Choosing a Web Hosting Provider - A Matter of Trust

Remy Denton // April 2012

Separating the good from the bad when it comes to web hosting companies is a bit of a dark art. The problem boils down to the fact that the slew of numbers you’ll see when hosts list their plans — disk space, monthly bandwidth, maximum number of databases you can have — are practically meaningless.

Of course, it’s not that something like disk space isn’t important. Rather, it’s that it should be the least of your worries. Consider this: as of this writing, a certain budget host (who will remain nameless, though you’d probably recognize them from their Super Bowl commercials) has a plan that offers “unlimited” disk space for the low price of $12.74 $8.49 per month (the strikethrough is theirs).  Meanwhile, another host — one that we’ve used for several enterprise-level projects and continue to recommend — actually doesn’t offer a plan with unlimited disk space at any price.  The most premium plan listed, costing over a thousand dollars per month, has a firm cap of 1200GB.

Just so we’re clear, that limit on disk space is a good thing. It’s a sign that this company takes seriously what they’re selling and, by extension, the people who are buying it. If someone offered you a cell phone plan with unlimited minutes, data, and texting for $8.49 a month, would you sign up on the spot?  Or would you instead pause to wonder how this plan could possibly cost so much less than the offerings from Verizon and AT&T which, after all, place limits on how much calling and downloading you can do?

Assuming that having phone reception in your living room is important to you, you’d do the same thing that any respectable web developer would when faced with hosting plans offering unlimited anything and conveniently “on sale”. You’d turn and run.  Fast.

In truth, the most important things a web host can offer aren’t measured in either megabytes or dollars. Consistently good performance, less downtime (and honesty when it does happen), proper backups, better security, ready access to someone who knows what they’re talking about should things go amiss — none of these things are easy to quantify. So here’s our rule of thumb: rather than focusing on how much you’re paying or technical specs, find a hosting company that you trust to provide these things and know that whatever they charge, it’ll be peanuts compared to the headaches they’ll save you. Come to think of it, same goes when you’re looking for a developer.