OK, you want to try your hand at putting a up a site of your own. If its a personal site or a small-business site that hasn’t made a name for itself yet, its great to start off with a hosting company who specializes in sites like yours and charges low prices for quality service. Luckily, that’s the bulk of hosting companies out there and there’s no shortage of great companies who meet your requirements.
Almost without question, the best balance between low price and good service is a shared hosting plan.
Shared hosting is the cheapest type of plan since a lot of different, unrelated sites are hosted on only one physical server. That way, the hosting company can amortize their costs over all the accounts on each server. Of course, the disadvantage is that a physical server has to serve all these unrelated sites.
The Best 5
- A Small Orange : Deluxe Shared hosting with plans to fit a low budget,
- Lithium Hosting : High performance and low cost Shared hosting plans,
- A2 Hosting : An “unlimited” Shared hosting company with cutting-edge features but higher prices than higher ranked hosts,
- Crocweb : A performance-oriented Canadian host with great prices,
- Hawkhost : A great budget Shared host with competitive performance and prices.
Read more about them after the break!
The single most important factor in performance is how the the hosting companies manage the sharing for resources among the accounts. This aspect of the problem is partially business and partially political. That’s covered separately in our Guide to Understanding Shared Hosting.
This discussion assumes that the company has policies in place that require that the shared hosting sites on a server are all “good neighbors” and don’t hog the server at the expense of its neighbors. We’ll go over some important technical differences and recommend five great choices.
Any shared hosting company provides a suite of preinstalled software applications that support web service. That suite is often referred to as the LAMP stack. LAMP stands for the key components of the suite:
- L – Linux: The operating system.
- A – Apache: The web server software.
- M – MySQL: The database used for dynamic content management systems, such as WordPress and Joomla.
- P – php: The server-side scripting language. It could also be Perl or Python.
In addition to establishing sensible policies for their shared hosting business, a hosting company has the chance to tweak the characteristics of the LAMP stack to improve performance. Here are a couple of things that several companies modify in and effort to stand out from the competition.
The L in LAMP: Many don’t know it, but the internet runs on Linux. There are a few exceptions – especially within enterprise – but for the most part, your site will be running on a Linux server. Within that, there a few tweaks that the hosting company can use to manage the sharing more equitably. (OK, if you are a .net developer, then you will need a Microsoft stack that uses the Microsoft server, but that’s a specialized concern.)
Although practically all shared hosts feature Linux, but there’s many flavors of Linux. One of the most common Linux distributions for hosting companies is CentOS. In turn, it is based on Red Hat Linux, a industry-standard commercial distribution that’s widely used in enterprise. That’s a great choice but CentOS doesn’t include anything special for the task of running a shared hosting server.
There is a commercial distribution of Linux that offers some special features for shared hosting. Its called CloudLinux. CloudLinux implements what they brand as CageFS to contain each site in its own “cage”. The technology can be used for any multi-tenant environment, where it is beneficial to control resource usage of individual tenant. With CloudLinux, hosting companies can make sure that a single site cannot slow down or take down other Web sites (If you’re curious, you can check them out at http://cloudlinux.com/). But that’s not the end of that story.
What’s cool about Linux is that it is truly open source. That means that any end-user also has direct access to the source code! In theory, any user can modify their copy of an open source app to better suit their purposes. Normal people, of course, don’t do this but a hosting company that’s staffed with geeks can actually do it. So, some of the hosting companies who run CentOS (or other Linux distributions) have also hand tuned their version so that it implements this “cage” concept, but without the branding of “CloudLinux”. That’s cool. Any technical differentiator that keeps one site from hogging a shared server’s resources is a good thing.
The A in LAMP: The industry standard is the wonderful open source app, Apache. Millions of sites run Apache. Once again, there’s a tweaked commercial version of Apache that is further optimized for the shared hosting situation. It’s called LiteSpeed. It is a fully compatible replacement for Apache that’s optimized for the web hosting industry. According to the vendor, it is:
- Up to 9x faster than Apache for static pages
- Has increased scalability
- More than 50% faster PHP performance
The latter statistic is applicable for content management systems like WordPress and Joomla.
