What kind of sites use unlimited hosting?

As promised in my last blog post, I said we would get into the types of web sites that generally make up the majority of which that are hosted on a server that offers unlimited web hosting packages.

Why is this important? Performance.

At GlowHost we are unique in the fact that we offer both traditional (disk space and bandwidth limited) shared hosting packages alongside our unlimited hosting packages. This is often a source of great confusion for many new web hosting customers, so lets look at how the type of server that you choose can directly impact the performance of your web site.

First, lets put you in the shoes of a web hosting company CEO. At the very simplest level, you know that for every server you have, you need to make a certain profit. So you think to yourself, “How can I offer plans to compete with other hosts that are offering unlimited space, unlimited bandwidth, and are charging a measly $4.00 per month? How can that be profitable? What should I do?”

OK, now snap back to reality, lucky for you, you do not need to think about such a difficult question, you probably are not a web hosting CEO or decision-maker for a hosting company. But, if you were, here would be your options:

A) Pack as many sites as possible onto a server to reach your profit targets.
B) Put the same number of sites on a server, and enjoy less profit per server.
C) Don’t offer unlimited hosting, and watch as the industry pounds you into oblivion as your long-time customers migrate to other hosting companies seeking a “better” deal.

At GlowHost, we chose option B. We would have loved to take option A, but with unlimited accounts, as it turns out, sometimes a server must have even less accounts on it than a traditional server to simply keep it stable. This means an even lower profit margin for the hosting company. But why should you care about your host’s profit? How does it affect you as a site owner?

Don’t loose too much sleep over your web host’s profit margins. Well, let me take that back, you should care a little bit. You want your host to be making money so that they of course remain in business…you don’t wake up one morning to find they have vanished without a trace. Believe it or not, this happens all the time, especially when dealing with hosts that offer crazy things like unlimited hosting for $1.50/mo. You also want your host to be making money so that they can invest in their systems and support services, after all, smart people to answer technical questions 24/7/365 and systems to manage thousands and thousands of customer accounts, web sites, and things like that, all cost boatloads of cash. Aside from sub-par support and slow servers that you will find at most budget web hosting companies, you also inherit the risk of spending your money on a fly-by-night hosting operation.

How cheap hosting affects your web site’s performance.The 4 Neighbors

Lets consider the typical demographic of the unlimited hosting consumer. There are many facets to this market segment, and I will probably offend a few people by stereotyping, but I don’t really care about your feelings. Instead, I would prefer that you were an informed consumer. Here are the four most common types of customer who choose unlimited hosting, I will refer to them as “The 4 Neighbors.”

– The 4 Neighbors –

1) Hobbyists – People who just want a site to play around with.
2) Hoarders – People who want to store huge amounts of data wherever they can get it.
3) Newbies – People who want to save a buck, and have not done their homework.
4) Fraudsters – People who want to do bad things like send Spam, and not pay a lot of money to do so.

Most of these people are not evil, the obvious exception being #4. At some point in time, we all were newbies, most of us have hobbies, and many of us collect things. But bring all of these types to a “hosting party,” and performance can suffer.

They sign up for a service, get bored of it, and forget about it. That’s bad for you because when someone installs an app on their web site like WordPress, that app (or script)  essentially becomes an Operating System for the web site. Now, on your PC at home or the office, I am sure that you are used to getting the latest updates from your Operating System vendor. If you don’t get the updates, what happens? Eventually your PC gets a virus, spyware, Trojan horse, adware, malware and all sorts of other fun things. Remember “Pop-up Hell” from the early days of the Internet? The apps on your web site are no different in their needs to be constantly updated. If a user doesn’t keep the scripts on their web site updated, it most likely will end up hacked at some point in time. When an app gets hacked on a shared server, it can affect performance for everyone who shares the server. Typically what we see is an app that gets hacked and then it is used to send spam, or it is used to attack other sites on the Internet, or it is used to spread viruses on the PCs of visitors to that web site. I could write an article itself on how hacked apps on a shared server can affect your perfectly legitimate web site, but that might be for a future post. For now, you can take my word for it.

Horders like to do things like upload their entire movie or MP3 collection to the server (even though that is against the rules, and we eventually catch them). Imagine this user starts sharing the links to his music collection. All of a sudden there is a download frenzy which can slow down your site because all the bandwidth is being consumed trying to deliver the MP3s to lots of people at the same time, it can also eat up the available connections to a server. Aside from that, this type of activity can cause general slowness with certain functions that a server typically performs.

The most obvious example of that, would be the backup system. If your server supports backups, then clearly its going to take forever for them to complete if the server is full of a bunch of hoarders. If the server had a group of web sites that contain typical web site data, which is normally a very small amount of data, backups would be complete very quickly. Backups are generally set to start at an hour “off-peak,” so lets say, 2 AM. On a server which has only legitimate web sites and small amounts of data, the backup process could be completed in as little as an hour or less. On a server that is full of hoarders, backups might run on until the next day. So why do you care if backups are running in the middle of the day? Because it slows down the server the same way a backup system on your home PC would. Things slow down, freeze up, disconnect, crash and do all sorts of fun things like that if too many things are competing for the same CPU cycles. Backups take a lot of CPU and you do not want them running in the day time because you want that CPU to be available to your website visitors. Unlimited servers typically only backup one time per week because of this, (or not at all with some hosting companies) and usually on a Sunday night since this is usually the slowest night for most servers. But, if those backups are still running in the middle of the afternoon on Monday (which is the busiest day) that is clearly not a good thing.

