Comparing hosting providers

It’s always a struggle to find a good and affordable webhost. I’ve been needing webhosters since 1998 or 1999 and I’ve gone through a few, partially because it’s always hard to get non-biased information and reviews on the hosting companies out there. However, I recently stumbled upon one review site which compares web site hosting from multiple vendors, which might just be the right place to start looking.

Why you need a good host

After a few small hosters, years ago, I went with where, at some point, I had about 20 websites hosted. Not too bad, they weren’t too great either, but they were affordable and had reasonable service. Then, however, they were acquired by some other hoster and the whole process of moving from old to new servers was handled so badly, with so little and unclear communication, it was obvious, I had to find a new provider. I’m still hosting two websites there and it hasn’t been the same as before the takeover. I track the uptime for one of those two website and for several months late last year, uptime was as little as 95%. In webhosting terms, that’s abysmal.
To be fair, it does seem that now, finally, they’ve cleaned up their act.

So I had to move to a new hosting provider. But how do you find one that’s actually reliable and of good quality? Websites aplenty that claim to review the hosting providers out there. However, it’s been pointed out that it’s easy for a hoster to game those website and garner attention and good reviews, with the right marketing budget and a few paid reviews.
Anyway, I ended up with MidPhase, where I currently host more than 30 websites. Pricing is good, I have no real practical limits and their customer service isn’t too bad. However, the quality of their hosting very much leaves to be desired. Only two weeks ago, I found that all my sites were offline at a time extremely inconvenient to me. Their online customer service was offline, I didn’t get an immediate response from their email support and I couldn’t get through to them on the phone.
When I finally did get a response, by email, it turned out they were migrating several servers. And how should I have known? Some blog they run which I’d never heard of, mentions the planned outage. The blog claimed the outage would not last more than six hours and probably much less. My websites were offline for some 10 hours. Extremely unacceptable.
And that’s just one incident. Although it’s one of the worse ones, my websites are offline way too often. At some level, MidPhase’s price level, I suppose, reflects their service quality, but, really, do something well, or don’t do it at all. And on top of that, whenever I find my sites offline, their website is still up and running. So apparently they can’t do for their customers what they can do for themselves.

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To choose a web host

So I’m in the market again for a decent and decently priced hosting provider. But how to find one? Switching always carries a risk. And, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
As I said, I stumbled upon said website offering web site hosting Information. I’m a bit reluctant to except websites like these as the real deal, not sponsored by the services they are trying to promote, but there are a number of things that suggest this one is genuine:

+ The site is not flashy, but clean, simple, easy to read. Typically, sites pushing web hosting services are annoying as hell and hard to navigate with all the ads and whatnot. (True, I use the excellent Adblock, but even when turning it of, I found only one banner per page and some non-intrusive Google ads.)
+ The currently highlighted review (on OnTheSpotHosting) only describes the service and is not too interesting, but the open reviews and comments currently show only one vote of 1 out of 10. If OnTheSpotHosting was really being pushed here, the website would make sure no customer review of 1/10 would show up here, at any time.
+ The RSS feeds are seriously useful and split out in several areas of differentiated interest. Not only do they review hosting providers, they also provide information on the types of hosting services.
+ There’s a weekly podcast. Although I never listen to podcasts, I appreciate someone who takes the time to prepare one. And judging from the subjects covered in the podcasts, they appear to be truly informational, again, not pushing a particular service.
+ They claim to offer hosting dispute resolution. Although I can’t vouch for the quality of that service, it’s innovative and a potential crowd puller, and only interesting and relevant if they’re not on some hoster’s paylist.

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That said, there are still a few areas open for improvement:

– Although the search is functional, the amount of filtering available is too limiting. A search for medium priced plans with medium sized storage on a UNIX box with a good rating returns some 50 providers. That’s just too much. I would like to be able to drill down on that list. Also, although the resulting list shows each hoster’s rating on this website, it doesn’t show how many people voted to get to that rating. For hosters rated 10/10, it’s nice to know how many people actually thought so.
– The resources categorization is practical. However, when listing articles with resources on a particular category, the list only shows titles for those articles. I’d like to see the date they were written and a short extract as well, to get a sense of their content.

So what will be my next hosting provider?

Pooh. I don’t know yet. The list of providers returned for my search criteria (under $25 per month, 50 – 250GB, a rating of 9 or higher), on the above website, is really too long to use as a basis for a quick decision. However, there’s a few names in the list I recognize, so I probably will check them out first.

And that brings me to another thought: moving from one webhost to the next is extremely cumbersome, particularly if you’re hosting multiple websites. Are there actually hosters out there that automate the process of moving from one host to the next? Theoretically, not much is required, just FTP everything from the old host to the new one, copying directory permissions in the process.
Hmmmm. A service waiting to be offered. Anyone actually offering such a service would surely get my vote.

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