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I'm always on the lookout for cheap hosting and great hosting companies, and being that I have done this for many years, on many platforms, and with many hosts, my only requirement is that the host uses a UNIX/BSD/LINUX operating system. I'm just not one of those people who likes to do things the hard way, constantly, if its even possible on a non-nix, or one of those people who enjoys getting hacked or my sites defaced by a cracker. So *nix is definitely a requirement. This is just a current look at the basic idea I use when looking for a web host. If you were smart you would do a whole lot more than this.


Research the People

Ok, in a web hosting company there are 5 distinct groups of people, at least generally, that you will want to get in contact with or at least do some background research on (like the owners/founders). Depending on which of these groups you talk to will determine the amount and quality of information you get, the difference is night and day. Because of my past experience with really bad hosts (DreamHost), and really great hosts (WiredTree), I am very cautious and purposeful in making this decision, so I go to great lengths to contact at least one person from each of these groups. Most good advice says to also get in touch with customers.. I don't usually need/want to do that though because most customers don't know jack. But of course I know a few of the customers because I research the hosts network block and test the speed and servers that run on their IP block.

Who / Why

Being a curious and inquisitive person by nature, I always do background research on who started the company, how they started it, and what skills they have. Knowing who the owners are and if they are real unix/network experts or just snake oil salesmen really makes a difference in this world of smoke and mirrors.

Here's my recommendation of which group to contact, in order of best to worst:

  1. Owners/Founders - The Founders have been involved since the start of the company. Always contact.
  2. System Admins - Programmers and System Operators who keep things running, fix problems tech support cant. Always contact.
  3. Sales/Marketing - Both types have different motivations for what they say, and how they say it. Always contact both.
  4. Tech Support - They make the web go round, will always know a lot about problems and issues their customers frequently experience. Always contact.
  5. Management - These people are in charge of the day-to-day operations, overseers. Contact optional.

Questions to Ask

The following is a transcript of a chat I had with a company called tektonic, and at that time I was looking for a cheap linux host to use for some redundancy/failover operations. I generally contact a new hosting company like this every few months.. I like to have options available in case of some kind of failure or network attack, so it's always a good idea to have a few ace linux servers in your back pocket.

If you've read any other articles on AskApache, you can see a certain obsession towards optimization, speed, and security -- so that is the purpose of the following questions.

General Info
Chat start time Apr 7, 2010 7:18:07 AM EST
Chat end time Apr 7, 2010 8:38:52 AM EST
Duration (actual chatting time) 01:20:44
Operator Vish

Chat Transcript

info: Please wait for a site operator to respond. You are 1 out of 1 in the queue. The average wait time is 0 minutes and 30 seconds.

info: You are now chatting with 'Vish'

Vish: Hello

AskApache: Hi vish, i was looking to purchase a planwith you guys but had some questions.. is this the right place to ask?

Vish: yeah sure

Vish: Let me know how may I assist you with ?

AskApache: what is your cheapest plan that includes ssh?

Vish: http://tektonic.net/vps.php

Vish: Linux-360

AskApache: im there..

Vish: It is cheapest plan you can have

AskApache: what does full root access mean for you guys?

AskApache: do you have swap? jailshell?

Vish: you have full access of you server .

AskApache: including network interface device access? ie.. is it possible to setup virtual nics?

Vish: Sorry we do not provide it.

Vish: hold on

Vish: Let me check

AskApache: how can i find out more about the limits of the machine for the Linux-360?

AskApache: like how many processes, fd descriptors..

Vish: You can mail us at sales department.

Vish: They will get back to you with in few hrs with your answers

Vish: You can just drop mail at sales@tektonic.net

AskApache: no thanks.

AskApache: jw if you had that info offhand.

AskApache: do you know if cpanel is optinoal?

AskApache: could it be uninstalled?

Vish: yeah

Vish: you can install or uninstall as you wish

AskApache: Thanks vish you are being very helpful... a few more..

Vish: sure

AskApache: what operating system?

