Where and How to Host the Site

Image of global internet connectivityOk, so I want to build my site with Drupal, and I’d like to customize it with a theme of my choice and modules specific to my desired functionality. But where to host the site, and what kind of hosting plan? That’s the next big question. What I’ve been doing during my evaluation process is building a series of web sites on my home computer. That’s not giving me a 100.000% accurate picture of how the final site will behave, but it’s been plenty close enough for what I’m doing. And it’s been telling me what’s possible. But now it’s time to move on.

Luckily, this isn’t the first time I’ve entered these waters. As I mentioned in some earlier posts I had played a little with setting up a small website back when I first retired from Bank of America in 2005. At the time, even though I was coming out of an extended career in system development at the bank, I didn’t have any real (professional) experience in web development. So I was reading ads for hosting providers with very little understanding of how to decide what I needed, and where to get it. Pricing was a big consideration. Based on price, and the apparent benefits of “one stop shopping” (not a good scheme BTW), I ended up buying a shared hosting package from GoDaddy. Not the right thing to do, either as a selection technique or as a landing-place.

After working in that environment for a while, I found I was having issues with the system, I was not greatly pleased with the support, and I was having problems with the software package I was trying to use at that point (PostNuke and then TikiWiki). So I researched hosting providers again and found a new provider that was TikiWiki friendly – HostDime.com. And, that worked for a while. But then another problem came into play. At the time I was using TikiWiki as a framework and trying to use it to host some custom functionality of my own that I had developed using PHP, which was also a new experience for me. As I got deeper into the development task I found that I wanted to move from PHP4 to PHP5 for the stricter OOP environment. Well, HostDime at the time was firmly attached to PHP4 and didn’t offer a PHP5 environment. My account at HostDime was again a shared hosting account, so I was back in the market for another provider. That search led me to A2Hosting.com in Ann Arbor. A2Hosting offered both PHP4 and PHP5 on shared hosting accounts. They offered TikiWiki. They had competitive rates. And they were supportive and responsive when I had questions or issues. Definitely a better environment. I stayed with A2Hosting until I finally bailed on the TikiWiki exercise and no longer needed the account.

Following that experience I’ve spend time chasing a number of paths toward my objectives. Some of those paths have been PHP-based, some have been Java-oriented. Some have been web-centric, others have been desktop oriented for the presentation layer. My current path is two-fold, and is split over two technologies. My primary focus for the core tool set which I am interested in is Java-oriented, and my current primary focus for that development is based on the Eclipse framework. At the same time, I am moving into an open development mode for my Entity Architecture Tool Suite™ (EATS™). I want a web platform for communication and collaboration of EATS™ concepts. The collaboration platform is the architectedfutures.net website. Theoretically everything I’m doing with EATS™ could provide a framework for a website built on EATS™ as an infrastructure. However, that would really send me out into left field building scaffolding for my scaffolding. And there is so much else that is available. So, for architectedfutures.net the technology framework I’ve selected is Drupal. That’s the site I’m looking to host.

As I’ve gone down this road, I’ve accomplished some tangential research about web platforms and hosting alternatives. One exercise had to do with hosting facilities for a possible Java servlet-based implementation. This tended to push me toward VPS (virtual private server) solutions and caused some research in that space. More recently as I was investigating both Drupal and WordPress I began looking at recommendations for hosting techniques and providers in both of those communities. There is no perfect provider. For every provider there seems to be someone out there who has had a bad experience. Billing. Installation. Performance. Of course some providers have larger groups of “anti-fans” than others.

One of the issues of concern to me as I did my evaluation between Drupal and WordPress was performance. Performance is a major factor in terms of usability. If you are putting up a website for people to interact and enjoy, it has to be usable. Consistent multi-second (or longer) page flips can really be a problem. There are a lot of factors that go into performance as experienced by the end-user. Within the blog commentary on Drupal performance and hosting I saw a lot of comments that seem to favor VPS over shared hosting. And this concerned me a bit. As I mentioned, I had looked at VPS, but I really wasn’t thrilled with going down that road right away. Straight VPS meant that I needed to configure and support my own virtual machine environment. Pick my Linux implementation, install it, maintain it. This is something I could do, but not something I wanted to do. On the other hand there was Managed VPS. But the price goes up for the added services, and the configuration options go down.

Before this whole issue became to much of making a mountain out of a molehill, I sat down and did a little more research, did some practical evaluation of where I’m at and what I’m doing, and thought back about some of my past experiences.

For extended research I posted a LinkedIn discussion thread on a Drupal discussion board asking for advice from other more experienced users on the skills and time requirements to manage and run a Drupal website in a VPS environment. I was very pleased to find that this actually brought out some counter-opinion that indicated VPS wasn’t necessarily a requirement for a successful, functional Drupal site. People started identifying that shared hosting was being used quite successfully to operate viable sites at the smaller end of the spectrum. And, I got a lot of good input into how to set up a VPS site if I wanted to go that route. From a practical basis I had to consider that I really didn’t want to spend much money for the initial site, and … I was unlikely in the beginning to have much audience demand on resources. (Had this been a business site, or an internal corporate site the demand forecast might have generated a different result.) And, from earlier experience I knew I wanted a vendor that was responsive and customer friendly, someone who offered up-to-date, although not necessarily bleeding edge, technologies. This sent me back to A2Hosting. I searched some more and started finding references to A2Hosting being used by others for Drupal sites. Not a lot of references, but almost all positive. And, when peoiple identified their domains, I checked out their sites. Just to see how responsive they were. And things looked pretty good.

So, that’s one more task out of the way. I’m targeting an A2Hosting shared hosting environment as my first home for architectedfutures.net. They offer SSH access to shared hosting accounts. They seem to be staying current on technology options. They offer VPS and Managed VPS options if the need arrives to go that route. They are familiar with Drupal. They aren’t the least expensive, but they have a nice plan which is very reasonable for getting my started. And I’ve dealt with them before and had a good customer experience. Lets see how this works out.

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