E-commerce is one of the web’s greatest success stories. The technology has reached the point where anyone who can rent some space on a web host can open up a store and potentially reach a worldwide audience.
This difficult task has been made an order of magnitude easier thanks to a raft of excellent e-commerce packages. They make it possible for non-technical users to set up a nice-looking store, post some products, and process transactions — all without the overhead of setting up a physical store!
Besthosting.org has recommended the best of the lot. The early entrant, osCommerce, is probably the granddaddy of them all. Several contemporary e-commerce apps were forked from the osCommerce code and evolved into standout apps of their own. Among them are Zen Cart, Tomato Cart, OpenCart, and Prestashop. Among them, Magento is the standout in powerful and full featured e-commerce packages. It was recently acquired by eBay who evolved code base into a true enterprise class e-commerce solution. While the open source version of Magento is free, the enterprise and supported version of the same package is sold for tens of thousands of dollars!!
Whew! That’s one measure of how valuable a good e-commerce app really is.
In addition to that powerful lineup of e-commerce apps, you can also add an e-commerce plug-in to a CMS. We’ve covered the best e-commerce plug-ins for WordPress and Joomla elsewhere — WooCommerce is the best of the bunch for WordPress and Virtue Mart is the leading e-commerce plug-in for Joomla. This article is on the leading e-commerce plug-in for Drupal, Drupal Commerce.
Although Drupal is not nearly as popular as WordPress, it more popular among the largest and most influential sites. This profile attracts a great pool of developers who are capable of taking on ambitious projects. Huge companies run their web sites using Drupal. Besides whitehouse.gov there’s Virgin, Grammys, Emmys, The Onion, Best Buy, McDonalds, Zappos, Universal Music, and Sony BMG. We can see some potential for e-commerce here!!
So its no surprise that the Drupal community would have a great e-commerce plug-in. The #1 choice has evolved over time; it used to be Ubercart, but it now is Drupal Commerce — or just Commerce for short. It’s free and can be installed from within Drupal or with Drush (DRUpal sSH).
The Best 5
- A Small Orange : A line of Business Shared hosting plans designed for e-commerce,
- Digital Ocean : A developer-oriented Cloud VPS provider with premium-level developer support,
- Arvixe : A great Shared and VPS host that offers premium Business Shared hosting plans,
- WebHostingBuzz : A business Shared hosting plan powered by a dual web server configuration,
- A2 Hosting : A cutting-edge provider with deluxe Shared hosting and VPS plans.
Read more about them after the break!
Drupal and all its modules (a.k.a., plug-ins) are written in PHP and run on the industry standard LAMP stack (Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP). This means that many thousands of hosts can, in theory, host a Drupal powered e-commerce site. But it is not quite that simple.
Since Drupal is one of the largest and most full-featured content management systems, it takes more horsepower than average to run a Drupal e-commerce site comfortably. A garden-variety Shared host that is designed for light use may not work well.
Although, it is broadly compatible, Drupal Commerce is pretty demanding. Several developers suggest that the PHP memory size needs to be increased for a Drupal Commerce installation. But it all depends on what the default is at your hosting company!! Suffice it to say that its nice to host with a provider who is familiar with optimizing Drupal installations.
Since each storefront and site is different, we can’t say in advance how much computer resources your e-commerce store will need. A part of the problem is that we would have no idea how many other Drupal modules you are using! They all add up to slow things down.
But the combo of a very powerful CMS and their best e-commerce module suggests that you may need more horsepower than a bargain Shared host can provide. So we are going to recommend both premium-level Shared hosts that are designed for e-commerce and some great cost-effective VPS providers.
Because Drupal Commerce is, after all, an e-commerce module, it imposes the same stringent security requirements as any e-commerce app or plug-in. Whenever credit card information is sent over the open internet, security jumps out as a huge issue. That’s part of the cost of doing business. This concern has to be factored into the selection of a good host. Plan on paying more than bargain-basement prices for hosting Drupal e-commerce.
For e-commerce, a critical requirement is that the host must establish an encrypted and secure tunnel in which payment information is exchanged.