Vish: Hold on ..

Vish: allow me a moment.

AskApache: please take your time

Vish: We do provide Ubantu , Centos and Debian

Vish: You can reinstall your server any time with one click

AskApache: what devices are supported in /dev ?

AskApache: do you support loop devices, ramdisk/tmpfs/swap?

Vish: One moment please..

AskApache: no rush at all, thanks

Vish: We do provide tmpfs but ramdisk and swap is not available .

Vish: All basic device are available with us optional devices like TUN is also enabled for you automatically.

AskApache: sweet

AskApache: is ipv6 supported?

Vish: It is there but we do support currently .

Vish: We are thinking to provide it in near future for our clients ;)

AskApache: good idea, people will start using it in 5years or so.. maybe

AskApache: how is the internal network segmented? vlans?

AskApache: for security..

Vish: Yeah, We do have Vlans

AskApache: security is very crucial.

Vish: You can check more info in network here network

AskApache: ok thanks brb

AskApache: do you allow kernel modules? or reloading the kernel like kexec?

Vish: a moment please.

Vish: What type kernel module you are looking for exactly ?

Vish: kexex is for fast reboot .

Vish: Is there any specific requirement ?

Vish: As we do not allow kernel modules on VPS they are not supported by virtuzzo.

AskApache: ok.. so far so good. let me think a minute.

AskApache: what kind of failovers do you have?

AskApache: like if a machine fails to reboot or goes offline

Vish: we do not provide failover services for vpses at this time. You will have power panel in hand using it you can reboot or reinstall your machine in one click. You can reach us 24*7 for live support.

AskApache: one problem that I've seen on other vps's is sometimes a vps upon reboot fails to recognize the network interface/fails to connect to the web.. When that happens we are unable to ssh into the box to fix the problem and rely on support.. is this something that would be easy/normal for your support (to have to manually login to the vps locally)

Vish: There are the possiblities for the issue so we need to check in server but you can reach us anytime for live chat and ticket system.

Vish: as you are on live chat right now ;)

AskApache: so your support does have access to the vps locally?

AskApache: in case the network is down due to vps errors

Vish: Yes, We have the access

AskApache: do you run any packet filtering on the network or is this controlled solely with the vps?

AskApache: like iptables stuff.. switch/router filtering beyond defaults..

Vish: No , we dont have packet filtering the port we block is IRC only.

AskApache: great

Vish: I'm sorry for the delay. I'll be right with you.

Vish: Is there anything else I may assist you with ?

AskApache: no problem, you've answered all my questions so far.. trying to think of anything else I'd like to know before buying..

Vish: Sure

Vish: Is there anything else I can help you with ?

AskApache: Does the Linux-360 support filesystems? what storage devices are included (usually just 1 ext2/3/4 fs for vps).. Is it possible to repartition the drive?

AskApache: Oh and the other kernel module I would love to have on a vps is fuse so that I can mount remote filesystems (such as sshfs or nbd)

Vish: We do not provide kernel modules on VPS.

AskApache: do you allow kernel compilation? (that way i can build the module statically into the kernel)

Vish: A moment please.

Vish: We do not allow kernel compilation on VPS.

AskApache: ok, thats smart security

AskApache: what about the linux-360 partitioning question?

Vish: Thanks. :)

Vish: it is tmpfs on VPS

Vish: and we dot allow repartition.

AskApache: which is ultimately mounted on.. filesystems? like could I modify an ext3 / to ext4 or reiserfs?

AskApache: expected.. ok

Vish: No, it is vzfs

AskApache: even better.

AskApache: thats what i mostly use.

Vish: great

AskApache: What vps os install images do you use? like where do you get the CentOS/Ubuntu/Debian vps images? And are they modified/customized by you guys in any way?

AskApache: Or just all defaults?

Vish: they include basic services such as httpd, sendmail

AskApache: sorry for all the q's ... I wasn't thinking that I'd actually find a good host to purchase, but so far tek is looking really good.. might go ahead within the hour.

