I’ve gone through many web hosts, but I have found a way to get fantastic hosting on a budget. Granted, it’s not free, but it’s really good with minimal effort, thanks to some great providers out there.
Shared Budget Hosting
About the earliest I can remember was a provider called LiveHost. It was a small operation ran by probably just one guy who did a great job. I was probably paying about $10/month for a cPanel/Fantastico account. What I do remember was a monthly bandwidth limit of 4GB. That was good enough for a while, but I started hitting that 4GB cap frequently. So I shopped around and settled on DreamHost. They were local, but big, and had great support. They still are a solid host. I was probably paying $10/month for “unlimited” and getting more of everything than at the last host. At some point, the performance wasn’t as good as I hoped, as is often the case on shared servers. I remember opening many tickets because the server load was excessive, and it wasn’t me. They’d kill someone’s processes, or move me to a different server, but it was never really performant.
Fantastic VPS Hosting
DreamHost opened up Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting that was about $20/month. It was no longer “unlimited” space, but I was no longer sharing resources with other uses. On the upside, it was faster and more reliable. On the downside, their VPS machines were at the opposite end of the country, adding latency to my traffic. I was just never quite happy with that setup. DreamHost VPS machines were good, reliable machines and they were “managed,” so I didn’t have to maintain them at all. They just worked. It was good, but it was not fantastic hosting on a budget.
My next shopping trip took me to Linode. They’re a great operation, and at my end of the country. Their control panel is pretty basic, but their servers were quick and affordable. Their idea of “shared” is one machine split into multiple VPSs, which is what a VPS really is. A basic one runs $5/month, and a decent one is $10/month. But now the catch is that a real VPS is not managed. You have to add the software and do everything yourself. And I tried that a few times. It’s a pain.
Managed VPS Hosting
Thankfully, I discovered ServerPilot. For about $5/month, they’ll configure and maintain your server, and make it super easy to add websites to it, even a 1-Click WordPress installation. They’re also a reliable operation, but they changed their pricing model, making it costs add up for every website on every server. So I shopped around again and discovered RunCloud. They’re my new all-time favorite. I’ll describe them in detail later. I gave SpinupWP a try, and they’re also very good, but RunCloud just gives me more of what I want. As for Linode, they are in an ongoing price war with Digital Ocean (A top-notch VPS company…check them out!) and Vultr, my current provider. Their products are all about the same. I’ve given UpCloud a try and they’re also very good. On par with Vultr’s servers, though UpCloud will say theirs are faster. They probably are. But I don’t care for their pricing model. Vultr gets me more for less.
All This On Less Than $1/Day
This Won’t Even Buy You A Coffee
Think back to my first host. It was $10 per month for limited space and very basic performance. That was budget hosting, but it was not fantastic hosting on a budget. Vultr has some super fast servers in their High Frequency Compute product line. The entry level VPS is $6/month, but I pay for the next size up at $12/month. It’s very roomy for ten WordPress sites and a handful of static sites. I could move up to the $24/month server, but that feels extravagant. At $12/month, I can afford to deploy individual servers tailored for their apps and localized for the clientele. I also like Vultr because they have a datacenter in Los Angeles, where most of my traffic comes from.
Now about managing that server. As I said, ServerPilot and SpinupWP do good work, but I’ve settled on RunCloud. And RunCloud just keeps getting better. Just their customer support alone is fantastic. I maxed out some settings that would cause problems on the server and I contacted them. They could have told me not to do stupid things like that, but they optimized their RunCloud Hub software that keeps an eye on the caching settings so I could no longer shoot myself in the foot. This was incredible! They responded to an edge case and made everything better for everyone. But mostly me. RunCloud has some amazing features that let you fine-tune and protect your server, plus some great migration tools to move a site between servers. This makes it ridiculously easy to spin up a new and improved server, then move everything over.
2021 UPDATE: RunCloud started with Apache, or Apache with an NGINX reverse proxy. Now they’ve added an OpenLiteSpeed option that I’m using with great success.
I Have Arrived At My Fantastic Destination
I’m finally at the point where I have fantastic hosting on a budget. My Vultr VPS runs me $12/month. They offer automatic backups for an additional $2.40/month, but I’m all about the budget. They let me create snapshots for free, so I do that once a month, and back my sites up on a regular basis through other means. RunCloud offers a single-server plan for $8/month. It’s less if you pay annually. They have an “unlimited” plan for $15/month that lets you manage an unlimited amount of servers. In my case, I have two Vultr servers and the RunCloud Pro Plan, so I pay $39/month for two managed VPS servers that are phenomenal. If I wanted a better setup, I’d have to pay a lot more for managed hosting. If I ran a WooCommerce shop, I’d definitely go with something like SiteDistrict (starts at $25 for a small site with amazing performance), or Pantheon for the heavy hitters (starts at $29/month for a small plan (when paid annually) , but gets really expensive really fast.
There Is Still Room For Improvement
Yes, this is a great setup. And local performance is amazing. Most of my sites are for the L.A. area, and I have a client in Oklahoma City that’s hosted in Vultr’s Dallas datacenter. But if you want to step it up even more with better global performance, add your site to Cloudflare. If you want more tips on how to really speed up your site on Cloudflare, I have a performance tutorial article that describes how to configure Cloudflare’s free tier plan to help.