Hosting for Your Drupal Creations

If you're making web sites, you need a server to dish up those sites. You need hosting.

For anyone pondering the difficult choice of hosting services, allow me to write a few words on those that I've used with Drupal. Some caveats for you to keep in mind:

a) I'm only writing about those I've used, and make no claims that they're the best out there.
b) I'm pretty positive on both (would I keep using them if I weren't?). You should, of course, look for additional reviews, good and bad, before jumping into a big contract with either.
c) I'm starting this article smallish, and will add more observations and data as I come across them. Check back for updates!

Reviewed hosts

Dreamhost

Pair.com  

Dreamhost: The host with the most?

Love it or hate it, it's one of the biggest hosts out there: Dreamhost! And boy, there are people with a hate-on for DH. Do a little Googling for Dreamhost, maybe including choice keywords like "sucks", and you'll have plenty of spicy reading to accompany your morning rugelach.

But if you look, you'll also find many positive reviews. Here's one more. I've been happy with DH, although only after sticking through a bad start.

Around mid-2006, I gave in to those DH ads with their outrageous promises of mega-storage and -bandwidth. Cheap, too! One of the key draws for me, as a guy with a long list of Drupal sites-to-be, was unlimited domains and databases on a single account. That's a biggie for Drupal developers: if I had to pay a fee for every new MySQL database I wanted to make, I'd lose the ability to casually toss out quickie experiments and showcase projects. I currently have 21 domains and 14 subdomains hosted on my account (though by no means are all of these active sites) – all of which cost me no extra pelf.

I signed up for a generous code plan, which in the meantime has continued to grow in disk space and monthly bandwidth (several hundred gigabytes and several terabytes, respectively), while getting cheaper at the same time. I barely scratch the surface of the disk space and bandwidth offered.

Uh-oh!

But is it all too good to be true? According to some, yes. When I first signed up, a boatload of troubles plagued DH for a few weeks: mail bugs, unresponsive or inoperative sites, and more. In the end, the company had to replace a lot of hardware to fix things. In the meantime, they kept users updated through frequent reports on progress, and still provide ongoing reports of any server issues, upgrades, outages, and anything else affecting users.

It was interesting to watch customers' reactions. Many were no doubt affected a lot by the troubles last summer, and had legitimate beefs. But while some of these praised the constant progress reporting from DH staff ("at least they're keeping us up to date!"), others slammed it ("they should spend time fixing the problems, not blogging about them!").

I'm far more understanding of the former; it was the constant communication that kept me patiently optimistic. (Well, that and the fact that I didn't yet have any critical sites hosted on sputtering servers.) The problems were patched up after a couple of weeks, and for me it's been completely smooth waters since. When I have had a couple of support questions or problems (such as a couple of email accounts that needed some poking by DH staff to start working correctly), the support responses have been helpful and almost scarily quick. On the other hand, you'll find customers aplenty who complain support is unhelpful or slow. Given the big size of DH's customer base, the vast spread of issues that come up in hosting support, and the unavoidable rate of staff turnover in a tech support pool, you have to expect that customers' support experiences will vary widely.

More worrisome than the occasional downtime, however, are reports from some quarters that customers chewing up big bandwidth have been unceremoniously dumped from the customer roll, even though these claim to be well within their account limits. Angry customers charge, understandably, that a service needs to live up to its promises. Level-headed realists, on the other hand, point out that people paying E & J Gallo dollar for a hosting service can't expect Dom Perignon performance.

About expectations

The practical reality: your low-cost DH account sits on a shared server, in use by many other customers. The shared server can't dish out gigantinormous cute kitten videos for one user without hurting performance on the sites of the remaining users. It's an unfortunate fact of the hosting industry, but you should think of those towering bandwidth limits as more bragging material than actual limits; if your sites start chewing up a substantial portion of your account limits, you'll be hurting performance for other shared users and spurring the hosting service to take some action to protect those other users. That's a sign that you're ready for pricier high-level hosting – and that's a glass-half-full, not half-empty, place to be.

I don't intend to defend DH if they're shorting heavy users on promised account limits. I can only say that a) I don't know the objective facts of any specific disputes; and b) it's a moot point for most of us, who won't come close to approaching account limits. Go in with eyes open, and have reasonable expectations for what the industry – any industry company, not just DH – has to charge for sites with serious resource needs.

