When you’re involved in web development, one of the most important considerations is how you go about hosting your sites. I can’t afford or justify buying myself a dedicated server and renting rackspace. So I’m left with paying a hosting company to allow me to share space and resources with other customers on the same server. A few years ago I was hosting with uplinkearth.com because honestly, the slick graphics and subdued colors of their site lured me in. Things were going ok for a while until they started having major issues. Their FTP server got hacked so they implemented a clumsy security check before any of their customers could upload files. This got progressively worse and when I tried to cancel my account, they ignored it and kept charging my credit card. The only way I could stop the charges was to call the credit card company and place a block on any transactions coming from uplinkearth. Rumor has it that the company was bought out and the new management just didn’t care about customer support or service.
That’s when I discovered WebHost4Life.com. Despite their unattractive website, I signed up for their shared Advance Plan because it was cheap, the features were there, and I was in a rush to migrate my site. Two years later, I’m seriously considering upgrading to their MS Power Virtual Private Server plan. Like any good consumer, I wanted to do some research before devoting $59.95 a month. If you type in “webhost4life.com reviews” into Google, you’ll find quite a few sites come up. The first 3 results (here, here, and here) I got were forums for people to rate hosting providers. While good for a quick read, I noticed that the reviews either unmercifully bashed WebHost4Life or had nothing but good things to say about them. If I recall correctly, there are always 3 sides to every story. I’m also a firm believer that you can’t please everyone all the time. What I wanted to see were posts that outlined the good and bad. In addition, there were no reviews about the their VPS plan. As a matter of fact, hardly any of them mentioned what type of plan they signed up for. So what I needed was more of a blog detailing the experience with WebHost4Life. I found a few blogs here and here but they were written in 8/2004 and 5/2004 respectively…not much help for me.
And that’s why I decided to write my own review.
As I mentioned, I’ve been hosting with WH4L for 2 years. In general, I’d say I’m pretty happy with them. Right now, I’m hosting 6 sites with their shared Premium plan. One of my favorite feature is the their control panel. There are lots of features you’d find in IIS such as setting up an Asp.Net app, controlling virtual directories, and configuring MIME types. If you know what you’re doing, all this freedom means you don’t have to submit a support ticket to get it done. When reading other reviews of this company, one recurring complaint is regarding their level of support. I think that’s why my experience has been better with WH4L. I tried to configure the sites myself instead of submitting a ticket. I’m not saying the reviewers didn’t know what they were doing, maybe they needed something done that only tech support could do. But during the years I’ve been with WH5L, I’ve only submitted a handful of support tickets and most of them were address within 4 hours. Truth be told, these tickets were not of critical matter so the response time didn’t matter too much to me. As for the quality of answers provided by their techs, only 2 or 3 required further communication to resolve the issue. A lot of people have also said that the rep in the live chat are useless. I’ve chatted with them a few times but it was not about technical issues…mostly sales and account information. The chats for me went smoothly but it could be a totally different story if it was technical. I’ve always used their support ticket system for that. I’m most happy about what you get for the price. I won’t go into details because their site lays it out for you but one thing I don’t think is mentioned is that if you go with the shared hosting plan, it only allows you to host 1 website. If you want to host more, it will be an extra $15/year for each additional site. You can have as many subdomains as you would like. That’s not a bad deal.
Up till now, I’ve hosted static sites and Asp.Net applications that are not resource intensive. So sharing server resources with x* number of people was not big deal. But now I’m on the verge of releasing a site that potentially can grow very fast. It involves intensive database access, image manipulation, and if all goes to plan, many many users. Preliminary test of the site on the existing shared hosting were not good. My logs showed that the ASP.NET app restarts at least 14 times per day. This results in recompilation of the app, longer load times, and lost user sessions. Further logging revealed that the app restarts because the server process crashed. I submitted my findings to tech support and they said the crash might because of bad code from another customer on the server. They moved me to a “less crowded app pool” but the problem persists. I submitted a follow-up ticket and told them it’s still happening. This time a different person responded and said they moved me to a “less crowded app pool”. Still, the problem persists. So, barring any coding error on my part, I have to assume that there are many other customers sharing the server and at least one is causing the server process to crash.
That’s how I came to the conclusion that I need to upgrade to the MS Power VPS plan. There’s supposed to be only 10 other people on the server and I get my own hosting environment, including my own app pool. The rep on the live chat said the it’s a Dual P4 3.0GHz Xeon server with 4GB of RAM. According to her, the server requires about 1GB of RAM to run so each customer has about 300 MB for themselves. Hmm. She also said my database would be moved to a server dedicated to VPS customers only. When I asked about the specs of the database machine, she asked me what my requirements were. I told her, I don’t have any right now and I’m just curious. Her response, “Sorry, we do not give that info for database server. If you need to know whether it meets your requirements, it needs to submit a ticket to our senior server technician”. Hmmm. I wonder how many VPS customers are allocated for each database server?*** I didn’t bother asking. But they do offer 75% off for the first 3 months if I upgrade.
So there’s my dilemma. WebHost4Life has been good to me overall but I have a bad feeling about upgrading. I want my site to succeed but right now, it would be nice if I didn’t have to pay a premium to host it**. Should I stick with them and their low prices and risk the fallout? Or should I find a much pricier and hopefully more reliable provider? WH4L’s site states a 15 day money back guarantee but I’ve read it’s hard to get them to honor it.
Now that I think about it, I’ve always been a person that has to learn things the hard way. I need to experience for myself regardless of what others say. So I think I will upgrade. I’ll have all my fingers crossed, hope for the best and hopefully will have nothing but good things to say about my lasting relationship with WebHost4Life.
*100? 200? Who knows how many?
**The site will not bring in income for at least a year.
***Back in the day, if you connect to their SQL server via Management Studio, you can see all the other databases on the server. On my server, there were at least 100 others.
UPDATE: It’s been a week and a half since I upgraded and so far, I’m glad I did. The migration process was not too bad. WH4L moved all my sites to the new account. Although there were some initial glitches, there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be resolved quickly. The speed and performance of the site now is definitely noticeable. The real test comes when it starts to get actual visitors. I will post another update then.