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Reliable web hosting? Well that’s pretty much the same as saying Expensive Web Hosting. I’ll explain here why.

Why do you need reliable web hosting?

Well, if you don’t want to have frequent website failures, data loss or being treated like an idiot from your web hosting provider, then you most probably need reliable web hosting provider. The worst thing you ever want is your website which you’ve invested so much development efforts to suddenly go offline because your host was not careful and did something stupid. If you have good website, with good traffic and good income, do not hesitate to invest in better, more reliable web hosting provider, otherwise you may wake up one day and find your website gone, hacked or spreading viruses to your own visitors/clients. Everyone, every self respecting professional should rely on a reliable hosting provider instead of cheap resellers who get your money and suddenly disappear along with your hard labor!

What is Reliable web hosting

We all judge the quality of one web hosting service provider by the sum of quality points for few major properties such as support level, server configuration restrictions, website speed and hardware reliability. Unfortunately all of those parameters are directly linked to the costs associated with that parameter and if one desires to obtain good overall web hosting reliability it will be quite costly at the end, but fortunately for us we can have some turnarounds are have very good reliability at most affordable prices based on the formula I’m giving you at the end of this post. I would like to stress the fact that the costs of reliability are also directly linked to your own webmaster skills since the more experience you have the cheaper your hosting is. But before we start I would like to explain what exactly web hosting actually is and what is involved in the whole thing.

What is Support Level

Based on my personal experience I’ve found out that there are few very important things to consider before purchasing a hosting plan from a new (to you) company. It is quite unfortunate that nowadays web hosting reviews are not really accurate as most of them as paid by the actual web hosting company and most of the times deviate from the truth. In order to really acquire some early on experience is to contact them with some simple pre-sales questions that will give you the basic idea of they will be good support or not. For example you can ask the following questions:

question: Hi, I’m interested in purchasing a web hosting from you guys, but I was wondering if (my desired package here) is running on raid hard drive configuration for data security?

If you get answer like, “I don’t know” or “no” or they’re not really quick on answering this question, then most probably this is not a good company for you to start hosting with since you’ve learned two very important thing from a single answer and those are that a) they don’t have any data loss prevention device, and b) their support may not have experience in the web hosting industry. If they say “yes” and are quick to say it, then you should try to get some more information by asking some common hosting problem issues.

question: Hi, with my previous web hosting company I used to have some file permission errors and I had to change each file manually. Is that the same with you?

In most cases file permission errors are if your host is not running PHP SuEXEC which is vital to file writing and modification which is nowadays used by all Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, CMS MS and etc. SuEXEC is also considered to be with better security because if it is missing you risk of being hacked by another hacked account on the same server since all accounts are with same user “nobody” if SuExec is not enabled. Based on my experience SuEXEC is really helpful since allows smooth CMS operation especially if you’re new to the web hosting industry and don’t know how to change file permissions yourself.

question:One of my websites was injected with malware which was caused by bad web hosting security. Do you know if you guys have this problem or it was fixed with your servers?

At some point everybody had his site hacked atleast once (my photo gallery Gallery 2 was hacked last fall and injected with a Trojan Horse which pretty much made me remove the whole CMS due to high security risks!). Based on my own hosting experience that CMS hacks seem to be common but there are also common preventions which are eventually implemented with the hosting companies. It is a good idea to ask the host early in the presales if you will be having this problem because it is a serious issue which you should be really careful as if hacked your website may start sending SPAM emails and even redirect your search engine traffic to other websites (yes that is possible and its really hard to find if you don’t monitor your traffic stats carefully).

If you get satisfying answers to the above questions you should ask few more with which you will be able to determine how much help your web will give you if you accidentally get in trouble. Note that those questions are based on your current experience and if you feel somehow knowledgeable about them you should not bother to ask, but if you don’t know how to handle them its good idea to know if you will be getting help or not. Also note that some web hosts do not include FREE help in non-web-hosting-issues which can sometimes be all your questions if you don’t have previous webmaster experience. For example you should not expect your web host to explain/teach/do stuff that is supposed the-webmaster-duties such as uploading/changing/modifying themes, content and etc. Some web hosts do that but in almost all cases this is paid separately per hour labor. What you should also ask the web hosting provider is what you are offered as free support:

question: What is uncluded in the free support for (my hosting package).

If you get that all support is paid then you most probably will get good quality support but at a price. It is quite dangerous if you they tell you that all their support is free, which basically means that you will get no support at all. It is considered better to have paid but reliable (when you need it) support rather than limited or virtually no support. As I said above this is also one of the things you should base upon your own experience and if you don’t need much support you can go with the free support hosting providers. You should also ask what type of support is offered for you:

question: If I ever need support what is the fastest way to contact you and get response? Also what’s the typical response time on support tickets/emails?

