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  1. #1
    SitePoint Member sbell22's Avatar
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    The "great choice" Dedicated Server Hosting company?

    I am an independent web developer, have had 4 different Linux/Windows dedicated servers to host my clients. rackspace.com, theplanet.com,
    GoDaddy, and one in San Francisco that I won't even mention (they run big ads, and are a nightmare).

    Each of these companies had their strengths, and of course (like me
    had their weaknesses. None of which i could discern beforehand; I had to go through a lengthy period of trials and tribulations to figure it out, with
    my sites/livelyhood on the line. I had a half dozen sites running on the servers last year, when I was less serious about the web business.

    Now that I have a half dozen more sites, and am anticipating moving towards 30-40 sites on the server next year, I am a bit perplexed about how to pick my next hosting company. So this hosting choice is getting more serious. What I'm trying to figure out is, what is the best methodology for figuring out the right dedicated server hosting company?

    I hesitate to ask for a particular company recommendation, because of the obvious potential for people to pitch "their" firm. I'm more interested in
    what others have learned about how to screen it down. Part of it, is just figuring out how to narrow it down to a dozen candidate companies; and perhaps that has already been discussed somewhere on SP.

    Or... perhaps I'm just missing the point If so, let me have it~

    I do know what i want: My priorities are (#1) reliability (up time) and critical mass (a large enough operation, that they can afford true 24x7x365 support); (#2) great service - mature tech staff (not outsourced, or a closet dysfunctional company with disgruntled techies, etc); (#3) a decent price - not the lowest, but not a huge premium either.

    I would be glad to provide more detail if I've left anything out. Just let me know what's missing.

    Thanks! And I'm hoping this discussion will help others, too.

    -steve

  2. #2
    SitePoint Wizard cranial-bore's Avatar
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    I had similar thoughts today, albeit for shared hosts. It's very difficult to differentiate hosts without actually using them; and using them for an extended period.

    Any company will be good in the short term. It's picking the longer-term quality that is diffucult. All I can suggest is contacting prospective companies and asking them various questions about their business and technology. If they sound as though they live and breath hosting that is a good sign. Maybe even email to ask prospective hosts for their USP. If they can articulate something reasonable maybe they do have a unique attitude?

    I'd probably avoid young companies. IMO experience (again, shared hosting only) the younger companies are great at the start when they are winning new business, but cannot always maintain service standards as they grow.
    A 5+ year old company is more likely to be in a rhythem that can be maintained.

    It's probably also worth skipping the cheapest, because if what they are offering isn't financially sustainable they won't be around in the long term (or service will drop dramatically)

    In short: it's hard.

  3. #3
    SitePoint Member sbell22's Avatar
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    thanks cranial, that's insightful. coupling my rants with your musings, here's what I'd come up with, as my initial filter:

    1. the hosting company must have been in business for at least 5 years (empirical fact / verifiable)

    2. the hosting company must have annual revenues in excess of $10M/year (I am not sure of the right #, but that is relatively easy to figure out)

    3. the hosting company must display "that special something".... but as you and I know, they ALL do that. It's as easy as hiring an enthusiastic sales force.
    That's the problem, right?... it's so easy to get faked out; and who's to know?? the crux of the problem, imho.

    thanks for your post, I hope you hang around on this topic. And I suspect you know a lot more about it than I do, so it's probably for the benefit of all involved!

    -steve

  4. #4
    SitePoint Member sbell22's Avatar
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    I hesitate to post this... it's such a radical thought. But, hey.... that's where the good ideas come from, right? No?.... darn!!

    Anyway, what I'm thinking is, for an enterprising web developer, WHY doesn't this make sense? Assuming you're not afraid of Linux, etc. And remember, I've been really burned by several dedicated hosting firms, so take that into account, as far as my insanity here, as far as this idea goes.

    What I'm thinking is, ok i can get a dedicated (static) IP address assigned by an ISP for a small fee. And my bandwidth requirements won't be "huge", at any particular point in time. And I can get redundant internet connections (e.g. cable modem, plus DSL). And I can provide a power source better than any ISP's "Diesel Generator" (good luck , if it comes to where they need THOSE!). Better: a few of your own large/parallel UPS systems -- and a gasoline-powered generator from Costco, Sam's Club (etc) to back it up for a few days, in case of a real emergency (along with the broadband modem, in case the data networks are still up).

    All backed up by your own command of Linux, plus a couple of on-call, top-drawer Linux techies (to keep the server humming in any situation).

    This server has dual drives/RAID1, hourly FTP backup to an offsite server, ETC. Even a standby/mirrored server. Did I miss anything?

    Anyway, the point is, why not run your own RedHat/Linux dedicated server? "Colocation" on your own site, in a sense.

    The dedicated hosting companies seem to be offering something that they are not really serious about, in my experience. So... who needs them?
    I guess the bigger question is, are they really providing you with the value-added that you're paying them for??

    Or... am I really missing something fundamental? If so, feel free to let me have it, for my own ignorance. That's always possible, and I'm ready to hear it if that's the case. Just wondering what everyone else is thinking.

    Here's a "case in point", though. Last year, when I went through the Academy of Web Design in the San Francisco Financial District (www.academyx.com), they had a junky little window machine under the receptionist's counter. It turned out, that garden-variety Windows machine was hosting ~40 websites! No UPS, nothing - and even a flakey internet connection (I guess the sites weren't that important. As I recall, the president even gave the PC a kick, which I thought was pretty funny, considering all that machine has riding on it. And it wasn't running Linux; this was just your basic Windows PC, mostly pre-occupied with running desktop apps; with IIS as a sideline duty. Think about that!...

