The Bluehost Update: Waving Goodbye.

I finished migrating my most important sites off Bluehost and decided the load would be light enough that the rest could run on Bluehost’s shared hosting. I was planning on staying around for Bluehost’s shared hosting and keeping side projects on this host. I was informed that there was no migration path from VPS to shared hosting. Maybe they told me this when I signed up – probably – but it was quite the shock.

I asked what I’d need to do to get down to a shared hosting plan. They said I’d need to cancel my account and then recreate it. Essentially, I’d have to offload absolutely everything onto my local computer, then reupload and reconfigure everything.

Not what I wanted to hear, but I gave it a try. I canceled the VPS expecting to be able to instantaneously reorder the shared hosting…but that didn’t happen.

Having experienced more than a few IT transitions that haven’t gone as smoothly or quickly as desired, I had done this during the night hours – so I’d have time to work out any kinks that might arise…

Unfortunately, apparently, I needed to remove my domain from my bluehost account and literally create an entirely new account. Now we were talking about not only moving hosting files and databases but also DNS records. Okay, I guess I can do that…nope.

I can’t disconnect a domain from my account after cancellation by myself – Bluehost has to do it for me – but the department that handles this is not open 24/7 – so I have no choice but to leave the site down and wait until normal business hours. Well, that kind of undermines the point of having 24/7 support, imho.

I did a search for “best shared hosting.” Lifehacker is a reliable source of information. They found their users recommended Dreamhost, Hostgator, Bluehost, Linode, and A Small Orange.

I didn’t want another VPS – I already have them with DigitalOcean – so Linode was out of the picture. My first choice was A Small Orange – but their hosting is expensive in comparison to the other providers (though I hear their customer service is great).

I also found Ryan Sullivan’s post on WP Site Care which reviewed seven top WordPress hosts (and I use WordPress extensively in my sites). The comparison included A Small Orange, Bluehost, GoDaddy, HostGator, Dreamhost, MediaTemple, and Site5.

A Small Orange was out of the picture due to price as mentioned above and I added MediaTemple to this grouping. I was on Bluehost, so that wasn’t an option and Sullivan’s research showed problems with HostGator’s response – so those two were out.

I’ve never been a big fan of GoDaddy – in part b/c of their juvenile marketing – which I know they have abandoned, but I decided to make them a last choice. I wasn’t really influenced by Sullivan’s observation that once he hit 25+ users performance degraded due to GoDaddy’s security software “Sentinel” which prevents traffic believed to be a DoS. While Sullivan thought this was too low, I didn’t think so. I can’t see many shared sites getting 25 simultaneous users coming across a single IP – unless one is being used as an example in a college classroom and an entire class loads the site at once…still this is unlikely, and even if it does happen, there may be enough variation in the identifying elements from the computers (e.g. OS, browser) for GoDaddy to determine it is not a DoS attack.

This left me with Dreamhost or Site5. I started with Dreamhost b/c Lifehacker had a “deal” where I could get Dreamhost for $20 for one year.

The home cooked control panel took some getting used to – I’ve been using cPanel for so long and webMin on most Linux boxes I’ve managed that this interface was foreign and somewhat confusing…but I got the hang of it.

Ooohh…They have a cPanel importer. Could I really import my cPanel backup from bluehost and save tons of time?!? Unfortunately, no. I tried several times and while the emails said the import had succeeded – it failed. Ohh well, I’ll try doing it manually – but then I see that in at least some cases I have to transfer my domains to use their DNS. What?! I ask if I can get around this – but the answer is no. I use CloudFlare for DNS and other acceleration features and don’t want to use Dreamhost’s DNS.

I decided to sign up for Site5. Maybe they would make me happy – and they did. There were still a few minor inconveniences – once again, their control panel doesn’t look like a regular cPanel. but, But they excelled on support – their techs. responded within seconds to each of my live chat requests, were knowledgeable, and seemed to have the power to accomplish the necessary tasks (as opposed to Bluehost, where segmentation of responsibilities so firmly meant technicians were unable to help me when I needed it, since the other departments weren’t open).

I now have my sites transferred over to Site5. I’ve canceled Dreamhost. My Bluehost is already canceled (though I’m still using them as my domain registrar – from habit and convenience, not b/c they offer such low prices [they don’t on domains]). We’ll see how things go from here.

 

P.S. I don’t think Bluehost is the devil. I’m not sure what is going on over there – I think they need to be a little more transparent about what is happening and why. It is obvious that they launched the VPS product before it was fully baked. This resulted in huge problems at the beginning – the most significant being that sometimes my support tickets would not be answered for days!

