For those of you that prefer the “short version”, my sites have been down and/or in a state of flux the past few days due to hosting problems, and a subsequent change in hosting companies. I’ve switched to Hostinger as my web hosting company.
Prior to 2017, I kept a server at home in the spare room in our garage. Back in those days, many IT people kept a “lab server” at home. Over the years, I’ve used it as a mail server, local network server, and to host the few web pages I hosted. As website hosting prices dropped, I recommended to the few users I had that they take advantage of the lower prices and higher reliability that commercial hosting companies offered. In 2017, I decided to follow my own advice. Until this past weekend, I’ve used the same hosting company since then.
For those of you that are unaware, most of the websites you see across the internet are hosted by commercial hosting companies. The services offered range from shared servers that host several low-traffic sites, to large powerful dedicated servers that host sites that get thousands of hits per day. If you’re interested in knowing who hosts your favorite websites, you can go to who-hosts-this.com will detect that for you (along with some other interesting information).
The shared hosting options are appropriate for the low traffic websites I own, even the very inexpensive providers. As in many other things, in webhosting you get what you pay for, but I really don’t expect much. A reliable site, some sort of reporting on my resource use so I can know if I have to upgrade, and (most importantly) reliable response if I have an issue. For almost 6 years, the company I chose did all of that, and at a very reasonable price.
I should have recognized the first sign of trouble in February of this year; unfortunately I didn’t know about it until a couple of weeks ago. My hosting company discontinued their phone support, and instead went to an online chat only system. They didn’t even have a regular ticketing system. Just start an online chat and wait. Sometimes for a long time. Again, I don’t expect a lot from my hosting company, I’m a cheap client. But I do expect reasonable customer service when there’s a problem; and 40 minutes to an hour waiting in a chat box is not “reasonable”. Especially when the company advertises that they have 24/7/365 customer service.
The way I discovered this was the actual first sign of trouble I experienced. I added a website (website #3, on an account that advertised “unlimited” websites), and started getting 501 errors. They were infrequent through the night, and they cleared when I force refreshed the screen, but they were annoying. Then I got a database connect error, indicating that my web server could no longer access the database file that the site uses (on this particular hosting company, they maintain the MySQL database on a separate server), so I was down hard. I tried to call the support number, and got the recording that as of February 2023, they would only have chat support service. Bummer.
Long, Repeated Service Wait Times
So, I went in to their chat. And it took almost 40 minutes for the technician to respond. They first tried to have me just force refresh my screen. That didn’t work. Then the tech said that she would need to do something else, and asked me to wait. After about ten minutes, she came back online and asked me to try again. Bingo, I was back in business…
… For about 30 minutes, then I got the same message again. I again went to their chat box, and this time waited for over 60 minutes. The lady responded that they were having several clients with the same problem, and were looking into the issue. Great… that means the problem was likely a down database server. After about an hour of testing the site with no improvement, I decided that it probably wasn’t going to be fixed that night, so I went to bed.
The next morning, I was still down. I hit their chat button late afternoon, and this time they responded within 10 minutes. I explained the ongoing issue, they asked me to wait, and after about 5 minutes, asked me to try again. Bingo, I was back in business again.
An Unauthorized Change
This worked for about a week. Then last week, the 501 errors started again. I was nervous, but continued working. Then the database disconnect message came up again, and I was very frustrated. I went into another 40+ minute chat wait, and told them the situation, and told them I was unhappy with the time it was taking to get help. They put me on hold, and told me to try again, and I was again working. But, an hour later the issue returned. This time they answered chat within about 15 minutes, but couldn’t fix the issue, and said they would have to take it to a higher level support.
The next day, my sites were all still down, and I again went into chat. The tech said that it appeared my site was not connecting to the database, but the database server was up and running. Then he mentioned the name of the database, and it was not the name of the database I used. It was a name I would have never used for a website database (I follow a pretty regular naming scheme for this). The name I knew I had used, was still in the database, so I redirected the site to use that, and everything was back up. Including some of the changes I had made the night before, That indicated that the site was changed late the night before in an unsuccessful attempt to fix my issue (probably tried rebuilding the database).
They never really resolved the issue of who created the new database and why, but after switching back to the database that I knew was what I used before, the issue returned within a couple of minutes. He was still on chat this time, so he created another new database, and copied data over. I was able to connect to that one and started editing my site.
My site was running again, so we thought the issue was resolved. Unfortunately, the issue returned later that night, and I decided it was time to look for a new provider. The problem this time appeared to be intermittent, so I just left everything alone and started shopping for a new hosting company.
Hostinger to the Rescue
It’s never really “fun” to change web service providers, and hosting providers know this. They focus on that two different ways 1 – Most will offer free migration services, where they transfer your data for you, and 2 – Many will offer a very low monthly rate for a short time, after which regular (higher) rates kick in, knowing that you will likely not want to go through the trouble of switching. In my search, almost all sites offered free migration, and most of them offered very low monthly rates. Out of those with the low price but reasonable resources, most only offered the low price for the first year (or less). Then I stumbled on Hostinger, who not only offered a low introductory price, but let you keep that price for 4 years, if you prepay those 4 years. With a 30 day money back guarantee, that seemed like a no-miss opportunity.
So, I signed up with Hostinger for 4 years. They offered free web migration, which I signed up for. However, I decided I didn’t want to wait the 24 hours they said it would take, so I backed up all the information from my sites and rebuilt them. That was fortunate, because the next day I got a message that because mine was a multi-site installation, I would need to either separate the sites or submit a ticket for multi-site migration. Since I had already moved them, I did neither.
So it’s taken me about 3 days to clean up after moving my data (exporting data and importing it to a new host typically includes a few things that need to be tweaked). After a couple of missteps on my part (Hostinger’s methods of setting up domain parking for multiple sites is a little different that what I’m used to), I think all of my systems are set to go now. Hostinger seems to provide a very fast service, and I’ve had no performance issues at all. Even better, their service response time has been great, and they still offer phone support should I decide to go that route.
If you decide to give them a test run, I would appreciate it if you use this link to sign up. They offer rewards for referrals, and although I don’t expect to send them a lot of business, I’ll take what extra I can get. They will host up to 100 websites for the plan I’m on, and include free basic email service for each of them, as well as free SSL and domain parking. Customer service is 24/7/365, and includes phone support. In the few interactions I’ve had with their technical support so far, they responded very fast and were spot on with the solutions. If you’re looking for a web hosting service, be sure to check them out.