My Top 2 Web Hosting Companies

Posted on: Tuesday, Sep 11, 2007

Like most web developers, I get asked fairly regularly who I recommend for setting up simple websites. For the record, my experience with project hosting has been very polar. I’ve done a few sites where the requirements called for a full dedicated server, which I got to set up by hand. If there is interest in those installations, I can post some info about them. For now, I’m going to focus on the other end of the spectrum: shared hosting.

#1: OCS Solutions

My uncontested favorite. If you’re setting up anything beyond a simple personal site, these are the folks to go to. Not only do they specialize in Rails hosting, but they actually answer the phone! No, wait, I’ll do you one better. Their CEO (Robert) is part of the 24/7 phone support shift and actually knows exactly what he’s talking about! I know of no other (legitimate) hosting companies that can make that claim.

I’ve already got a few client sites hosted with them, so the team there has seen my name in a good number of support requests already. They never fail to get back to me within 24 hours, but usually less than 3. When I have a truly urgent issue, they are always there on the phone. I have yet to ever leave a voicemail.

More than anything else, their Rails hosting is phenomenal. The first site I moved over to them was a relatively basic Rails app that had been having speed and uptime problems on Dreamhost, even with minimal load. Ever since the move (with zero changes to my code) the site has performed like an athlete on speed. From now on, all of my Rails apps are going on the OCS servers.

My only gripe with them is the occasional usability issues with their web panels, which is where I still use #2 for a few things.

#2: Dreamhost

Very strong in some areas. Very weak in others.

Dreamhost is the ideal “budget-hosting” solution. For a not-expensive price, an account with them will let you do a lot of things. You can register and host a virtually unlimited number of domains with one account. Their “One Click Installs” make basic sites (like this one) ridiculously easy to manage. Even their interface to Subversion, while lacking some more advanced functionality, is ideal for small projects.

On the other hand, their Rails support is not 100%. Google it and you’ll see what I mean. There are posts and discussions abound all over the net about how to get your app to work smoothly, with mixed results. I spent a long time tweaking the code on the Muir Surf & Sport site to get it to work. The best I could get it still had a 1-2% rate of 500 errors. Not acceptable.

To make things worse, their support is sub-par. Their target audience is a very broad client base, so they can’t afford to offer phone support. Ok, fine, I can email them when all hell breaks loose. But when one of my client’s e-commerce sites went offline, completely, it took Dreamhost over 8 hours to get back to me. And guess what? It was their fault it had gone down in the first place! That was the brick that broke the camel’s back for me. I will never again have a client ask me “Why is my site down?” and have to answer “Oh, I’m waiting on the host to get back to me.”

Concluding Thoughts

The basic summary is that Dreamhost works for most circumstances. If your needs are basic, and/or reliability is not mission-critical, then they are a fine host. But for critical projects, 99% uptime means that 10,000 out of every million hits will fail. If you need Rails hosting, and/or actually want good support, go with OCS. The cost is not much higher, but you’ll notice a huge difference.