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WHY THIS PAGE?
We get quite a bit of e-mail from people asking who we use for our hosting services. Many people either are looking to make the jump from the free services, or to leave their present provider for whatever reason. Others are just wanting to start a site and are not familiar with the drill. Hopefully the information on this page will answer your questions.

Over the past four years I have heard my share of horror stories, but forget it, I'm not wasting my words speaking badly of companies. (Especially if I did not experience it myself!)

Conflicts of interest? If you have any concerns, please look at each listing's Cards on the Table statement.

SHORTCUTS TO THE REVIEWS

WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS?
There are basically three options available to you depending on your needs and of course- budget.
  • Dedicated High Speed Connection: This is the most expensive option available. You can have your server right in your office, or even your home. Not only do you have to pay the ISP, you also have to pay the circuit charges of the phone company. Besides having your own server, you will also need special networking equipment. You also have to manage your server. For all practical means and purposes, you are an ISP. If your business already has a dedicated connection to the Internet, this can be an inexpensive way to put up your own server.

  • Server Co-location (Web Hotel): If your needs require that you have complete control over your server, but do not need to have it physically located at your location, then co-location could be just the ticket for you. Sticking your system (or renting/buying from the provider) in a web hotel gives you a direct connection to the Internet, at a fraction of the cost of having your own dedicated connection. The idea is that you share bandwidth with other servers connected directly (hopefully) to the ISP's backbone(s).

    ISP's provide various levels of support, but you get the honor if you choose of being not only the webmaster, but the system administrator as well. ;-) You can of course have more than one domain on your server and you are an instant virtual hosting company. (yeah, right!)

  • Virtual Hosting: If you do not need your own dedicated connection or dedicated server, then this is the option for you. With virtual hosting you not only share a connection to the Internet with other servers, but you also share the server you are on with other sites.

    It is the most economical and your choices are rather unlimited as far as vendors are concerned. You will also find the greatest swings in quality here. A lot of hosting companies are either resellers for other hosting companies, or renting out some space on their own dedicated server to make some pocket money.

WHAT MATTERS MOST?
I have found the following factors to be the most important in choosing a either a web hotel or virtual hosting solution. Not every point applies to web hotel.

  • Bandwidth: This is the amount of bytes (usually expressed in GB (giga or billion bytes) per month. There is no such thing as unlimited bandwidth. Someplace buried in your agreement if not disclosed outright is a clause to either chuck you or charge you extra for clogging their backbone!

  • Connection Speed: Just how fast is their connection to the Internet? Just because somebody claims to have T3 service doesn't mean much if they have to pass through a series of balky routers. Use the Windows TRACERT command to count and time those hops. Do it several times during the course of the day and night. Ask your friends far away to try it for you as well.

  • Reliablity: Nothing and nobody is perfect. How reliable do they claim to be. Remember, 99% can mean being down for 3-1/2 days a year! Do they backup their servers? How often?

  • Support: Is there any on-line documentation? Can you contact support staff by phone or e-mail? Do not expect free help when it comes to setting up CGI scripts and other work from hosting companies. But do make sure they can answer ALL of the questions you might have to get those scripts running.

  • Unix Server: My preference. Unix can do everything that NT can do- and much more. If you pick NT and try to install a script, all I can say is, "I told you so."

  • Telnet or SSH Access: I cannot stress this enough. I am tired of hearing virtual hosting companies denying or charging extra for telnet or SSH (terminal) access to their accounts for reasons of security. Telnet allows you to compile programs, work directly on your files- from anyplace in the world. This makes debugging scripts a snap. Telnet running on a properly configured server is not really a bigger risk than FTP. Denying telnet access causes smart people to set up CGI scripts to run command line programs. That, is a much bigger security risk!

  • SMTP Service: Can you originate e-mail from their servers under your domain name?