If you’re really interested, you can check them out at: http://litespeedtech.com/
As with the Linux operating system, there’s nothing stopping a hosting company from optimizing their copy of Apache to improve its performance in the shared hosting environment.
A shared hosting company can’t afford to turn over a ton of hardware resources to their shared hosting customers. And it doesn’t really matter since the servers are all shared anyway!
Given that, look for the use of up-to-date Intel Xeon (server grade) CPUs – multiple core if you find it – and as a healthy amount of RAM. But since the resources are shared, performance critically depends on how many other sites are competing for those resources. The CPU and RAM become more meaningful in virtual private and dedicated servers.
A meaningful feature, though, is solid state drives (SSD) rather than old-fashioned mechanical hard disks. SSD are significantly faster, especially for random access reads. The top tier hosting companies are upgrading to SSD as mechanical hard disks gradually fade away.
Even with none of websites under heavy traffic, shared hosting services will be slower than other options, since many websites are share same system resources.
Winner – A Small Orange – From $2.92/mo
Founded in 2003 in Atlanta, their mission statement is to (modestly) provide the best quality service at an affordable cost. Unlike a large percentage of shared hosting companies, their site and marketing deliberately rank low on the bullshit scale. You can pretty much read their site and learn about what they charge and the services they provide. What a concept!
They claim 99.9% uptime and offer an unusually generous 90 day money-back guarantee, the highest in the industry. They do have a long term policy of not overbooking their shared servers and a good rep among the geeks for that and for quality technical support.
Their LAMP stack is right up to date. They use CloudLinux and they recently added support for Node.js to their shared hosting plans (see the post on Ghost, which is based on node.js instead of php). ASO is one of the few hosts that support a one-click install of Ghost in their Shared hosting plans.
Recently, ASO has upgraded their servers to SSD storage at no extra cost. This is going to speed up your site, especially if it relies on a back end database.
Although their advertising doesn’t boast about themselves or feature celebrity spokesmodels, they’re quietly on the cutting edge of shared hosting technology. Their well-known commitment to not overbooking their shared servers and their 24/7 tech support has won them lots of fans.
As is typical of low BS companies, they offer a graded scale of limited shared hosting plans. Instead of offering a “one size fits all” Shared hosting plan, A Small Orange (ASO) uses a graded scale of plans that limit your storage and bandwidth. This enables them to offer ridiculously low prices to customers who are just starting out and don’t need a huge amount of storage or bandwidth. As your needs increase, you can just move to the next tier in the price schedule. It’s just bookkeeping.
You would think that discounts for long-term prepayments are normal, but its easier to find companies that advertise great prices but the fine print tells you that the advertised price is valid only with a long-term prepayment. The month-to-month price is higher.
If you sign up for a year at ASO, your monthly charge is lower than the advertised price! If you buy an annual plan, they add 2 extra months and a free domain name. Geez: under-promise and over-deliver.
Here is A Small Orange’s price schedule.
All the plans are unlimited in other ways:
- Unlimited POP3/IMAP Mail Accounts
- Unlimited MySQL Databases
- Unlimited Mailing Lists
- Unlimited Email Forwarders
- Unlimited Subdomains
- Unlimited Parked and Add-on Domains
- Unlimited FTP Accounts
ASO uses the industry standard cPanel control panel and the Softaculous app installer.
If you are migrating from another hosting company who uses cPanel, they will handle the migration for free. It is as seamless as if you hadn’t even moved from your previous host. You even keep your username and password.
Daily backups are also included, as is 24/7 technical support. ASO has a good reputation for providing excellent customer support.
ASO gets a checkbox in the “green” category. They say that they match 150% of their energy usage with renewable energy.
2. LithiumHosting – From $1.95/mo
Founded in 2006 and dedicated to providing quality web hosting at a low cost. They use the Hivelocity datacenter as its back end, with private peering connections via 10G in Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta and Seattle and have a European datacenter in Amsterdam.
