Has web hosting become a commodity?
January 3, 2011 5:37 PM   Subscribe

Has basic web hosting become a commodity? I have found so many companies offering essentially the same features for around the same price. Is it necessary these days for the non-power user really spend time and energy choosing the best deal or the best "rated" company?

Feel free to suggest your favorite host but I'm asking MeFi primarily because it seems to me that there is very little difference in the myriad of providers when choosing a basic hosting package.

If you're wondering, I don't run an online business or a high-traffic site. I just want to host a few domains, email accounts, FTP, and a decent file server with unlimited space and bandwidth.
posted by willie11 to Technology (18 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Went through the same thing, even as somewhat of a power user. It ends up feeling like a coin toss. In hindsight I have rarely been disappointed with my choices, however the only thing I've ever been turned off by is add-on costs. For example, a fee to add a domain or a fee for extra mailboxes. But in recent years those fees have seemed to become irrelevant since you end up getting a lot with basic plans nowadays.

I would definitely be more concerned with getting unlimited bandwidth than unlimited disk space (which might be hard to find anyway). Most of the disk space allocations are fairly huge and unless you're planning on doing a video sharing site you'll likely be fine.

Overall I actually like my sub $10 a month Godaddy Linux plan. I can add lots of domains and emails and there's unlimited bandwidth with lots of disk space. Other people might poo-poo GD but I haven't had any issues.
posted by thorny at 5:53 PM on January 3, 2011

In my experience, it's not the features or price that makes a web host stand out - it's the service. Finding a host that has good uptime and will respond to help tickets in a timely manner is makes all the difference in the world.

FWIW, my two favorites for years have been Hosting Matters and Insider Hosting.
posted by geeky at 5:53 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Laughingsquid.net or enginehosting.com for their excellent service.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:55 PM on January 3, 2011

One web hosting provider that is different is NearlyFreeSpeech.NET. Its pricing model is quite unique, in that you pay only for what you actually use (there are no "monthly plans" etc.). For many people, it works out to be much cheaper. I end up paying about $3 / month for my hosting, and that includes DNS server, e-mail forwarding, and a MySQL instance.
posted by Emanuel at 5:55 PM on January 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Dreamhost tried to differentiate themselves by calling their VPS offering just "PS" or something like that, but then they went back to VPS -- people who are shopping by value need to compare like to like.

I've used about 25 or 30 different web hosts through my work as a web guy, and I have to say that there are some differentiating factors that really do matter:

1. Support: Even some of the places that say "we don't outsource our support" are trying to get away with "we hire all our support staff directly" even though it's still low-quality support from developing nations.

2. Business trajectory: You are not just buying hosting, you are buying in. This is an ongoing service, not just a one-time thing. It can take a while to get everything configured as you need it, matched up to your host's environment. It can take a while to get used to their control panel. But once they get bought out by some far-away investment group, and the service starts to decline, all that time you spent starts feeling like a little jewel you need to protect. This is one of the biggest reasons not to shop on price alone. It's one of the biggest reasons to go with good reputation.

3. Location: If you do (or start doing) web work for people, it really does become an advantage to have hosting located near you. They will ask, and if your host is located 4000 miles away, they will ask why it's not local.

4. Your relationship with the software you use: If you're big into open source, fine. But if you're not really big into open source beyond "it does what I need for now," you should keep an eye on other web platforms that are being sold on a software-as-a-service basis. We are entering a time when a new wave of proprietary software is just hitting the market, and the hosting landscape is going to change dramatically. It may be a good time to explore commercial offerings -- for example, if you're not really excited about maintaining open source software, maybe it'd be better to find a service that does it for you and still lets you customize your website. This gets more important as more proprietary technology starts flooding the market.

For your purposes right now, it seems like you are in a room full of places with identical offerings. But if you start looking at these points and looking down the road a bit, that can narrow things down.
posted by circular at 6:09 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, basic web hosting is a commodity. I think it's been that way for a few years. It was 2007 when Dreamhost consolidated their various hosting plans to a single option that's basically unlimited everything. I'd say it was a commodity then, if not before.
posted by scottreynen at 6:13 PM on January 3, 2011

You want a Baby Plan.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 6:23 PM on January 3, 2011

The infrastructure to support a good level of uptime, features, and customer service is beyond the budgets of the small players. I've only had good experiences with the major players such as Network Solutions and my current favorite Bluehost. Avoid the re-sellers, go to the source.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 6:27 PM on January 3, 2011

For what you're doing, it may not make much difference as long as you choose a decent host. However, I've seen HUGELY different performance between similar on paper hosts when using database-driven platforms like Wordpress.
posted by The Lamplighter at 6:27 PM on January 3, 2011

To throw in the guys I use (no business relationship other than being a customer with a dedicated server): www.liquidweb.com - they are a direct source, not a reseller, and they do a great job.

