Reliable economical webhosting for small websites is hard to find.
Most small websites with low traffic don’t need a dedicated server and cannot justify its expense either. So, it is common practice to host small sites along with other small sites in one server. This practice is called “shared hosting”. In this way, cost is shared and a website can be hosted for only a few dollars or euros per month. However, along with cost, resources, most importantly RAM and CPU, are also shared.
Then, the equation a responsible host must solve is: How many websites to put on one server to keep cost as low as possible while maintaining good quality of service?
When the websites are too many, the host “oversells”. What constitutes overselling is difficult to define, since it involves many factors and varies from case to case, but overselling is not rare, and you will know it if it happens to you. The symptoms are two: poor uptime and low speed. The problem is, you cannot know in advance.
A good indication that a company may be overselling is “overpromising” — for example, offering plans with “unlimited” bandwidth and “unlimited” storage for 5 or 6 dollars per month. In fact, unless you have previous experience with a company, or people that you trust have had previous experience, overpromising may be the only indication to go by.
Overpromising is also a problem on its own. Unless you are naïve, you know that it is impossible to get 1TB of monthly transfer for $4.95, or “unlimited” storage and “unlimited” bandwidth for any price whatsoever. But what you cannot know is what you do get, which is often less than what you need, even if your needs are modest.
My experience with companies that promise ridiculous numbers has been unpleasant. I avoid them and, if you value your time and your peace of mind, you should too: When you see unrealistic promises, steer away!
In this review I talk about two hosting providers, A Small Orange and Utopian.net, that are different in that: They don’t try to lure you with impossible numbers.
op111.net, this site, is hosted with Utopian.net. One reason I selected Utopian.net is that they don’t make unrealistic promises: their basic plan gives 8GB storage and 8GB monthly bandwidth for $10/month or $110/year.
Compared to the offerings of some big names, this may seem too little for too much. It’s anything but that, for two reasons:
First, the numbers are real!
Second, the quality of service and the set of features are rare in budget hosting:
- Good speed
- Modern setup
- Alternative PHP Cache (APC)
- Knowledgeable administration
- People familiar with top web-publishing systems like Habari and WordPress
- Friendly, efficient support
... to name a few.
In fact, as far as I know, Utopian.net is unique in offering full gzip compression in a shared-hosting plan. This and APC are two features I especially appreciate in their setup.
You don’t know what APC and gzip compression are? Here is a quick explanation:
APC (Alternative PHP Cache) is an accelerator that makes the generation of PHP pages up to 3 times faster and, in doing so, benefits both ends of the transaction: By caching PHP scripts in their compiled state, it reduces server load, while, at the other end, pages are served faster, which makes for a better user experience.
gzip compression means that the web server compresses a page before sending it to the browser. The browser then decompresses the compressed elements and shows the page to the user. The result is faster transfer and, again, a better user experience. However, gzip compression costs in RAM and in CPU time, and, for this reason, it is rare in shared-hosting environments.
The benefits of gzipping are most impressive in pages with few images or media files. (Most images and media files are already compressed with specialized algorithms and cannot be compressed more without loss of quality.) Here are the numbers for two op111.net pages, the homepage and one long illustrated article, as reported by the Firefox extension Web Developer:
Notice the difference for the homepage of op111.net: The document is 92kB but the browser has to get only 21kB — almost one fifth of the original size!
To return to the subject of my review, all in all I’m very happy with Utopian.net and I recommend them to anyone looking for trouble-free and responsible shared hosting.
A Small Orange
I recently looked for a very small auxiliary plan to host a testing site. And I found one that I fell in love with, “Tiny Orange”, by A Small Orange, a provider with two qualities I appreciate in Utopian.net:
- Honest offerings
“Tiny Orange” offers 75MB storage and 3GB monthly transfer for $25/year, or $20/year if you use a coupon!
If you keep reading, you can get it for even less, or get a special 25% discount on any A Small Orange plan! (The special coupon expired!)
Tiny Orange is, of course, tiny! It’s not for everyone, but, depending on your requirements, it may be enough for you. To illustrate what 3GB/month is good for, the BBC News low-graphics homepage is about 24kB, while the eBay homepage is about 280kB. With the Tiny Orange you can serve 375 eBay homepages per day or 4400 BBC News homepages per day. — Not bad at all for less than 2 US dollars per month!
Then, what makes this super economical plan even better is that it has everything the larger ASO plans have, even SSH access. In other words, it is a full-featured plan, tiny only in storage and transfer.
