£50 a month to host two small (Plone) websites?
September 23, 2011 10:23 AM   Subscribe

I think my friend's small company might be getting ripped off. I need advice as to what is acceptable pricing for building and running a couple of websites.

So my friend works for a 3 person outfit. They required a simple, no fuss website, which they can easily add content to for news updates, etc. usual stuff, but constant attention to the content is important, and new sections to the site might be needed at the drop of a hat, when new projects are implemented.

They chose a particular design company, who also setup and run the hosting of the site. The first year of hosting was free, but they had to pay for the design and implementation.

The site is good, but misses some key features they have asked for. They find it doesn't quite fulfill all their needs, and not being very technically savvy, they also run two or three other services (such as a NING community) to fill in the gaps.

They ask me to help them out with tech stuff occasionally. I hadn't realised how spread out their web presence was until they showed me. I am torn as to the advice I should give them.

The design/hosting company sent them an email after a year saying:
"Now your free year of hosting is over you will have to pay £50 A MONTH".
I said that this was a lot, especially since the design fee was paid ages ago and the site doesn't really live up to all expectations. I said they could do a similar job with a wordpress site, in fact, they could use wordpress to seamlessly link all their different web needs together. Cheaply. I believe this is true, and that hosting it elsewhere would be much cheaper, but I am also aware that for a small outfit time is important. They have neither the time nor the tech knowledge to deal with backend website stuff (like implementing wordpress).

They sent a message echoing my concerns to the company, who replied this way:
"The two sites are hosted on our shared infrastructure. I understand your colleague's comments about hosting charges - hosting for simple web sites can be purchased for as little as £5/month.

However, both the sites are built using Plone (http://plone.org/) which requires slightly more complex hosting than static or PHP based sites. I realise that of course I would say this, but £25/month for hosting a Plone site is well below the average market rate.

The service is made up of the following:

* Space on our shared servers
* Guaranteed bandwidth of 10Mbps
* Unlimited data transfer each month
* Nightly full backups, retained for 30 days
* Access to our outbound email infrastructure
* Access to our DNS infrastructure
* A share of the operational cost of running the server
* Regular security patching of the application stack
* Regular security patching of the underlying operating system

The key point is that we manage the entire process for you rather than, say, one of the cheaper PHP hosts where you would have to manage the security of your own application."
Again, I believe most of these features are pretty standard on a regular hosting account. They are s small outfit and don't need shitloads of bandwidth. the company know this, or they should.

Are they getting ripped off? I'm sure PLONE is great, but is it necessary, especially for a small outfit? Should they demand a backup of their site and move on to wordpress etc? Or should they stick with the company, but ask them for a much more dynamic design and an update for their money?

What do you think?

posted by bollockovnikov to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, plone does have much more rigorous requirements than Wordpress. http://plone.org/documentation/kb/plone-system-requirements

Given that this non-profit doesn't seem to be doing anything serious as far as the web goes, Plone was probably overkill. That combined with the lack of features the nonprofit wants is especially not good. However, now you are stuck with it so you'll have to decide if you'd rather redevelop in a PHP system or pay the hosting fees.

I don't think self-hosting is a serious option as managing your own Plone installation will waste much more than 600 pounds / year of time if you don't know what you're doing.
posted by michaelh at 10:32 AM on September 23, 2011

Er, I don't know why I thought it was a non-profit. Makes no difference, though.
posted by michaelh at 10:35 AM on September 23, 2011

Oof. What a pain.

I mean, £50/month for hosting isn't crazy. Especially with nightly backups. (I pay a lot more than that just for my backups alone, but for a bigger site.) And they ARE actually providing services for the fee. I don't think it's technically a rip-off.

That being said... This is an unfortunate situation where they didn't get everything they wanted, and they should have. And NOW this whole thing, as you suspect, is yeah, sort of more annoying than having them do it themselves in Wordpress. Like, to untangle it all will be impenetrable and annoying and it'll have to be basically done from scratch.

If it were me in their shoes, I would eventually start over with a system that I UNDERSTOOD and had full access to and could work with. But then I'd be losing time building my company.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:40 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah. They never asked for Plone. I think it's overkill - which is a sign the design company didn't read their needs very well - and now they are almost held hostage by it.

posted by bollockovnikov at 10:43 AM on September 23, 2011

On a quick Google, it looks like Plone is generally only offered in a VPS environment, I didn't see any shared plone hosting. That being the case 50 a month is not terribly out of line. The issue is, are they better off redoing the site in Wordpress? I host 6 low traffic WP sites for $75 a year.
posted by COD at 10:44 AM on September 23, 2011

Not only standard, but the features that you list are pretty mandatory for any decent web hosting. One of my web hosts costs $10 per month and I get all of that minus script maintenance, i.e. I have to install and manage Wordpress or any other system by myself.