I think of myself as a pretty patient guy. If Bluehost had sought to proactively work with me, I probably would have stayed with them…but their product failed and they didn’t bend over backwards to make it work, so I left.

What do I mean by proactively work with me? Simply that they would have done whatever it took to get the site up and running and figuring out the issues. As long as I know someone is working on things, I can be pretty flexible (these aren’t sites that have to have 99.9% uptime, though I prefer that they do). I also enjoy helping companies work through issues like this – and as long as you “compensate” me (by giving my high quality tech support and perhaps some free credit for hosting) – I’ll work with you…but I got the feeling that Bluehost had taken off such a big bite that they couldn’t do this and weren’t interested in doing this.

All this to say, Bluehost may be a reasonable choice in a few months – if they are able to put out all the fires that have been haunting them. Keep an eye open for others reviewing and saying better things about Bluehost in upcoming days. Unfortunately, Bluehost has lost me as a hosting customer…and I don’t see myself returning, even if the situation improves, for the foreseeable future (there is no incentive to do so).

 

BlueHost – Simple, Effective Web Hosting.

Its not uncommon for me to get asked, “What web host would you recommend for me to use when building a new website?” I figured now would be as good a time as any to post about one of the hosts I utilize. This host is great for beginners and advanced users alike. That said, I’ll also note right at the beginning that the instigator of this post was actually a server outage on Bluehost‘s part. Yesterday I was writing a review of the movie Amazing Grace (don’t worry, I’ll rewrite it soon) when the Bluehost server went down. But no host is perfect and this is one of only a few times I have experienced any performance problems from Bluehost’s service.

First, lets talk about Bluehost from a beginner’s perspective. If you are looking to create a website or start a blog there are a few easy ways to get started. One is to hire someone to assist you in doing so (you can always hire me). Another is to utilize any of a number of free services that allow you to create sites/blogs easily – for example in the blogging arena one can get free accounts from blogger and wordpress. The third option, and the one I personally prefer, is utilizing a shared host. This scenario gives you the most flexibility. When determining what sort of host you should utilize ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I enjoy technology? (If no, hire someone).
  2. Do I want to learn more about web-based technologies? (If yes, utilize a shared host).
  3. Do I have time to expend on learning new technologies? (If no, hire someone or utilize a free account).
  4. Do I want a professional presence? (If yes, either hire someone or use a shared host and expect to spend a significant amount of time learning and experimenting).

Should you decide to go with a shared host you face one additional large question: Do I want a Windows or a Linux environment? If you are new to technology generally, I recommend Linux. In fact, unless you already utilize web-based technologies that are Windows specific I recommend Linux. Why? Because its built around a nice word – free. There is one exception. If you want to do custom product development rather than just building a straight-up site, you may want to consider using Windows for your development environment. Microsoft’s Visual Studio is pretty kick-butt. I really enjoy ASP.NET and think it is great for developing applications in.

Okay…So we’ve decided to go with a Linux host. In that case, open an account with Bluehost. Here’s the main factors I consider killer about Bluehost:

  • $6.95/mo. What? Yes. $6.95/mo. We eat that at McDonald’s in one lunch! That includes a free domain name (e.g. yourname.com), which is pretty huge since these usually cost around $10 in and of themselves.
  • Unlimited Hosting/File Transfer. You can store as much data as you want on their servers (okay, there are some exceptions, but generally…you’ll never run out of space) and you can also transfer as much information to and from the server as you want (again, some exceptions…but mainly apply to people who are trying to abuse the service).
  • Free MySQL Databases. MySQL Databases (or PostgreSQL) are the backbone of most modern web applications. They store data in a way that makes it extremely easy and quick to retrieve.
  • SimpleScripts. Allows you to within two minutes deploy popular web applications including WordPress (blogging), Joomla (cms), Drupal (cms), phpBB (forums), Zenphoto (photo gallery), Roundcube (webmail), and WikkaWiki (wiki) among many others. Seriously – two minutes.
  • Bluehost includes lots of other standard features like FTP, email, free advertising credits (Google, Yahoo, Miva), and automatic backups.

So what are you waiting for? There are no contracts. Even if you just want to familiarize yourself with some web-based technologies – open an account, use it for a few months, and then cancel. Its a great learning tool. No, it won’t run the next Google, but once you grow big enough and learn enough you can move to a larger host (we’ll talk about them in another post) who can handle your highest demands.