Jan 042011
 

I have been using AN Hosting since November 2010 to host this Drupal site. Finding a responsible shared hosting provider was certainly not an easy task. There are a staggering number of hosts available, along with a huge number of rather questionable “review” websites. I was forced to come up with a list of hosting providers that seemed decent and then individually research them one-by-one. I’m hoping that my experience and real-world performance/uptime report will be useful to others.

This post was last updated 2011-11-20

Keeping Things in Perspective

For ten years, I hosted all my personal pages on my own web server at home. It was essentially free (minus the cost of electricity) and I had practically unlimited system resources. Unfortunately, the one resource that doesn’t come free is bandwidth. Eventually I came to terms with the fact that pages loaded quickly locally, but everyone else on the Internet was receiving fairly slow responses. Because this page is my interface to the world, I decided improving performance and uptime was well worth a few dollars a month.

However, you have to realize that there’s no such thing as a free lunch: with web hosting and cloud, you get what you pay for. No shared hosting provider can provide five 9’s of uptime and instant disaster recovery for a few bucks a month. If your site is important enough to require that level of service, it should have enough budget to cover the significantly higher fees which come with such service. If your site doesn’t bring in that kind of money, you can still get really decent service for a much lower price.

Choosing a Responsible Hosting Provider

Once I had narrowed down the list to a few seemingly-responsible hosts, I tried all the usual tricks. Searching for “an hosting sucks”, “anhosting sucks”, “an hosting downtime” and the like turned up a few results. Searching for “anhosting drupal” also provided a bit of useful information.

I ran similar searches for other hosts and was able to remove a few from the list. But you’ll learn that every hosting provider has had ups and downs. Some have had serious issues and failed their customers miserably, but still have a group of satisfied customers. When it came to AN Hosting, I was not able to find any grievous stories of customer support nightmares, week-long downtimes, or billing problems. I took the plunge and have been satisfied so far.

Site Uptime on AN Hosting

To properly keep track of your site’s uptime, you must have some type of monitoring utility set up. I’ve been using Monitis, which is a cloud-based service allowing you to track the performance and uptime of your sites from many different global locations. If you haven’t tracked global outages before, you’ll discover that the Internet is a lot more fluid than most envision. There are outages and downtimes all over the place – especially between continents.

To provide a real-time, up-to-date report of my AN Hosting performance, I’ve constructed a live report of 6by9.net uptime and performance. The first chart reflects site uptime for the year – broken down by week. The second displays the response time of the server to each location: U.S. West Coast, U.S. Midwest, U.S. East Coast, U.K., Australia, and Singapore. Tests are run from all 6 locations every 3 minutes. Outages are marked with a red dot and are often limited to a single geographical location.

Snapshot of 6by9.net site performance

Screenshot of 6by9.net site uptime

As you can see, the site uptime for December 2010 was 99.64% which is certainly acceptable for my site! Response times within the US are around 0.2s, with spikes up to half a second. International response times are higher, with an average around 0.5s and spikes as high as one second.

AN Hosting’s parent company, Midphase, maintains a log of all server issues. If your service goes down, you can check their system status blog for updates. This log is also a good way to learn the most common types of failures and the length of downtimes.

AN Hosting Performance

Because you’re purchasing shared hosting, the server hosting your website will also be hosting other sites. Depending on your “neighbors'” behavior, your site will perform well or perform poorly. Drupal can be a resource-intensive piece of software to host, but I haven’t had significant problems yet. Drupal does a good job of caching content for anonymous users (those that are not logged in). Sites with a lot of logged in users will use more system resources.

I’m devising performance tests to quantify the resource limits. For now, please review the Monitis performance report above and have a look below at the list of modules I use on my site. I’ve been very pleased with the experience thus far.

You can feel reasonably comfortable that you’ll get your fair share with AN Hosting. As of December 2010, all their shared hosting accounts are moving to servers with Cloud Linux. From their blog post:

“Starting in the month of December we will be changing the Operating System on all Shared Linux servers to CloudLinux. From the standpoint of both the Web host and the end user this upgrade provides benefits that will compliment both parties. Firstly, the technology behind CloudLinux allows for CPU and IO resource control on a per user basis. This prevents the server from becoming overloaded by any one user trying to utilize too many system resources. Additionally, better security is also provided which in turn protects the server from issues that drain system resources for other users. This will ultimately allow us to increase the efficiency of the server thus improving server performance.”

I have noticed exactly what they state here. The perceived loading times on administration pages and cPanel interface have gone down quite a bit. It’s early going, but the variability of service (as measured by Monitis) also seems to have improved. This is demonstrated by fewer spikes and bumps in the plot of server response times.

Negative Impressions of AN Hosting Service

Although I’ve been pleased with the service thus far, nothing is perfect. I want to provide an honest review by covering all problems I’ve had.

The biggest issue I’ve noticed is that pages load more slowly when logged in. Users with administrative privileges seem to see the worst performance, as there’s more to load than for a normal user. This is a well-known issue for Drupal, because it only caches pages for anonymous (non-logged-in) users. I understand Drupal 7 addresses this issue through a more flexible caching system.

Update: these issues seem to be much reduced after the upgrade to Cloud Linux.

Conclusion

AN Hosting has served my site well by providing a platform upon which I can grow my site. Their service has been very flexible, so I’ve had no trouble adding all the functionality I desired. Uptime hasn’t been 99.999%, but the site has performed better than my previous hosting setup. Additionally, I know my site will be able to grow and handle traffic spikes. The support team has been very helpful the few times I needed to contact them.

If you have additional questions, please send them my way and I’ll do what I can to help.