    Just a thought... why not host it yourself?

    -steve
    Last edited by sbell22; Oct 20, 2006 at 01:36.

  5. #5
    SitePoint Wizard Lil_Red's Avatar
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    The drawback to colocation is you're chained to the server 24/7/365.

  6. #6
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    I had a "local colocation" solution (my own server hosting my own sites) and I turned away because ... I didn't satisfy any of your requirements :-)

    The scale factor plays it hard!

    Also, who will be the one that will feel responsible 24/7/365 for the server? You...

    Is it worth while for the cost of o a dedicated server?

  7. #7
    King of Paralysis by Analysis bronze trophy
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    Quote Originally Posted by sbell22
    Just a thought... why not host it yourself?
    You can troubleshoot an OS?
    Recompile a kernel?
    Add all the necessary security updates as they become available?
    Be awake 24/7 in case it goes down?
    Have strong hardware skills?
    Does your ISP allow you to host sites? Most don't
    Have adequate fire protection?
    Surge protection?
    UPS?

    If you're answer to all the above is Yes, and many other questions that I haven't asked as well then you should host it yourself.

    If on the other hand your sanity means something to you and you would rather spend your time on revenue producing activities like building sites then just pay someone to do it.

    The reasons I don't host my sites on a server in my basement are the same reasons that I don't mill my own flour, generate my own electricity or raise my own cattle for food. It makes more sense economically in terms of opportunity costs and overall costs to pay someone else to do it.

  8. #8
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy
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    Check out webhostingtalk.com and read user reviews. Honestly, running your own server is going to give you so many grey hairs and sleepless nights. I can't recommend any US hosting companies as I'm in the UK, but clook.co.uk are easily the best, most reliable dedicated hosting company I've ever used with unbelievable support to boot. Best 150 a month I ever spent.

  9. #9
    SitePoint Member sbell22's Avatar
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    thanks everyone, that is some great input on this issue. And webhostingtalk.com is an awesome resource. I'm starting to spend daily time hanging out there. I'm going to learn a lot quickly because of that... THANKS.

    I'm also starting to develop a "punch list" of questions for potential hosting firms, that cuts through the sales b.s. -- to email the list of US hosting companies that I narrow it down to. Once I have that refined a bit, I'll post it here for others to critique, and maybe use themselves.

    tke, re your list here's my answers

    You can troubleshoot an OS? Yes, no problem, and have 2 good techs close by.

    Recompile a kernel? Hopefully, won't need to do that; but I have done it in the past. I have an MSCS and have done plenty of software development.

    Add all the necessary security updates as they become available? No problem.

    Have strong hardware skills? Yes - MSEE, 15 years hardward design experience, etc. I designed both board-level products, and both analog and digital IC's at AT&T Bell Labs, Western Digital, National Semi, etc.

    Does your ISP allow you to host sites? Most don't. Will check out terms of use.

    Have adequate fire protection? Yes; but that would be a real issue - fire or flood exposure.

    Surge protection? UPS?Yes, would go industrial-strength on the Surge & UPS system. Plus backup generator.

    OK, you really got me on this one!: Be awake 24/7 in case it goes down?

    I once hosted with Waltech in Los Altos, CA. It was owned and operated
    by a couple. He had rigged a flashing light that went off in their bedroom
    triggered by any server failing to respond to a PING. Some way to live, huh?

    But he sold out and is probably on a Pacific Island right now, with NO servers...

    ---

    I am thinking that what I may do, is try operating my own server for a while, but ONLY with non-critical sites. While still shopping
    for a dedicated server hosting firm, for the mission-critical sites. Mostly I'm doing this as a learning-curve experiment, my ultimate solution clearly needs to be outsourced.

    By operating my own non-critical Linux "development server, I will learn quite a bit... anyway, that's the theory.

    Hole in my head? Good idea??

    thanks again for the thought-provoking discussions.

    -steve

  10. #10
    SitePoint Enthusiast
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    We have done hosting for many years and I can tell you that hosting from your house/office is a big mistake. You are putting your clients sites at risk by doing this and I would never allow any of our sites (even the non-critical ones) to be hosted from someone's house with a single ISP connection.

    Now for your question about who is a good host. This is not as hard as you think to figure out. Webhostingtalk is a good resource and will give you people's reviews on good companies.

    From my experience, I would recommend ThePlanet, LayeredTech, FastServers.net.

  11. #11
    Webwellwisher Robert Warren's Avatar
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    I'm very partial to Westhost. I've also heard good things from Valley friends about Dreamhost.

  12. #12
    SitePoint Member sbell22's Avatar
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    thanks, everyone... I appreciate the great inputs. I finally got the idea
    out of my head to even try to run a server here - whew, that feels better!
    I have a new appreciation for the value of a *good* hosting company,
    my challenge now is to find the right one.

    I'm now starting more serious research on hosting company; so far I am looking at softlayer,
    layeredtech, fastservers, dreamhost and westhost. I had a Linux server at theplanet last year, they were ok
    but i am sort of lukewarm on their service culture.
    Rackspace was awesome (had a windows server there early in 05'); but terribly expensive.

    -steve

  13. #13
    SitePoint Member sbell22's Avatar
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    just thought I'd make a post to let you know the outcome. First, I cancelled the dedicated IP's that I had ordered up into my office, to "play around" with a Linux host here. Got that completely out of my system, thanks to the sage perspectives offered here Sometimes my strong NERD GENE gets the better of me... lol.

    Second, I researched hosting companies and ended up going with FastServers.net (no affiliation, except that now I'm their customer). I have moved my first three sites onto this new server, and everything is going great! Thanks again for the inputs.

    -steve


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