Sorting out your hosting on a shoestring budget
Like some of you might know, when we started our company we “bootstrapped” the entire thing ourselves, basically meaning that we did not have any outside capital to start up. As a result every cent gets turned around 3 times before it gets spent, which is a good, but also sometimes a frustrating exercise.
In our line of business, hosting is a very important thing. This is including, but not limited to hosting our own site and products, hosting our version control system, hosting “staged” or “proof” versions of client sites and also hosting outward facing client sites for end-user consumption. And if you don’t need to turn around every cent 3 times you might end up spending a ton on hosting. The aim of this write-up is to show you how we’re doing it and hoping that maybe you can learn something from our experience for the last 2+ years.
When it comes to hosting I believe that you shouldn’t keep all your eggs in one basket, especially if your business is as reliant on it as we are. You simply don’t want to be stranded in no man’s land because your only hosting provider went down.. and this is something that unfortunately happens from time to time. So we use the following providers, each doing a small part to fulfil a certain need in our day to day running of the business:
This is the first provider we signed up with. The plan we sign up to was the Grid, share hosting package. The reason for that package was that it includes 100GB of online storage, 1TB of monthly transfer bandwidth and a limit of 100 domains you can host on it.
Another reason we decided on this was that the plan also included SVN hosting. this means we can have our work version controlled, accessible from anywhere and the most important part, in my opinion, was that our work would be stored off-site, because you never know when your work space might get hit by a bus.. We eventually moved our SVN away from Media Temple, but I will explain the reasoning behind that in more detail under the Dreamhost heading.
One more thing to note here is that these guys are really on top of it when it comes to service, you can mail them, tweet at them and also do a live chat thing on their site.
Price: The cost is roughly R195 per month ($20)
The reason we started looking around for more options was that the SVN service on Media Temple was more of an added feature on their side, so as a result it was not quite as polished as it could have been. For instance we had to enter a password every time we wanted to commit or update anything, which quickly becomes a pain in the out-hole when you are working as a team on a large project. Secondly they had no toolbars or control panels for adding and removing users and/or repositories, everything had to be done through a command prompt, which really isn’t fun, unless that’s your thing..
The plan we decided on is the generic shared web hosting package which offers unlimited bandwidth, unlimited online storage and also unlimited domains. The control panel doesnt look awesome, but it’s actually pretty powerful and managing SVN from it was a breeze.
Something I have to make note of here, while it works fine for our SVN needs it’s quite slow for site hosting compared to other providers.
Regarding service, I can’t really give an opinion as I haven’t had to deal with their support, everything seems to always be up and running from my experience.
Price: The cost is roughly R87 per month ($8.95)
The decision to get a local (South African) hosting provider was something that came a bit later. The reason for this is that if you have a local business, that caters to local people, you might find that your site’s loading speed is actually important and international hosts simply aren’t as “snappy” as local ones are for local end-users.
Web Africa is one of the two most trusted providers in South Africa (the other being Hetzner), the reason we went with them was that their re-seller account was simply more affordable and they also use WHM, that we know well as apposed to Hetzner’s custom Konsole panel.
The road hasn’t been rosy, we had a situation with them a couple of months ago where a site was down for more than two days and the feeling was that the support staff’s hands were just cut off and all they could do was apologise.. but ja.. as I said before, these things happen. Since then we didn’t really have any other issues with them.
The plan we’re on is the locally hosted Linux Starter package, which provides only 2GB of disc space, unlimited traffic and unlimited domains, but like I said earlier, the speed is a lot better for local client sites.
Price: The cost is R199 per month (roughly $20)
This is by far my favorite of our servers (if there is such a thing), but also the most work to get going and maintain. How this works is that you rent a virtual server in a certain location (of your choosing) and when you get access to it it doesn’t even have an operating system on it. So you need to install Linux on it, Apache, MySQL and all the other goodies that make a server work.
I guess you can install a control panel of some sort on there, but we decided to install as little crap on it to ensure speed and reliability.
We liked it so much that we recently bought a second one for client production sites which has higher specifications and backups to ensure more speed and reliability.
Another thing to note is that if you are not technically inclined at all this will definitely not be the option for you. Where other hosting companies have control panels to add domains, allocate space, create databases and even create FTP users, we have to do everything through a Linux command prompt.
We do most of staging and hosting on these two servers. Specifications wise, the staging server allows for 48GB of storage and 2TB of traffic bandwidth and unlimited domains. For the production server we have 96GB of storage and 4TB of traffic bandwidth and unlimited domains.
Price: The cost for the staging server is roughly R195 per month ($20) and for the production server it is roughly R390 ($40).
To get the ball rolling with your new online business you probably won’t need more than the 1st two, unless you are really proficient with the command prompt, in which case you can probably get away with just Media Temple. The rest of the hosting above is to provide our clients with better service and of course to help us spend our time better. In the end of the day, as you might know, time is the biggest enemy in business.