Who to host with (domain names, web space, SSL, DNS)

December 4, 2012 | 6 comments

I’m sometimes asked who I recommend buying web infrastructure from. Here’s my list based on my personal experience:

Domains | SSL | DNS | Shared hosting | Dedicated hosting | Transactional email | Virtual servers

Domain names: Namecheap

Almost all of my domains are hosted with Namecheap. They’re simple, have a super-fast web interface, a straightforward API, and have never messed me around. Most importantly, they’re cheap, so I never have to regret a purchase. I transferred my domains from GoDaddy by hooking them up to third-party nameservers (see below) before initiating the move. It took around 24 hours.
NB: I get a cut if you buy a domain from the link above. If you’d prefer to avoid this, here’s a clean link.

SSL certificates: CheapSSLs

A lot of people use GoDaddy for this, but their certificate chains make server configuration annoying, and there are about a million and one reasons to avoid buying from them anyway. Meanwhile, CheapSSLs resell certificates from a bunch of providers, including RapidSSL, for significantly less. I tend to use wildcard certificates, which are expensive (although still half the price of anyone else), but a normal cert will set you back around $7.99.

DNS: Amazon Route 53

No complaints: Route 53 just works, including wildcards and complex domain rules. And it costs 50 cents per month, plus 50 cents per million queries. That’s pennies, and you get the benefit of Amazon’s distributed infrastructure and redundant data centers. It’s a good idea to host your DNS with a different provider to your domain names, and I haven’t looked back since switching earlier this year. (I had been using Namecheap’s bundled DNS, which is also pretty good, but again: keep your domain names and nameservers apart.)

Shared web space: Pair

My first ever .com website used Pair Networks, over a decade ago, and I’ve been recommending them ever since. Their support is responsive, and they sell perfectly good shared plans that fit most budgets. It’s worth noting, however, that although I’ve heard great things from the people I’ve recommended them to, I haven’t used a shared hosting plan personally since at least 2002. It’s worth thinking about virtual servers, too.

Dedicated server hosting: SoftLayer

This blog runs on a dedicated SoftLayer server. They’re prompt, the connectivity is great and the prices are excellent. An alternative is Rackspace, who are genuinely great, but also comparatively very expensive. I’ve also had pretty good experiences with ServerBeach, who hosted YouTube when they started. Finally, I’ve had poor experiences with Codero.

Transactional email: Postmark

I’ve learned the hard way that using default out-of-the-box SMTP to send email on rented servers, particularly on shared hosting, often results in a very high level of spam-flagged messages. Postmark deals with all of the nuanced email configuration for you, and just works, although if you’re using it for a reasonably successful service you’ll need to find a cheaper solution. (I moved to Amazon SES, which is a little trickier to hook up, but does the job nicely, and at a very low cost.) Postmark’s other genius feature: an inbound email API, which pings you messages in a JSON string, with attachments broken out and properly encoded. Brilliant.

Virtual servers: the jury’s out

Virtual servers are very often not cheaper than dedicated ones if you leave them running all the time (unless you’re running a very, very small instance). Nonetheless, it’s handy to be able to spin up or clone a server near-instantaneously. The leader is Amazon EC2, which is the service I’ve mostly used, but a lot of the coders I know swear by Linode (which I need to spend more time with before I can recommend it). AppFog and Heroku are versions of the virtual server experience that extract away a lot of the configuration and administration, but, frankly, I don’t trust them. I like to be able to get down and dirty with a server if I need to.


June 14, 2012 | 18 comments

Amazon has bid for .book and .author. Google has bid for .app and .love. Microsoft has bid for .docs and .live. American Express has bid for .open.

Opening the top-level domain system is a great idea. There are just 22 generic top-level domains right now – .com, .org, .net and so on. (There are 280 country-related TLDs, like .us and .uk.) Because digital real estate has been so limited, the price of valuable words has skyrocketed, and domain name squatting – where a name is registered purely to sell on at a higher price – is rife. If you’ve ever seen a web company with a silly, misspelled name, you’ve seen a company that’s decided not to give squatters any cash. (A company I was once part of paid a squatter over $10,000 for a .com domain, but they can go for much more.) Removing the limitation on TLDs theoretically removes the domain name availability crunch and would take the bottom out of the squatting market. Good.

Unfortunately, ICANN has both decided to allow anyone to apply for any TLD, and simultaneously to limit the market.

Let’s say that Amazon are successful in their bids for .book and .author. They will subsequently get absolute control over who can have a .book or a .author domain. So for example, if I want benwerdmuller.author, it would be completely legitimate for them to only allow me to have it if I’m an Amazon self-published author selling through the Kindle store. Similarly, they could block non-Amazon books from having a .book address. The point isn’t that they will do this – how they’ll act remains to be seen – but that it’s possible. By failing to regulate usage, ICANN have left the door open for companies to have a monopoly on certain thematic addresses on the web.

In turn, it’s a closed, controlled process rather than a market. If Amazon wins .book, it will be because they put up the money, but it will also be because ICANN decided they should have it. There’s no indication that further generic TLDs will be introduced in the future, or that the process will be widened out. If I, as an individual, had put up the $185,000 necessary to bid for .open or .social (two real bids) or .source or .abuse (two TLDs left unbid for), would I have had an equal chance as the corporations? It’s impossible to say. However, nobody will be able to compete with these TLDs, because the process is now closed.

There’s 60 days to comment on the domain names, and then another seven months to raise objections to domain name allocations. I see no issue with company-specific domains like .microsoft or even .apple and .amazon (two more ambiguous names), but why should Amazon get to control books, or Google get to control love? This seems to contradict the spirit with which domains have been allocated in the past. I’d suggest we all make our opinions known.