The chief requirement for e-commerce is airtight security. You need to create an encrypted line of communication between the seller and the buyer. This prevents a so-called “man-in-the-middle” attack. A “man-in-the-middle” is a bad guy who is eavesdropping on the conversations between the buyers and the seller. This is very bad since a “man-in-the middle” can grab your customers’ credit card numbers and even impersonate you to them.
To block this, you need to obtain and install an SSL certificate. In practical terms, you need:
- A private SSL certificate, so that the buyers are able to verify that you are the legitimate merchant that you claim to be,
- A fixed IP address, a requirement for implementing a clean SSL connection that the buyers can verify in their browsers,
- Also, there’s a set of rules called PCI compliance (Payment Card Industry compliance). A host should be able to warrant that its servers are PCI compliant. This would mean that they’re solid from a security perspective.
The SSL certificate enables your customers to establish an encrypted and trusted connection using the https protocol (rather than the ordinary http protocol); https is the secure and encrypted version of http.
Typically, a Shared host that is robust enough for e-commerce comes with a fixed IP address, an SSL certificate, and the server is warranted for PCI compliance. If you want to use a Shared host then you should be careful that you are able to conduct encrypted transactions. Most Shared hosts are not designed with e-commerce in mind.
Another possibility is to purchase an SSL certificate separately and install it yourself. This may or may not be cheaper, depending on the type of deal that the hosting company offers for their business-oriented plans.
Performance, Uptime, and Backups
Beyond that, it’s in your best interest to choose a fast and reliable host. Customers are turned off by slow and unresponsive sites. If your potential customers lose interest because your site loads too slowly, then you won’t be doing much business.
This is one reason to consider using a VPS rather than a Shared host!
What can you do about all this? A few things:
- Choose a host with a datacenter close to your customers,
- Use a CDN (Content Delivery Network),
- Use a Cloud VPS or a deluxe shared host that does not overbook their servers.
- Use a provider that does automatic backups.
A first step is to check to see that the host has a datacenter relatively close to your customers. You usually can check to see where the host’s datacenters are. A couple of our recommended hosting companies have datacenters all over the world. Also, the host should be a part of a content delivery network. A CDN makes your site available to a group of “relay” servers who can serve your content to clients even if the main server goes down.
One thing you can do is join Cloudflare, a worldwide CDN that provides a number of important cloud-related services. It is a CDN that tries to keep your site up even if your server goes down. Its almost like joining an expensive Cloud VPS! Also, it provides some anti-spam and DDoS protection by crowdsourcing it.
Cloudflare is free and you can usually join it from your panel. If not, you can sign up at the Cloudflare site. Often, good hosting providers are part of their own CDN and their customers benefit from that service automatically. This is something to check.
For an active, high traffic site, you should consider a Cloud VPS instead of a Shared host. This is the safest way of avoiding performance and reliability problems.
Finally, you should take steps to ensure that your e-commerce site is fully backed up, with redundant copies. In addition to an automatic backup, it doesn’t hurt for you to maintain a local backup.
But your need doesn’t end here. Any e-commerce site needs a good hosting environment in order to run it effectively. So here are 5 hand picked best hosting services for Drupal Commerce.
Winner – A Small Orange – From $20/mo
Founded in 2003 in Atlanta, their mission statement is to provide the best quality service at an affordable cost. They have outstanding Shared hosting and Managed VPS plans, but their line of Business Hosting plans is of special interest to us.
ASO offers a very unusual 90-day money-back guarantee; this is the highest in the industry. Also, their Business hosting is backed by their cloud infrastructure. They claim 99.9% uptime and we believe it for cloud-based services like this. For a business, downtime equals lost revenue, so this is an important consideration.
Business Shared Hosting
These are affordable Shared hosting solutions that are configured for e-commerce right out of the box. All are warranted for PCI compliance. This is what they have to say about the issue.
The Payment Card Industry (PCI)’s Data Security Standard is a required part of any online merchant’s plans to accept payments online. It defines a series of security precautions that any payment-accepting server must implement. This standard has grown increasingly stringent over time and A Small Orange has stepped up our security procedures to match. All our business-class servers are regularly scanned to ensure PCI compliance at the system level.