If you’ve found my thoughts useful, you can help me keep the site running by using this link for 3 months free and 25% off on AN Hosting. Use coupon code AFFMA25. Due to the opaque nature of web hosting, there are a huge number of shill ‘review’ sites in existence. I’ve done my best to provide a balanced perspective on AN Hosting’s performance.

Problem Log – Updated as Issues Occur:

  • March 7, 2011: The day after my server was upgraded to CloudLinux, the server went down unexpectedly for several hours. Curiously, the server was not down during the scheduled service window. My suspicion is that the work took longer than expected and the server didn’t reboot when scheduled.
  • March 20, 2011: One full week of absolute 100% uptime. Average uptime for the year so far: 99.68%
  • March 30, 2011: Although the primary page was working properly, the secure (https) section of the website became inaccessible. Support eventually sorted it out and reported it as “There was a problem with Apache on the server”. My first e-mail went out at 1:22pm (although I didn’t send it to their standard support address, which I think was a mistake). A second was sent at 5:20pm (to the support address). The issue was resolved at 7:47pm.
  • May 1, 2011: Second full week of absolute 100% uptime. Average uptime for the year so far: 99.62%
  • May 29, 2011: Third full week of absolute 100% uptime. Average uptime for the year so far: 99.67%
  • June 4, 2011: Power outage and failure of the backup power in the datacenter. Site was down 4 hours during the middle of the night.
  • June 14, 2011: Unannounced downtime for 1 hour, 15 minutes in the middle of the afternoon. Midphase status blog acknowledges the issue and reports “This server is back up and available. Thank you for your patience.”
  • End of July: A move to the new datacenter went smoothly. The new servers feature brand-new hardware (Opteron 6100-series vs. the older Xeon 5400-series), but performance of my site begins to suffer. This is visible as a significant reduction in uptime on the Monitis graphs. The servers were not actually down, but my site frequently refused to load. After patiently waiting a bit for things to improve, I contacted support. My php.ini file was adjusted to provide 128MB memory and site uptime jumped to almost 100%.

Common Questions and Concerns Regarding AN Hosting Service

Question: Is it easy to configure multiple domain names or subdomains?
Answer: Yes. AN Hosting provides a cPanel GUI interface for management. There is a Domains section including domain names, subdomains, redirects, domain parking and DNS settings.

Question: Does Drupal 7 work on AN Hosting?
Answer: The site is currently running Drupal 6, but I have set up a subdomain to test Drupal 7. So far everything looks good and I intend to migrate to Drupal 7 over the coming months.

Question: Is remote SSH login access available?
Answer: Yes. I was a bit worried about this at first, as it is not enabled by default. If you need shell access, send support an e-mail and you’ll get access right away (took 27 minutes in my case).

Question: Will drush work properly?
Answer: Yes! After receiving SSH access to my shared server, I was able to install drush without any problems. (For those that don’t know, drush allows for command-line updating and administration of your Drupal site and modules.) If you’re receiving errors when running drush, you may need to change the php.ini configuration file.

Question: Do the AN Hosting shared hosting servers have too small a memory quota?
Answer: The default PHP memory limits are set to 32MB, which your Drupal install may complain about. My status report warns “It is highly recommended that you set your PHP memory_limit to 96M”, but I haven’t had any problems yet. You can see the full list of modules I’m using below – it’s certainly enough for my needs. I am aware of administrators manually setting the value in php.ini to 64MB or even 128MB without any problems. But like all shared hosting providers, you will get a warning e-mail (or worse) if you use more than your fair share of the server resources or cause problems for other customers.

Update 2011-10-01: After a datacenter transition, I contacted support regarding site performance. Without my asking, they increased my quota to 128MB.

Question: Do I have to use AN Hosting for DNS services and as my domain name registrar?
Answer: No. I use DynDNS for both DNS and domain name registration, as this provides more flexibility. Specifically, I am able to quickly switch my sites to a different hosting provider should there be any problems. Depending upon your DynDNS settings, it’s possible for your domain to resolve to a new IP in literally a minute or two.

Question: Can I use a separate mail server for e-mail?
Answer: Yes. I use Google Apps (gmail) for my e-mail as it is ubiquitous/mobile, easy-to-use, and filters spam very well. Also, this makes it much easier to switch hosting providers.

Question: Which Certificate Authority is used for SSL certificates?
Answer: If you purchase an SSL cert from AN Hosting (or if one was provided as part of your package), they will provide the certificate through PositiveSSL CA (Comodo CA Limited). Unfortunately, Comodo has received a lot of bad press lately due to apparently lax verification procedures. I can say that the certificate was generated and installed promptly, though.

Question: Will the Drupal modules I use work with AN Hosting?
Answer: I haven’t had any problems or heard of other admins seeing issues – a lot of Drupal sites run on AN Hosting servers. I’m currently using the following modules and did not have to perform any special setup steps:

  • Ad
  • AddThis
  • Administration menu
  • Advanced Help
  • Better Formats
  • CCK
  • Read More Tweak
  • External Links
  • GetClicky Web Analytics
  • Google Analytics
  • Global Redirect
  • Image
  • ImageAPI
  • Image Cache
  • Image Field
  • Image Assist
  • MimeDetect
  • Mollom
  • Pathauto
  • Scheduler
  • Secure Pages
  • Secure Pages Hijack Prevention
  • Taxonomy Manager
  • Token
  • Transliteration
  • Views

  One Response to “Using AN Hosting for a Drupal Web Site”

Comments (1)
  1. Please note that I’m now using WordPress (rather than Drupal) for this site. I’m still using ANHosting, though.

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