A web host is, essentially, your website’s home: a computer system that stores your data, and serves your website to your audience. Picking the right host is important to be able to reliably serve your website without overpaying.
Traditional shared hosting can be very cheap, usually comes with cPanel—which offers “one-click installation” for WordPress in addition to some other features— and is familiar to many website operators already. This convenience and low cost makes it very popular with new website owners that want to do it themselves.
Unfortunately, shared hosting exposes you to problems caused by anyone else who shares the server, including their traffic, malware, and even crashes or data corruption issues caused by technical stumbles. In addition, shared hosting typically requires Apache httpd for the web server software, which we avoid for performance reasons. As is often the case, the absolute cheapest option is penny wise, but pound foolish.
Virtual Private Servers (VPS)
“VPS” servers are generally much better deals, can be had for $5/mo from all major providers, and are the standard against which others should be held. The two biggest names are Linode and Digital Ocean, though recently Amazon launched a service called “Lightsail” to compete with them, and there are several younger companies trying to displace them.
The services they offer are broadly the same; for $5/mo at the cheapest, you can rent a “virtual” server with a defined amount of resources, typically a single CPU core and some maximum amount of bandwidth per month. There are differences: Digital Ocean offers a very slick admin console, great customer service, and a history of reliability that has made them the one to beat. Linode offers double the memory of Digital Ocean and Amazon for smaller plans, and while its admin panel isn’t quite as pretty as DO’s, it’s still quite good. Linode is currently our preferred option for most clients.
Amazon Web Services (AWS)
On the face of it, Amazon offers more or less the same deal as Digital Ocean, but in our experience with other Amazon cloud services, we’ve encountered several technical issues that make us wary- lack of IPV6 addressing, strange configuration problems with their operating system images, and a very, very complicated administrative console. The biggest dealbreaker, however, is how easy it is to end up on the hook for extra costs. Amazon charges much more for exceeding your plan’s resources- easy to do if a story in the news or social media drives lots of traffic to your website. $0.09/GB of extra transfer (data uploaded or downloaded from your servers), as opposed to $0.02/GB of transfer with every other provider we’ve named. We think they’re too customer-unfriendly to consider unless a client requests them specifically.
Vultr has a lot of virtues: they offer the same great deal for $5/mo that Linode does, but they also have a $2.50/mo plan, more data center locations, charge half as much for transfer overage, and have stronger uptime guarantees in the form of large credits for server downtime. Linode, in comparison, simply prorates your expenses for that month.
We’re still investigating Vultr, and we haven’t been completely satisfied with what we’ve found; for example, it is difficult to actually buy those $2.50/mo instances in the most well-positioned and popular locations, where they are “sold out”. And while they have a seemingly cheaper backup option than many providers, investigating the details reveals that they only keep the two most recent backups, and store them in same data center as your server, making it too likely that your data will be overridden or destroyed when you really need it. But it’s possible Vultr is actually the best fit for many websites.
RamNode, OVH, Scaleways
These providers offer cheaper hosting that the options above, but by compromising their offerings in some way. They have servers in fewer regions, use less-powerful CPUs, slower network connections, non-local storage, or simply perform poorly on benchmarks. If your particular needs align with their offerings, they are probably the cheapest and best choice, but we think for most people they simply won’t receive enough performance to benefit from the lower costs.
Static websites are essentially just a collection of files, and can be served in other, potentially cheaper ways.
Technically, S3 is a service Amazon offers for storing and hosting files, but it’s suitable for a static website too. If your website won’t receive much traffic— perhaps for an event, or a professional/résumé website— this will almost certainly be your cheapest option. We’re always a little wary about this service, though, because you are billed based on bandwidth, so if for some reason you do receive a huge influx of traffic, you’re on the hook for those costs. In many cases, however, it’s a canny, affordable choice.
It’s Your Choice
One of our guiding principles at Annona Software is a willingness to work with our clients. Whether you already have a shared host package, or want to take S3 for a spin, we’re happy to work with you to develop your site. We are also happy to discuss your project one on one to help you choose the host that works best for you. And remember to consider our Management plan, where we’ll gladly take on the role of managing and maintaining your site starting at $20/month.