This post isn’t so much about bashing a particular web host, but a cautionary tale on the perils of shared hosting in general, and why for all intents and purposes, you’re simply better off going with a VPS. This applies even if you’re just starting out with a brand new site, or have a handful of low traffic sites you’re looking for a new home for. The lure of saving a few bucks a month can be irresistible to many, but be aware of the fine print, which often includes a basket case of frustration, ulcers, and grave damage to your online business. This isn’t hyperbole, but lessons I’m recounting from my own recent experience.
The Problem With Shared Hosting
Shared hosting is great in theory- you have a small site, and you don’t need 2 CPUs and a gazillion RAM to properly serve it. The most cost efficient and sensible way is to share a server with other customers, dramatically lowering your hosting costs while delivering on the promise of putting your business online. In theory that is.
While the concept is great, the problem with shared hosting is the way the whole industry is run these days. To eke out a profit from shared hosting customers, web hosts will often cram hundreds of sites onto one server. Many do so while unscrupulously promising “unlimited bandwidth”. At best it means each account owner’s share of the total server resources is so miniscule you pray your site stays stagnant, or watch it slow to a crawl at the first sign of life. At worst on ill configured servers, it also means you’re at the complete mercy of your neighbors for the number of hours you sleep at night- one bad apple in the basket, and prepare to develop ulcers constantly checking that your site is still up.
Tale from My Own Shared Hosting Experience
My recent experience with InMotionHosting shared hosting exemplifies this problem perfectly. By many measures InMotionHosting is a great host. Their support is top notch, and is in fact one thing I’ll miss from them. Unfortunately no amount of customer service can replace a server that actually, well, serves up sites in a timely manner, and that’s where the realities of shared hosting hit me, and most people.
I recently had 4-5 really small sites (both in terms of size and traffic) come into my care and that needed a new home, and decided to give InMotionHosting a try. I settled on their top shared hosting plan, the Pro Plan, which seem to me to be more than enough to handle five measly sites:
The Pro plan costs $13.99/mon, so this certainly isn’t one of your bargain bin web hosts. And while they unabashedly advertise “unlimited bandwidth”, I actually took that as a positive sign that I could probably host quite a few small sites before running out of resources. It turned out, like many shared hosts, that the virtual ceiling is set so low you might as well host your sites yourself over a 56k modem.
The sites we moved over to InMotionHosting’s Pro Business plan collectively get around 400 visitors a day. A couple of sites are powered by WordPress yes, though I diligently optimized them as much as possible, installing only essential plugins and enabling site wide caching (using WP Super Cache).
Oddly, the first couple of weeks went fairly smoothly, with pages responding in a normal fashion. As the weeks went by, however, the gradual descent began, with pages taking longer and longer to load (sometimes upwards of 7-10 seconds just to respond). And this marks another major issue with shared hosting- just because your site loads fast now doesn’t mean it will always stay that way, due to the shared nature of the set up.
As the days went by, “500 Server Errors” started popping up, which Support explained is shown whenever an account has overrun its allotted share of the server resources. My theory is, as more sites were added to the server our account resides in, our share of the server resources got smaller and smaller, eventually putting our sites into a virtual tiny jail cell. The damage after 1 month of sluggishness? The 5 sites lost around 30% of their traffic, and one client decided to stop hosting with me. And that doesn’t even begin to describe the toll the constant worrying had exacted on me.
For me, this whole ordeal taught me a valuable lesson on trying to save money on hosting. Don’t. You don’t mess around with the very foundation that your online business is built on top of. Even on reputable hosts like InMotionHosting, shared hosting is pretty much ill suited for any site that gets any kind of real traffic (I’d put the number at 100/day), or you anticipate will pick up traffic. I’m not saying all shared hosts are severely handicapped to this degree, but it seems that’s the general direction of all shared hosting in general- stuff more and more sites onto one server to maximize profit in the face of stiff competition that forces web hosts to slash prices. The end result is we all lose, our sites and potentially our entire business especially.
A Better Way- VPS (Virtual Private Servers)
Yesterday marks the first day I’ve moved all 4 of the remaining sites into a VPS (with BigScoots to be exact), and I can finally exhale a huge sigh of relief. This snap shot from the new server should tell you exactly why:
As you can see, the server load is at 0 (and this screen shot was taken at peak time during the day). And I know these numbers will stay this way unless there’s a drastic jump in my sites’ traffic.
Update: Since moving my sites over to BigScoots VPS on July 18th, traffic has rebounded by over 150%, close to the original levels before the Shared Hosting debacle:
Why a VPS is Superior to Regular Shared Hosting
The beauty of a VPS emanates from the “private server” part- you get your own private share of resources on a server that no one can take away from you. Our VPS at Big Scoots allocates 4 dedicated CPUs and 2560 MB of RAM for our sites, and our sites only. I don’t care if “Bob” from two doors down is mailing out to 400k of his subscribers from his account, or if “Sue’s” blog just got featured on the frontpage of Reddit. Server resources on a VPS are completely compartmentalized. Your share of the resources will always remain constant, and that leads to the most important thing in web hosting- stability.
My Picks for the Top 3 VPS Hosts
Before I went with BigScoots VPS, I did a heck lot of research first. I wasn’t going to be caught with my pants down again. After spending many hours on WHT and a few other hosting forums, reading countless member reviews and feedback, I came up with a shortlist of the top 3 most beloved VPS hosts across those forums. These VPS Hosts have all been vetted extensively through social proof. I further verified their awesomeness myself, hitting each company with a boat load of questions, some sales and some technical in nature, to get a sense of their response time, technical level, and altitude. All 3 passed with flying colors.
There are no sure things in life, but I think it’s hard to imagine going wrong with any of the below VPS hosts at the moment:
This is the host I eventually settled on, though it could very well have been the other two. BigScoot’s prices are higher by comparision, though Scott (from Sales) offered me extra RAM at no extra cost (talk to Sales) to match what the other hosts on this list were offering at that price point.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the above hosts. Support wise all 3 hosts offer 24/7 always on support.
Here’s the bottom line- Web hosting is at the very foundation of any site, and a site will never be successful with shoddy hosting. A VPS is the new shared hosting these days, delivering on the original promise of stable, fast, and more secure hosting for small to medium sites.