Cutover!

Tuesday, December 1st, ©2009 Marcus Brooks

If all has gone well you probably haven’t noticed my website and blog are on a new server. My old web hosting provider, RoseHosting.com, disappointed me, so I went looking for a new one. I found a lot of “top ten” lists of “competing” providers that, when I looked closer, seemed to be incestuously linked “false fronts” for one big server farm. All their dirt-cheap prices turned out to be “introductory,” usually doubling after a year.

Ansel as a kitten (like Zoe, but with long hair).

Ansel as a kitten (much like Zoe, but with long hair).

Then my wife suggested Noise.org, a small marketed-by-mouth hosting service run by one of our neighbors here in nearer Northeast Austin, Texas. I’m sure the Noise.org servers are also sublet from a big server farm, but their price is competitive, and at least I know I’m dealing with a real person. (He adopted Ansel’s sister Zoe from us, that time little Pumpkin turned out to be older than we thought.)

What disappointed me most about Rosehosting.com is that their mail server started bouncing incoming spam and counting it against my bandwidth stats as sent mail. So my bandwidth usage suddenly tripled, while my HTTP traffic hardly changed at all. After a few exchanges about this with the RoseHosting.com admins, they flatly refused to change the mail server to drop, not bounce, incoming spam, even though authorities (including the Spamhaus service they use) recommend against bouncing spam (which only tells spammers they’ve hit a valid mail server).

The RoseHosting.com admins even tried to blame me (implicitly) for not using a robust enough Turing test (CAPTCHA) to hide my email address. But I guess their worst offense was to insist they have to use the misconfiguration distributed by their software provider (DirectAdmin), and I’d have to buy a more expensive self-managed account if I wanted to correct it.

I admit I could have reduced incoming spam (temporarily) by changing my email address, but having a permanent email address is why I got my own domain name in the first place. So I decided to switch web hosting providers, preferably to someone who doesn’t use DirectAdmin.

So far, I’m pleased with the change to Noise.org. Paying yearly for the cheapest plan, I’m getting a better price, more disk space, and at least comparable bandwidth (once you factor in the bounced spam issue). What’s more, Noise.org offers unlimited subdomains (versus only two for the price at RoseHosting.com), and unlimited SQL databases (also versus two). Noise.org also allows domain stacking, so I can host an abandoned site for my wife until her domain expires (or she decides to start it up again); that site had cost us the price of a second account at RoseHosting.com.

Compareed to DirectAdmin, Noise.org’s cPanel admin interface seems to be a big improvement. For example, although cPanel’s SpamAssasin setup seems less powerful at first than DirectAdmin’s, cPanel actually separates the email filtering feature so that it can be configured differently for each email account. cPanel also provides “SPF” and “DomainKeys” controls that, if generally adopted, seem likely to make spamming more difficult overall.

I decided to keep using POP mail for my wife’s and my accounts. It may be user error, but I was able to get the SMTP setup to work more sanely on the Noise.org server than it ever worked on RoseHosting.com. For online access, both Noise.org and RoseHosting.com offer the SquirrelMail web mail client, but we like Noise.org’s two alternative clients, Horde and RoundCube, much more than Rosehosting’s UebiMiau.

cPanel’s logging and statistics features seem much more robust than DirectAdmin’s, which was pretty much limited to bandwidth and disk space readouts (not always meaningful), Webalizer stats summaries, and a couple of error log displays. cPanel also provides Webalizer, but its default AWStats utility is much more informative, and it has several other log and statistics features that I have yet to explore.

I was pleased to discover that cPanel lets me backup my site directly to my Macintosh; whereas DirectAdmin required separate backup, download, and delete steps to create an off-server backup; the delete step was necessary to avoid duplicating past backup archives in new ones.

My WordPress blog is maintained in an SQL database, so I was a little worried about moving that over. Fortunately cPanel let me upload the database directly from a backup I made from the other server. For the transfer I kept all the URIs, user names, and passwords the same, so it mostly just worked, but I wasn’t able to test it for sure until after I redirected my domain DNS entries to the new server. I am having a little trouble with the media library, but I expect it’s just a version or permission issue. I can work around it.