Vish: otherwise default

Vish: We get it from parallels

Vish: Okay great.

Vish: Is there anything else I can help you with ?

AskApache: like: http://download.openvz.org/template/precreated/

AskApache: do you use templates like that..

Vish: We get it from parallels

AskApache: how many employees do you have? how many customers?

Vish: Sorry, We do not disclose this information

AskApache: thats fine..

Vish: For more you can contact sales department.

Vish: You are on technical department live chat.

AskApache: can you give me more info on what type of parallels products you utilize?

AskApache: I wouldn't last long on any other chat.. ;)

AskApache: I'm curious so if it's a template/container I haven't used before I can test it out on my own machine.

Vish: We provide power panel from parallels

AskApache: i mean like the templates/container versions you use.. I want to check that you use updated/new versions and are valid licensed.

Vish: you mean OS version ?

AskApache: basically, do you know if you use the latest available os images from parallels..

AskApache: and I will let you go with that..

info: Your chat transcript will be sent to your email at the end of your chat.

Vish: Yes , We do provide latest OS version as per requirement.

AskApache: thank you vish, you've been most helpful. I am going to do a little more digging online about you guys and will probably be back with a couple questions.. cya around, have an awesome day

Hosts used by AskApache.com

WiredTree is the main hosting company that I mainly use for this site and my business. It took me 10+ years of trial and error before I found them, you can believe I will be posting alot more about them on this site, stay tuned. I also use HostGator, and several other dependable nix hosts that are dirt cheap.

Finding A Host

I used to spend days and weeks googling for a host that wouldn't end up burning me later, oh that really sucked. Now I use a site developed by a colleague of mine, Web Hosting Search as it lets me fairly quickly find a linux host with my bare requirements. From THERE is when I start my own research. This includes email and followups on the phone, visiting wiki's, googling owners, sneaking around in customer areas, etc..

Who do you Use?

I'd love to hear about anyone's experiences with specific hosts, recommendations especially!

Tags

January 3rd, 2013

Comments Welcome

  • http://www.seriocomic.com/ seriocomic

    I too have had many years experience with bad hosts. When I started as a hosting reseller I was constantly hopping from one to another and scouring the WHT forums for news and updates in that very unstable market.

    Only WiredTree has really offered me quality and stability - once I learned the hard lesson that you get what you pay for and that sharing a server with so many others was never going to work. I know nothing compared to you about 'kernals', 'tmpfs', etc etc - but I do know fast response times from both the server and support, so I'm glad to see someone more knowledgeable than me using the same hosting provider.

  • acathur

    very useful guide, thank you.

  • http://hakre.wordpress.com/ hakre

    What I really like is a feature on manged hosts to say whether you want PHP as FCGI or as an Apache Module. Then that PHP comes with some useful libraries, for example ZIP Archive from PECL .

    For Apache there is a lot you can miss, from X-Sendfile support down to your own Auth providers. So basically it should be able to compile own modules or tech support offers support for such in their managed hosting. No idea if Hostgator is taking care of that.

  • http://www.askapache.com/ AskApache

    @hakre

    Hey thanks for stopping by hakre! Hostgator is one of the more restrictive server environments I use, its your vanilla cpanel setup. They are very cheap, I'm currently paying around $300/year for them. I found out that you can contact Hostgator support to ask for extras and so far they have hooked me up all but 1 request. For example, you could try and get them to enable jailed ssh, that is really the secret to taking advantage of Hostgators blazing fast network speeds and crazy disk space. I also use them for cdn through subdomains and round-robin dns. Very useful machine for me although its about as vanilla cpanel as it gets, which I hate hate hate. And hosting companies freaking love cpanel installs, ugh so much laziness in the web host technical support arena.

