I’ve never found the perfect ISP, and not for lack of trying. Moving all of my blogs (except for my business blog, which is hosted on an integration portal site) to WordPress a few months ago just highlighted a few of the problems with the ISPs that I do deal with, a point that I was reminded of this weekend when I upgraded — in one case unsuccessfully — to WordPress 2.0.5. Here’s my rundown.
This is the host for my corporate website, including my email hosting, and holds the archive of my business blog up to the date when it moved onto the integration portal site. I chose Yahoo primarily for the email capabilities: 2GB email boxes, the best webmail client that I have ever used, and excellent spam filtering.
Prior to my WordPress migration, I published my business blog onto my own site using Blogger and ftp publishing; however, Yahoo allows me to create a WordPress (or Movable Type) blog easily, without having to copy the files and set up the database myself. This sort of functionality is becoming more common with some of the hosting companies, and is great for those who don’t want to play around with MySQL and PHP files themselves. I moved my business blog archive over to WordPress, but noticed that in spite of the fact that I had “automatic upgrades” for WordPress enabled on Yahoo, my version was still 2.0.2. Since this is just an archive rather than an active blog, I never bothered to do a manual upgrade until today, when, emboldened by the success of the other upgrades, I attempted the upgrade to 2.0.5. Several attempts later, using by a clean install via Yahoo and a clean manual install, I gave up and went back to the 2.0.2 version.
My conclusion: Yahoo’s MySQL installation, besides being out of date, is somewhat screwed up; this, in turn, seems to be impacting the ability to do a WordPress upgrade or even a separate WordPress install. My advice: avoid Yahoo Small Business hosting if you need anything but the exact WordPress version that they’re offering, which is currently 2.0.2. This likely won’t be a problem until a major WP upgrade occurs and you really want some new feature in the new version.
If this were my primary blogging site, I would not be using Yahoo as my host any more, even if it meant giving up the webmail.
I recently started using Netfirms for my wine club’s website and blog, and I have to say that I’ve learned my lesson about taking hosting advice from a faux-technical, slightly ditzy blonde with a popular video blog. Yes, I listened to Amber Mac on her weekly CommandN video blog about their latest sponsor, Netfirms, and how great they are; unfortunately, it’s a load of crap.
The only benefit that I can think of is that they are a registrar for .ca (Canadian) domains, so are able to provide both domain registration and hosting in one package; that plus the plug from Amber made me take a look at them. Although I didn’t have upgrade problems with WordPress 2.0.5, they do have two very serious problems.
First of all, performance and availability, particularly of MySQL. There have been occasions where the site has been down completely, and others when the blog was down due to WordPress not being able to connect to the database. Although the interruptions only last for a matter of minutes, this is a low-volume e-commerce site where we sell tickets for our wine-tasting events and having outages is just not an expected or acceptable occurrence. File transfers and other operations on the site take forever; coupled with the outages, I’m guessing that they have some very under-powered servers that are having frequent overloads. The last time that this happened, I called while the MySQL database was actually down and I couldn’t connect to the database; the tech support just dithered around, claimed to not be able to reproduce the problem, and kept me on the line for long enough until the database came back up. He never provided an suitable answer as to what happened. As I’m writing this, I just browsed to the blog and it took at least 15 seconds to open the main page after resolving the address, which is completely unacceptable.
This is one reason that I haven’t moved the main web site to WordPress, although I redesigned the site so that I could do that: a MySQL outage would take the entire site down, since WordPress sites are all dynamically retrieved from the MySQL database on command.