  • Does Your Domain Operate as You? Simply put, does the server operate under your server user id, or as a special user id such as nobody. If not as you, then you will have to allow write permission to your files that are modified by scripts. This is a security compromise that will allow anyone with access to the server to read and modify your files.

  • Are They the Real Hosting Company? Check to be sure that the hosting company is in fact really the provider and not a reseller for another company! Look, there is nothing wrong per se with getting service through a reseller- provided they allow you to contact support at the provider directly in an emergency.
  • Server Side Includes. Gotta have SSI!
  • .HTACCESS Access. There should be a mechanism for both password protecting directories and adding MIME types.

Enough Already! Who Do You Use Or Recommend?
Without further ado, here is the list.

VIRTUAL HOSTING: NOVAHOSTING.COM
NOVAHOSTING.COM operates Linux based servers located at Alabanza (a high quality connectivity provider). The rates are very reasonable, especially considering the services and features that they provide.

NOVAHOSTING meets all the criteria specified above.

The server I tested had an uptime loading of under .15, this means the box was enjoying a quiet day in the country. Security on the server is excellent, and when working on the site using SSH (a secure form of telnet), you first have to go to the Administrative Menu and enter your Public-Key and domain. Regular telnet is forbidden. (must be a typo in the features list!)

I would recommend that you go with their NovaStar (high end) package at $19.95 a month with $25.00 set-up fee. This package gives you MSQL database access, Frontpage extensions and 25MB space. They also provide SSL for a $10 set-up charge. They have a generous bandwidth policy- unlimited unless your site consumes 20% of server resources, or more than 20% of your bandwidth is download files.

As a test, I installed the BNBSURVEY script and had it working in less than two minutes- with no errors. I also found that SSI (server side includes) worked just fine, and that a index.shtml file will be read as the DirectoryIndex before index.html.

For more information on this fine service, check out http://www.novahosting.com

Cards on the table: We have no financial interest in NOVAHOSTING.COM.

VIRTUAL HOSTING: TVCNET.COM
TVCNET.COM offers excellent hosting at very reasonable prices. All of their servers are upper-end Pentium boxes running the most recent release of RedHat Linux. Their servers are located within the premises of two high speed and very available connectivity providers. On line documentation is excellent, as are the user tools.

TVCNET.COM meets all of the criteria listed above, with the exception of the server process running as "you". They do however, have the server properly configured. I was unable to breach or gain access to any user files on the system other than my own.

There are no unpleasant surprises in the server configuration. I was able to install and operate the BNB Virtual Card Script in less than five minutes (without reading their documentation)! By default, the server will recognize files ending with htm, html, or shtml as a directory index. The .htaccess file handles security functions, mime type additions, and error redirects with no problem. MySQL is available as well. Server response was perky, even at high load hours.

For more information on this fine service, check out http://www.tvcnet.com

Cards on the table: We have no financial interest in TVCNET.COM.

VIRTUAL HOSTING: Maximum Service Internet (Prowebsite)
Update: Jan. 21, 1999. I have received a couple of e-mails recently complaining about server performance, and time to resolve these problems.

I had been using Prowebsite for a variety of sites over the past few years, and was very satisfied with them. Then I ended up buying my own servers. Such is the natural progression of things. I have about 16 years experience working with Unix systems. Reads: I can be a major pain in the butt. They were still nice to me ;-)

Prowebsite uses nice fast Silicon Graphics systems using the IRIX OS (unix), and Apache HTTP Server.

Support is excellent and responsive. The sales staff knows their stuff and can help you with the ins and outs of getting your site on-line fast.

On their smaller packages, you must pay for the full year in advance, but they are very flexible on proration if you need to upgrade. They also have a 60 day satisfaction provision in their contract. So far, I haven't been yelled at for recommending them.

Their main site is located at http://prowebsite.com and the package pricing is located on http://prowebsite.com/chart.html.

Their servers meet all the criteria listed above, and they offer what I feel to be an excellent collection of features and services.

