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Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire – by Guest Writer, Craig Maas

December 13, 2006

CraigMaasCraig Maas’ primary focus is lighting and energy consulting, but now finds himself helping with web design and support, both web sites and blogs.


What do you do when your email goes down? What do you do when your web site goes down? You probably pick up the phone and call your web designer or IT support person. But what if you’re that person?
The Internet is a collection of technologies. To master all of them would be difficult and time consuming. So in many cases your email and web server are hosted by a third party. There are thousands and thousands of hosting companies offering a myriad of services. Although there are many attributes to look at when picking a host: features, capacity and service; in the end it seems to come down to luck. Here are some of my notes to improve your odds.My host of choice Atlnetworks has giving me good service over the years. The web sites have been up and stayed up and they have all the flexibility that a good Linux server gives you. I have lots of email choices and can run just about any kind of script or database. Unfortunately, the service has slipped of late. In November I lost email service three times. The first time the servers went down so the web sites went down too. The second time I lost email service for six days over the Thanksgiving Day holiday. This caused me to question whether ATL is the right host for me. It wasn’t even the lost service that bothered me the most but it was the lack of communication. I would submit Support Tickets and they wouldn’t get answered. I would call and get voice mail and would receive no call back.
I thought they were moving in the right direction earlier this year. ATL added some new features such as automatic scripts that would install common applications such as WordPress blog software. They updated the control panel and added a chat feature. The first time I tried to use the chat feature there was no one available, but they called me right away even though I didn’t leave a message. Support answered my questions right away and left me feeling good about ATL. They have since dropped the chat feature.To start my search I checked Dealmac.com to find out what other people were using. Although Deal Mac has an Apple Computer focus the members who post there know what they’re talking about. There are other sites you might check such as Arstechnica.com.
In the past I was most concerned about price and features, but now that I have paying customers and now that ATL’s service has slipped I am willing to pay more for service. I made a list of a dozen or so hosting companies the members of Deal Mac recommended. Note: I’m only going to mention plans that have a similar suite of features or that I thought were interesting.

ATLnetworks.com

Many hosting sites now support multiple domains (web sites) in their plans; a feature ATL now has. The plan is competitive as far as email accounts and web applications. Just about anything you’ve seen done on the web can be implemented with one of their web application or by installing a script to run off the server. The email is easy to set up with as many account names as you might like. You can set up mailboxes and/or use the web mail on your browser. You can have mail groups or have your mail forwarded. There are spam filters and auto-responders. All the features of the plan are accessed through a control panel, which is not too difficult to navigate. Support, up until recently was very good, both email and phone support. ATL has been adding features and increasing the capacity of the hosting plans.
The current hosting plans:

  • Standard: $39/year, 1gb, 1-domain
  • Standard Plus: $69/year, 15gb, 2-domains
  • Inter Plus: $99/year, 20gb, 3-domains

BlueHost.com

This host appeals to me because the owner Matt Heaton has his own blog. This is something I think ATL should be doing. I think it makes sense to communicate with the customers if you can’t or won’t communicate one on one. I think it also gives you a feel for the company you’re working with, the people that work there, and what you can do with the features that are offered. Although Blue Host seems the most like ATL, this blog makes me feel closer to Blue Host.
hosting plan: $83.40/year, 50gb, 6-domains

Godaddy.com

I have registered all my domain names with GoDaddy and like them except for one thing: their web site and online checkout is chock-full of advertising; it’s pretty intrusive too. They have many products and services- most of questionable value. I feel lucky to make it through the check out without buying some odd service I have no interest in. On the other hand they seem to have good customer service both on their web site and via telephone. They’ve offered hosting for a couple years and lately this service has become more competitive. I do worry that they’ve set their hosting up to easy for novices- with computer this is always code for difficult for everyone else and rarely any easier for novices. (I’ve since downloaded the PDF for Linix hosting and this doesn’t seem to be the case. They use a control panel that looks similar to the ones I’m familiar with. I do have to check how the email works with multiple domains.)
hosting plans
: $43.08/year, 5gb; $75.48/year, 100gb, unlimited domains- wow! Just make sure you pick the Linix hosting and not the Windows hosting. (If you sign up for their newsletter they send lots of coupon specials where you can save even more money.)

Nearlyfreespeech.net

This is probably the cheapest hosting for small and low traffic sites. The downside is they don’t directly deal with email. I have a couple web sites where that isn’t a problem. I’m not sure this isn’t best approach: break down each service and let the best company handle it. ie let Godaddy do the domain registration, Nearlyfreespeech do the hosting, and everyone.net do the email. hosting plans: $0.01/mb/month and $1.00/gb/transfer. That’s it. The whole deal.

Everyone.net

Email only, useful as an add-on for Nearlyfreespeech.net. email plans: $35/year. Godaddy also offers email only services.

Itsamac.com

Before I switched to Windows this would have strongly appealed to me. If you think about problems on the Internet it has to do with attacks and security. Criminals are always going to target their attacks against popular platforms; on the Internet they would be Windows Servers and Linix Servers. Security is very good on Mac Servers; yet Mac Servers have very little market share and hence fewer problems with attacks. hosting plan: $99.50/year, 1gb, 1-domain.

Others

1&1 Hosting – $36/year, 5gb, I’ve book marked this a couple times. They seem to bill by the month so there may be discounts buying annually. They also have a $120/year, 200gb, 3-domain package. (other packages too.)

icdsoft.com – $72/year, 1gb, 1-domain

powweb.com – $93.24/year, 20gb, 1-domain

allenhost.com – $72/year, .5gb, 1-domain; $144/year, 1gb, 1-domain

pair.com – $120/year, .5gb, 1-domain

web.com/icom.com – $95.40/year, 1gb, this is the hosting service my dad’s cousin uses. It’s a little on the expensive side but when I first saw it I was impressed by the amount of space he had. Now, everyone offers at least 1gb so it’s not very impressive.

Support Questions

After looking at all these sites I was still left with the question of should I switch and who should I switch too. I have a strong suspicion that all hosts go through rough patches. This was addressed on the Blue Host blog. A companies very success at support and service can cause a flood of new customers, which can have a bad impact on service. So although I may be unhappy with ATL how do I know if ATL is past a rough patch and a new company I might try is about to hit a rough patch– out of the frying pan and into the fire.
I may have found my answer by searching Google for “Web Hosting Reviews“. I looked at two sites web-hosting-review.com and hosting-review.com. On both sites GoDaddy and BlueHost scored well for service, features, and capacity. Blue Host was host of the year for 2005. Unfortunately, ATL wasn’t listed and the number of hosts reviewed seemed too few. I hope the reviews are independent.

Final Thoughts

At this point I’m not in any big hurry to start moving my web sites. I’m not convinced that I’m going to be any happier on another host. But having said that I think I will try out some of these other hosts. Nearlyfreespeech seems like a no – for some of my tiny sites with little traffic and no email requirements. I would like to see how good the service is at Godaddy both the customer service and the performance of the site(s). The big winner in my eyes is BlueHost. If I had to change hosts today I would go with Blue Host.

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2 comments

  1. Thank you, Craig. Great information on a topic most of us don’t understand very well. Have you checked out AN Hosting? Along with MidPhase, it’s one that Brian Clark at http://www.copyblogger.com thinks is top notch. Although he’s an affiliate of theirs, AN Hosting showed up pretty high on the list on one of review sites you mentioned and since it seems like it plays super-nice with WordPress, it might be worth checking into. I’d like to know what you think. Thanks again!
    Sheryl


  2. Thats a great article, blue host is a good choice if you choose them, they are one of the best at providing managed shared hosting.



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