Category Archives: Hosting

Switching Web Hosts: From 1and1 to HostICan

I recently switched web hosts for this site since I was starting to outgrow my former hosting package. Here is an overview of my experience.

Former Host: 1and1 Business Package

New Host: HostICan Base Host Package

I run several different web sites. This one receives by far the most traffic. I have already been warned once by 1and1 that I was “consuming the resources of the shared server,” and if I overload the server again, I must either purchase a dedicated server or leave.

Hmph. Ordinarily my site traffic levels are fairly mild (roughly 1,000 visitors a day), but last October one of my articles was “dugg,” and apparently 1and1 will kick me if I write another popular article, thereby knocking ALL of my sites offline (since they were all hosted on the same package). You can read more about the dangers of shared web hosting here.

So, what to do? Not quite wanting to shell out the cash for a dedicated or virtual private server, I decided to simply host this site elsewhere, isolated from the others. That way, all of my eggs are no longer in one basket, and if this site goes down again, it goes down alone. 🙂

Finding A Shared Host

What, then, differentiates one shared hosting host from another? Is it gigabytes of storage space and bandwidth? No, most of that is a pipe dream, and due to overselling, no shared host will really let you consistently consume the hundreds of gigabytes offered without finding a way to ban you.

Is it claims of “unlimited” databases, e-mail accounts, and subdomains? No, that’s overselling in action again. Nothing is “unlimited,” except human stupidiy, of course. 🙂

Is it the quality of support offered? Somewhat, though I’ve never called any web host since I try to handle everything through e-mail. Anyway, most web hosts are abysmal when it comes to support. Receiving an e-mail response in 2-3 days is great. Heck, I’m STILL waiting for replies to questions I asked to web hosts of ages past.

Quite simply, the distinguishing factor for me in finding a shared web host is in how they handle resource consumption. Forget the bloated claims of how many terabytes of bandwidth they offer; it’s the CPU that’s important!

When looking for a shared web host, be sure to read the Terms and Conditions (usually a tiny link at the bottom of their main page). Most of them will mumble something about “excessive resource consumption,” but they don’t define what they mean by excessive.

On the other hand, HostICan has a very clear policy on resource consumption.

Yes, HostICan enforces rules where customers are not permitted to be using more than 25% of the entire server resources for more than 90 seconds.

For example, if you are using a script that is poorly written and you are using more than 25% for 90 seconds your account maybe suspended pending an account review.

Clear. Simple. To the point. With that policy, I probably won’t survive a good Digging, but at least I know my limits.

To VPS or not to VPS…

That is the question. Whether tis nobler a choice in web hosting options than “shared” hosting will be determined, though I have high expectations.

If you are confused and are wondering what on earth a VPS is, I call your attention to my article on “Web Hosting Options.” Essentially, most “shared” web hosting offers are completely unrealistic borderline on being outright scams. If you read the TOS (Terms of Service) for almost any “shared” host, you will find clauses limiting your use of the server CPU. So, what good are those terabytes of bandwidth if you willl NEVER be able to use them. I’ve seen TOS contracts which state that your account will be suspended if you consume more than 1% of the overall CPU. Excuse me? I understand that hosts need to protect themselves from CPU overload, but they should be more forthcoming about it. I’d much rather see a hosting plan that features “CPU minutes” rather than oodles of bandwidth. Will it ever happen? Not with shared hosting.

This is why a VPS is attractive to me. So what if a shared plan supposedly offers ten or twenty times more bandwidth? You’ll never be able to use it before they slam you for CPU consumption. Hosers.

I plan to switch fully to a VPS by the end of the year. Yes, it will cost a little more than my current shared plan, but at least I won’t have to worry about actually having to handle more than a few site visitors at a time. I have a few articles in the works that should generate some traffic this holiday season, and the last thing I want is for my host to lock me out of my own site (again).

Web Hosting Options – The Downside of Shared Hosting

Earlier this month, an article I wrote on Ghosting Windows XP for Free found its way to the front page of digg.com nearly a year after I wrote it. The ensuing spike in traffic caused my web host (1and1) to move my site temporarily to a new server. Naturally, I received an e-mail from them stating that my account was “seriously threatening the resources of the shared server” and that I should consider purchasing an expensive dedicated server. Furthermore, they informed me that if I decline the dedicated server offer, the next time a traffic spike occurs I MUST either purchase the dedicated server or find hosting elsewhere. Sheesh.

Now, this is not an attack on 1and1. Until this incident I’ve had nary a problem with them. While I do not like being forced into a decision, I certainly cannot blame them for trying to protect their resources and the other accounts on their server. While I have moved my current domain to another host, I still have other domains hosted with 1and1.

So, what is the big deal here? Supposedly, even my “beginner” package is supposed to handle 250 gigabytes of traffic a month. Surely I was not saturating that much bandwidth, as my site has hardly any media. While the “digg” effect sucked up several gigabytes, 1and1 locked my account long before I reached the allotted 250 gigs.

Herein lies the problem with shared hosting packages from any hosting company, not just 1and1. Their sales pitch sounds stellar. Many hosts easily boast of fifty gigabytes of storage space or more, with bandwidth stretching into the terabytes, all for less than $10 a month. Many offer “unlimited” subdomains and SQL databases, which of course is unfeasible. What they decline to tell you is that the ONLY way you will be able to harness these resources is with static HTML pages and large, static file downloads.

