How to evaluate a WebHost

When you want to setup a website, or an online store, or even your own social network, you will most likely need a webhost. These are some questions I run through when evaluating a webhost.

This is very much a work in progress, and you're looking at version .01 of this. Your feedback is appreciated in the comments and come back soon. The corners will be nicely polished and you'll be confident when you buy your next hosting package. Questions in the meantime? send me a tweet @notagrouch

For Any kind of Hosting

  • On a shared plan, do you get SSH access?
  • On a virtual server plan, do you get root to your own vm?
  • Do you get regular shell user access?
  • SFTP access but no shell access?
  • Can you create additional users to manage your account?
  • What operating system do they use for their hosting services?
  • Do they offer upgrades in case you need to expand quickly? ((Do you need to move your stuff to a new system if you upgrade or can they upgrade you in place))
  • Do they offer 24x7 phone customer support? If not included with my hosting package, can I pay for it?
  • Can you schedule scripts and commands? This is usually called "cron"
  • Can you create "unlimited" databases?
  • Can you host "Unlimited" domains?
  • Can I send e-mail out from my host? ((especially important for CMS and Forums))
  • How many users on my server?
  • Do I have processor & memory guaranteed?
  • What is the upload/download speeds, practically.
  • Do they use cPanel? usermin? custom? no control panel?
  • Do they provide you with installation scripts for the software you want?
  • Can you have long running processes?
  • Do they have a trial period? ((Some hosts give you 30, 90 days to evaluate and give your money back if you change your mind))

For High Availability Hosting (need to list more)

  • Where is my data?
  • Is it distributed in multiple geographical locations? in the same data center?
  • What type of internet connection does your datacenter have?
  • Review SLAs & service features.
  • How long before my site is up in case of hardware failure?
  • What monitoring system watches over your hosts?
  • What is your downtime to alert policy? ((This is how long before you alert me that my server/site is down))
  • How long before I'm back up after a hardware/datacenter/process failure? ((This should be like 4, 8, 24 hours. How long do they have after your stuff goes down to bring it back online))

For Special Application hosting (more needed)

  • What version of the software do you run? (PHP, Ruby, Java, Python)
  • Can I run multiple versions of it in parallel?
  • Can I run my own version?
  • Do you have SVN?
  • Can I setup my own?

A good place to check on the quality of a webhost is to visit their support forums. If the forums don't exist, for once, run away. Then, sign up to the forums, most of the time you can sign up before you are a customer. If the forums allow you to browse without signing up, then just browse around. Look for the recent dates, make sure the forum shows recent activty. Check the questions and responses, are people helpful? Are they understanding of your needs? That's a good way to see if the service will be good.

6 Comments

  1. What about CPU usage and CPU throttling issues? This is the way “unlimited storage/transfer” becomes meaningless. I know from experience that Bluehost will use CPU Usage to punish even fairly new blogs with little traffic.

    Also (for those doing mailing lists), what is the limit for emails sent in a day?

  2. What about CPU usage and CPU throttling issues? This is the way “unlimited storage/transfer” becomes meaningless. I know from experience that Bluehost will use CPU Usage to punish even fairly new blogs with little traffic.

    Also (for those doing mailing lists), what is the limit for emails sent in a day?

  3. Yeah, throttling is what makes the unlimited offerings be almost meaningless as you say. The best thing to do is to check with people that are already using the service and see if they’ve had any issues with it. Personally for me and the sites I host, I’ve never ran into these issues, but I know they exist. Some hosts offer guaranteed resources which are also a bit dubious in some cases.
    I think for the purpose of choosing a host, unlimited basically means that you don’t have a hard set restriction like some hosts do. For example, some hosts will only let you put in 1GB of files and *that is* it.

  4. Yeah, throttling is what makes the unlimited offerings be almost meaningless as you say. The best thing to do is to check with people that are already using the service and see if they’ve had any issues with it. Personally for me and the sites I host, I’ve never ran into these issues, but I know they exist. Some hosts offer guaranteed resources which are also a bit dubious in some cases.
    I think for the purpose of choosing a host, unlimited basically means that you don’t have a hard set restriction like some hosts do. For example, some hosts will only let you put in 1GB of files and *that is* it.

  5. As for the mailing lists, I have had too many clients that get graylisted or even blacklisted because of improper use of their mailing services. I think the best approach to doing mailings is to outsource it to something like mailchimp or something similar. It costs a little bit of $ but if you’re mailing a lot, you should be making enough to cover that cost. Also to prevent blacklist or graylist, make sure you’re offering your subscribers a double-opt-in method, I think that’s safer.

  6. As for the mailing lists, I have had too many clients that get graylisted or even blacklisted because of improper use of their mailing services. I think the best approach to doing mailings is to outsource it to something like mailchimp or something similar. It costs a little bit of $ but if you’re mailing a lot, you should be making enough to cover that cost. Also to prevent blacklist or graylist, make sure you’re offering your subscribers a double-opt-in method, I think that’s safer.

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