They have three Business plans, Startup, Small Business, and Enterprise. Here they are:
|Plan||Storage||Bandwidth||SSL Cert.||PCI Comp.||Price|
ASO also has a premium “Managed SEO Services” service as a high cost option to any of their plans. It promises to hand tune your site for maximum SEO. This is the type of service that is often provided by an external SEO consultant.
ASO’s prices don’t necessarily stand out — until you learn that this is fully-managed VPS hosting. If you shop around half as much as we have, you’ll see that full management can easily cost an extra $50/mo to the base charge. This is especially true after you throw in the cPanel and Softaculous installer. Both are included in ASO’s VPS plans.
1. The cPanel is included.
2. Each core is equal to a 2.5GHz Xeon or better.
3. 24/7 tech support & 90-day money-back guarantee.
3. Plans include SSD storage in RAID-50.
4. Backups are included.
2. – Digital Ocean – From $5/mo + $0.02/GB
Digital Ocean is a relatively young hosting company. It is unabashedly “by developers and for developers”. It offers only unmanaged Cloud VPS. They don’t even offer any Shared hosting plans and they don’t even have a Managed VPS option. They use only SSD storage and emphasize speed and performance in other ways as well. For example, they boast that they provision a new VPS in only 55 seconds — as if 5 minutes was unacceptable.
They boast 99.99% uptime — and that should be true since it is a cloud VPS hosting company. If your site goes down somehow, they will credit your account for the amount of time that it was not available.
They are based in New York and have servers in New York, SF, Singapore, and Amsterdam. You choose the location of your server when you set up your VPS.
Digital Ocean is the perfect complement to A Small Orange. A Small Orange offers all the “creature comforts” that you can hope for in a fully-managed host. They’re great! They let you focus on managing your site and you let them handle all those boring but essential sysadmin tasks.
Digital Ocean is all about the developer. At Digital Ocean, you are the sysadmin. Everything is done manually and right at the bare metal. In order to function at Digital Ocean, you need to be familiar with Mr. Command Line and his dog, Root.
If you are not the type of person who relishes that role, then go back to A Small Orange.
If you’re still with me, read on!!
Setting up a Drupal Commerce Store
You have full control over what is installed on your VPS. By default, nothing at all is installed until you do it!!
That’s how they roll: There is no panel — unless you buy a license and install it yourself!
Your first step is to provision a new VPS (a VPS is a “droplet” in their lingo) with your choice of Linux distros. This gives you your LAMP stack. Next, install Drupal from the command line. If you are familiar with Drupal, you know the drill. If not, they have a fantastic library of tutorials and tech notes that cover topics like this. They are uniformly well written and follow a consistent format. There’s one for installing Drupal from the command line and you’re good to go. When installation completes, you’re ready to install your modules.
Digital Ocean Pricing Table
Digital Ocean does not need to bear the costs of managed hosting, so they run mean and lean. The excellent support is in the form of email to the staff, the library of tech notes and tutorials, and the community of developer/users.
In other words, you can get a cloud VPS at Shared hosting prices.
3. Arvixe – From $22/month
Arvixe was founded in 2003 and has become a mature hosting provider with a plethora of packages, options, and types of hosting services. They offer different grades of shared hosting as well as VPS, Reseller, and Dedicated hosting.
Arvixe has two categories of shared hosting, with two plans to pick from in each. Personal Class plans are for smaller websites, while Business Class plans enjoy more server resources and have the security features that are required for business on the web.
Arvixe offers parallel plans for both Linux and Windows hosting and we have one word of advice: Linux.
The Personal Class plan is $4/mo while Personal Class Pro is $7/mo. The former is restricted to six domains, while the latter supports an unlimited number of domains.
E-commerce is possible on a Personal Class site but it may or may not work for a heavy CMS with an e-commerce module. It’s borderline — Drupal plus Commerce is a database-driven system. That type of system takes more power than one that only serves static HTML pages.