The final question before purchasing your new hosting package is to check out what contact means your host is providing. It is really best if you have (even limited) phone support [You should even call them on the phone to obtain that information instead of live chat or email] and also ticketing system (much better than emails but harder to manage). If they offer contact phones to both sales/billing and technicians you’ve just found your new web hosting provider, otherwise you should check few more companies and compare what they offer before running with this one. Note that it is industry standard to have telephone sales/billing support and ticketing/email support for technical questions so don’t run away if you get that, although its great if they offer phone tech support!

I guess those 3-4 questions will give you a good idea of what you’re getting involved with as all the other parameters can not be directly interviewed and require you to build your own experience with that company which may be in the first few days. That’s why you should ask (check) if your web hosting provider is offering 30 day full money back guarantee which will hopefully reduce the risks you might experience. Based on my own experience if you’re not happy with your hosting within the first few days, then you should not hesitate to cancel and find other company to host your websites.

Server Configuration Restrictions

I’ve intentionally left this one as second since most new webmasters won’t really need much and they’re better off with more support, but if you are experienced webmaster then your set of tools is your best weapon and the more access you have the most freedom to grow your website. Based on my own experience I find two major Website Hosting Control Panels to be CPanel and Plesk. There are many other CUSTOM ones, but in most cases I would advise you to get a host with one of them instead of custom because those seem to contain a standard set of web hosting controls which guarantee that you will be able to perform most configuration changes in order to run a successful website. Unfortunately this may not be present in custom ones and in such cases its better to go with CPanel as it offers most flexibility (if fully enabled by your provider since they can limit some of its functionality).

Basically what Cpanel and Plesk offer is the following:

  • Email Account Manager and Webmail client
  • Built-in File Manager
  • Built-in Website Traffic Stats Software such as AWStats
  • Addon and Subdomain Manager
  • MySQL database manager with PHPMyAdmin web manager
  • Apache Handler, Domain DNS editor (for MX record modifications)
  • Other not really used

It is also good to know if you can enable or even request custom PHP extentions to be enabled/installed on your account as this seems to be a bit tricky and risky on the web hosting provider’s side (possible security implications). If you don’t need any then you shouldn’t care but if you want to run a Video type of site then you might need custom ones which are almost never included in the standard shared web hosting packages, so you should research a bit more before jumping into hosting before knowing what you really need from your hosting provider.

Website Speed

Basically the website speed is a relative thing since it depends on too many factors and can not be easily estimated, but you should atlest have a website that starts to load within 2-3 seconds and is fully loaded in a dozen. Note that the initial “start to show content” is what the actual main PHP/Server processing is involved as the rest is pretty much to download the images and other files associated are more dependent on your own internet connection rather than the capacity of the server. If you do have high speed DSL or even better (optic) connection then if the whole website does not load in 12-15 seconds than its most probably a slow server or network farm. Based on my own experience I find that the CPU (which determines the “start-to-load” speed) is most of the times overloaded easier than the Network Pipe (which determines the image/file load) as CMS systems tend to use vast amount of resources in peak times (when the page load request is processed). You should also consider that your package may be limited in those main resources and therefore load slower than other ones which makes your goal to find affordable good speed web hosting provider.

Hardware Reliability

We all know that cheap hardware is never reliable, so be advised if your cheap hosting provider seems to be a bit unreliable when something fails. A good hosting provider invests a fair amount in hardware and keeps the server up to date with regular 3-4-5 months scheduled downtime for hardware replacements. Based on my own experience I found that hard disks are the first thing to fail and they do fail quite often – approximately once a year (which at web server terms is often when you can have a server up and running for a whole year without a single system restart!! We have two of those and I’m really proud of them.). If possible you should try to get some information on scheduled maintenance early on when you signup or even in pre-sales. It is good if they have such in hand because this means that they are prepared to change stuff and won’t panic when something fails early. This is most evident with larger companies as they do their own data center warehousing compared to all small ones which pretty much lease servers from the large web hosting providers and resell it.

Now as conclusion – Reliable Web Hosting is better, but pricier

The primary share of the price you pay will always be for the support you get, the cheaper the hosting is the less support you should expect. Don’t think that for $3.95 a month any company will be able to provide you with top level tech support for the price of a Starbucks cup of coffee. A average technical support person should have atleast bachelor degree in Computer Science which pretty much rounds his price at around $25-$50 per hour labor and for $3.95 per month hosting don’t expect full day work. Again based on your own web mastering experience you should evaluate if you want to get better support or cheaper, just don’t expect miracles from less than $10 a month web hosting package. Don’t get me wrong, if you pay for Shared Hosting more than $20 a month for a single website hosting there is something weird in that and either you’re having really large and successful website (I do hope this is your case) or you’re just overpaying for something that you don’t really use. Note that I don’t include the support price in that, just for the server rent costs, as you can have some special support requests which are paid additionally.

I do hope this article explains how the hosting industry works and will help you find a good web hosting company that will make your web experience better. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to comment here!