As for Plone being better than Wordpress or Drupal - I got to pretty much laugh at that. Wordpress is incredibly flexible and fully sufficient for a vanilla corporate site, at least it was for the companies I worked with. One could even say that Wordpress/Drupal is better to use because it's easier to find developers to work on it in case your friend decides to change hosting.

Web hosting this expensive usually offers lots of performance, outstanding uptime or support, or completely takes care of the maintenance and upgrade of the CMS and any other system they've set up. Does this hosting provider offer any of this? Are new features added upon request? If so, £25 per site probably is worth it.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:45 AM on September 23, 2011

All the background is sunk costs. Their only real options are:

1) Move to a new non-Plone platform that fixes their issues. This will cost a significant amount of money unless they are tech savvy and can do it themselves or you as the friend are willing to do it for free. Either way, it will take a significant amount of their time.

2) Move their Plone install to a new host that costs less. This requires research and that they know how to do the migration, or requires paying someone to it for them. It would probably save them a bit each month.

3) Pay the £50 bill each month.

Both options (1) and (2) sound like an awful headache.

Next time they should make sure they know how much the hosting will cost after the free year before they sign the contract.
posted by smackfu at 10:47 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

A lot of web shops seem to have become single-CMS specialists in the past couple of years, whether it's Drupal/Joomla or something like Plone, which has a smaller, extremely loyal developer community with a number of equally small, loyal hosting companies serving them. While this allows greater focus, it can lead to Procrustean-bed sitebuilding and host lock-in, especially for more obscure platforms that don't fit the offerings of standard shared hosting packages.

(For what it's worth, Plone really does require a custom server build that makes it an ill fit with those standard hosting plans.)

I wouldn't call this a "rip-off": it's more a "cheap razor, expensive blades" situation. It's up to your friends whether they want to pay up front for a new backend that gives them greater flexibility both in terms of their hosting options, and the range of developers with the skills and experience to make future upgrades.
posted by holgate at 10:48 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

On a quick Google, it looks like Plone is generally only offered in a VPS environment, I didn't see any shared plone hosting.

Plone is built on Zope -- historically, a big, monolithic application server framework with its own native object database. It doesn't fit at all with the standard shared / virtual host model, which is much more amenable to PHP/MySQL backends like Wordpress, Joomla or Drupal.
posted by holgate at 10:58 AM on September 23, 2011

The thing is, if your friends decided to go with Wordpress, implementation would probably be straightforward (although I have to say that things like "constant attention to the content is important" and "new sections" sound very unclear). The issue would be everyday maintenence, e.g. making sure everything is running, installing updates, etc. Since your friends don't have the required skills, they would have to hire someone to do it. So the question is, if they went with Wordpress, how many maintenance+development hours would they need each month?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:00 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

My advice would be for your friends to not be in a hurry but to find a design and hosting company that better understands their needs.

Their designers gave them overkill with Plone but didn't give them what they asked for.

Might as well get it right the second time.
posted by maurreen at 11:10 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

They're not getting ripped-off, but they probably bought more than they needed. I agree with the people who think they should take their time and look for another solution, while keeping this one active. Chalk it up to a learning experience and take your time and get exactly what you want in writing this time.
posted by empath at 11:44 AM on September 23, 2011

webfaction.com seem to say they provide plone on their shared accounts, which are $9.50/mo and provide all the other things listed, and it's a good, well respected host, with prompt support included. You can ask webfaction if plone is indeed included in the $9.50 price, or if it costs more.

Also ask them why they used plone as opposed to let's say django or some other good python framework with cms available, or php / ruby cms. Maybe it was a good choice, maybe not, but I think plone and zope are usually used for / by much larger companies.

Show them quote from webfaction and if they don't budge, tell them frankly that their price can be a bit higher than webfaction and that's ok as long as it's close enough to make it worth moving to a cheaper host.

It does sound like they're trying to milk them.

If you're overpaying 40 pounds a month, spending a bit to move to a new host will pay for itself pretty quickly.

In addition, if they tried to trick you in this manner, that's not a good sign and who is to say they're actually doing the backups and security updates?

I'd also look at the rates / availability of developers in plone, django, php and ruby frameworks and see if it makes financial sense to redo it on a different platform.
posted by rainy at 4:29 PM on September 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all your advice. very helpful indeed. I will pass them on to my friend and hopefully together we can make a better decision....
posted by bollockovnikov at 6:37 AM on September 24, 2011

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