- They offer a 45 day money-back guarantee
- 99.7% uptime guarantee
- Softaculous installer and cPanel control panel.
- Current generation LAMP stack running on CloudLinux
It appears that they are in the process of upgrading from mechanical drives to SSD but solid state storage is not yet an across-the-board standard. They say that SSD is available on “some” servers and customers can request a no-cost upgrade to SSD if they are experiencing performance issues with database-driven sites.
They recently junked their “unlimited” plan in favor of a graded scale of pricing. It resembles ASO’s but it is more aggressive. Lithium Hosting is very unusual in that they offer a real 30-day free trial. Some hosting companies offer a free trial but it is only a few days and you are not allowed to install a database-driven app such as WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal. In effect, you would be unable to test what you intend to use.
Notice that you get more storage and bandwidth for the dollar with Lithium Hosting than with ASO. That’s the differentiator between these two excellent companies.
Here is their price schedule for month-to-month hosting:
Like ASO, Lithium Hosting’s advertised prices are the real month-to-month prices and they offer discounts for long-term commitments! Regrettably, the common practice is to advertise the price on the longest contract and reveal the month-to-month cost only when you are in the process of signing up.
|Plan||36 month||24 month||12 month||1 month|
3. A2 Hosting – From $5.99/mo
A2 Hosting, based in Ann Arbor, MI (“A2”), has a lot to offer the serious shared hosting customer. They position themselves as a cutting-edge shared hosting provider. They are consistently among the first to offer the latest versions of the core components of the LAMP stack.
They were early adopters of PHP version 5 and has very recently added support for Node.js to their shared hosting package. Thus, they can offer the new Ghost platform on their shared hosting package. The combo of a performance-oriented hosting company and Ghost is a speed demon. Obviously, one way to make your shared hosting site fast is to choose fast software.
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. They boldly say that they are faster than others and name several 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 hosting plans, but as an extra cost option.
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. If you are in the market for a hosting company that offers unlimited sharing and storage, then it’s a great choice.
Graded price schedule
Their price sheet is more complex than their front-page marketing implies, but this is how the shared hosting industry works. 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, called “Prime”, but a varying payment schedule. For mechanical hard disks, the cost ranges from $10.99 (month-to-month) to $5.99 with a 36-month payment:
|Plan||36 month||24 month||12 month||6 month||1 month|
SSD is an extra cost option ($3.00/mo) that’s added to the cost of the prepayment price.
4. CrocWeb – From $2.95/mo
Established in 2009, CrocWeb is one of the leading Canadian hosting companies. It is located in Montreal and it features shared and reseller hosting; the front page promises that VPS is “coming soon.”
No, CrocWeb is not affiliated with HostGator – even though the logo, the blue-dominant color scheme, and similar names (Gator and Croc are basically the same) remind you of HostGator. HostGator is a gigantic hosting company that many loves and some hates, CrocWeb is a Canadian hosting company which is currently the home for 50,000 websites.
I don’t understand the attraction of web hosting companies to large reptiles, especially dangerous ones. I will leave that to other writers.
Despite its relatively small size, it does all the right things for an up-to-date shared web host.
CrocWeb uses only SSD for storage, CloudLinux as their operating system, and LiteSpeed as the web server. This combo should be as fast as a shared web host can be, as long as they do not overbook their servers.
Here are the tech highlights:
- LiteSpeed rather than Apache server software
- CloudLinux rather than CentOS Linux OS
- SSD storage for all plans
- cPanel and Softaculous installer
- Free migration from a cPanel web host
- Current generation LAMP stack
- 99.9% uptime, guarantee but their fine print has some weasel words.
- 60 day money back guarantee.
CrocWeb has three shared hosting plans that offer progressively more storage and bandwidth. Here is a summary of their shared hosting plans and the lowest prices. For the prices they charge, these are generous upper limits.
It turns out that the prices in this table are valid with a three-year prepayment; prices increase by increments of a dollar as the commitment drops to two years, one year, and one month.
