I've long been a proponent of outsourced Web hosting: Instead of doing it all yourself, you contract with a reliable outside party to set up and maintain your Web site's physical infrastructure--a secure data center, the rack space, the power supplies, climate control, connectivity, the actual servers, and so on. A Web host often can provide this infrastructure to you for less cost than if you did it on your own because the host benefits from economies of scale in ganging many sites in one facility. In addition to saving you money, outsourcing also leaves you free to focus on the content and purpose of your sites, rather than on the bricks, mortar, hardware, and software. Of course, very large companies can generate their own internal economies of scale; for them, the cost of building and maintaining a private data center may make sense. But: 98% of all U.S. businesses have fewer than 100 employees, and for those companies--and for hordes of private individuals--an outsourced Web host can be the very best and least expensive way to establish and maintain a Web presence.
The costs can be amazingly low: The least expensive options cost literally pocket change, less than a dollar a day, and get you Web space on a shared server. Or, for a few dollars a day, you can have your own separate, dedicated server.
Either way, you usually get remote access to a professionally set-up and maintained Web server in a fireproof, secure, climate-controlled data center with a private emergency power supply. Higher-end Web-hosting plans--still only a few dollars a day--can provide for automatic daily backups of your data, automatic electronic relocation to another facility in the event of a regional disaster, and more. Many plans include secure E-commerce options, and some even include basic tools to create a Web site from scratch, for those who are totally new to Web hosting.
And virtually all Web plans let you have your own domain, so your pages will appear on a site named something like www.[yourcompany name].com (e.g., www.informationweek.com) or www.[yourname].com (e.g., www.langa.com). Likewise, almost all Web-hosting plans include mail service for anywhere from a few to hundreds of users, and these accounts all will have E-mail addresses in a form like [yourname]@[yourdomain].com (e.g., [email protected]). An E-mail address in that form seems far more professional and serious than an address from, say, AOL, Hotmail, or other ISPs.
Pick The Perfect Web Host
Several years ago, Windows Magazine produced a feature article called "Pick The Perfect Web Host". That article is a great place to start: The core information there is still valid and will walk you through the process of identifying your needs, and selecting the right Web host to fit those needs.
But some of the companies mentioned in that text have been acquired or have otherwise changed--not always for the better--and that's the genesis of this article.
You see, the main downside of outsourcing is that you have to keep an eye on your Web host's performance, and its business fortunes. Sometimes, a host may start out great, but then lose focus as it either acquires other companies or is acquired by them. Or, a host may stumble by bringing new, inexperienced staff on board as it grows. (In fact, this recently happened to me with one of my Web hosts when the tech staff made unannounced, unilateral software changes that broke several essential features of my sites. Meanwhile, the support staff was utterly clueless about not only the changes--apparently, they hadn't been told either--but also about the underlying technology affected by the change.)
There are myriad reasons why a Web host that once met your needs may no longer do so. In fact, over the years, I've found I usually end up changing Web hosts about every two years or so as a given host slowly drifts--or suddenly plummets--out of the "sweet spot" of service and pricing that I seek.
While moving a Web site isn't a joy in itself, the hardest part actually can be in finding a replacement. How can you tell the good Web hosts from the bad?
Several sites let you search Web hosts by their offerings--you can sort the hosts by criteria such as price, bandwidth, platform, software, E-commerce add-ons, service plans, and so on. Some good examples of this kind of search service include Cnet's "Hosting Reviews", TopHosts, HostSearch, the Web Host Directory, Top 10 Web Hosting, and of course, Google.
Google can be especially useful after narrowing your selection down to a few finalists: Searching Google/Groups for the name of your potential Web host can reveal what others are saying about that host; it's valuable real-world feedback.
But there's a catch: The problem with using Google/Groups is that people tend to post messages only when things go wrong, so a Google/Groups search may over-report negative experiences, and not offer a true and balanced overview on a given host's performance.
Fortunately, that's where your fellow readers can help!
