Screen Shot 2012 04 09 at 2.26.36 PM What Tha CLOUD? Searching for Web Hosting Nirvana – Varied Support, Service, and Pricing

Update 4-12-12: I've been contacted directly by both A2 Hosting (CEO called me directly) and MediaTemple (via twitter). Not a peep out of Rackspace or Instaspace. And my Instaspace Minecraft server is still not up. And I just got the server expires in 5 days email from them.

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I'm fairly happy with my current web hosting service A2Hosting. I say fairly because I still have 'outages' and lapses in customer support. They're now asking/telling me I need to upgrade my services again, to a VPN system. But it would be much more expensive. So for now I'll stay here.

But the CLOUD is confusing. Even great companies like RackSpace, who are owning the small business hosting market, do not make it much easier to decide. How do I know the difference between Cloud Hosting, Managed Hosting and something they are offering called Cloud Sites? I don't.

rackspace solutions What Tha CLOUD? Searching for Web Hosting Nirvana – Varied Support, Service, and Pricing

But the minute you step off the first-tier hosting providers you find yourself in uncharted and unreliable waters.

This came to a head for me today, as I was trying for the 3rd time, to get a Hosted Minecraft Server up for my son's development group. The company I went with Instaspace even advertises quick start services to get your Minecraft server up and running. Here's the screen shot of their MINECRAFT specific page. Minecraft VPS from Instaspace

Screen Shot 2012 04 09 at 12.11.30 PM What Tha CLOUD? Searching for Web Hosting Nirvana – Varied Support, Service, and Pricing

Only one problem. It wasn't so "insta." I got a renewal notice that said my 30-day server contract was going to expire on 4-16-12. Um, except the sign-date was indeed 3-16-12, however the server was not even set up for two days. And then only as an empty unix box. And after I spent three sessions with their tech support, sending email, trying things, today 4-9-12 when I contacted them again, I had NOTHING.

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MINECRAFT SERVER UPDATE: Instaspace NEVER got me set up. However my son found a hosting service this weekend and we were up in 30-minutes with a team that obviously gets gaming.

And if you click and join from this banner we'll get a free week of hosting. But that's just a bonus, I was so happy to have a quick and easy hosting solution for my son's Minecraft crew.

 What Tha CLOUD? Searching for Web Hosting Nirvana – Varied Support, Service, and Pricing

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While I'm not a unix wiz, I have a number of servers running on other hosts and using a variety of OS platforms. So I'm no dummy. I know the questions to ask and how to telnet in. But nothing was working. And my son declared, "Today is the day, Dad. I'm staying right here until you get it running." Of course in his eyes some of it WAS my fault.

Back to Instaspace and their online chat help. (Often this is the best way to interface with foreign support programmers or helpdesk staffers. Waiting on the phone gets extremely irritating after about 10 minutes on a "I'll be right back" hold. I know my Bangalore buddy is stretched thin and probably supporting 10 threads at once. So I'm patient. To a point.

Today on support chat I was an angel. And we waited. My son eventually went back to his room to play the local Minecraft systems he hosts and admins for himself and about 10 friends. In my eyes, he's getting ADMIN experience, coding experience, and real-world collaboration skills. Minecraft is amazing if you haven't looked into it yet. This pack of Block Builders, as they call themselves, are at it from dawn until dusk. With school, meals, homework and some form of exercise added in.

To be fair, Jenny, who was my support chat assistant was the sharpest person I'd gotten yet. It still took 51 minutes to arrive at this dialogue snippet.

Screen Shot 2012 04 09 at 1.07.11 PM What Tha CLOUD? Searching for Web Hosting Nirvana – Varied Support, Service, and Pricing

Jenny had one right answer. "sure we will do it for you" as in resetting my billing cycle to the actual start date of the services up-and-running that I paid for. Let's see how soon that email arrives with the "Lauch your Minecraft Server HERE" email.

So here's the bigger picture.

I contacted my main hosting service A2Hosting to see if they offered any similar services to Instaspace? I got an email telling me they would get back to me. The same email I got two weeks ago when Instaspace first stumbled. Um, okay, not their primary hosting service, I get that.

In looking for WEB HOSTING services the CLOUD seems to have made things more confusing for us consumers. Even my techie-consumer brain hurts when I try to price out what I need on Rackspaces site.