A few other notes

I like DH's web panel for account configuration, database creation, domain setup, etc. (though on the visual front, the light blue appearance feels washed out, and sometimes it's hard to pick out the links to initiate an action from static headers). I've seen lots of web panels in my time, and this is one of the better. (Ever try to use GoDaddy for hosting? One glance at their panel and I had to send my eyes to a three-week rehab clinic. They still bolt awake screaming in my skull at night.)

For the technically inclined, there are plenty of miscellaneous goodies included in your DH account: Htaccess and WebDAV setup, Jabber IM, Subversion, cron jobs, unlimited email and FTP accounts, discussion lists,  tie-ins with Google apps and Gmail, one free domain registration (additional registrations are reasonably priced), full CGI access, One-Click installers for many software packages, and a video-to-Flash converter for you streaming media types, to name a few.

Much of DH's support documentation is on a Wiki. Fine idea, if less-than-fine implementation: I always find it difficult to locate exact answers to my questions among the countless Support Wiki entries returned from a search. Fortunately, email support is (for me) quick and helpful.

Dreamhost and Drupal

Does Drupal run on DH servers? You're looking at the proof, kid! For a long while, DH's nifty one-click installations of website packages like Wordpress, Joomla, and MediaWiki left out Drupal, but no more; your DH hosting package can set you up with an installation of Drupal 6 (6.20 as of this spring 2011 update). That doesn't mean you'll want to use this; I've heard many site builders complain that one-click install services can place restrictions on what users can later configure or add. But if you want to set up Drupal fast and start playing, the option is there.  

Once you've set up Drupal on DH, you'll find things work nicely, and it's worth mentioning again: unlimited hosted domains and unimited MySQL database setup is a great thing for Drupaltons. One gripe I have, though: there's apparently no way to give a site user FTP access to only the files directory of the site in question. That'd be much appreciated by some users as an easy way to upload lots of images or other files for future linking, as opposed to clumsy uploading via Drupal site interfaces. Alas, the only way to offer that access is to grant access to the entire account, and I'm not about to do that!

I can, of course, give users access to their own FTP accounts – but that's now where I host the Drupal sites, so they still have no access to a site's files directory. This isn't something I've explored in detail yet, so there may be some solution; for now, it's an annoyance to tackle in the future.

Pros

  • Cheap (and even cheaper with promo codes)
  • Plentiful storage and bandwidth
  • Unlimited domains and databases (a huge plus for multiple Drupal sites)
  • Timely support turnaround (in my experience) and updates on problems
  • Good, and continually evolving, web interface
  • Ever-growing list of features
  • Linux-based
  • Drupal? Check!
  • 97-day money-back guarantee
  • Plenty of one-click installations for wikis, galleries, CMSs, and more – including Drupal

Cons

  • Miscellaneous outages, bugs, hiccups when I first joined (though I can't yet say whether this is more than any other hosting service)
  • Inability to grant a user FTP access to a Drupal site's files directory
  • Whatever the storage and bandwidth suggest, low-cost shared-server plans aren't the answer for sites with heavy traffic

Hosting plans

DreamHost recently standardized on one simple hosting plan; no more fretting over which plan is right. Head here for the details.

Bottom line

If you want a cheap bounty of hosting resources, DH is hard to beat on cost, and I've found it a friendly environment for Drupal development and hosting. Its shared server plan isn't a solution for sites with massive traffic, but for the more modest needs of most, a DH account is a great starting place for a site (or a small raft of sites).

Get a Drupal Ace deal at Dreamhost!

When you sign up, feel free to use my promo code 49ER to get $49 (!) off of your DH bill. Yes, you get that just for using the promo code; there are no strings attached. (I receive a modest referral fee for your registration, which helps keep the site running; the above promo code shifts $49 of the fee from my pocket to yours. Enjoy!)

Pair.com: Double the goodness?

If Dreamhost marches under the banner of cheap 'n' plenty, Pair watches the parade coolly on the sidelines in natty business casual attire. I'll have less to say about Pair, as I've primarily used it for older, non-Drupal sites; I've done most of my mass Drupal hosting on Dreamhost. But if I need to move a site from its for-fun home on Dreamhost to a more strictly-business location, I wouldn't hesitate to give Pair a closer look. (As with Dreamhost, there's no built-in Drupal installation but I can verify that Drupal will work on a webhosting account.)

