Choosing a web host for low volume sites

There seem to be many hits when one looks for reviews on web sites, but nearly all of the top hits seem to be fake or aggregate sites, with not enough real data. It is also very hard to judge web sites from a large general list of criteria.

Having to do this exercise once every few years, here are the criteria that I look for in web host:

  1. Low usage, non-commercial web hosting. Generally around 2G to 5G data download per month.
  2. Medium level of system admin capability - ability to configure simple .htaccess rules, install packages like Drupal and Joomla, host multiple sites.
  3. SSH access is essential. This is the most efficient method of managing a site. If only FTP access is available, simple tasks become quite complex. Like copying a directory, making a symbolic link. (Have to create a cron job to do such tasks in absence of SSH access.)
  4. Should allow two domains to be hosted. One main domain, and one add-on. More is nice-to-have.
  5. Drupal CPU/Memory requirements should be supported. Even for very low volume sites, Drupal can be a memory hog and some sites kill scripts too soon. Drupal is not very robust - if an admin page (such as modules list) is killed when being constructed, it will corrupt the database. The CPU/Memory requirements are minimal, but some sites do not support them.
  6. Disk space requirements are generally unimportant since every web host seems to be providing over 1G of space. Low usage sites probably don't need more than 1G space, if that much.
  7. Standard CGI tools support - Perl, PHP are essential. Python, Ruby, etc are nice-to-have.
  8. CGI scripts should be allowed to open web connections to other servers. Some web hosts do not allow network connections from server scripts. Very rare, but I found one out of the 10 or so hosts I tried had this restriction.
  9. Should be less than $100/year. Back when I started this, it used to be $300/year, but now a $100/year budget is reasonable.
  10. Support is necessary, but only expect help with really critical server related problems that cannot be fixed by self-managing the web site. The expectation is that I would never really need to open a support ticket. Email only support is fine. A user forum for the web host customers would be a good thing to have.
  11. No stringent requirements on uptime - acceptable to have an hour or so down every few months.

And, the best site that supports these requirements?
As of 2009:

  1. HostMonster has turned out the best fit for the above requirements. The thing to be careful is that their first sign-up cost can be 10% to 30% lower than renewals, so be sure to look up the actual renewal cost. They easily meet all the requirements above, and the price is the best for these set of requirements. 2009 cost is $250/3years or $110/year.
    BlueHost is the same provider as HostMonster, so either of these are probably similar in service.
    This site does go down once in a while - maybe an hour or so every few months. This has been infrequent enough, and all web hosts seem to have this issue at the low end, so has to be accepted as part of the deal.
  2. WebAxxs is another good site. It costs nearly the same as HostMonster, with $2/month extra for SSH. But they have lower pre-purchase periods, so for a year or two, it is just $10/year or so more in cost. Their web site is very poor, not enough information. Had to get multiple emails to get more details. This provider is same-as/related to, which has better information.

And just to list the sites that did not make the cut, like many others, just to pick two - with the caveat that things may have improved as time passed, so that they may also be under consideration for any future needs:

  1. ResellerZoom was a good site for a long time. But once I upgraded to Drupal 6, everything when downhill. Because of the problem listed in the requirements, resellerzoom's killing of web scripts would end up corrupting the Drupal database. Sure, the poor behavior in Drupal is the issue here which cause a corruption on loading a page, not even updating anything. but this made this web host unusable.
  2. JustHost - this was a new provider, and while it looked promising, they are very misleading on the main web site. It does not have all the information. And they have what looks like human chat on the front page, but there is no human behind it! Just a few questions will cause same answers to be repeated, and provide wrong information. When asked about pre-payment discounts, parrots the same line about cost without giving discount information. SSH is $20/year extra, and this information was never available on the chat, but required emails. Really poor site. But this is a new provider, maybe they will get better in the future.


One recommendation

Any of the dreamhost or site5 would fit the bill.

I have been using site5 for last 3 years. If you prepay 2 years in advance, you get $5/month plan and it gets renewed to the same price every 2 years. The management of site5 changed last year and it has been great since then, if you see their support forums, you will see their top guys (CEO/CTO) frequently lurking there and taking note of problems. They have a firewall (outbound as well), but you can ask support to open ports if you need (e.g. git remote)