Do I need Managed VPS or Cloud Hosting? And now with the reintroduction of Cloud Sites, maybe that's what I need.

Screen Shot 2012 04 09 at 1.15.10 PM What Tha CLOUD? Searching for Web Hosting Nirvana – Varied Support, Service, and Pricing

Okay, that's a bit pricey for me, at this moment. Let's see if I can get more information about the different levels of service from Rackspace. Here's the Business Web Site Hosting Services page from Rackspace.

Screen Shot 2012 04 09 at 1.17.05 PM What Tha CLOUD? Searching for Web Hosting Nirvana – Varied Support, Service, and Pricing

Um, okay, let's move to one of the low-cost providers like A2, who I use.

Screen Shot 2012 04 09 at 1.20.19 PM What Tha CLOUD? Searching for Web Hosting Nirvana – Varied Support, Service, and Pricing

Dang! That's a bit more in my pricing range. And UNLIMITED sounds GREAT. Here's my Unlimited at A2 rant: Minor Blip in my CLOUD: When "Unlimited" Has Undisclosed Limits (A2 Hosting Pulls My Plug)

Okay, so "unlimited" does not mean unlimited. And even the fine print won't really tell you all you need to know. But when it's down, and you've done something wrong, LIKE HAVE A POPULAR POST, then the "unlimited" becomes very limited. So we need to avoid these kind of hiccups.

So what's the business of web hosting opportunity between Rackspace's $150 per month and A2's $3.32 per month? That's a pretty big range of service pricing. And you can bet thousands of companies and shell affiliate companies are rushing to fill the need. And spamming the crap out of your inbox. Everyone is into hosting these days. And some even call plain-old-web-hosting Cloud Hosting.

Here's the other big boy hosting service I keep hearing about from my blogging colleagues. MediaTemple.com. Here's their starter package.

Screen Shot 2012 04 09 at 1.38.52 PM What Tha CLOUD? Searching for Web Hosting Nirvana – Varied Support, Service, and Pricing

Looks like MediaTemple might be the type of service I'm looking for. Mid-tier pricing, big boy professional support. Well over 10X my A2 "unlimited" plan, but I was bumped UP from that package soon after my BLIP. And while I'm paying more for my hosting from A2, we're still having some performance and availability problems. It seems my "reseller" level hosting bonks out at about 35 concurrent visitors to this blog.

And when I call to see what's going on I get a number of wrong answers. "You need to upgrade to our dedicated VPN service," and "You were maxing out the available ram on the server," and "You've exceeded you mySQL calls," or "The CPU was getting too many requests." Now maybe I'm the target of an anonymous take down, but I don't think so. Each support call gets a new answer. And their solution is upgrading me to the next level up, "where there are no limits on the number of mySQL calls, CPU cycles, concurrent visitors, what ever the issue of the day is.

So I'm not really happy with A2. And we've been through a lot. But I have a lot of domains and sites. And moving to another server/service is a pain in the butt. And I've been willing to put up with the problems on A2, since we kissed and made up.

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How do we divide legitimate businesses from the holes of darkness like Instaspace? Three weeks, four support calls, and today, if all goes well, and Jenny follows through on her promise… Well, let's see how they do. I'll update this post with details as the situation progresses.

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How does the consumer of professional web hosting, small or medium, make a choice with the answers and solutions are still so confusing. Do you think the term "Cloud Computing" has helped or confused the issue? I can tell you, I don't can what you call it, I want reliable hosting at a descent price. Rackspace is to pricey. A2 is failing my quality requirements repeatedly, but keeping things up just enough that I'd rather get a root canal than switch all my sites to a new service. And you can bet the $20 a month package from MediaTemple isn't going to come with a lot of Site Transfer Support.

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Cloud Hosting and Pricing Web Hosting is a pain in the ass. Companies like Rackspace and MediaTemple need to do a better job of explaining these complex systems. OR simplify the questions. 

WEB SITE HOSTING?
APPLICATION HOSTING?
MASSIVE STORAGE HOSTING?
EMAIL HOSTING?

I don't care what you call it. Ask me those questions, give me the pricing. Leave the BRANDING of "cloud" "vpn" "managed" or "hybrid" to the marketing departments to sort through. Sure we, as consumers need to know what to ask for, but the names/brands/packages today STILL confuse the most techie minded of us. And that's an INFORMATION problem not a BRANDING problem.

@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)
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