Pair calls its service "premium web hosting". Pair doesn't offer the numbers Dreamhost does; for a similar price, it gives me only a fraction of the disk space and the data transfer. Of more concern to a Drupal experimenter, accounts are limited in number of MySQL databases: only 10 for my $17.95/mo Advanced account (which, despite the name, is described as "great for beginners").

So why consider Pair? Performance and reliability. In the years I've had a Pair account, I don't recall any problems, ever. My FTP and web access have always performed flawlessly. So when you're ready to take a site big-time, and what you need is a mission-critical hosting base but not necessarily dozens of MySQL databases or ungodly disk storage, check out Pair. (And watch those monthly specials, too: a little prepayment can cut your bill by a nice 8%, or as much as 24% if you sign up during a special.)

Pros

  • Reasonable "premium web hosting" plans with excellent reliability and support
  • Linux-based
  • Drupal? Check!
  • 30-day money back guarantee. (Prepaid hosting plans also return prorated prepaid amount if cancelled.)

Cons

  • No mega-storage, mega-bandwidth discount packages
  • Good for operational site, but limited MySQL databases aren't ideal for a Drupal "experimenter" account
  • No built-in Drupal installer

Hosting Plans

http://www.pair.com/services/

Monthly specials

http://www.pair.com/services/specials.html

Comments

opegasus's picture

As a relatively new Drupaloid (Coming from Joomla!) I was somewhat miffed that DH didn't offer Advanced OneCLick Drupal install. They currently have a basic OneClick Drupal install now, but the Dev can't name one's own Databas nor prefixes, at least that I know of. I would stay away from the basick oneclick so you can fully administer your site(s). Sucks because I have the lowest DSL (heck the only DSL where I live) so uploading the files and all that takes mucho time.

What I can do is echo nearly all of your comments on the Pro side of DH. Additionally their Tech support is absolutely first rate. These folks were very kind in their live support and emails (yes, scarily fast!) especially considering I am relatively new to Dev'ing. I have had an account with them for alomost a year (October of 2009?) and every time I ask for help they are there on the spot.

I must tell you that I alert them I am a 'newb' so they will translate or take time to explain what-is-what to me. Maybe there are other hosting companies out there but none I have found with this kind of service at this pricing structure. I will take a glitchy server with a great support staff any day. I do not have high traffic sites (yet) so a few glitches are just fine. Support service is key to me.

Plus they usually have someone there on support almost 24/7 so for those who are up late or very early coding-building away, that is priceless. One reason I don't go with a local company is the regular biz hours thingy.

I agree, pricing, very high usage quotas and all that are true and I can't think of any reason to be hosted anywhere else.

drupalace's picture

Thanks for the useful comments. Much further down the road, I maintain the same thoughts regarding DreamHost: I really like their online tools, and their support is still fast, fast, fast. 

Here's something I haven't yet written about much, though: For a long time, I was getting increasingly poor performance on my shared server, to the point I sometimes simply couldn't work on Drupal sites – and whatever the good points of the service, that problem obviously makes the whole deal unacceptable. I worked with support a lot, but it always boiled down to my Drupal sites demanding more memory than the shared server could offer. 

In the end, while I flirted with changing hosts, I bit the bullet and decided to at least try DreamHost's Private Server service. It's an extra cost, but at the minimum level of service, still reasonable. I was  dismayed for the first couple of weeks, though, as my sites' server usage was still ridiculously high, especially in terms of memory usage. But through some combination of my hamfisted tweakings and (possibly) optimizations made by DH, things have calmed down to a VERY stable and responsive level, under which my main server's memory usage is safely about 2/3 my limit, and my MySQL server's memory usage is about 1/3 my limit. (Both servers' CPU usage barely registers.) Not bad for a dozen or so Drupal sites (though, admittedly, not yet high-traffic sites)!

So I'm staying with DreamHost under my current, happy Private Server environment, and continue to recommend the service to the newbie or general Drupal user.

Helen Hughes's picture

I made a webpage for our project and I didn't know what host I can use. Thank you so much for lending me a big help. I love reading your blog so much. It's quite informative at the same time very useful.

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