I received an invitation today (July 12, 2010) from Web Hosting Hub to try out their hosting service and compare it to my current web hosting provider (who shall remain nameless). There are a number of key features that I look for. Note that this list is from memory, and I didn't check their list of features before writing it.
As you can see, I'm quite a picky user. I know my tools, I know what works best for me with my experience and mastery of the technology. And I know if a vendor is trying to shine me on. To help me in this comparison, WebHostingHub.com provides a handy table to compare their features against their competitors.
Now, obviously I know exactly what I want out of a hosting provider. If you're new at this game, though, WHH provides a number of guides to help you make your decision:
How to choose a webhosting provider is an overview of things those of us in the industry a long time know to look for. Company longevity, space and bandwidth, customer service, and reliability are all really important to look at. If you've outgrown your Blogger account or want more flexibility, configurability, and tools for your web site, you should read this to help you figure out what you're looking for. Of course, WHH scores high on the marks in its own evaluation, but it's still a good read.
Is Dedicated Hosting The Solution For You? is useful to help you evalute if you really need all the power dedicated hosting provides. Because dedicated hosting is so resource-inefficient, it's much more expensive than shared hosting, but offers you almost unlimited configurability. I've been down that route before, and while it's nice having the power at your fingertips, even for me -- a bona-fide power-user -- it was more than what I needed and I eventually went to a shared-hosting provider principally due to the price of dedicated hosting.
Should You Consider Windows Web Hosting? covers that age-old question: Linux or Windows? This is a No-B.S. evaluation of the benefits and risks of both. It all boils down to your application, as usual, and despite Web Hosting Hub being a mostly Linux shop, they give Windows a fair shake here.
Now to figure out whether they're going to meet my needs as outlined above, and have reasonable prices, to boot. I stepped through their signup pages. Right on the front page, I found they hit some of my non-negotiable requirements:
I clicked through to the "See All Features" link. And there it was: Drupal support, Blogging Tools, PHP5, Python, Perl, cron jobs... OK. This looks like a pretty standard UNIX hosting place now. Good, good sign. I kept going, though I didn't see "shell access" anywhere on the list.
Well, my usual next step is "Is there a coupon?" I know, that probably sounds weird, but one of the first things I look for is some sort of discount available for the first time period after signup. With my current provider, it was the first year for $20, subsequent years for $120 per year. Which is about what I expect. How does WebHostingHub stack up? Well, after some Googling for "WebHostingHub coupons", I found several affiliate deals that purpoted to offer a discount, but in fact were trying to redirect your search to competing service providers. Unable to find any further discounts, I decided to choose the standard $4.95 a month deal using their regular signup.
I found an error that caused me some concern at the first signup page, though. There was a grammatical error. It reads "All account include a FREE domain registration or transfer!" As you probably know, "accounts" should be plural. This is a fairly common mistake among non-native writers, though. It got me thinking: where is this place hosted? The first thing I checked was the IP address: 188.8.131.52. Running this through ARIN, the American Registry of Internet Numbers, I found they were a US-hosted company working under the InMotion Hosting netblock. OK, so they are in the US and it looks legit, based in Wyoming.
One thing I like to do is look up the Netcraft stats on various providers to figure out what they're running. Here's Netcraft's page on WHH.
What does this tell me? First, that they've been around for at least eight years doing the same business: providing low-cost shared hosting.
I paged one of their sales engineers from their web site on chat to see how well that worked. Within just a few seconds after submitting the form with my question, a chat box popped up, and I had a sales engineer on the line ready to answer my questions.
Matthew P. Barnson: I'm evaluating your service and have some questions: Do you offer ssh shell access to accounts? What operating systems do you use? Do you offer any month-to-month plans, or only yearly plans?
You are now speaking with Brian of Sales.
Brian: Hello Matthew.
Matthew P. Barnson: Hi, Brian. Nice to meet you!
Brian: We do not offer SSH as our account is shared hosting.
Brian: We bill in 12, 24, and 36 month increments. 12 months is $83.40 at a $6.95 per month price point, 24 months is $142.80 at a $5.95 per month price point and 36 months is $172.80 at a $4.95 per month price point.
Matthew P. Barnson: And what operating system are you running under the hood on the shared accounts?
Brian: We run CentOS a Red Hat Enterprise on our servers.
Matthew P. Barnson: Thanks, Brian. You've been very helpful. I appreciate you taking a few minutes to answer my questions. Have a good night!
Brian: My pleasure.
When you are ready to get signed up it is much faster to order over the phone with us as all online orders are held up to 30 minutes for verification and also we do call to confirm any order received through our website prior to activating the account. Please feel free to give me a call at 1-877-595-4482, or 757-416-6627 for international customers then option 9, then extension 878. We can have you setup in 5 minutes and I can also address anymore questions you may have. Or if easier you can contact me through chat by simply putting my name into the question line of the chat.
Now, it's important to be aware of the rates. You get the special introductory rate only for your initial signup. This is pretty typical of the webhosting industry, but it's worth your time to check out the terms of service.
Web Hosting Hub's terms of service are pretty standard. No pr0n, no spam, shared hosting means be a good citizen and not hogging the CPU or memory. I found nothing out of the ordinary. But it's really important that you be fully aware of what it is you're buying, and what a "FULL Money-Back Guarantee" actually means:
If you're looking for a web hosting provider with very decent fees, a solid Internet connection , unlimited transfers, and a plethora of tools to help you set up your site for a minimal time investment, WebHostingHub.com may be the exact match you're looking for. They're very competitive with other services, and offer a discount on 3-year paid-in-advance service that's really hard to beat. They are also clearly offering an ethical service, are based in the USA, and don't appear to have any hidden terms to surprise you.
On the other hand, if you already have a web provider with many of these features who meets or beats the price -- or if you are a hard-core geek like me who feels he absolutely needs shell access with any hosting provider -- you may want to look elsewhere. In the end, the lack of shell access was the deal-killer for me... but if you don't even know what a shell is, or if you can live without one, WebHostingHub is definitely worth checking out.