In general, ASO plans feature everything you need to run a modern website on a modern platform and don’t impose artificial limitations. For example, you can use as many databases or subdomains as you wish, as long as you don’t exceed the storage space and monthly transfer of your plan. And the amount of space and transfer are realistic, which means that A Small Orange take their clients seriously. In return, I can take them seriously too.
The only things I’ve missed in my ASO plan are gzip compression and PHP cache, but this is because I’ve been spoiled by Utopian.net. As I said, I know of no other shared-hosting provider that offers these two features.
IMPRESSIONS AND NOTES
My Tiny Orange plan is very young and I used it mainly for testing, so I cannot write a proper review of ASO. But up to now I’m happy with it. It’s been perfect for what I bought it for. What follows is some impressions and notes.
Activation. ASO activate new accounts manually, to prevent abuse. So, there is delay between payment and activation. My account was activated 29 minutes after payment, which is when I received the welcome e-mail:
Features and compatibility. I installed 3 web-publishing systems that use PHP and MySQL—Drupal, Habari and WordPress—and everything is fine up to now. I also used cPanel a few times, which is the latest version, and it works well too. FTP connectivity is good and fast.
Technical support. I knew that ASO is reputed for its good technical support, and my short experience confirms this reputation. I contacted support twice via the help desk, once because of my stupidity and once because Habari needed a PHP extension that, as it turned out, had been temporarily disabled. Both issues were resolved within minutes.
ASO support is available via e-mail (official), the help desk (official), at the ASO forum (unofficial) and at the ASO wiki (unofficial).
Speed. Speed in page generation is good and I never noticed high server load. Transfer speed is good too, at least from my basic aDSL connection. I uploaded a 24MB file, so that you can check for yourself from your own connection and location:
http://op109.net/c/ruby-1.8.6-26.exe 20091003: I deleted the file to free some space in my Tiny account.
Uptime. On the 1st of March I started monitoring 3 websites on 3 different ASO servers at intervals of 1 minute. One has 100% uptime up to now. The second was down twice, for 40 minutes and for 5 minutes. The third was down once for 18 minutes. To translate these numbers to uptime percentages:
- 45 minutes downtime in 10 days is 99.70% uptime
- 18 minutes downtime in 10 days is 99.87% uptime
I will update these numbers on the 1st of April.
A Small Orange guarantee 99.5% uptime, and they also have a page that displays the current status of all servers:
NOTE. The behaviour of 3 servers over a period of 10 or 30 or 60 days cannot tell much about a company with dozens of servers. Certainly, it cannot tell with any confidence that the servers are reliable. But it could be a sign that they are not reliable.
25% special discount for op111.net readers
If you want to try ASO, the kind people at A Small Orange offered a special 25% discount for op111.net readers on all ASO plans. It is for new clients only and valid for 14 days — until 25 March 2009. The special discount that ASO kindly offered expired, but you can use one of the two coupon codes below:
- op111.net-$5 ‹ Use this to get 5 US dollars off the standard price!
- op111.net-15% ‹ Use this to get 15 percent off the standard price!
- refer.asmallorange.com/21259 ‹ Click to get an ASO plan!
DISCLOSURE. When you use an op111.net code, my ASO account is credited with one month’s worth of the plan you buy. So, if you buy a plan that is $5/month, my account is credited with 5 dollars. (I think you can guess by now that my main motivation for publishing the coupons is not the credit — I just like the service!)
The following table shows the 5 shared-hosting plans by ASO, the standard prices, and the prices you get with the 15% discount. Note that all plans except Tiny offer 14 months when you buy 1 year. Prices are in US dollars.
Space Trnsfr Std (mo) −15% (mo) --------------------------------------------------------------- Tiny 75MB 3GB 25 (2.08) 21 (1.77) Small 400MB 10GB 60 (4.29) 51 (3.64) Medium 1000MB 25GB 120 (8.57) 102 (7.29) Large 2500MB 60GB 240 (17.14) 204 (14.57) Super 4500MB 100GB 360 (25.71) 306 (21.86)
TIP 1. For the Tiny Orange the $5 coupon gives a better discount than the 15% coupon.
TIP 2. If you want to try ASO but don’t have a domain name, Go Daddy offers .info domains (http://example.info/) for $1.99.
Thanks for reading!
How to Choose a Good Web Host by Owen Winkler at Asymptomatic.
- Added 2 new coupon codes for ASO: op111.net-$5 and op111.net-15%. (The 25% coupon expired.) Several other edits and corrections
- Added quick explanations of APC and gzip compression.