Over the past few weeks I have seen a resurgence of clients asking for smaller ruby on rails websites to be hosted at less then useful shard hosting companies. Because of this I thought I would take the time to explain a little bit about hosting options and what they mean to different languages. 

Shared Hosting

This is the low man on the totem pole. Typically you share a server with 100s or 1000s of other users, you are severely restricted in what you can do, but the cost is pretty low (around $5 a month or less). The good new is that this is perfect for tiny, small, uncomplicated sites that do not receive a lot of traffic.

Ruby On Rails: For rails sites this is almost always a no-no. There are some great shared services out there for RoR sites, but you will certainly grow outside of them very quickly.  However, if you want the cheaper price and have a low amount of traffic, you could make it work. I do however recommend you go with a hosting company that specializes in rails and not one that just “supports” it. 

PHP: PHP is a very interesting situation. The shared hosts can usually run smaller PHP sites without a problem, but if you try to run a PHP Web App your in for a rather large head ache. The real problem here is it is hard to tell when you cross the line. Most php code is just html files with a bit of dynamic code in them. Real PHP applications (where the entire app is written in php) usually don’t run that well on shared servers.

.NET: You can just forget about this. Don’t even try it. Even if you find a company that supports it. Don’t. It won’t work, the framework is not designed for it.

VPS (Virtual Private Server)

VPSes are great, they are the mid range between owning your own in house server and shared hosting. Basically, you get your own server that is yours, and you can do with it what you please. The only restrictions are on CPU and Memory usage. Typically, you are expected to “Play nice” on CPU usage (don’t consume 100% all the time) and use most or all of you allotted ram. On the technical side, your server is virtual and is sharing the same hardware with other people. You never see this however as you (and they) are contained inside your virtual server. Average cost of VPS servers varies but starts at around $20 a month and can grow to several hundred depending on your needs. 

Ruby on Rails: This is the holy grail of Ruby on Rails hosting. You can host your application, configure the server to do what you need, and be done with it. This is just as good as having a in house server, except you don’t have to have a server in house. 

PHP: Same as Rails. Most people/sites will never find a better fit then this without a new technology being developed. 

.NET: There are some VPS companies that offer .net platforms, but .net is such a power hungry beast that the cost to you is nearly the same as dedicated servers. For that reason, I suggest staying away from VPSes for .Net.

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated hosting is just what it sounds like, you are given a real physical machine, in someone else’s data center, It’s yours, and you can do with it as you like. Cost is usually much higher then the others (in the hundreds to thousands range). Today, there is not a good reason to use a dedicated host for PHP or RoR applications. If you have a .Net application then dedicated hosting could be a decent option. This is not a option that I normally recommend to anyone. If your big enough that you need dedicated machines, it’s time to start looking for in house solutions. 

In house Hosting

I usually advise against in house hosting. If a company already has a data center then that is a different story, but if it is a new company or start up, there really is no reason for in house hosting under normal circumstances. Hosting your site in house means you are responsible for everything from the telco-demarcation point to the server software it’s self. Normally this is not a very wise thing to do, until you are the size of Google or Amazon. Basically if you don’t know what In house hosting is, then you don’t need it. If your an owner or client, and want in house hosting, then you would start with hiring an IT server staff and “building” a data center. That being said, with the exception of Dedicated hosting, In house solutions are basically the only option with .Net.

What can go wrong?

If you pick the wrong level of hosting, your going to be in for a bit of a headache. You will either have a poorly preforming website, or a hosting account that you need a refund on. I strongly advise you to talk to your developer first before you make a hosting decision. If thats not possible(i.e. upgrading a current website) just be aware that changes may need to be made.

Notes on popular hosting providers:

Godaddy: Godaddy is a domain registrar, and a sub par one at that. A lot of people use them, but they value quantity over quality. I advise you to stay far away from Godaddy. For DNS registration use Enom or similar. In particular their hosting is tremendousnessly horrid, until you get into their dedicated servers (at which time it becomes passibal, but never great). There are better solutions out there, though they may come with a higher price tag. 

Hostgator: Hostgator is what I would consider a bare minimum. Their support leaves a lot to be desired, but they do try to help. If your set on using a shared server, then Hostgator is a good place to start. 

Slicehost: If you want a VPS this is the place to get it. decent prices, easy admin, best support on the entire planet (as far as hosting companies go) and they actually use their own product. I recommend this to every single client I have. they have slice sizes across the board to meet any budget or requirement.

RackSpace: Oddly enough Rackspace now owns Slicehost. I find their support to be less then that of Sliceshost’s but still quite acceptable. Rackspace is more geared for dedicated hosting, and that’s what I recommend them for. They are not the cheapest around but the are  the best (in my opinion).

Serverbeach: Another dedicated hosting company, stay away from these guys. In the past when I have used them, they had horrid support, and very poor quality servers. The price was very cheap however and a lot of people use them because of this. Specially for .Net hosting. 

A quick note on the notes. These are the companies that I get asked about most frequently. There are other hosting companies that do worse or better then the ones listed here, however they do not come up in conversation as often. At the same time, I understand that others may feel differently about the listed hosting providers then I do. Different experiences may have influenced their opinion in a different way then mine.  That is ok. I do not force my clients to use any particular hosting provider (unless there is a programmatic need for it i.e. Amazon S3 or EC2) and will attempt to use which ever they choose. These are simply my recommendations.

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