're going to have to wait for them to release a RHEL supported version too.

Regards,

Martyn
 

floris

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Very nice article n9ne. Very good.

Choosing a host is really hard and sometimes I just take a pick at random, just to gain experience. My more serious sites get more attention and I want a good hosting plan. It is then definitly worth paying a bit more.
 

welo

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I kicked off an email to my place (who is Vault Networks in Tampa btw) and their proposed solution is FC1. Said they would reimage the box and install FC1 and cPanel for $35. Either that or setup a new box for me with new IPs etc. and just let me migrate all the existing stuff to it and disconnect the old one. Either way it looks like about a day of downtime while stuff either propagates or get backed-up.

Tough call either way. All I know is it's sure a hassle switching NOCs. I'd like to have RHEL although they did make a good point for FC1:


Cpanel is still coming out with updates for the system. There are also several other reservoirs that we have access to for updates. This is not a big issue. Redhat doesn't support it, but then again I cant find anyone who has ever called Redhat for support before. So I see this as a minimal issue.
Anyway, since FC1 essentially is RH9 with stripped-down update agents and cPanel is supporting it, I see no reason not to use it. Been running it on my home network server for a month now with no problem at all.
 

Anonymous

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welo said:
Anyway, since FC1 essentially is RH9 with stripped-down update agents and cPanel is supporting it, I see no reason not to use it. Been running it on my home network server for a month now with no problem at all.

Actually the update agent, yum, is pretty powerful. But that's a whole new thread.

I'm running IPB, vBulletin, and Deluxe Portal on my FC1 test box, I've had no issues to speak of. There was a bug in the MySql startup script that caused the test ping to fail if the root password was set, but I'm pretty sure that got fixed. Athough mysql would say it failed to start, it was running.
 

welo

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noppid said:
Actually the update agent, yum, is pretty powerful. But that's a whole new thread.
Indeed - one that could turn intensely debatable too :).

I do kinda have an ulterior motive for wanting to go with RHEL though, because one of my goals for this year is to get a RHCT/CE cert. It would simply make sense to keep up on what they're doing firsthand on my own box. On the other hand, I want something running at home that matches my webserver so I can experiment with stuff locally without potentially borking what's running online (which WBL could conceivably do).

Decisions, decisions.
 
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