Hosting lessons for startups – five common mistakes that we all make
Since we first took the decision to host www.alchemya.com domain on yahoo.com in 2004, we have come a long way. The list of domains and sub domains has grown and the number of WordPress properties that we run has simply mushroomed. With the growth has come traffic and the end of naivety about hosting, hosting plans and hosting choices.
While a number of lessons were learnt in the initial years about the hosting experience, the last six months with FinanceTrainingCourse.com, our growth in traffic, page views and the struggle to find an acceptable host have been an education in itself.
Here are some simple lessons that I wish I had understood before I did a few things when we started up. I hope they prove to be useful for you when you get traction and get going.
One caveat. My assumption here is that your are trying to build a world class site with world class hosting.
A site that will get high quality traffic volumes from all across the world. I am assuming that you will have an interactive and growing forum, most likely a buddy press extension or variation as well as features that push the limit in user experience and speed and require you to pick a plan that uses cpu cycles as well as bandwidth.
If all you are thinking of building is a simple blog that serves as an informal diary with minimal features and reasonable traffic you will be happy with basic hosting as I was for the last 8 years.
1. Don’t book your domain and your hosting from the same providers and don’t get the package deals.
The way domain and page ranking works, the age of the domain and the amount of time you have your domain booked and locked is an important consideration. The problem with package deals is that your domain renewal is locked for the duration of your package deal.
For example my domain A is hosted with yahoo and the package hosting deal expires at the end of the year. If I am not happy with yahoo hosting or if I only want to extend the domain given how the package is structured I can’t just extend the hosting, I have to extend the package.
Park your domains separately from your hosting till you find a provider that you are really happy with. Do the same with emails if you can. There is a bit of performance downside but in the long run given how painful certain providers have made it for you to switch hosting and domains, it is a better choice.
2. Don’t get a VPS server, get Amazon
If you get to a stage where you need a Virtual Private Server (VPS), you most likely can afford and use Amazon Web Services. We tried Yahoo, Go Daddy, Host Gator, In Motion and then finally decided to take a leap of faith and switch to Amazon, which worked really well for us.
Of the above four, would only recommend Host Gator. In Motion had great customer service but had a bad day at their East Coast data center after which they never really manage to recover. Post the datacenter incident our site availability fell short of 80% and In Motion wasn’t able to solve the problem.
Site availability cost us almost everything we had built in the last few months. Traffic, visitors and pageviews both fell off the cliff in April when availability became an issue. Luckily or unluckily for us we are in the midst of a major site redesign and couldn’t do much other than watching our traffic fall by about 70% in one month.
Yahoo and Go Daddy are an absolute big fat NO if you value your sanity and your site. Go Daddy was impossible to work with on the FTP connection and slow as tree sap on its way down. Yahoo would simply kill the site for 2 – 4 days at a stretch and no amount of kicking and screaming would get you a response. The best that they could do was “Its with Engineering, when we get an estimate we will let you know..”
3. Don’t lock yourself in for the long haul till you are absolutely positively sure
If you are still experimenting with hosting providers don’t lock in those 2 or 3 year hosting deals. In most cases as we have painfully realized they are all non-refundable. If 6 months later you find that you are sick of site outages and poor customer service, your 2 year contract will not give you anything back.
4. Take the time to understand Amazon Web Services and Rack Space
The two names that kept on popping up on our radar and our recommendation lists were Amazon web services and Rackspace. Bite the bullet and go with Amazon. Rackspace is possibly nicer for newbies and people allergic to non-windows operating systems but in the long run, Amazon has a better game than anyone in town when it comes to serious professional hosting.
Hosting providers charge for you CPU cycles and bandwidth usage. We have been trained to think in terms of bandwidth usage and generally ignore CPU cycles since for a simple static site CPU cycles are not a consideration. But if you put up rich Php based features around groups, forums, Q&A or social media add ons such as Buddypress, your CPU cycles go through the roof. We went through two iterations of VPS server upgrades before we had to shut the forum functionality down because our hosting provider kept on shutting our site down.
While Amazon charges you for CPU cycles, storage, bandwidth and hosting, the flat rate turns out to be in the same range as a high powered VPS machine. The only difference is that this is your server and you need to maintain and run it. There is an administration element involved but it is not rocket science. A few hours with Google search and you can figure it out.
5. Stay with Windows and delay the move to learn Linux
If you are serious about this business, you need to be serious about Linux. Yes it is a first step that we are all afraid to take but Linux servers and hosting is simply cheaper and more effective. Once you have taken it, you get used to it.
Be prepared to switch to Linux and not hold back for windows when the time comes.