Newbies like to do things like play with new apps, test out email features, test out features they do not know how they work, and generally experiment. That is totally fine and expected. The problem with some newbies is that they also suffer from chronic hoarder or hobbyist syndrome. They might upload their entire music collection, (which affects your backup completion times) and then at the same time, they get bored of their site, which leaves you open to performance issues if their site gets hacked. Now you have the double-whammy from just one user who happens to share the server with you. Newbies can also do things like go purchase a list of 100k email addresses for $29.95 then decide that at any moment, it would be a great time to go ahead and try to send emails to these addresses to announce their shiny brand new web site. In other words, newbies might be tempted to Spam. That can affect performance, and worse, it can get your mail server’s IP on a blacklist, even though you were not the one sending email. What that means is certain ISPs might refuse to deliver YOUR email even though it was someone else on the same server who was sending the Spam. Seems unfair doesn’t it?

Fraudsters like to spend little money or no money (most prefer to use stolen credit cards) to gain access to a server. If you want to know an interesting fact, over 90% of the orders we receive are from fraudsters using stolen credit cards. Bad thief! Bad! The good news is that those people very rarely gain access to our servers because we call every new customer to check if the order is legitimate. The ones that can escape detection are the ones that actually spend their own money to buy an account. They don’t want to pay a lot, but they want to send a lot of Spam, or host a site that sells illegal software, or any other number of bad things. Again, since they could potentially share your server (until we catch them and give them the boot) your performance can suffer.

Still With Me?
If you are still with me and have made it all the way down here, it should be noted that at GlowHost we have numerous protections in place to combat these and many other types of scenarios. But, the preventative measures themselves can cause additional load (stress on a server’s CPU), and like anti-virus or any other software for that matter, the system is not 100% effective in catching everything or being 100% fool-proof. That is why we have systems administrators on staff 24/7/365 to babysit the servers for you, in case our automated systems do not catch something, or something new is invented which has not been seen before starts to affect server performance.

At the end of the day, if your web site’s performance and uptime are more critical to you than the few dollars per month you can save on low-end or unlimited hosting, consider spending a little bit extra and pay for a better hosting solution.

Lets start at the top of the list of what is going to be the best hosting, and work our way down:

Dedicated Servers
For you established business owners out there, keep in mind that your web site hosting fees are going to be  the absolute cheapest form of advertising and marketing that you can find. A simple advertisement in the Yellow Pages can cost upwards of $1200 or more per month, and that is just for a local listing, not national, and certainly not international. If you can budget $200-$300 for a managed hosting solution, our dedicated servers are a sure bet for maximum uptime, speed and performance.  For a fraction of the cost of a Yellow Pages ad, you get worldwide exposure and a server that’s going to be fast, stable and reliable for many years to come. With a dedicated server, you do not share the server with anyone; this entirely eliminates your exposure to The 4 Neighbors and performance issues that I have outlined in this post.

By the way, I am not pitching dedicated servers because they are the most expensive item we offer, the reality is that our profit margins on shared hosting are at least 10 times higher than what we earn on a dedicated server. I am pitching you a dedicated server because they work great, and they are good for your business. If a dedicated server is beyond your budget, which for many start-ups, it will be, then there are many alternatives to unlimited hosting or dedicated servers at GlowHost.

Cloud Hosting
Cloud hosting is a theory where if you have a lot of physical servers and pool all of their resources like CPU, hard disk, and RAM, that you can do cool things like make “Virtual Machines” which function and act exactly like a dedicated server would. Cloud servers range anywhere from $75 to “the sky’s the limit.” They are generally very fast and perform well. The technology is still new, so sometimes there can be short periods of unexpected downtime if for example, the operating system vendor rolls out a bad system update. However, over the last year I have been watching this breed of hosting at GlowHost, most if not all of the kinks have been worked out and they are becoming as stable or in some cases, more stable than a dedicated server. You also have no neighbors to worry about with a cloud server. Cloud servers also require no downtime, or in some cases a quick reboot in order to upgrade hardware specifications. Whereas, with a dedicated server, you must physically remove the machine from the rack, (which means unplugging it from the power supply AKA “downtime”) insert the new parts, then put it back on the rack and power it up.

Shared Hosting
Semi-Dedicated servers from GlowHost limit your exposure to The 4 Neighbor types because there is a maximum of 30 accounts which can exist on each Semi-Dedicated server from GlowHost. Most of these servers operate with around 20-25 accounts on them. It is much easier to get 20-30 neighbors playing nicely with each other than it is a Home Owners Association with several hundred houses under management (a typical shared or unlimited server). By limiting the number of neighbors you share your server with, it equates to more CPU for your own account. Also, very rarely do The 4 Neighbors order this type of server. Typically because of the higher cost, these servers are used by sites that understand the value gained by a more expensive hosting package.

Below Semi-Dedicated, we have Personal and Professional shared hosting packages, which are a step up from unlimited. They typically have a mix of all kinds of web sites from start-ups, long time business web sites, personal sites and play sites. Sometimes, The 4 neighbors make unexpected visits on these servers, but not nearly as often as unlimited shared servers. When they do, we deal with each case individually to see what can be done to make their web sites play nicely with the others who share the server.

If you ever find your site performance to be sub par at GlowHost (even on unlimited hosting packages) please, drop by our help desk and open a ticket. We can do all sorts of things to help you out which may not cost you a dime. For example, we might be able to move you to a better performing or newer server free of charge. However, please keep in mind that their are alternatives to unlimited hosting and shared hosting in general. At some point it may make business sense to spend a little more for the increased level of performance.

Finally, I ask a question: Do you think GlowHost.com runs on a shared server?

Please post a comment and tell us what you think. We love to hear your comments, questions and feedback.