The difficulty of finding solutions

I have a need to host some websites. After a bit of research my first thought was that I would use a virtual private server configured with one of the many free control panels (Ravencore, DTC, VHCS, etc.) In my quest to find a reasonably priced VPS company I located a fantastic resource for comparing VPS plans: There you’ll find a searchable index of various VPS vendors and their plans so it’s easy to find one that fits both your requirements and your budget.

After playing around with a few different VPS vendors I discovered a few things. First, those free web hosting control panels are extremely difficult to install. Take it from someone who has been using *NIX for years, custom compiles Linux kernels with patches and has never had a problem installing web software. I spent hours trying to get a variety of these control panels working on two different VPS hosts with no luck. These things are a nightmare! If you’re asked to install one either run the other way as fast as you can or prepare to spend a lot of time playing with it to make it work.

Secondly, I discovered that most of the inexpensive VPS plans are incredibly difficult to work with and have questionable reliability. When they work, they work great but that seems to be a big problem. Most of the less expensive VPS vendors do not have a web control panel where you can do simple tasks such as re-install your server (useful after trying to install a web control panel which screws it all up, see above) or re-boot the VPS. Some of these vendors don’t even offer console access to your VPS meaning if you shut off the Ethernet port you’re simply out of luck until tech support gets around to restarting your VPS. In short, the problems compared to dedicated servers with physical access show the immaturity of this technology which has great potential.

That said my suggestion if you’re interested in VPS is twofold, first go with a provider using Xen as opposed to Virtuozzo or some of the others. It seems to be the most stable and prevents overselling of RAM which can be an issue with less scrupulous hosting companies. Secondly, be aware of the problems and pitfalls you can have with VPS and spend a month testing reliability before making a server active. There’s a lot of potential here for something between shared hosting and dedicated servers, the market just hasn’t shaken out yet.

Based on my difficulty with getting the hosting control panels to work on a VPS server and a shortage of time on my part to work through it I decided to move to a simple reseller plan from one of the shared hosting companies. This makes my life simpler, if less flexible, by moving the locus of control for most of the server functions to another company, e.g. they need to keep the OS up to date and make sure everything is functioning. The downside is I need to start from square one searching for a hosting company. I’ve had experiences with a few of these shared hosting companies in the past and you really have to watch out for sleezebags. There are a lot of fly-by-night operations promising lots of unlimited stuff (bandwidth, space, etc) for very little per month. Stay away! Usually they have lots of fine print, things aren’t what they seem and if nothing else the company will soon go out of business leaving you high and dry. Two of my favorite sites for finding shared web hosts are HostSearch and FindMyHost, again be aware that many of the host search companies are untrustworthy and skew results to favor advertisers or are actually owned by hosting companies pushing you to sign up with them.

Even with respectable sites such as these it’s much more difficult to find a good reseller account than a simple web host. I’m especially difficult because my specialty is mail servers and I’ve found many hosts (and even ISPs) that have a poor understanding of running mailservers (which manifests itself in poor mail performance and spam filtering) so I tend to want to know quite a bit about their server setup before making a committment. This information isn’t available on the typical webhost’s website so it usually involves contacting the host and waiting for a response which sometimes never comes.

By now you’re getting the picture that the webhosting business is quite a nasty place which is fairly accurate. Even big personalities can be caught off guard by a problematic host such as this weekend when Leo Laporte’s network of sites went mostly offline due to a hardware failure (somewhat understandable, if poor planing) but stayed offline for several days because of inaction on the part of the host (bad move, especially for such a visable network of sites). As for me I’m hosting the sites temporairly without the benefit a control panel on one of my dedicated servers while I continue to search for a respectable, but not overly expensive reseller host.

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