The cPanel file manager is cleaner than DirectAdmin’s and seems to be at least as capable. The one feature I miss is a listing that shows file modification dates, but I’m not sure how necessary that is. I haven’t yet tried cPanel’s Web Disk feature, which offers drag-and drop access to server files from your computer’s desktop. If it works as claimed, I expect it will be far better than any file manager style interface.

In fact, it appears cPanel offers many more features and utilities than I’ve mentioned here. I haven’t tried most of them because, so far, I have only been making sure I can do everything with cPanel that I could do with DirectAdmin. The answer so far seems to be an emphatic yes! I consider all those as-yet untried features to be pure bonus. I’ll try them out later at my leisure, if I have any.

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4 Responses to “Cutover!”

  1. Tech Support says:

    We are sorry about the problems you had, however what you experienced has nothing to do with us. The DirectAdmin control panel comes with it’s own preinstalled services, including the EXIM mail service. Many of these things are configurable and can be tweaked to your specification. By the way, DirectAdmin is in many ways way better than Cpanel, especially the stability and the memory footprint. We do offer Cpanel but not publicly because of the cons outweighing the pros for it’s use. Had you asked about it you could have had the Cpanel control panel.

    As for the bandwidth stats, we have never, ever, billed anyone for any bandwidth overages, regardless of how much they use, so you could have simply ignored your bandwidth utilization stats. Additionally, the service you had with us was a self-managed VPS with DirectAdmin as a control panel. Even though it was a self-managed VPS our admins tried to help you alleviate the problem. And last but not least, we are all about honesty, we tell things as they are. Sometimes people don’t like what they hear but it’s all for the best. We never offer anything we can’t provide, there are no introductory offers, you get exactly what was advertised and what you paid for. Could you please also comment on how was the actual service you paid for? Stability of the server and the control panel, the uptime of the server and network, the speed of the connection, etc…?

    We apologize for coming to comment on your blog but we felt it would be fair to all our present and future clients to lay out all the facts from both sides. Thanks.

  2. marcus says:

    I did not have a self-managed VPS account. Who told you that? I had a shared account with limited admin access, and no way to “tweak” the mail server. In fact, while refusing to correct the mail server issue, your admin suggested I pay extra for a VPS account so that I could fix it myself.

    You will never convince me it didn’t need fixing. When two thirds of my bandwidth usage is recorded as “sent email” that I did not send (spam bounces, according to your admins), then there is something wrong with your server configuration. Since I had a shared account, if it was wrong for me, I’m sure it’s wrong for all your other shared hosting customers. But that doesn’t seem to bother you.

    I would have appreciated hearing what you say about bandwidth overages from the admins who handled my trouble ticket. I had previously been told that exceeding my bandwidth limit would cause my site to be suspended, and the only way to prevent that was to buy extra bandwidth ahead of time. If that was wrong, then you guys need to get your stories straight.

    My comment about introductory offers was not about you, but other services I investigated while shopping. That’s one for you, you’ve stuck to the price I signed up for. I did mention you have special offers for certain aspects of your shared hosting, but that’s only because your website says “special offer” in bold red text next to those rows. I’ve often wondered, if it’s always there, what makes the offer special?

    Finally, for the sake of your present and future clients, I want to thank you for the amount of concern you’ve finally shown me, now that I’ve changed providers. You really didn’t have to. There aren’t that many people reading this.

  3. Smithy says:

    Awesome blog, and blog post. I found a hidden gem of a hosting site….I get Unmetered, and unlimited bandwidth for a measly $12 a year…..

  4. Kurt Stieber says:

    . I also find it convenient because they are also a domain registry so I can easily use them to buy my domains. Although many experts suggest you should always keep your domain registration separate from your hosting service because if your host should suddenly vanish, it is only a simple matter of moving your site to a different host. If your host controls your domain, this can be a major problem. Always keep control of your domain in your own hands, but you probably already knew that.Another web host I use is Bluehost which is very good, can’t remember the last time my site was down. They are very popular with around a million sites and my only concern is that they may become too popular and their services will be spread too thin. However, I have had very few problems with them and you can always reach their support.I also have a site with Ken Evoy’s SBI (Site Build It), but I created that one mainly to get access to the enormous resources connected with SBI. It is slightly more expensive than

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