Beyond that recommendation, I would agree that there are a ton of competent ones, but unfortunately there are still fly-by-nights. The only way to make money at ultra-low fees is to stuff too many users on each box and/or provide crappy service.

I would agree that most COMPETENT hosts provide similar options, i.e. a similar cpanel roll-out with about the same bells and whistles. But that's like saying practically all hamburgers have buns, meat, and pickles. Still room for a lot of quality differences.

A final tip - if you're mainly planning to use a particular app, like Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, etc. - go to the forums for these apps and look around at hosting threads. Different hosts do "get" certain apps better than others, and while it will mainly be up to you to keep your app ticking over, it's very helpful to have your host at least know what basic server config issues help that app work better (or not).
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:50 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Came here to post about NearlyFreeSpeech, so, what Emanuel said.

The only other major difference I can think of in terms of hosting is a company's level of legal or political protection for you, the customer.

If you want to start a website with content related to, for instance, drugs or sex, you might want to think a bit harder about the hosting company's attitude to takedown notices, cease and desist orders, the US State Department, etc.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:54 PM on January 3, 2011

Best answer: web hosting is a commodity, and you'll find a ton of offers because it's very easy to become a reseller.
Of course you should prefer an offer from a direct source, who owns its infrastructure and don't outsource its support. A good reputation for excellent support is the key, support is the most important factor of a good hosting, and I would say it's the hardest thing to do right.
That said, it's impossible to answer without knowing your needs (website, vps, dedicated?), skills or budget, but one of the best source to make your choice is webhostingtalk.
I would say serverpoint or liquidweb (a bit expensive) are safe choices, I used them both.
posted by anto1ne at 7:56 PM on January 3, 2011

Response by poster: How does one find out if a host is reselling?
posted by willie11 at 8:03 PM on January 3, 2011

Seconding HostingMatters -- I've been with them for longer than I can remember, their prices are reasonable, their support is excellent, and the downtime is fairly insignificant from what I've seen.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:23 PM on January 3, 2011

Best answer: Commodity: yes. Has been for years. There's been major consolidation in the web hosting market in recent years and as a result hosting plans become more and more alike instead of differentiated. And that differentiation would fly in the face of affiliate marketers who do everything they can to force hosting providers to make their plans similar because they are putting "rankings" together on their sites in the form of feature checklists.

The one thing I will caution you is that NONE of the web hosting "ranking" sites are legitimately ranking them objectively. Those are affiliate sites and they get paid for funneling web hosting sign ups to those companies. The companies that rank at the top are the ones willing to pay the highest affiliate commissions and/or leads to the most conversions and therefore provide the most revenue.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:37 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This one's easy: since the services being provided are indeed commoditized, go by word-of-mouth recommendation, because you are buying on features, uptime and tech support -- only the first of which can be ascertained by the web site.

In short, ask everyone you know, avoid their avoids, and review their recommended places until you find one with the features you want.

Is it worth that effort? Yes, because nobody wants to get everything set up and working, only to have it turn into a disaster the next week. And that kind of effort (vs surfing web sites for info) will pay off better, and keep you from getting sucked into the nightmare quagmire of sites shilling for companies instead of being impartial.
posted by davejay at 9:56 PM on January 3, 2011

oh, and I like HostGator.
posted by davejay at 9:57 PM on January 3, 2011

I think you're buying customer service, ease of use (especially if you're relatively novice), and uptime.

For whatever it's worth, I helped a friend move from GoDaddy hosting to Dreamhost sometime last year and I personally use HostGator. Judging from my experiences with the three, I prefer HostGator, think Dreamhost is pretty decent, and would vehemently warn everyone away from GoDaddy.
posted by asciident at 1:02 AM on January 4, 2011

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