For a variety of reasons we have recently switched our website over to ANHosting from Network Solutions. Having had the opportunity to use the hosting package for several months now we have also moved several client websites as well, and I felt it would be good to write up exactly why we have done so.
Why Change Webhosts?
Ten Ten Studios had used Network Solutions almost exclusively for our smaller shared-hosting clients, and they provided very solid service for our ASP/Windows sites. As we moved into Drupal development, however, we noticed severe slowdowns and downtime which was starting to cause problems not only for our own site but for those of our clients. After many phone calls with NetSol's support department, the answer we ultimately received was "that's as good as it's going to get without upgrading to a dedicated server." We proceeded to do our own research and came up with a common theme: Drupal performance is extremely dependent on high-speed and high-availability connection to the associated MySQL server. In the case of Network Solutions, the MySQL server was hosted on a separate machine than the website itself and that connection was not nearly fast enough.
We began our search for a replacement webhost that would offer improved Drupal performance and looked to the Drupal community, which is always a good place to start. ANHosting received many positive recommendations and after a bit of investigating I found out why: ANHosting's MySQL databases are hosted on the same physical server as the website itself. Within minutes of starting the setup process it was clear that the speed was greatly improved and this database relationship seems to have a lot to do with it.
Costs and Value
As of this writing, ANHosting offers two pricing options determined by the length of the hosting package. A 1 year package costs $95.40 ($7.95/mo) while a 2 year option is $142.80 ($5.95/mo). There are no setup fees or domain charges as well, which is a plus particularly if you're registering a new domain. If you already own a domain and are simply transferring to ANHosting you miss out on the domain savings, but it's still a reasonable price for the hosting. Both packages include unlimited storage and bandwidth, two "gotchas" that some hosting companies use to tack on extra fees. All in all, it's a great value if you need fast Drupal (or other LAMP software) hosting.
Performance and Reliability
A good deal on hosting isn't worth much if your site is down all the time, so uptime is pretty important. After several months I have had a problem where tentenstudios.com was affected by a server upgrade which caused about 5 minutes of downtime. A minor disappointment, no doubt, but an understandable issue that has yet to repeat itself. Beyond uptime, what has impressed me the most about ANHosting has been the speed. While on Network Solutions the site(s) would often take at least 30 seconds to begin rendering in a browser -- now it rarely takes more than 2-3 seconds with the entire home page loaded in 5 seconds or less. Those initial loading times are absolutely critical for a website such as this -- if you're interested in making money, the last thing you want is to have your visitors closing their browser because they got bored waiting for your site to load.
If you haven't ever set up a website, you'll need to know that the control panel is simply a web-based interface that allows you to set up email addresses, upload files, create databases, etc. ANHosting uses the common cPanel system, a full featured administrative backend which is reliable, comprehensive, and fast -- that's the reason why it's so popular among webhosts. Everything is organized into easy to understand groups and regardless of what you need to do, you're rarely more than one click away. Setting up a database, an act that can be challenging on some webhosts, is made very simple with cPanel and you also have the option of using the stand-alone software phpMyAdmin if you need more detailed control over your data.
The one thing missing is a simple method for automating backups. We are currently investigating and testing a workaround involving a custom PHP script and a scheduled cron job but while our system will suffice, a menu-driven option would make things much easier.
Fortunately, I haven't had to call on ANHosting's support department very often -- but I have submitted a few support tickets and the response has been extremely fast. There is a toll-free phone support number available though I personally have only made use of the online trouble ticket system. The only complaint I would have is that the support system is separate from the cPanel site -- which I can understand, but it would be handy to be able to link to support from inside cPanel without having to save an additional URL and username/password.
UPDATE: August, 2011
I have re-titled this post "Your Mileage May Vary." Ten Ten Studios now has six lower volume sites using ANHosting and all but one have had flawless service. However, this site, tentenstudios.com, has experienced nothing but instability for the better part of two weeks. The problems began during a partially failed datacenter migration done to improve performance and uptime. While the other sites transferred properly, tentenstudios.com is (or was) hosted on a server that is completely unstable due to several rogue accounts -- not a unique problem among shared hosts, unfortunately. We were told that because of this instability, the site could not migrate properly.
After several weeks of continually slow access times, I attempted to get ANHosting to move the site to one of the stable servers that our clients were using succssfully. They claimed that "they can't move the site because it's too unstable." I had only minor problems getting into cPanel myself, backing up my MySQL database, then FTPing all the site files down to my system so I'm not sure why ANHosting's administrators would have had any difficulty. My assumption therefore is a simple lack of effort, which is cause for alarm and a reason that we will not be recommending ANHosting to any clients, at least for a while until we can determine the full fallout of this server migration.
To recap, if you get a hosting package with ANHosting and end up on one of the stable servers, you'll likely be thrilled with the performance. But there is a chance that you'll land on a lemon in which case you will be pulling your hair out at best, looking for another provider at worst.