[This article is a guest post by Bobby Sledge. Bobby is a web developer who blogs about mobile technology from his home in northern California.]
Your spouse loves the convenience of Internet shopping. Your kids are absolutely addicted to online gaming. You just want to be able to access your email, pay your monthly bills, and keep up with the major headlines of the day.
So what type of Internet service is right for you and your family? With all of the options out there, making the proper decision can feel overwhelming. In the rapidly evolving world of computer technology, it seems as though new techniques, equipment and methodologies are unveiled on a daily basis.
If you’re feeling a little bit behind in the high-tech rat race, take heart in the fact that you aren’t alone. Bombarded with constantly changing information about servers, browsers, explorers, portals, and protocols, it’s easy to simply throw up your arms in frustration.
Before you tackle the daunting task of choosing an ISP, start with a quick review of some key terms and confusing jargon. For those of you who are already scratching your heads, let’s start with the acronym ISP.
ISP – ISP stands for Internet service provider. These are companies that provide online access in exchange for a monthly fee.
Bandwidth – You may have some idea that bandwidth is closely related to online browsing speed, but what exactly is it? In a nutshell, bandwidth is used to measure the overall capacity of any given Internet connection. Systems with more bandwidth can provide faster service. This means that you can access webpages, send messages, download files, and play games with fewer glitches and/or delays.
Latency – Closely related to bandwidth, this term refers to the amount of time needed to actually transfer data from one point to another. If the so-called “information superhighway” were an actual, physical road, bandwidth could be thought of as the total number of traffic lanes. Latency, on the other hand, would represent the overall travel time from your hometown to your destination city. Thus while increasing the number of lanes (“bandwidth”) can increase your speed, it won’t do any good if your cars can only travel 35 MPH (“latency”).
With these terms in mind, you and your family can now begin to assess your various ISP options. Let’s begin with the slowest and most affordable option: Basic dial-up.
Dial-up – Although adequate for the occasional Internet user who doesn’t mind slow speeds, dial-up is rapidly being replaced by much faster broadband options such as DSL, cable, and fiber. Activities that require more bandwidth (such as streaming online movies) are often impossible with basic dial-up service.
DSL – An acronym for Digital Subscriber Line, DSL services offer high-speed access over traditional phone lines that can handle most modern Internet applications. However, if your family regularly downloads large amounts of data or plays complex online games, you may experience latency issues. These issues can become particularly pronounced if your home is located over a certain distance from your provider’s central office.
Cable – Unlike DSL, cable broadband speeds remain constant no matter where your home is located. Fast and reliable, it can generally facilitate the vast majority of online uses, but it typically costs a bit more than both dial-up and DSL.
Fiber – Offering the fastest Internet speeds on the market, FiOS (or Fiber Optic Service) uses fiber optics to transfer data at the speed of light, according to VerizonInternet.com. Keep in mind, however, that FiOS is presently available in select markets only.
I would not recommend anyone purchasing dial-up. It is antiquated, requires a traditional phone line, and is painfully slow.
Cable is not truly “constant” – it actually shares the pipe between all users in a specific geographic region – so the more users that are online simultaneously, the slower the connection becomes.
Fiber – AT&T and Verizon both offer fiber packages. It uses light-based technology, but don’t expect seismic based speed increases over DSL or Cable. I have Verizon FiOS in my home.
When it comes to choosing a web hosting provider the options are nearly limitless. The first decision once has to make is what platform one’s website will run on. If one is using plain static HTML, which almost no one does completely anymore, then even this doesn’t really matter…but if you are in the 99% who will be using more than HTML, it is important to consider whether one wants a Windows or Linux host. When it comes to Linux options one of my favorites for the past several years has been Bluehost.
I’ve written about Bluehost in the past, but I figure its time to give an update on how I think things are going. This time I’m going to start out with the bad and then move on to the good.
SLOW: This is very subjective, but I feel that my sites have been running significantly slower of late. Sometimes it can take 5-10 seconds for a page to load, and I’m on a 10 Mbps Verizon Fios connection with a fairly powerful machine! This is in part due to CPU throttling – an intelligent mechanism Bluehost invented that ensures that no one site on a shared host can utilize all the bandwidth thus slowing other sites down…but even when my account isn’t being penalized with CPU throttling (and it is, fairly frequently), it still seems to oftentimes move at slow speeds. Let me add the caveat that I do run a fair number of sites off my single hosting account – and that I expect for the average single website (or even two or three websites), Bluehost will continue to be a speedy option…but for us “power users” I’m wondering if Bluehost’s abilities are diminishing?
OPTIONS: Bluehost allows you to do almost anything with your default account, but when it comes to adding on additional options – its really lacking in a few key areas. Sure, you can buy additional domains, get premium spam protection, and get a static IP address – but what about the most basic – extra CPU and memory share? For folks like myself who apparently are pushing the bounds of whatever share Bluehost is giving us on a shared host, we sure could use a way to buy extra “slices” of CPU share. Bluehost does offer a Pro package now which includes, amongst other things, “increased CPU and memory” – unfortunately, Bluehost doesn’t tell us how much CPU/memory (10%? 20%? 100%? 300%?) and the price at $19.95/mo. is a pretty steep step up from the base price of $6.95/mo. (yes, there are other features, but quite honestly I don’t care about free ssl certificates, domain privacy protection, or postini email filtering!).
