Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

In Search For a Web Host

20120305_215835For the last three years, I’ve been hosting my website, ZitSeng.com, with BlueHost. They are a fine web hosting provider. My contract was expiring, and while there wasn’t really anything wrong with them, my requirements have slightly evolved since, and BlueHost no longer met my needs. So I was out in the market looking for new hosting solutions.

To be honest, I was quite attracted to the option of buying a cloud compute instance, such as from Amazon Web Services or Digital Ocean. However, they are relatively costly compared with the buffet-style unlimited-everything web hosting plans I’ve been using. My BlueHost web hosting service was one such unlimited-everything plan which had cost me only US$4.95 per month on a 36-month contract.

These unlimited-everything web hosting plans still remain a working option for me. I do have other hosting requirements, and this was a good opportunity to review my overall hosting, storage, and server needs. However, to keep to the purpose of this post, let me just jump to my final decision that, for the purpose of this ZitSeng.com site, I’ll continue to go with a shared web hosting service.

Three years ago, my decision to go with BlueHost was based on these basic requirements:

  • Unlimited-everything: domains/subdomains, disk quota, transfer bandwidth, MySQL accounts
  • Unix host
  • Full shell access via SSH
  • Support Perl, PHP, Python (with reasonably updated versions)
  • MySQL with reasonably updated version
  • Cron support
  • Development environment includes: gcc, gdb, etc
  • Web-based control panel with some sort of script installer

My requirements are actually relatively few. Many web hosting services will boast a feature list so long that mine seems very basic. The truth is that there are plenty of features I don’t really use, nor do I care about. However, I do ask for a couple of features that seem to be not so universally supported. That helps me narrow down my choices somewhat.

Let me say a few words about unlimited-everything plans. It’s not that I’m greedy. I just don’t like to think about quotas. Either the web host gives me unlimited everything, or gives me so generous a quota that it’s almost like unlimited. Most unlimited-everything plans still do impose a fair-use policy. I’m happy to accept reasonable fair-use policies, since it’s not my intent, after all, to abuse these unlimited-everything services. This website currently uses only 2GB of total disk space.

I had another requirement. It’s more like a strong preference, and it’s that the web hosting provider should adopt eco-friendly practices. Unfortunately, three years ago, I settled on BlueHost for various reasons, despite the company not advertising any eco-friendliness in their business.

This year, as I scouted around for a new web hosting company, I resolved that eco-friendliness should be given greater emphasis. I also had a new requirement: IPv6 support.

I was quite apprehensive. To begin with, the eco-friendliness criteria already knocks out many web hosting companies. It’s true that in recent years, more companies are becoming mindful of environmental sustainability, but it’s hardly a prevalent practice. Now, add to that the requirement for IPv6, another good for the future but not useful for current users feature, it seems like I would not find any suitable web hosting company.

The lack of IPv6 from the web hosting company can be partly mitigated by going through a service like CloudFlare. I prefer not to, but it can be a workable compromise if I really wanted my website to be IPv6 accessible. This way, I could still consider GreenGeeks, the company that was up against BlueHost in my evaluation three years ago, even though they did not support IPv6.

Fortunately, I was able to find a web hosting company that met all my mandatory requirements, was eco-friendly, and supported IPv6. Hello, DreamHost.

I don’t know why DreamHost was not on my radar previously, but I’m glad that I came to know about them this year. There are a bunch of things I like about DreamHost. Let me get into them.

The first one could actually be a negative point for casual hosting users. You see, DreamHost does not use cPanel, arguably the most popular web hosting control panel software in the market. Almost everyone uses it, and anyone who has used a shared web hosting service has likely seen and used cPanel. For casual users, this could be something important, because cPanel is a familiar interface. Instead of cPanel, DreamHost built their own control panel interface. As a result, some users may find themselves a little lost trying to navigate around or figure things out with DreamHost’s control panel.

I actually like DreamHost’s control panel. Things are laid out logically, and I know where to find things that I need. To me, DreamHost’s decision to build their own control panel is actually a positive thing. First, it shows that they have technical expertise to build their own management infrastructure. Secondly, it allows them to integrate various parts of their services more tightly together, allowing them to offer new value added services without stitching a kludgy control panel widget to manage them.

DreamHost does offer a couple of unique extra features. For example, they have integration with CloudFlare services, and support CloudFlare’s Railgun feature. They support Apache mod_security and Google’s PageSpeed tools. They can help enable Google Analytics for your website, and run a Jabber chat server for you. They support SSL secure hosting (using individual domain certificates) over common shared IP. These are small little features, but they are likely to be things that techie hosting users find interesting or useful. Also, these are the nice extras that show how DreamHost can differentiate themselves from other web hosting companies.

Their control panel also integrates their other services such as CafeCommerce (a third party service), DreamObjects (their version of Amazon S3), DreamCompute (their version of Amazon EC), and VPS/dedicated server controls. They build their own control panel, so everything fits in together nicely.

I’ll mention again DreamHost’s support for IPv6 and eco-friendly practices:

  • Static IPv6 addresses are free, and why not, since IPv6 addresses are plentiful. It’s a simple way to instantly IPv6 enable your website.
  • DreamHost is carbon neutral. They purchase Renewable Energy Credits and Emission Reduction Credits to offset electricity they draw from the utility grid and other unavoidable carbon emissions.

DreamHost has built a service that will appeal to seasoned hosting users. They offer a bunch of technical features that can differentiate themselves from other web hosting companies. They are eco-friendly. Finally, their web hosting plan still remains competitively priced.

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