If you try it, you need that SSL certificate and dedicated IP address. The SSL certificate is $25/yr and the dedicated IP address is $2/mo. However, you can expect load times to be slower than optimal for an e-commerce site.
For Drupal Commerce, we like the optional upgrade to Business Class. The Business Class plan costs $22/mo and Business Class Pro is $35/mo. The former is limited to six sites while the latter is unlimited. These plans to not overbook their servers. The cost differential between Personal and Business is proportional to the number of accounts per server.
Business Class customers get a free SSL certificate and a dedicated IP address. Unfortunately, neither is PCI compliant. Fortunately, their managed VPS Class plans are PCI compliant.
VPS Class Plans
If your store is on the small side, you probably don’t need to upgrade to VPS but it is nice to know that a much faster option is available. The VPS Class and VPS Class Pro are priced at $40/mo and $70/mo. These are the two plans at Arvixe that meet our criteria for conducting secure e-commerce.
|VPS Class Pro||8||3GB||100GB||Unlimited||$70/mo|
1.These plans both include an SSL certificate for life.
2. Both plans are PCI Compliant.
3. Both plans provide root access.
4. The dedicated IP address is $2/mo.
5. SSD storage is $10/mo.
6. 1GB RAM is $20/mo.
These two plans are fully managed VPS that come with the cPanel/WHM and Softaculous installer and the Cloudflare CDN. It is designed to meet your e-commerce needs in every way.
4. Web Hosting Buzz – From $9.95/month
WebHostingBuzz was founded in 2002 with the idea of offering reasonably priced hosting in a market that was dominated by a few hosting giants and indifferent service. They really have good prices.
They now own over 250 of their own servers and have datacenters in both US and UK. Their primary datacenter is in Atlanta, with others in Dallas, New York, Phoenix, and Newark, Nottinghamshire (UK).
WebHostingBuzz is a good choice if you are looking for affordable business hosting with a provider who is well known for knowledgeable and courteous customer support. They have attractive business plans at both the Shared and VPS levels of service.
WebHostingBuzz’s entry-level Shared hosting plan is a bit below our minimum standards for business users, but their highest priced Shared plan does look good. It is the so-called “Buzz Premier” plan and it goes for $9.95/mo. This isn’t a bargain basement price for a Shared host, but we require a Shared host that is hardened for credit card transactions. The $9.95 price for that is about as low as it gets. Not only that, it has uses two web servers that work together to improve performance! That’s a great value for $9.95.
The Buzz Premier plan comes with a dedicated IP address and an SSL certificate. The certificate is included for the first year. In subsequent years the SSL certificate is $12.95.
Also, the Buzz Premier plan uses two web servers, Apache and Nginx, with Nginx playing the role of the front end. This really should improve performance on a Shared hosting plan. In this configuration, Nginx serves the static pages, taking some of the workload from Apache.
Business Web Hosting
The Business Web Hosting plans are premium Shared hosting plans that are tailored to the special requirements of business. All of these plans are PCI compliant and the “Power” and “Premier” plans come with a fixed IP address and an SSL certificate. Both would need to be added to the Business “Light” plan in order to make it ready for e-commerce.
In addition to being hardened for security, they are also designed to be faster than the average Shared host. Like the “Buzz Premier” plan, they use the Nginx web server as a reverse-proxy front end. This should boost performance compared to Shared hosting plans that use only Apache or an Apache-compatible server.
These plans come with a 45-day money-back guarantee.
|Name||# Sites||Ded. IP||SSL||Storage||Bandwidth||Price|
1. Nightly backups are included.
2. An SSL certificate must be purchased and installed in the Light plan. WebHostingBuzz has SSL certificates for sale at $12.95 or you can purchase a certificate from another vendor. There are actually different types of SSL certificates, but that is another post!
Unmanaged VPS Plans
WebHostingBuzz sells a line of very capable and affordable unmanaged VPS plans. Their personality is to include the basics in the plan and offer the extras a la carte. That’s the case here.