PRICING: The base product is nice and cheap, but they tag you decently on additional domain names. Each additional domain name costs $10/yr. – but I’ve got perhaps twenty domains – and it begins to add up. It’d be nice to see some decreases in pricing as number of domains purchased increases.
PRICING: The base product for $6.95/mo. has a ton of features built into it and will be more than adequate for most folks.
RELIABILITY: As long as you don’t push the CPU share restrictions, Bluehostseems to be an extremely reliable host (again, from my personal experiences).
SIMPLE SCRIPTS: SimpleScripts is beautiful! It allows anyone to get a site up and running in minutes. SimpleScripts automatically deploys any of a large number of applications to your website in minutes at your request. Examples include WordPress,SugarCRM, Drupal, Moodle, SMF and phpBB, Coppermine, and MediaWiki along with dozens more.
LIMITS: The base package includes some pretty significant features as I mentioned above – just a few that are really worth highlighting – unlimited monthly bandwidth, unlimited storage, and 100 MySQL databases. This is really sweet!
If you are running a single site or a few sites – go get Bluehost. If you are a power user running a half-dozen or more sites…you may need to look elsewhere. I’m hoping Matt Heaton and company will add at least the ability to purchase additional CPU/memory shares soon…b/c I’m currently in the market for a new host for this power user…and considering options like AWS…though I’d prefer to stick with Bluehost due to ease of use and flat storage/bandwidth handling which makes pricing significantly simpler.
On July 8th, 2008 I wrote a post raving about Verizon FiOS, a high-speed fiber-to-home internet solution that has clearly kicked the butt of all the competition on a performance/cost basis. I’d been using the service for around two years at that juncture. On October 20th, 2008 I wrote another post, this time chronicling the extreme distress I was experiencing with my Verizon FiOS connection. It is now November 5th, 2008 and my issue is still not resolved. The problem began on 10/16 and continues to the present. I have spent 10+ hours on the phone with Verizon over a period of days and have opened multiple tickets including PADQ01JC660 and PADQ01KD8X (which was closed for an unknown reason) and now PAFS010562.
Verizon’s first tier technical support is decent, they can fix 99% of mom and pop problems. This means if you have a standard problem (e.g. router died or needs to be rebooted, you need to enter a password, ip needs to be renewed, etc.) you’ll most likely have no problem getting rapid support. The issue is with escalation. After the first level of support their are “Network Technicians”, these are the people who are supposed to analyze and resolve complex issues. Unfortunately, multitudinous experiences indicates:
Network Technicians do not communicate concerning tickets.
Network Technicians do not perform necessary troubleshooting on tickets.
I should note, as a Network Engineer, I understand some of the dilemma faced by network technicians. First, one is constantly bombarded by a large number of false positives. People will insist they have a problem that is your fault when it is their own. Second, network technicians generally tend to enjoy working on problems more than communicating about problems. Okay, this is natural…but this has been ridiculous. Ignore it once, okay – not the best idea but understandable. Ignore it twice – okay, bad idea. Ignore it three (four, five) times and now we are getting to the point of inciting righteous anger on the part of the consumer.
I can’t remark on the specifics of resolving this issue, since I am not within the Verizon NT group, but I will comment generally on ways to resolve this sort of consumer abuse:
Ensure network techs. are not overtasked. A network tech. will let “questionable” problems fall through the cracks when he is over-engaged by “real” problems.
Enable a linking method for tickets and an analysis system that will detect repeat callers and allow for appropriate escalation to resolve the issue.
Offer a web-based ticketing system with tickets automatically visible via phone call. Allow consumers to view and respond to ticket modifications.1This way if a ticket is closed, the consumer knows it…rather than waiting a day or two to call back in about the issue to find out that the NT never did anything with the issue.
Its all about communication. If a network tech. doesn’t believe its a real issue he needs to communicate this back to the first tier tech., and the first tier tech. needs to talk to the consumer more…But in no case should a ticket simply be dropped.
Well, life is back to normal…after around two weeks. I called in and told them I would remain on the line until the NT was available. They told me he would call back within 48 hours. I insisted on knowing what the tech. thought was the problem. The NT said he would call back in four hours. I still insisted on knowing what the tech. thought was the problem, this didn’t get very far…I concluded by asking the first tier helpdesk to inform the NT that I was placing all Verizon related tickets online and that if this news made it into mainstream press the NT could be assured Verizon higher-ups would be looking for someone to sacrifice. I received a call-back within an hour or two. The problem had been resolved. It had been an issue with the configuration of their Juniper switches…I am happy now but think that my suggestions above still carry significant weight. It shouldn’t have taken two weeks to make a configuration change.