I’ve been making and running websites now for over 13 years, one thing that always baffles me is how much businesses are willing to pay for their website hosting. I’ve used lots of providers over the years ranging from cheap to respectfully expensive. Ideally whoever is currently running (or building) your site should have an understanding of what the requirements of that website should be. I would much rather pay for a service and know what I am getting than pay less and get “Free” things included. An itemised bill of every £ spent would be ideal.

I’m not necessarily talking about the normal:

  • Total disk space required

  • Database size

  • Total RAM

But also the technical:

  • How much disk access is required (disk IO)

  • What is the CPU usage like throughout regular requests

  • What resources does the Database need?

    • How many queries are we running on each request?

    • Are these reading from the disk or is the data stored in RAM?

When looking at potential hosting providers, are these questions being answered?

An example popular hosting provider features page includes this.

A list of popular web hosting features

Let’s break this down and tackle each item individually:

  • Disk space - 100Gb is plenty. That’s never going to get full. But what disk is it? It could be a shiny new server-grade NVMe SSD, which can read data at a whopping 2,500Mb/s. However it could also be a laptop grade 5400rpm 1TB HDD - with a read speed of ~100Mb/s (I had a client contact us about their site performance, with a hosting provider with 2 of these in a raid. When I found out - there were some interesting conversations with the hosting provider). We recently assisted a client with a hosting issue where they had file writing issues, it was so slow to write to the disk the website would write 2 copies of the same file instead of overwriting (There was no file locking, but on faster disks, this didn’t become an issue). So unlimited sounds great - but who wants an unlimited amount of slow?

  • Unmetered bandwidth - Initially, this sounds great “Free bandwidth”... but at what speed! Is that 1Mb/s or 1Gb/s? Unmetered typically means they don’t charge you for how much you use. But similar to disk space, what throughput can you achieve on this network. Previously I have moved websites from hosting providers, not because the servers weren’t good enough - but we saturated the network connections and although we had “unlimited” bandwidth they couldn’t give us enough.

  • CPUs - Is this a physical CPU? A virtual CPU? Is it a dedicated CPU? Do you have access to one CPU but it’s shared across multiple clients? What CPU is it? It could be a 1989 Intel 486 processor (most likely not, but what price point do you think the cheap hosting provider is going to look at?)

Being on newer CPUs has many advantages, not only for site speed and efficiency but also for using less power and generating less heat = better for the environment

  • Memory - You may be seeing a trend here - What RAM is it? What speed is the RAM?

  • I/O - What even is this arbitrary number? We can only assume they mean disk IO. The speed of which you can read/write files to the Disk (so this partially explains the Disk space questions). The problem with this, it doesn’t go into any detail as to what the number means? Is that 1024Kb/s (so 1Mb read + write per second) or 1024Mb/s? Is that the total amount of bytes in transfer at any one time? Is it the disk IO limit each way (so if you read at 1Mb/s you then cannot write anything to the drive until that is finished or can it be asynchronous 1Mb/s read and 1Mb/s write) It’s quite possibly one of the most important items on the list and has the least information about it.

  • MySQL Databases - What version of MySQL? What other restrictions are in place here? Is there a limit on the number of connections or the number of tables? Again - they are putting a lot of emphasis on the amount of storage and not necessarily the things that matter. This could be a single MySQL server with 10Tb of disk space (which would allow for lots of clients) but if the server only had 4Gb RAM, it would be really slow.

    This is just a short breakdown of a real-life cheap hosting provider. But on top of all of this - there are still even more things to consider:

    • Backups?

      • When are they taken?

      • Where are they stored?

      • How long does it take to restore a backup?

      • When do they get deleted?

    • Redundancy?

      • What happens when a disk fails on the server?

      • Any RAID setup?

      • How long to recover from disk failure

    • What about an SLA?

      • What is the hosting provider responsible for and how quickly are they obliged to fix the issue?

        • Can you call them?

        • Is it email support only?

        • Office hours or 24/7?

      • If you are on a shared hosting environment, what prevents other websites using all the servers resources (This applies, not only for the server but also for databases and network throughput).

      • I’ve had these problems countless times with shared providers over the years. Generally, cheap hosting is “oversubscribed” so they will sell 110% of the resources on a server because on average no one uses 100% of their usage… until they do and the whole server begins to get impacted.

    So this covers the typical cheap “shared” hosting environments, but if you are thinking “I’ll just pay more and get a virtual server or a dedicated server” - the devil is in the details.

    How do these things impact your business?

    Poor page speed

    Page speed matters for Google rankings, the slower your website is the more frustrated your users will be. Using a tool like https://gtmetrix.com we can view timing information, the main figure we are looking for here is TTFB (Time To First Byte) Breakdown Of Page Loading Time

    Ideally, Google recommends this to be below 600ms. Having a slow server/database/ disks can have a direct impact on this. Recently we upgraded the server for a client's website which only upgraded the CPU (disks, RAM, OS, PHP version, network throughput were all identical) and we saw their TTFB drop by 50%. The new server costs the same as the old one and had a massive boost in performance.

    Web Transaction Time Summary

    Poor conversion speeds

    If you are paying huge amounts to direct traffic to your website and you give every user a slow-performing website, they are much less likely to convert. If you can invest in your website infrastructure then this can have an immediate boost to your conversion rates. The point of investing in your website infrastructure is particularly relevant for e-commerce and pure-play businesses where good infrastructure is essential to generate conversions.

    You wouldn’t buy a Ferrari and then fuel it with water, so why invest in building a good website without an excellent supporting infrastructure. In short, finding the cheapest website hosting provider should never be a consideration for buyers.

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Meet the author ...

Mark Willis

Head of Development

Mark has nearly two decade's experience within the industry, more than 10 being with Adido as Head of Development. Starting as a junior developer and working up to Head of ...