The BigNoseBird.Com site was hosted there for over a year and a half. The only reason I moved the site to a co-located server is so that I can have full administrative control of the system. If I decide that maintaining this server is a hassle, I will back there in a flash!!!

Cards on the table: We have no financial interest in MSI.

VIRTUAL HOSTING: QWK.NET

Just in case we should need it, we have a back-up server located in Nevada. Why not? This is a well run hosting company that features seriously un-loaded, fast, responsive servers. QWK.NET uses dual CPU Pentium systems running Linux. This ISP is a bit different than most.

They provide good value for sites that are not bandwidth beasts. the mid-priced package comes with 5GB of bandwidth, but you do get a secure server (SSL) with it! That can cost as much as a years hosting elsewhere. You also get mysql access. Additional GB are reasonably priced at $8.00.

I can tell you they watch their servers. One day I could not remember by password. After about 10 failed attempts I got a quick e-mail from Travis asking, "Bruce, is that really you?" That was pretty embarrasing!

When I did the initial setup, I was fully operational in less five minutes after unpacking the files. All that was necessary was changing some paths in CGI scripts. Everything was flawless. In fact you can read my thank-you note on-line at their site. ;-)

Their main site is located at http://qwk.net and the package pricing is located on http://qwk.net/pricing.html.

Their servers meet all the criteria listed above, and they provide excellent service, support, and overall value. Server Co-Location is also available.

Cards on the table: We have no financial interest in QWK. Advertises once in a while, but that started in Oct. 2000, long after this write-up was added back in the summer of 1998.

SERVER CO-LOCATION: VASTNET.NET
A few years ago I was introduced to a bright young guy named John Ferrari. The point of the meeting was he was thinking of starting an ISP and a relative of his wanted me to discuss his plans with him. By complete coincidence, he turned out to be the guy who ran the ISP I had been using for a while. When I found out he did in fact start his own firm, well..... His service always was and has been great so when it came time to hotel a server, it was a no-brainer on my part. (vastnet is also my dial-up ISP)

Our little toy is used to service some of our clients sites that have special programming and support needs. In addition to client sites, we also use our server as an anonymous FTP site for BigNoseBird.Com, and we have all those matching image set pages there to help balance server load and bandwidth.

As of late December, 1998, the BigNoseBird.Com moved into its very own server co-located at Vastnet.

If you are looking for personal service with attention to detail, this is the place. I have experienced virtually no downtime (other than self inflicted) with Vastnet.

Their main site is located at http://www.vastnet.net.

Vastnet is not a budget service. You do get what you pay for. Redundant connections to the Internet with true BGP. For a little more each month you can even control your power connection to your server. I chose to skip that so I can drop in and eat pretzels.

They also provide dedicated servers, including that cool little Cobalt one! Virtual hosting is also available, but is priced to discourage your using it. ;-) They are in the connectivity business and are great at it.

I also recommend them to local associates and friends looking for direct connectivity. (Long Island)

Cards on the table: We have no financial interest in VASNET, but I live about 10 minutes from there and drop by to munch on pretzels, and engage in some geek-speak.

*** For more information on finding an ISP, check out HostIndex.Com. You can search their database on a variety of criteria to save yourself a lot of time.

ISPs. How to Get Listed
To be perfectly honest with you, checking out your service is a major chore for me. To make my life easier, please check out the What Matter Most list above. Please don't write me debating problems associated with any of them. Those are the criteria. Here is the drill:
  • E-mail me (Bruce) telling me you want me to check out your service.
  • Create an account for me.
  • Assign an IP number.
  • I will then attempt to set up something there to see how smoothly things go.
  • I will bounce traffic off of it to see how it responds.
  • I will go novice on you and ask a few dumb questions.
  • I will add it to my network monitor to see how often I (hopefully not) get text paged.
  • Don't supply me with references, I can find them on your server. ;-)
The site stays active and monitored as long as it is listed here.

 



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