The Host With The Most
October 13, 2005 7:17 PM   Subscribe

I am completely clueless about web hosting. Let's say I wanted to start a web business. And let's say that web business relied on a variety of different web technologies. At this point, I am technologically agnostic. For the sake of this question, let's pretend those technologies could be a combination of anything, i.e. .Net, Cold Fusion, PHP, Ruby On Rails, Lotus/Domino, Perl, Python, Real Media, Flash, Oracle, SAP, MySQL, etc. etc.
Are there managed hosting companies that will essentially rent you a beefy server in a cozy and secure data center with a clean install of Linux/Windows/etc, which will in turn let you install whatever technology you want as long as you have the requisite software licenses.
I could just host this out of my house, but I would prefer not to purchase my own enterprise server(s), T-1, diesel generator, fireproof room, and requisite Red Bull I will need to stay awake just in case it all falls down.
What are my options?
posted by jasondigitized to Technology (18 answers total)
Yes -- there are many, many companies that do that. What you're looking for is usually called a 'dedicated server' or 'root access server' or something similar. For example, I have a couple from 1and1 that cost me about $80 per month each, and allow 100Gb or more of data transfer a month. (Which is far more than most sites would ever need.) If you completely hose the machine, you can have it automatically restored to its virgin state, too -- so it's handy if you're just experimenting with stuff.

/not affiliated, just a happy customer.
posted by littleme at 7:23 PM on October 13, 2005

There's several options for you (forgive me if I'm slightly rusty). You can buy a box and simply put it in a colocation facility. If I remember correctly the co-lo will do basic maintenance for you (reboot, run backups) but that's about it.

Most small companies will let you work out a deal if you want them to manage a specific box, if you tell them what you want on it and how to run it, etc.

All these will cost you, I don't think you'll find a packaged deal if that's what you're looking for.

I don't know what kind of uptime your business needs (or really can afford) but I if I were you I'd buy and manage two servers so one can fail over to the other and find a colocation facility close to you so you can go out and replace parts as needed instead of paying some contracter $120/hour to replace a harddrive. If you don't know how to manage servers on your own (really install, make sure it doesn't break, let it go), you'll have to hire someone -- but if it's a business this is just a required expense and shouldn't be too bad.
posted by geoff. at 7:25 PM on October 13, 2005

John Companies is one colocation service that will host a Linux or BSD box for you. You can do whatever you like with that box. You will often pay a premium over more restrictive and common hosting services for this privilege. The colocation service will take care of the dirty work of backups and power redundancy, etc.
posted by Rothko at 7:34 PM on October 13, 2005

Yes, and the one I use is quite excellent, though it is a small company.

What I use is a 'jail' as detailed on their front page. I really don't need a full rented server, and likely neither do you.
posted by Kickstart70 at 7:59 PM on October 13, 2005

The best Linux hosting company I've seen is EasySpeedy. You sign up with a credit card, pick your server size, pick a distro and wait a half-hour while it's automatically installed. Then you SSH to your server as root and go to town. You can remotely reboot, reinstall (or change) the Linux distro, or reset the power.
posted by nicwolff at 7:59 PM on October 13, 2005

