Searching for a New Hosting Company

My host, 247-host.com (skip them in your hunt), has been unable to provide me with adequate uptime or support; the best they could offer is upgrading my plan. Their new (and as yet unpublicized) VPS plan was too expensive, both for me and in comparison with other hosts. I finally decided it was time to get serious with finding a new hosting company. This has been a very "interesting" experience, so I thought I'd share it with you.

I sent the following to each hosting contact:

Request for Pricing

We currently have a reseller account at a hosting company that is not meeting our needs for up time and support. Therefore we are soliciting bids from other hosting companies to replace this service.

Our current usage:

  • Live sites: 8.
  • Planned Sites: 3.
  • All sites are using Drupal 5.1 CMS or OSCommerce, installed with Fantastico.
  • My Sql: 4.1.23.
  • PHP: 5.1.6.
  • MySql databases: 8.
  • Total disk storage: approx. 200MB.
  • Total bandwidth: approx. 2GB/month.
  • RedHat Linux.
  • Domains registered with Godaddy.

Probable expansion in next 12 months:

(All are estimates based on current knowledge)

  • Additional sites: 8.
  • Additional disk space: 500MB.
  • Additional bandwidth: 3GB/month.
  • All sites migrating to multi-site Drupal 6.x.
  • MySql databases: 20.
  • All sites running MySql 5.x.
  • All sites running PHP 5.x.

Preferences:

  • Linux (Windows is not acceptable).
  • MySql 5.1.x with phpMyAdmin.
  • PHP 5.2.x, with accelerator.
  • PHP Safe mode is not acceptable.
  • RAID 5 disk storage (non-RAID is not acceptable).
  • Service Up time: 99.8% or better (including all components), with penalties for not meeting the SLA.
  • 24x7 support with responses in 2 hours or less.
  • Daily back ups that can be restored if needed.
  • Non-separated MySql server.
  • Average query time: 3 ms or better.
  • Cron access.
  • Capability to view server status.
  • Capability to increase memory allocation in php.ini or settings.php.
  • Capability to alter Apache vhost parameters (needed for migrating Drupal).
  • Capability to view PHP memory usage.
  • Capability to host pictures to be used on eBay.
  • Capability to host "alternative lifestyle" content (no illegal content).

Responses:

Please respond with the following information to xxx@yyyy.zzz.

  • Package name.
  • Pricing for monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, and annual payments.
  • MySql version.
  • PHP version.
  • Name and version of PHP accelerator.
  • CPU type and speed.
  • Disk storage type and size.
  • Meet/Not Meet the above preferences.
  • Domains are addressed as http://www.sitea.com, http://www.siteb.net, http://www.sitec.info, etc. rather than as sub sites.
  • Whether or not you have experience hosting Drupal sites.
  • Whether or not you will assist with the move.

How did they do?

Company Response Time Response
HostICan < ½ hr. Only pointed to a VPS plan and said, "You should be able to easily do this using..." Too expensive for me.
Hostmonster 1½ hrs No answers, only "We offer only one hosting plan... To see a list of all the features included, please visit..." - Their web site does NOT answer all my questions.
Bluehost 1½ hrs Identical to Hostmonster - Also note you may not respond via email, and sales questions do not participate in their ticket system, so no follow up is possible.
Crucial Paradigm 28½ hrs "...99% of Support tickets are answered within 30 minutes. Billing and Sales we ask to allow for up to 72 hours though most are answered a lot quicker." - What a concept! Answered most questions. MySql 4.1.22 - no mention of upgrade plans. "PHP 4.4.7 and 5.2.3 on all reseller servers though we don't run a PHP accelerator as we run PHPsuexec which provides a higher level of security for our servers though in turn does not allow us to run an accelerator." Interesting response since their page says "Zend Optimizer." "...Capability to increase memory allocation in php.ini or settings.php? -- No this is not an option although you can customize the php.ini file in your account." Isn't that what I asked for? "Capability to alter Apache vhost parameters... No you won't be able to do this though our techs will be able to for you." Didn't understand a few questions, but the tech's name suggests that English may not be his first language. "..we also host a Drupal hosting to developers..." They will assist with the move.
Polurnet > 7 days As of this writing, they have yet to respond. I can only assume they don't want my business.
Drupal Value Hosting < 1hr "Steve" answered all question, including the ones he might have thought negative. He then answered a couple of follow up questions very quickly. Payment appears to be yearly only. Disk is RAID-0. Note: their web site needs work.
ANHosting 12 hrs Answered "Everything that you are requesting is available standard with our Reseller programs here is a link to the plan..." No actual answers to my questions. Email answer came from Midphase, but link was to Autica (3 separate companies?) Appear to have only monthly and quarterly payments- Expensive plan.
Site5 14½ hrs Did answer some questions, however, I am nervous with answers like this: "CPU type and speed. - Don't have the exact details on this, we run dual dual core cpus. Disk storage type and size - Again, don't have the exact size, but we run with 6HDs in a raid array." [I'd bet that this information is on the site.] Not currently on MySql 5, but upgrading early next year. Flexible payment options. They do not help with the move, but have a Wiki article on how to do it.