When I recently ran into trouble with one of my Web hosts, I mentioned it in my newsletter, which prompted many, many readers to write in with positive recommendations for their preferred hosts.
A representative sampling of these reader recommendations follows. If you're looking for a new Web host, as I am, this real-world feedback when combined with the tools above can help you flesh out a far more complete picture of a Web host than any single tool can provide.
But the feedback loop doesn't have to end there. After reading the comments below, please click over to the discussion area and share your own experiences, good and bad. What Web hosts have you tried? What were your experiences? What did the hosts do well, and what wasn't up to par? If we pool our knowledge, we should end up with an excellent reference tool!
And now, a sampling of the Web host recommendations of your fellow readers:
I have used DellHost hosting for over 3 years now... I have used FrontPage, Dreamweaver, and just plain HTML on this site and they have kept right up with me. The yearly cost isn't too bad, either. Their tech support is pretty good, too, but only available till 10 p.m. CST.
My associates at work and I have had many problems with many Web hosts. However, Dathorn Web hosting hasn't caused us any problems. To date, they have been the best company that we have found for Web hosting. Dathorn is a small business; they aren't a huge company. Their prices aren't bad, and the support team behind them is absolutely wonderful. When I've submitted trouble tickets, the response time has been extremely low, usually within minutes (and BTW, the term "trouble ticket" isn't necessarily in reference to only tech support--they also use that for billing questions, general contact, etc). I've not had any problems with them whatsoever.
-- Drew Shriner
May I suggest that you take a long, hard look at FutureQuest [The owners] are always happy to talk person-to-person about your needs. I must emphasize that I have no connection with FutureQuest, other than being one of their happy customers. The best thing to do is to have a browse through their user forums, as well as doing a Google search for them--I doubt you'll find a single negative comment :) FutureQuest are a shining example of how a hosting company should be run.
-- Simon Lister
Since you are looking for a new Web-hosting company, you might want to check out the company I use, PZ Internet. They have very reasonable rates, good service, and a Unix host. I'm not sure if they have CGIemail, but I'm sure they would install it for you. I was having a problem with a CGI script that required a change to their server and they did the change once they received my E-mail.
-- Bruno L. Cordovado
I think I may have some help...the guys at Bravenet. These guys have been making Webmaster tools and other things for a long time, and now they also do Web hosting. Check with them, they are good with CGI stuff, they may be what you are looking for. It couldn't hurt, check them out.
-- Randy W. Lush
I've hosted Web sites and came across an excellent provider, ICDSoft. First, they charge a measly $5 a month. But the best part is, they're support is fast to resolve any issues. They give you 333 megs of space and lots of tools. Check them out.
-- George Kimmel
I have a recommendation! pair Networks. I've hosted my personal sites with them since 1998, and have had business sites with them for almost 3 years. They are rock solid, their prices are great, and their support, if needed, is terrific. I by no means am affiliated with them, and I don't get anything out of this if you do go with them...but I definitely wanted to make sure you were aware of them, for your sites, when looking!
-- Eric Holt
I've got several sites hosted at Magical Productions. I've been extremely happy with the service and knowledge. Not only do they host, but they also design, so they know and avoid the kinds of issues you're describing (they'd have to work with the same issues!)
-- George Handlin
I know of one you may want to consider--LifetimeWebHosting.com. I'm using them to host my Web sites and I'm very happy with everything about it. Their tech support is exceptional, the guys do really know what they're doing, they're very nice and great to work with. They've helped me a number of times and were always terrific. My CGIemail forms work great :-) They charge only once, too. There's no monthly fees and no yearly fees; once you're set up, there's no fees at all. I don't think anybody else is doing that for everything that they offer: One-time fee, no other fees...ever! They have a smaller package, too, with all the same features but on a smaller scale if that one is larger than you need. Check it out.