As others have said, there are many many hosts that do this. The basic categories you'll find:
  1. Co-location: you provide the server -- often fedex'ed to their datacenter -- and they provide the rack, the power, and the bandwidth. Normally you pay a flat fee based on the size of your machine (e.g. 2U) and then you pay for bandwidth seperately (e.g. $50 per Mbit). Most colo deals are for rackmount servers, but you can find some hosts that will accept midtowers too. This is the best option if you have up-front cash because you own the server and are only paying for power and bandwidth. If you are within driving distance to the datacenter, some will let you physically access your system if the need arises, but most of the time you do everything remotely. Some people are turned off by the idea of shipping their server to a datacenter far away from where they live. There is also the issue of hardware failure. Diagnosing the fault, getting a replacement part, and installing it can be a bit of a hassle when the whole server has to be shipped back and forth between you and them, which can result in extended downtime if there's a failure. When you rent a dedicated server, you don't have to worry about this, and if hardware fails they can just replace it on site or set you up on another server.
  2. Dedicated hosting: This is where you pay a monthly fee in return for exclusive use of a server. It will come with the operating system of your choice preinstalled, and from there you are free to do whatever you want with it. Here you are not only paying for power, space, and bandwidth, but also renting the hardware. The price varies greatly depending on the specs of the machine (CPU, ram, disk space, etc..) and the amount of bandwidth. These days you can get dedicated servers for as little as $30 or as much as $500 (and more) so there is something for every budget.
  3. Virtual private server (VPS) / Virtual dedicated server (VDS) - this is similar to a real dedicated server in that you get total control of a machine and are free to install whatever you want and configure it as you see fit. However rather than actually giving you a whole machine, a large, powerful machine is partitioned into a number of virtual machines. There are three main technologies here: User-mode linux (UML), Xen, and Virtuosso. They vary in how they accomplish the task, but they all do the same general thing of isolating each virtual machine from the others, so that you are still guaranteed a certain portion of RAM and CPU. The advantage here is that it's much cheaper because the host can sell one large server to 2, 4, 8, or more people. You still get most of the advantages of a dedicated server without the high cost. Typically you will have less RAM and CPU as you would with a dedicated server, but for many people just doing standard webhosting, you do not need the full resources of a dedicated machine, so this makes sense.
There is also shared hosting, but there you do not have much control of the configuration of the server. You are essentially just allowed to upload your files and hope that the server is configured satisfactorily.

There are hundreds and hundreds of hosts that offer various forms of one of these plans. I suggest you look in the advertising forums of to get an idea of what kinds of deals there are out there. It's important to survey a variety of offers, because the prices tend to be all over the map. There are also a number of addons that many hosts offer, such as WHM/cPanel licenses (which makes hosting web sites for clients much easier), extra bandwidth, extra dedicated IPs, tape backups, and so on.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:40 PM on October 13, 2005

I meant to add that there's a fourth type of VPS, the FreeBSD jail. It's a different technology but the concept is the same.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:54 PM on October 13, 2005

Depending on your implementation, you may not even need a totally dedicated server somehwere. Most web hosts provide both "colo" accounts, where you get your own box in their datacenter, and also "shared" accounts, where you get some space on a box with other users, and all of you have access to the server software on that box.

Another option to consider is using a hosted service to run your business. If all you intend to do is sell some kind of physical object, you may do very well with a Yahoo! store or some kind of presence on eBay. At this point in time, many types on online business already have several decent offerings you can play with, whether you are selling content or physical objects. In other words: don't rewrite the shopping cart.

Are you clueless about commercial web hosting because you have always hosted your own sites on your own machines? Or because you're generally clueless about the innards of the web? If the latter, watch out for hucksters, and by all means, get a partner with some experience and expertise before you go into business online.

I've had good experiences with and Check 'em out.
posted by scarabic at 8:55 PM on October 13, 2005

For some reason everyone on metafilter goes gaga over dreamhost. I can't understand why, their prices are nothing special:

LayeredTech: AMD 3000+, 1G ram, 80GB HD, 1000GB bandwidth: $80/month + $19 setup

Dreamhost: P4 ?.?? GHz, 512MB ram, 30GB HD, 500GB bandwidth: $150/month + $150 setup

I mean come on, those aren't even in the same ballpark. Even if you prepay a whole year the dreamhost server is still $99/month.

(I have nothing to do with layeredtech, I'm not a customer, it's just one host that I know of with decent prices.)
posted by Rhomboid at 9:06 PM on October 13, 2005

Please do not use 1and1. They're freaking dreadful as many mefites (including myself) have stated many, many times on Ask and the blue.
posted by dobbs at 9:14 PM on October 13, 2005

I use ServInt's VPS product and it's really good.

