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:
- Owners/Founders - The Founders have been involved since the start of the company. Always contact.
- System Admins - Programmers and System Operators who keep things running, fix problems tech support cant. Always contact.
- Sales/Marketing - Both types have different motivations for what they say, and how they say it. Always contact both.
- Tech Support - They make the web go round, will always know a lot about problems and issues their customers frequently experience. Always contact.
- 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.
|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|
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'
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?
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 email@example.com
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: you can install or uninstall as you wish
AskApache: Thanks vish you are being very helpful... a few more..
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: 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.
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: 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.
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!