The second major problem, and this will sound a bit obscure if you’re not into WordPress configuration, is that they don’t provide AllowOverride for .htaccess. There’s a long thread about it on the WordPress forums, specifically talking about Netfirms, and after much run-around, I had this confirmed by Netfirms support (via email), who first sent me to their general information on configuring .htaccess (which I’d read, and was way past), then told me that I was using directives in the file that they don’t support (which isn’t true), then finally admitted that they don’t provide AllowOverride after I asked them the question directly. What this means to non-WordPress geeks is that I can’t get “pretty” URLs for my blog posts; the URL has to include “index.php” in order to use a format other than the default (ugly) WordPress permalink structure. So my post URLs look like http://aws.ca/blog/index.php/2006/10/winemakers-blogging rather than http://aws.ca/blog/2006/10/winemakers-blogging. Not such a big deal on a blog, although I’m offended by the aesthetic, but a huge deal if I wanted to make the entire website run on WordPress: that would mean that all of the page URLs would have to include the “index.php”, so our About page, for example, would have to be http://aws.ca/index.php/about rather than http://aws.ca/about.
My conclusion: Netfirms sucks. Their servers are underpowered, and they’re not supporting some basic things required for the proper operation of a WordPress site, in spite of the fact that they provide the same sort of one-step WordPress installation as Yahoo. If I hadn’t prepaid for a year, they would no longer be the host for my wine club. Unfortunately, since we’re a non-profit group with a tight budget, I can’t justify just abandoning the investment, however small, and signing up another host.
I use GoDaddy to host this blog, and have a few domain names parked here as well. In general, I like GoDaddy, although I find some of the administrative interfaces a bit clunky sometimes (and lacking in a file manager capability for moving files around on the site). I’ve recommended them to various people who have set up their own domains or business email, and there have never been any problems. I’ve had no outages on this site, and although I have to do the WordPress installation myself, the MySQL interface works fine.
Unlike the other two hosts, however, where I have a MySQL super user account and can create my own databases directly in phpMyAdmin, GoDaddy doles out my allotted 10 databases one at a time, creating a user with all permissions for that database and only launching you into phpMyAdmin under that user account. Since there’s no permission to create a new user, that means that that user is the only one for the database, so any security would have to be built into an application rather than using different MySQL logins with different permissions. I need to think more about the ramifications there before I start building any of my own applications, but applications like WordPress manage their own user tables internally rather than relying on MySQL IDs directly. And, to be fair, I mentioned previously that the Yahoo MySQL implementation is pretty screwed up: although I supposedly had super user login access, and could jump around between the different databases, there were a lot of things that I couldn’t do that I should have been able to, so I think that MySQL on Yahoo would be much more problematic than on GoDaddy.
The only problem that I’ve had with GoDaddy is when I tried to setup a direct blog posting link from Flickr. In order to do this, Flickr needs to access one of the core WordPress files (xmlrpc.php) on GoDaddy, but it always returns an error when trying to set it up. According to Flickr tech support, who were very helpful, the error message being returned is empty, so I went back to GoDaddy tech support, who were pretty useless in getting any sort of resolution. First, they told me that they don’t provide support for Flickr or WordPress. Duh. Then, when I just referred to it as an “external service trying to access a file” and asked them to provide error logs so that we could trace the actual problem, they tried browsing to the page themselves, saw the standard message about how the XML-RPC server only accepts POST requests (which is the correct behaviour) and told me that this was clearly an error with my WordPress installation. I told them that this was not an error message, and asked again for the error logs to try and trace the error, at which point they told me that they could not provide the error logs, that shared hosting accounts do not allow remote connectivity (huh? Is this their explanation for why the xmlrpc.php access failed? If so, it’s bogus), and tried to sell me dedicated hosting services. So on top of the actual problem, I now have a really bad taste about their technical support.
My conclusion: this is probably the best of the lot, although I’d be reluctant to start hosting any serious applications here based on the crappy technical support. Works perfectly for WordPress, however.
Late breaking update: After I posted this, I retried the Flickr setup, and it appears to work now. They must have had more complaints than just mine, and fixed the problem.
I know that there’s no perfect hosting solution, but going through three different ones has really highlighted some of the things to look for with any new hosting provider. Unfortunately, most of these things can’t really be determined until you’ve actually started using it, so I’ll likely only consider a monthly hosting plan for any new provider in the future until I figure out if all these things will work okay.