I do understand you've probably been deluged with E-mails extolling the virtues of this host, that host, and the other. However, I would like to bring CyberPixels to your attention. They are (in my experience) infinitely flexible, the security is great, and the rates are fantastic. I live in Canada, so we look for that in a Web host. They've hosted my site for over a year now, and any problems I've had were extremely minor and readily fixed.
I finally found a Web host that I think is great. It is Doteasy and I just thought it might be worth a look.
-- S. Huehnergarth
A hosting company that I have found reliable and very supportive for the past 2+ years on my domains is NetEndeavors. They have what I believe to be reasonable prices.
-- Art Heimsoth
The host I have been using for years has had an excellent uptime record and has also kept me informed whenever things happen or are about to happen with their systems. The host is California-based Osiris Communications. Aside from my host account and my gratitude, I have no business relationship with Osiris.
-- John Georgopoulos
Check out TotalChoice Hosting. Good prices and plans.
-- Steve McClellan
I've been using OLM.net to host my Web site for a couple of years. I have been very happy with them. Check 'em out! I went to OLM when I left ValueWeb.
-- Mike Joseph
I've been with Hosting Matters for a few years now, and while they aren't cheap I feel confident in saying their technical support is unsurpassed by anything I've ever run across. Support requests are normally addressed within minutes or hours rather than days or weeks, and communication advisories via the regular forum and a special forum for times during outages (such as a recent DoS attack) are outstanding. I have no financial interest in the company. I just wanted to pass along the information in the hope it might help.
-- Jim Foley
A hosting service that I think is very reliable is InfinityServers.com.
-- Tim Flynn
You gotta check 1&1 Internet out for hosting. I am no relation, no link, but it seemed to good to be true... Free hosting for 3 years in a commercial hosting system. No locks, no limits. You may fall foul of the bandwidth limitations, but even with that in mind I wonder if they offer just what you need at the right price?
Try Rackspace as your Web host!
When I had troubles with my previous two hosts, I did a lot of searching and finally settled on LexiConn. I have no association with them whatsoever so you can believe me when I tell you that these guys are absolutely wonderful. I've had virtually no problems with their service in about a year now except when they got hit with a DDOS attack and we slowed down a bit for 4 hours. I guarantee you that you won't easily find another group of professionals so attuned to taking care of you and providing a seamless hosting solution. You owe it to yourself to give them a call and see if they meet your criteria.
-- Paul Holstein
You should definitely check out the site I've been doing my hosting with for the last several years--DreamHost. In addition to being very affordable, it offers a ton of different plans for different-sized users, and most important, the service is extremely reliable and is run by a small group of "tech gurus" that do a great job of communicating with their customers and respond to even the most trivial E-mails pretty quickly. They have a great online "Web panel" that lets you have incredible control over your site, your E-mail accounts, mailing lists, etc. To top it all off, since I have been there, my plan keeps getting better and better. Every so often I'll get more space, more bandwidth, more accounts at no extra charge, as they upgrade equipment, take on new customers, etc., and can afford to "share the wealth" with the users. They definitely are doing all the right things. It's worth checking out.
I wanted to point you to a hosting company, FRS Hosting. They are very receptive to dealing with issues and very helpful. They are constantly upgrading equipment and making things better for their customers. In the last couple months they have more than doubled my capacities on my sites, and my pricing has stayed where it was when I first started hosting sites with them. If you would like to know more, go over to http://www.frshosting.com and take a look.
-- Greg Hicks
I would like to recommend TRK Hosting. I have eight Web sites, all with high-volume traffic, and they have never missed a beat in the year I have been with them.
-- Alan Parris
Check out Jatol.com for inexpensive hosting services from a company that really cares about their clients. They're a very small company, and have only been around for a couple of years now, but I can tell you from my own experience and what I glean from their User Forums, they provide top-notch service and are exceptionally fast in responding to their clients' questions or problems, usually within a couple of hours.
-- Doug Hardwick
Now, please click over to the discussion area and share your own experiences, good and bad. What Web hosts have you tried? What were your experiences? What did the hosts do well, and what wasn't up to par? Join in the discussion!