The problem here is that most web sites no longer function in this late-90s manner. Most sites are dynamic, and include processor-intensive scripts and databases. Hosting a Content Management System (CMS), a forum, or a blog in a shared-hosting environment is fine provided that only a few users at a time are accessing the data, but a sudden surge in traffic can cause even a single WordPress installation to consume “excessive” resources in the eyes of a shared host.

Of course, none of this information is new, and I’m certainly not trying to take credit for it. Web hosts know it. Clients with popular sites know it. Casual site owners who are at the wrong end of a good “slashdotting” or “digging” painfully find out about it. If you have a shared hosting plan, you will not find out about it until it is too late. Those oodles of storage space and bandwidth promised by your host are in reality a pipe dream. Chances are that you will overload your allotted CPU time long before you approach the bandwidth limits. Sadly, this simple fact is only exacerbated since many hosts “oversell” their shared plans in the first place.

While every shared host will giddily advertise how much space and bandwidth they offer, not one that I’ve found even mentions how much CPU time one can consume. In my hunt for a new host, I decided to largely ignore the boasts of bandwidth and try to determine just how busy a given server generally is. Since most hosts offer a live “demo” account, I checked the server load in each of these demo accounts. Now, my plan is not flawless because a web host can have many servers, but I hoped this would give me a general idea of average server load. A conservative estimate is that a server should not remain above one full point for each processor/core. Several popular hosts that I checked were around this vicinity, but one not-to-be-named host had a dual-processor server that averaged between 18-20 points at the time I checked. I decided not to go with that one. 🙂

Here are sample stats from two anonymous web hosts:

service_stats2.png

(Host 1)

service_stats1.png

(Host 2)

The moral of this story is that shared hosting is only good because it’s cheap. Sometimes, you get what you pay for. What, then, are better options for people who “outgrow” their shared hosting packages?

Naturally, one can choose to personally host a web site. Do you have Cable/DSL? Do you have an old computer lying around? If so, running a server can be a satisfying experience. It can also be frustrating, especially if your connection is flaky. Also, the “upstream” speeds for most popular broadband plans are significantly lower than the “downstream” speeds. Dealing with a dynamic IP address can be like chasing a rabbit as well, though there is software to overcome this obstacle. Many people successfully run sites from their home computers, but most choose to give that duty to someone else.

With that in mind, one could jump straight to a dedicated server. Most hosts would be gleefully happy for a user to migrate from a shared to a dedicated plan. Of course, this comes at a hefty price, usually exceeding $100 a month. Price aside, all the CPU time belongs to you. If you *really* need it, a dedicated server is great, but it’s overkill for people like myself. Before the “digg” effect I received 50-60 hits per day. Now that the effect is winding down, I’m receiving about 300-500 hits per day. For me, a dedicated server is like dropping an atomic bomb on an anthill.

Another option is for a Virtual Private Server (VPS). Quite simply, this is the process of using virtualization techniques to divide a single server into multiple environments. Using software such as OpenVZ, Virtuozzo, Xen, or VMware, one can run multiple copies of “virtual” operating systems with a pre-defined amount of dedicated hard disk space, RAM, and even processor usage. For instance, a host might offer five gigabytes of space, 128 MB of guaranteed RAM, and your choice of operating system. With VPS hosting comes more power and customization as well. With a VPS plan, one usually gets root access, a dedicated IP address, and the ability to install and customize software. Because of the independent nature of VPS hosting, no one user can monopolize resources. If one user’s site on a VPS is getting blasted by Slashdot, no one else is affected. Each user is guaranteed a slice of the server “pie.”

Naturally, VPS hosting is more expensive than shared hosting, even though the offered space and bandwidth are usually (and falsely) more generous for shared accounts. Honestly, I’m still on a shared plan, simply because I’m still investigating VPS offers. I plan to migrate most/all of my sites to a VPS by the end of the year. While my articles may not get tons of traffic, at least I’ll be more prepared in case of a sudden onslaught.

Before the sudden bombardment of traffic, I knew very little about the various types of web hosting. The needlessly bloated space and bandwidth numbers on my shared package gave me a false sense of confidence. Little did I know that those inflated numbers are hardly achievable if one’s site has any dynamic content. My lesson has been learned, and I hope this article is useful to someone.

If you notice, aside from listing my current host at the beginning, I have not named any other hosting companies. It is not my plan to advertise for any web host, but rather to inform the reader of various types of web hosting out there. Let the buyer decide which is appropriate for his/her needs.

— Brian Bondari
October 2006

Feeling the Digg Effect

To my great surprise yesterday I received an e-mail from my web host (1and1) stating that my account was seriously threatening the server resources. Curiously, I checked my web stats.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I had received over 20,000 hits by the middle of the afternoon, and that there were currently over 200 users on my site. Huh? This was quite a jump from my average of 40-50 hits per day. A quick glance at my referals indicated what I suspected: my site was getting hammered by the “digg” effect.

Specifically, the article I wrote last December on “Imaging Windows XP for free” had been picked up by digg.com, sending an onslaught of traffic to my “Beginner” hosting package. Apparently my site buckled and 1and1 moved me to a temporary server. Their e-mail to me requested that I consider purchasing a dedicated server. I oggled at their suggested prices and quickly declined the offer.

So, I’m back and running on a different server, this time NOT hosted by 1and1. Hopefully it can withstand the strain, since I noticed that I’ve also been picked up by Lifehacker.