Fasthosts are one of the bigger web hosts on the internet and advertise their “cloud” VPS service in many places. We’ve been with them for many months, not years as, as Escape’s website and office systems evolved, shared hosting became unstable.
Fasthosts have been OK for a while, I say OK as I had got used to the frequent downtime and invested in making my web application for Escape resistant to Fasthost’s downtime. For example, hosting emails by a different service so when the website is offline the Escape staff can still access and use email.
The biggest problem with Fasthosts, is the fact that they are “OK”. Not the worst host I’ve ever used (Looking at you UKHost4u) but not the best (Rackspace). I had come to accept the fact that you get that level of service for the money my client was paying and we couldn’t justify getting a dedicated server from Rackspace due to the cost.
The recent downtime with Fasthosts broke me. The VPS’s I/O performance was widely variable from nothing at all to normal. Even worse, this happened the week I was in London at Progressive NoSQL talking about how awesome RavenDB is. This meant frequent problems as even though RavenDB is awesome, it does require some form of disk access! More worryingly, the day before the move to SWBroadband, Fasthosts “lost” our VPS, the control panel didn’t show it and they had to manually find it as it had “entered a stopped state” for some reason.
I’ll be honest. I was a little sceptical of them as they look like a small operation but as I’ll show, their belief in their service (a free trial with unlimited support) really won me over.
It started with a tweet. Yup. SWBroadband contact me after I tweeted in frustration at Fasthosts downtime and the I/O problems I previously mentioned.
Their VPS offering is much better value than Fasthosts (although Fasthosts claim “cloud” VPS hosting, I have yet to see it actually work…) and the performance to price ratio is awesome.
Comparing the offerings
80 GB Space
Windows Server 2008 R2 Web
£46.59 per month
2 CPU Cores (actually, 2 cores with 4 threads!)
25 GB Space
Windows Server 2008 R2 Web
Ok, I get less disk space but seeing Escape has around 2-3GB of files, having the extra space from Fasthosts is pointless. Also SWBroadband give you 10GB free backup space, for free.
So for less money, I get a more resources? Too good to be true? Nope. Read on.
Firstly, yes, the VPS’s aren’t a direct one to one comparison but I am comparing the two offerings my client was and would be using.
I used a new toy, Blitz, a tool for basically throwing users at a server to see how the server handles the load. They offer 250 users for free but I wanted to go extreme and see at what point SWBroadband’s VPS would fall over, I paid $9 for 1000 users for 1 hour.
Lets compare the Fasthosts VPS to the SWBroadband VPS. I setup the SWBroadband VPS to match the Fasthosts one (nothing special, an ASP.NET MVC 3 website running on IIS 7.5 powered by RavenDB)
Yup. SWBroadband’s VPS kept on chugging, the users would notice a slow down but it stayed online and battled through.
The Fasthosts VPS gave up and died if you look at the error/timeout lines. Ouch.
Fasthosts VPS also comes with lots of unwanted software, “MailEnable” and lots of processes that run in the background and appear to be for controlling the VPS via the control panel. Some people might like this but I’ve always found a web control panel to be useless and slow, I’d prefer to remote desktop to the server and restart it through that rather than a web control panel.
I don’t like ticket systems. Don’t make me sign into the website to submit a ticket. A direct email address to support, answered by people with brains is a huge must. SWBroadband have this and all responses have been very friendly and helpful, they are very knowledgeable and helpful. I’m not a sys-ops guy and its great to know great people are on hand to help me.
I tweet and it would be great if you can support me directly via Twitter. Both Fasthosts and SWBroadband do this to a certain degree but Fasthost’s Twitter response time is slow and often just like a script. SWBroadband provide direct support which is awesome when I’m stuck on the train and need to get some help in 140 characters or less!
Have a local rate number
Ringing and using a telephone is my last resort.
With Fasthosts they have only 0800 or expensive numbers listed on their site (hint: I found to “01452541499” be local rate and the same line, use it to save cash, you’ll be ringing it alot)
SWBroadband have a local rate number listed. Win.
Bonus is that SWBroadband have a Skype account too! Double win.
Although SWBroadband have always helped and solved my problems/questions via email/twitter quickly so I haven’t felt the need to actual use that ancient invention called a telephone!
Tell me when my server is offline
I use Pingdom to monitor my client’s websites. I learnt about this awesome tool after trying to figure out when my Fasthosts VPS was offline, which was often frequently when I was asleep, so my first approach of using a ping script, wasn’t much use.
Fasthosts appear to have no monitoring at all and don’t even know when they’ve lost my VPS. I’ve often rung up and told them my VPS is offline. I shouldn’t be doing this. You should tell me!
SWBroadband seem to have their own monitoring system (although I’ll still keep Pingdom) that sends you an email or SMS message when the VPS is offline. In the time (a few weeks now) since moving the VPS hasn’t been offline and I have slept like a baby, thanks guys!
If you are fed up of bad VPS providers, give SWBroadband a go. They are cheap, have good hardware, aren’t oversold, have good support and will give you a trial to convince you. They convinced me. I’m looking at moving more client’s to SWBroadband and getting one of their basic VPS’s for my side projects.
Glad we’ve seen the back of Fasthosts, “the best VPS’s UK” or not, don’t even know why their marketing guys decided to try and play that card…