Graded price schedule
|Plan||3 years||2 years||1 year||1 month|
For only $2.95 a month (if you sign up for three year plan), you will get 10GB storage and 100GB bandwidth. These are generous limits, given the aggressive pricing. This price is practically down to ASO’s price of their “Tiny” package, which is only 250MB storage and 5GB bandwidth. This expresses the positioning of CrocWeb in the market.
They also offer a 60-day money back guarantee, above average in the industry. CrocWeb promises 99.9% uptime guarantee which is decent. Basically, 99.9% means that there will be 10.1 minutes potential downtime a week. Not too bad but then 99.99% reduces it down to just 1.01 minutes a week. Still, there aren’t major complaints about downtime so we guess CrocWeb is doing a good job.
5. HawkHost – From $3.29/mo
HawkHost was founded in 2004 and has datacenters in Dallas, Washington, San Jose, Seattle, Amsterdam, and Singapore. Like CrocWeb and HostGator, they use another dangerous predator as its mascot. HawkHost’s mascot hawk is dressed like a superhero in his blue suit, cape, and boots.
I don’t know what it means, but its interesting to contrast this trend with ASO and LithiumHosting. ASO tries to project a tranquil pastoral image with its simple drawings of an orange grove. The motif suggests their commitment to “green.” Lithium Hosting’s site is simple and modern. There are no life forms on it (neither plant nor animal), only abstract rectangular shapes and solid colors – no gradients.
Never mind the images projected by the hosting companies: HawkHost offers a 30-day money back guarantee and 99.9% uptime guarantee. The uptime guarantee is quite standard, but the money-back guarantee is lower than some of their competitors listed here. HawkHost features plans that are geared to the beginner and intermediate customer.
HawkHost is a reliable American-based web hosting company that uses CloudLinux as its Linux distribution and LiteSpeed as its web server for its shared hosting and reseller hosting plans.
On the hardware side, the shared hosting servers feature:
- Dual Quad Core Xeon 5520 (server grade)
- 24 GB of DDR system RAM
- 4x300GB 15,000 RPM RAID-10
- 100 Mbps Ports
Unfortunately, they use spinning hard disks rather than SSD storage, as the 15,000 RPM spec indicates. Given that they already have a modern LAMP stack running on CloudLinux and LiteSpeed, this is something that they need to consider. For shared hosting, this does not rule them out, as their efforts to avoid overbooking their servers should result in excellent performance for shared hosting – in comparison to unrecommended hosting companies who are known for overbooking their shared servers.
Their pricing schedule features unlimited bandwidth but a graded amount of storage. The servers used for shared hosting are limited to a single core, which is very standard. Higher performance CPUs are found on virtual and dedicated hosting plans.
Here’s their pricing schedule. In every case, the cheapest price is available only with a one year prepayment; shorter commitments increase the monthly price slightly. Notice that the Basic plan is not available on a month-to-month fee schedule.
Graded price schedule
As is the case with A2 Hosting and CrocWeb, their pricing depends on the number of months in the contract. There are only minor increases in price for shorter terms.
|Plan||12 month||6 month||3 month||1 month|
Since they don’t limit bandwidth, there is only a minor price penalty for short commitments. But it makes it easier for a disobedient neighbor to stress out a shared server. Since the don’t have bandwidth limits, they depend on CloudLinux, LiteSpeed, and their ad-hoc policies to avoid bad situations.
When you are hosting your website on a shared hosting service, speed, reliability, and customer service are critical things you have to look for. Speed is very important since the nature of sharing makes it difficult to offer performance that is competitive with virtual or dedicated servers. Don’t settle for anything less speedy than the ones we have listed.
If it is appropriate, consider fast software such as Ghost. If you need to run a content management system like WordPress or Joomla, consider minimizing the number of plug-ins and Flash videos.
If you want to look for alternatives or want to check out other hosting companies running on Apache, LiteSpeed, or Nginx, then use hosting services comparison tool to find them and evaluate them yourself.
|$35/yr ($2.92/mo)||Visit Site|