So where does this leave me?

Only Drupal Value Hosting, Site5, and Crucial Paradigm bothered to read and answer my request. I am completely disregarding all the rest as unworthy of my money.

It concerns me a bit that Site5 couldn't take a few seconds to look up the CPU and disk specifications. On the positive side, they appear to have RAID disks (having already had one disk loss with my current host, this is important). They plan to upgrade to MySql 5 early next year - but can I count in it? Their payments plans appear more flexible.

Drupal Value Hosting is a bit more expensive and only has a yearly payment plan. Look at their name - DRUPAL. Their disks are RAID-0, which is not really RAID and actually decreases the reliability of the array in order to gain speed. They answered all my questions very quickly.

Crucial Paradigm's apparent emphasis on current customers over new ones is interesting, although it tends to indicate that the sales and support staffs are not separate functions. Running a fairly old, and unsupported, version of MySql concerns me to the point of probably not going any further with them. I don't currently know anything about "PHPsuexec" so I can't really say anything about it. However, I am also concerned about the lack of an accelerator. Theor web page does not indicate any pricing except monthly, and is a bit higher than I'd like, although the plan exceeds my needs considerably. They do have an affiliate program. [Folow up: PHPsuexec is a CGI implementation of PHP - there are a number of posts on DO that indicate this is bad for Drupal.]

Updates

I allowed the responding hosts to review this article before posting it. I got some responses back.

DrupalValueHosting
  • "DNS propagation from our Data Centre hardly takes 30-45 minutes to become operational" - Nice, if it really happens across the web like that.
  • Yes, we have flexible pricing; you must go to step 3 of the order process to see it. (As I said, their site can use some work. One should not need to go that far.)
  • "...We have a free premium hosting account offer in place for one month period to help prospective customers try out our hosting infrastructure and the experience of doing business with us." Handy feature.
  • "...We are adding overall 14 machines with a combination of Raid 5 and Raid 10 configs from mid-Jan in our private rackspace. Orders for the hardware are already in place. But till that time only Raid-0 disc striping." [RAID links are mine.]
  • Has an affiliate program. (I guess that would put me in competition with myself?)
  • Will sell a limited number of reseller accounts.
Site5
  • Most of our newer servers have 2x dual-core Woodcrest 5130s at 2GHz per core.
  • CentOS 4.5.
  • 6x500GB SATA drives in a PERC5 controller card in a RAID10 array.
  • We offer PHP 4 for now. We will be phasing it out early next year due to it being end-of-lifed.
Crucial Paradigm
  • We have a 32MB PHP Memory usage limit, and as far as I know we don't have that option compiled into PHP (viewing how much PHP is using).
  • Regarding running RAID 5, vs. RAID 1 - we actually made the conscious decision to use Raid 1 across 2 drives, and have a third drive dedicated to backups… Data corruption is very rare, but we prefer to cover all circumstances!
  • We do actually have Zend Optimizer on all our shared and reseller servers! The confusion was that we don't run a more advanced PHP accelerator like eAccelerator or xcache as these are not compatible with phpsuexec.
  • Our billing, sales, and tech support are not combined, and separate teams so no need to worry about that! We were however consulting our techs to make sure all your questions were answered accurately and correctly.
  • We do actually have discounts available when paid quarterly, semi-annually, and anually.
  • In the near future, we do plan to make MySQL 5 available on our newer servers - so its not too far off.

Summary
Host
Reseller?
Price (3, 6, 12 mons.)
Space
Bandwidth
Crucial Paradigm
Yes
$49.95 / $99.95 / $199.50
10GB
200GB
DrupalValueHosting
No / Yes
$31.50 / $60.00 / $114.00
$49.50 / $96.00 / $180.00
2000GB / 200GB
9000GB / 1000GB
Site5
No
$31.50 / $57.00 / $102.00
750GB
75,000GB

My Choice?

Crucial is a bit more expensive and has less disk space, but more included reseller features. Expense is an important issue for me; the reseller features are not. Site5 and DrupalValueHosting are kind of a toss-up with current postive and negatives that will be addressed soon; both offer far more resources than I need.

I could toss a coin, but that's not the way I do things. So, I guess I have to go with my feelings, and I got the feeling that DVH was a bit more hungry for my business. We'll see.

 


Comments

Hosting

I own http://ourweb.net and willing to give Nancy's clients a discount. Just open a support titket.

Maximum PHP Memory

Nancy, great site! The issue of PHP memory recently hit me when Admin/Modules started to blow up due to excess memory usage. It took a while to find out what the limits where at my shared hosting company, particularly since the phpinfo() memory information had no relationship to reality.

Did you get any responses on PHP memory monitoring?
Thanks, Norbert

No, not really

But most sites have cPanel and some of those have the ability to track memory usage. DrupalValueHosting gives me 128Mb, so it has not been a problem since I moved.