    Hostgator reminds me of Powweb's hosting, in that if you want to take advantage of all the goodies, you gotta do it yourself. I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem to custom compile your own php-fcgi binary through the jailed shell account, though it would take alot of effort to create the build environment essentially from scratch. Luckily I have a lot of experience with compiling software, especially php. I usually will just figure out the environment build capabilities, modify my php 5 install shell script, and run it through screen or as an at/cron job to prevent compilation from failing due to the infamous process-killers that most shared-hosting uses. It's one of my favorite past-times to bypass them, fifos/cron/at usually can.

    Also, the jailed shell in hostgator is way slow, they have tweaked ulimit settings more than I'm used to seeing (, but it looks like they do so from startup scripts, allowing the possibility to bypass ulimits using ssh to start an alternate shell.. ahh so much on my todo list, so little time.

    I am kind of becoming obsessed with ulimit and machine limits right now, it's very enlightening to compare the ulimits on different hosts.... here's a func from my bash_profile, it's interesting to run this from different user/groups, cron, startup scripts, etc and determine the settings.... I've found that almost all shared-hosting providers use ulimit religiously to keep users in line. If you are smart you can figure out how to get passed it 75% of the time, which is especially useful to do when syncing files or transferring stuff... I personally use pam to control limits on my machines..

    aa_ulimit () { echo "ulimit `ulimit -a|sed -e 's/^.*([a-z]))(.*)$/-12/'|tr "n" ' '`";}

    Good tip for Sendfile, forgot that one..

    @seriocomic

    WiredTree really is a fantastic company simply because of the equipment, and I've found the support to be unlike any other I've encountered before, extremely hands-on. But due to my uninstallation of cpanel (my machine is running measureably faster), they kicked me off managed service.. a couple weeks after uninstalling I was having a DNS issue (turned out to be registrar issue) that I couldn't fix and didn't want to get into... So I asked WT support to look at it and see if they could tell what was wrong. 4hours later I was told that because cpanel was uninstalled, my support was void. In my humble opinion, thats one of the worst possible things a host could say, if it was anyone but WT I'd leave to find a host with tech support capable of handling "linux"..

    BTW, I have gotten into some complicated issues with wiredtree support (translation: problems they haven't seen before), and the only one who has never let me down is a dude named Hristos, even after I moved to unmanaged service he offered to help. I would've moved to another host probably without his support and skill..

    You never know when disaster will strike, so I choose to always have several hosts, just in case.

  • tawfekov

    Really thank you for sharing this smart questions
    but could you please provide us with same kind of q's for shared hosting
    it would be very helpful since shared hosting is still popular

    Thanks
    regards

  • http://alinux.web.id dhanuxe

    you was talking about recompile kernel on vps ... are u sure ?? :lol: ...

  • http://www.itcomputerservers.com Servers

    interesting posting, covers some good points on servers. Thanks for your sharing.

    ITCS -

  • http://socialvibe.ws Joseph

    I'm a newbie, but looking to learn. I'm helping friend who is trying to create a social network site similar to Facebook. I've picked a basic structure WP/BP using the BP Mag Classic Theme, and trying to modify it to his liking. Not having the knowledge needed to make a good selection, Arvixe seemed a good choice at the time. I have the basic personal plan for starters and I'd like to get your opinion. Thank you for the help.

    Joseph

  • Sol

    Dude - you seriously know your stuff !

    Thanks for sharing - interesting reading!

    Did you end up buying with them?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=502935730 Shaunak Sayta

    I am with hostingxtreme.com and I would obviously recommend you their services. But the most important thing is sustainability. You dont want to be with a fly by night web hosting company that offers you $0.050 hosting and takes your money for 5 years and then disappears or gives you trouble with everything. The price should be proportionate and the support should be good. We would be more than happy to give you a free account so you can review our services.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=502935730 Shaunak Sayta

    I am with hostingxtreme.com and I would obviously recommend you their services. But the most important thing is sustainability. You dont want to be with a fly by night web hosting company that offers you $0.050 hosting and takes your money for 5 years and then disappears or gives you trouble with everything. The price should be proportionate and the support should be good. We would be more than happy to give you a free account so you can review our services.

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