Rhomboid, I think most of those Dreamhosting MeFites are running blogs and small sites on shared hosting, and for those situations, Dreamhost is a very good deal indeed. Dedicated servers...not so much.
posted by evariste at 10:15 PM on October 13, 2005

One rare thing about ServInt: you can actually call the NOC if you need tech support. You should rarely need it, but it's there if you do. Another nice thing: a lot of hosts say they have some form of backup but you really can't count on it, and they'll charge you some $120/hr fee to restore from it and take a long time. I've asked ServInt to restore a file or directory I deleted and later regretted deleting, and they responded within 15 minutes, given me my choice of four different snapshots ranging from a couple hours before I deleted it to the week before, and when I chose one, had it restored before the hour was up. Really top-notch service. A bit pricier than most VPS hosting, but well, well worth it.
posted by evariste at 10:20 PM on October 13, 2005

Rhomboid, dreamhost has great prices for shared hosting, which is what scarabic suggested.
posted by Jairus at 10:36 PM on October 13, 2005

Servermatrix has some good offerings. They offer 1200 gigs of transfer per month on a P4/2.8 with a decent 7200 RPM IDE drive for about $130/mo. They have an unlimited bandwidth option, but that all goes through Cogent, which is No Fun. The limited bandwidth is very high quality... I believe it goes through Level3 and a couple of other Tier1 providers.

You can do quite a lot with this, but if you wanted a serious, data-heavy app, you'd probably want to rent two or three servers from them... have a couple as your 'front ends', and one beefier one as your back end, with SCSI drives. They have backup services and server monitoring, so you can offload a good chunk of your administration time onto them, if you wish. I've had pretty good response time on the tickets I've submitted, which so far have been reboots for various issues (all my fault, of course). Average reboot time has been about 30 minutes, which is fine for me... if you can't take that much downtime, then you probably don't want this kind of service anyway.

They're not the cheapest out there, but the hardware seems pretty good, and they'll let you have as much or as little control as you want. (I do all my own maintenance/patching, for instance.) Just remember that you're a very, very juicy hacker target, sitting on a full duplex 100 megabit Tier 1 connection, so you gotta keep things patched.

I tried ServerBeach, but they use really awful hardware, crummy cheapass 8139 network controllers, half-duplex 10megabit... like that. Absolute bottom-of-the-barrel stuff. I hated them so much that I cancelled after 2 days... and they wouldn't refund my setup fee!

Servermatrix's hardware is SO much better... Intel 865 chipset with Intel networking. 800Mhz FSB, gig of RAM. Still cheap, but GOOD cheap. Solid quality, and able to take a heck of a load.

What's really dumb about ServerBeach's approach is that it wouldn't cost them very much more to get solid hardware. The cheesy stuff they buy is only going to save them maybe $100/server at most, and probably less. Even in high volume, the cost in repairing those super, super-cheap pieces of crap is gonna eat them (and their customers) up, IMO. We'll see what happens.

In the interim, I'd STRONGLY suggest avoiding ServerBeach. Servermatrix is very good. I'm not affiliated with them in any way except in the sense that they give me a server and I send them money every month. :)
posted by Malor at 11:56 PM on October 13, 2005

After thinking about it, I believe the WORST case reboot was about 30 minutes... I think an average reboot with ServerMatrix is more like 15 minutes. I haven't needed one for awhile. :)
posted by Malor at 11:58 PM on October 13, 2005

I have to give a vote for EV1Servers. I've tried a lot of companies, but have been with EV1 with several servers for a few years now. Not even a blip in the service during Rita.. amazing reliability.
posted by wackybrit at 2:01 AM on October 14, 2005

I use I pay $60 a month, and have a 2.4Ghz Celeron Debian dedicated server, with 512M and an 80G hdd. I also get 1000G a month transfer.

Their support could be better, I don't believe its 24 hours, but honestly, I don't need 24 hour support.

They worked well with me when I got lazy and forgot to patch my AWStats, and the server got hacked. They're also pretty flexible when it comes to billing issues.
posted by jackofsaxons at 6:47 AM on October 14, 2005

My experience with third party "fully hosted solutions" has been truly abhorrent. I'm not going to name names or anything, but I'll say that even the big names give bullshit service. In the end, anything that could really kill your machine and take down your business is still your responsibility, anyway.

So I would say that if you can afford a tech guy, you should do so. You may not even need someone who works full time. Craigslist is great for this sort of thing.
posted by afroblanca at 8:24 PM on October 14, 2005

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