Hosting

Nancy,
I am drawn to your site repeatedly for information and trust your judgement and experience. I would like to know if you have revisited your hosting provider decision and if you would still go with Drupal Value Hosting. If you were looking for a new provider today, what other providers would you consider?
Thanks
Pat

Hmm...

I have concerns about DVH for several reasons. I would probably go to Polurnet or ICDSoft if I had to do it again.

Nancy, Thanks. I will look

Nancy,
Thanks. I will look into these two.

Okay

Mention my name, maybe they will give me free hosting... BTW, Site5 has been sold and is apparently going downhill very fast.

drupal host research

Thank you for your efforts in the research.
It has been a mess to try and find a host through forums and user reviews.
this has actually been the first real information i could use.

BTW, has hostmonster and blue host ever came back to you ? i am curious, as they are on my short list.

Lastly, any other people reading here , give siteground a skip , although they cre recommended bythemselves all over google search results and so called unbias reviews.

regards
D

Yes

Yes, it is difficult, and even more so with the shutting down of the hosting forums because of flame wars and unsubstantiated claims.

Both Hostmonster and Blue Host came back and told me to look it up on their sites - which I had already tried and some of the answers were not there.

I'm surprised you didn't

I'm surprised you didn't consider nearlyfreespeech.net -- from their web site:
Data Transfers (Bandwidth): Starts at $1.00 per gigabyte and goes down.
Disk Space (Storage): $0.01 per megabyte-month

So your 2gig/month transfers and 200Mb of disk would be around $4/month if my math is correct.

I'm just a happy customer and it's cost me 5 cents so far! Why pay for bandwidth and disk you're not using?

Actually, I did

I did consider them early on, but eliminated them before I sent my RFP. I don't recall why though.

Now I remember

I'm pretty sure it was the Cron issue. Today, having used Poormanscron on some of my Windows test sites, I might have made a different decision. I'm pretty certain that they would have responded as I have had communications with them and it has always been quick.

Decision

So where did you end up going Nancy?

PS Thanks for your cookbook!

PPS About a year ago, I started to do this research - it's only a little less daunting that the beginning of the Drupal learning curve! I found this a decent place to start to dig:

http://www.webhostingtalk.com/

Note it's only "pretty objective" and they are harsh about moderating people posting hard-to-answer questions. Basically I learned that most hosting companies don't want demanding customers.

The hosting industry has an economic model similar to say the health club industry's - they make all their profits from "overselling" their capacity, IOW from the customers that barely use their services at all.

This means that any "reasonably priced" (read: impossibly cheap) company either has terrible customer support (good CS is VERY expensive) or can't afford to provide the actual service levels it promises (or in the case of 99% of them, BOTH). They end up keeping the easily-satisfied and low-resource utilizing customers and happily let the rest go. This means a prospective customer coming in with:

a. a clue about what they want from a technical point of view
b. the implication that they might want above-average support
c. the possibility you might actually USE the disk space/RAM/bandwidth/CPU cycles they promise to be available

is defining herself as an undesirable customer.

If you really need the CPU/RAM/bandwidth promised AND want decent customer service, then you'll need to (read: want to) pay many times more the lowball prices offered by the big mass-sales hosting outfits.

PPS if you don't mind, please also email me your answer, as I probably won't be coming back here anytime soon. . .

DrupalValueHosting

I went with DrupalValueHosting for the cost and features. They are also already up to the software levels that 7.x will require.

Yes, I have been burned really badly by a host that considered me "demanding" and they pulled the plug on my two sites without warning and no chance to do a back up.

My last host simply could not keep their server running (~90%) and could rarely answer my questions.

Hi Nancy, >pulled the plug

Hi Nancy,

>pulled the plug on my two sites without warning and no chance to do a back up
Unbelievable! Well to me, anyway. Reminds me to check those Ts and Cs next time I'm host-hunting.

Anyway the reason for dropping by was just to mention that it is possible to combine PHP security on a shared server (via suexec or similar, so that all scripts run with the id of their owner on the server) with performance/cache. About a year ago our host added a server with this combination and it seems to work very well (yes, even with Drupal). But he seems to know what he's doing (he'd been waiting for this functionality to get stable in cPanel). The PHP cache is ionCube; Zend Optimizer is also running, but note that without a cache this doesn't generally offer any benefit. It seems the main function of Zend Optimizer is that it "enables PHP to run the files encoded by the Zend Guard" (from Google's cache of zend.com - there's a problem on that page on their site at the moment). This is also informative http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PHP_accelerator.

Thanks for putting this page up, a useful benchmark/reference.

Thanks

Well, as it turns out DVH uses this same concept and I'm not having any trouble. Well, other that FTP is a bit harder.

Backup

Thanks to your evaluation, I am also in the process to move to DrupalValueHosting. The only problem I see is their backup policy, nowhere near as good as my current provider's. How did you plan the backup for your files and databases?

Thank you for your very informative, very nice site.

Not well

They do back up everything as well as using RAID, but I have to admit, my back up plans could use a lot of improvement. Right now I manually back up the database once a week or so. There is not a lot of content being submitted or changed on most of them. I also copy files when I think about it. Embarrassing, isn't it?