You get at least one dedicated IP address with any of these plans. Only one is included with VPS1 and 4 are included with VPS6. The ones in the middle have two!
Unless you purchase full management and an installer, expect to do some installation and management at the command line.
1. cPanel is $8/mo extra.
2. Softaculous is $2/mo extra.
3. Management is $50/mo (base plan). If additional time is needed, it is billed at $25/hr.
5. A2 Hosting – From $5.99/mo
A2 Hosting, based in Ann Arbor, MI (“A2”), positions themselves as a cutting-edge provider. They are consistently among the first to offer the latest versions of the core components of the LAMP stack.
They were among the first to offer SSD storage in Shared hosting and claim they are up to 300% faster than mechanical disks. This is easy to believe, as old-fashioned spinning disks are on their way out. Drupal Commerce is a heavy database-driven app, so SSD should make a big difference. They boldly say that they are faster than many others and name several big competitors by name: GoDaddy, Dreamhost, Bluehost, and HostGator.
Within the limits of the Shared hosting paradigm, they do everything they can to offer the best performance. They use CloudLinux as their OS and use dual core Xeon CPUs. SSD storage is available on their Shared and VPS hosting plans, but as an extra cost option.
Their VPS plans put you in complete control (as it should be), so you can specify any Linux distro you want, number of cores, clock speed, and amount of RAM.
Their pricing schedule puts them at the upper end, but they do have the personality of being cutting-edge on both the hardware and software fronts. They have expert tech support and a good library of technical notes that are directly relevant to Drupal and e-commerce hosting. A Shared hosting plan with SSD drives may well be fast enough for this Drupal Commerce, but at a cost.
Shared Hosting Plans
A2 Hosting has only one “unlimited” plan with a $3/mo option for SSD storage. It advertises unlimited storage, transfer, domains, email addresses, and databases. The Cloudflare CDN is included, as is the cPanel and Softaculous. Automatic backups are also included.
They do not have a formal “Business Class” plan, but rather sell the dedicated IP address and SSL certificate as options. The dedicated IP address is $3/mo. and their lowest cost certificate is $50/year. Of course, you can purchase a certificate from any accredited vendor.
Their price sheet for Shared hosting is more complex than their front-page marketing implies, but this is how the Shared hosting industry works. It’s a cutthroat business. In effect, they offer nearly 50% off over their month-to-month price for a 3-year prepayment.
The monthly price depends on the number of months that you prepay. The upshot is that there is one “unlimited” shared hosting plan, “Prime”, but a varying payment schedule. For mechanical hard disks, the cost ranges from $10.99 (month-to-month) to $5.99 with a
|Plan||36 month||24 month||12 month||6 month||1 month|
1. SSD storage is a $3/mo option.
2. A dedicated IP address is $3/mo.
3. Private SSL certificates begin at $50/yr or you can purchase your own elsewhere and A2 will help you install it.
Unmanaged Cloud VPS Hosting Plans
A2 Hosting offers a full line of unmanaged VPS plans. As is the case with many companies, you can vary the values of several features to create a customized VPS for yourself. This table represents only some of the possibilities. This table is only for the lowest processor speed. The price premium for SSD depends on how much storage you order, so we’ve added columns for both mechanical and SSD storage. See the notes at the end of the table.
|# Cores||RAM||Storage||Bandwidth||Price||Price (SSD)|
1. Bandwidth is $0.12 per GB after you reach 2TB.
2. These prices are for their slow processor, 600MHz. For a 1.2GHz processor, add $5/mo; for a 2GZHz processor, add $12/mo.
3. These prices do not include a panel. A licensed cPanel is a $19.95/mo option, otherwise you do the sysadmin at the command line.
A2 Hosting is one of the best Shared and VPS hosts that you can find anywhere, but you will be paying for the service. Be sure to price out the set of options that you want. It all adds up.
With the power of Drupal and and e-commerce, it is never been more fun and exciting to start an e-commerce site. Just make sure you pick a good hosting company. Otherwise, you will face performance issues. If you want to evaluate other options for hosting, then please use hosting companies comparison tool to check them out.