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How to Compare Hosting Companies’ Speed & Reliability

In an 'always-on' world, there’s never a time when someone isn't surfing through your website

What do you look for when you choose a Web hosting provider? These days, it seems difficult to compare the differences between each service, whether you're talking about supported languages, databases or bandwidth. You might be tempted to pick the cheapest provider and plan in hopes of saving a few dollars. However, you should not overlook the importance of speed and reliability.

Take a small business for example - if its website is down or under-performing, the host is actually hurting the business. Even if the hosting were $1 per month, losing $100 in revenue because of unreliable performance means the customer loses $101. At that price, they could afford to grow their business to a dedicated server.

For the past year, my Hosting Performance Monitoring team at GoDaddy has scrutinized our environment and made some changes to make sure we are offering best in breed web hosting. Offering your customers a reliable, stable and fast platform is the most important feature you can provide. But that means more than just "Is the site up?" or "Is it fast?" You need to ask, "Is it up and fast all the time?"

In an "always-on" world, there's never a time when someone isn't surfing through your Website. Therefore, you want to double check that your Web hosting provider is fast and has great uptime, consistently. Outlined below is our tried and true performance and reliability measurement method, and a sample of results from studies that we've conducted.

The Hosting Reliability Measurement Method

1. Identify Your Providers
Make a list of the hosting companies you want to compare. It can be two for a head-to-head comparison, or hundreds to get an understanding of the entire industry.

2. Get Accounts
Purchase a Web hosting account from each company. Depending on the provider, this step can be daunting - some companies' sites make it incredibly difficult. For example, certain providers asked us to email or fax in our driver's license or credit card to buy an account.

3. Deploy the WordPress Sites
Load a cloned WordPress site to each hosting provider. This site should be completely single-sourced, which means the site only loads from its own resources, i.e. it doesn't reference any third-party scripts, images, etc. This makes the tests purely about the server's performance.

4. Audit
After setting up all the sites, make sure they're identical before you start testing. One way to do this is through webpagetest.org. Load each of your sites, then compare the Bytes In, Requests, and make sure there's only one domain listed in the Domains tab.

5. Measure
There are plenty of measurement techniques. You can pick any combination you see fit. We recommend trying a combination of the following:

Once you have all of the data on file, you can share it with the world! If you want to take your observations on a longer term, you can use APIs from the sites you used to perform the tests that automatically updates daily, weekly or monthly.

Here's a sample output from our own trials using two of the techniques we've outlined here. It compares GoDaddy cPanel to 6 of its closest competitors from January 1 2014 through March 1 2014.  The competitors listed here (A through F) are real competitors.

Pingdom, Response Time*                                            Pingdom, Downtime*

(Jan 1, 2014 through Mar 1, 2014)                                   (Jan 1, 2014 through Mar 1, 2014)

*Disclaimer: based on one site per product. It is not necessarily representative of the provider's product as a whole.

Analysis: In 60 days, 99.9% uptime means ~90 minutes down. Anything more should be unacceptable and likely violates the provider's uptime guarantee.

Competitor C and D had respectable response time averages at 0.804 seconds and 0.857 seconds, but should be disqualified for having worse than 99.9% uptime with 5,853 minutes (that's 4d 1h 33m) and 199 minutes of downtime.  Doesn't matter what the speed is, this much downtime should not be tolerated.

GoDaddy cPanel performed exceptionally well, with the lowest response times and better than 99.9% uptime. GoDaddy cPanel is the clear performance winner in this 60-day study.

Gomez Results

Jan 1, 2014 through Mar 1, 2014

*Disclaimer: based on one site per product.  It is not necessarily representative of the provider's product as a whole.

Analysis: This is full-page load, in this case 15 page objects (i.e., CSS, JS, images) totally approximately 750KB. Gomez test nodes are sitting on high bandwidth connections on the edge of their networks in top tier data centers. This is not the typical home user on wifi sitting 100 feet away through 4 walls, it's fast. Gomez nodes have latency to tend with, however. Whichever Gomez node location is fastest for a provider is very likely the closest node to the provider.

GoDaddy cPanel performed under 1.0s on avg, at 0.743s, throughout the 60 day period. Competitor D was close at 1.001s

There are very few, if any, Web hosting performance studies available to help consumers make the right choice. We urge industry review analysts to adopt the method described in this article because we believe it provides a comprehensive view of how hosting companies perform. It's straightforward, too. Just set up a cloned WordPress site on a few different hosts, and then use a tool like Pingdom to monitor performance.

If we can get trusted, third-party sources to publish information like this on a continual basis, customers will have all of the information they need to make informed decisions.

More Stories By David Koopman

David Koopman is Principal Engineer, Hosting Infrastructure Performance Engineering Team at GoDaddy. He leads the Hosting Performance Team at GoDaddy and is responsible for measuring and monitoring performance of thousands of servers, hosting millions of websites. His team works closely with product and infrastructure teams to ensure consistent performance across the GoDaddy web hosting product line.

Since joining GoDaddy in 2002 as a software developer, David has helped transform the company’s Web-based email product into a multi-million account operation. During his tenure at GoDaddy, he has held several development positions including Dedicated and VPS Hosting Development Manager, Architect, Sr. VP of Product Development, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Scientist and Principal Engineer.

Prior to joining GoDaddy, David was the Technical Director of The Web Mark, a medical Internet services company. He attained a BS in Computer Science from Southwest Missouri State University and is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP).

When not developing new product ideas at GoDaddy, David enjoys spending time with his family, skiing, off-roading and boating.

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