Choosing the right host can be a daunting task. I launched version one of Shifting Creations back in summer of 2004, the first site I had ever built exported from Photoshop (yikes). I spent nights after my internship researching and comparing hosts with hardly an understanding of the web technologies each package included. At the time, I thought PERLs belonged on a necklace, PYTHONs were dangerous, and MySQL would have been better off as yours.

With a limited college budget and still not sure if the web was for me (only the year before had I begun any sort of computer design, never mind considering it as a profession), I signed up for a LunarPages Basic hosting plan. The service was cheap, the plan included far more than my one site needed, and support had always answered my beginner questions.

Fast forwarding to present day, my hosting requirements have significantly increased with the number and complexity of web projects I’m involved with. Unfortunately, around mid-January of this year, I experienced my first major issue with LP when all of my PHP driven websites became extremely sluggish. Simple static pages that had easily loaded in under a second before were literally taking minutes to appear, if at all. I spent a solid night testing on all major browsers/platforms, reverting to older file versions, and checking every possible cause I could think of, all without affect on the poor performance. Finally, I uploaded copies of the same PHP pages to a different server not hosted with LP and found the problem non-existent, thus eliminating myself or my files as the culprit.

So in goes the support ticket and out goes my confidence in reliability. In a discussion with LP support lasting over a week, not one staff member could identify (or admit) what the problem was and I repeatedly received vague, rudimentary advice like, “Try clearing your cache,” or, “Use a different browser.” Four years after signing up with LP, I’ve gained a better understanding of PERL, PYTHON, MySQL, and now web hosts.

I’ve since opened an account with Media Temple and the difference, so far, has been black and white. The control panel is a dream compared to CPanel and setting up new sites and e-mail is a breeze. The transition has been smooth and couldn’t have happened at a better time as I’m now offering personally managed hosting services to clients. If I have any complaints with MT, it’s the slow response from support. However, their answers are usually quite lengthy and from what I’ve heard, contacting by phone is the way to go for urgent requests.

In the end, I would still recommend LP to beginning designers or anyone seeking decent, but not great, hosting at a low cost. One issue in four years isn’t terrible and, up to this point, I’ve been very happy with their service. That being said, I look forward to further exploring my MT account and seeing how their service handles my future needs (hint: big projects on the way).

During my quest for the “perfect” host, what shocked me more than the countless different companies available was the minimal amount of helpful reviews I could find. I kept wondering if other designers struggled with this same issue and which host they ultimately chose. So, I selected a list of designers I felt were top in their industry and kindly asked for input on who their current host was, reason(s) for choosing this particular company, and how they felt about the service. Without further ado, here are the results:

Mark Boulton |

“My current host is Media Temple, after moving from Dreamhost. The primary reason for doing so was downtime and support. Dreamhost was flaky and their support was terrible. Media Temple, so far, has been fantastic.”

Jon Hicks |

“Segment Publishing: I was looking for a reliable host with decent uptime software possibilities, and not shoved onto an oversold server. The main reason I stay with Segpub is the quality of customer service, dealing with a real person instead of a switchboard or forum.”

Steve Smith |

“As far as hosts go, I’ve used 1and1, Dreamhost, and MediaTemple, and none of them compare to my current host, The performance has been perfect, literally, and service is fast and easy. Not to mention the price is excellent. As long as your comfortable from the command line, Slicehost is an excellent option.”

Joshua Blankenship |

eleven2 Hosting. I chose them because (at the time) they were a small, hungry company of two guys who I knew in passing and because their plans were affordable.

“In 5 years, they’ve only had one major hiccup which affected my service. They communicated poorly during the downtime. However, since then, they’ve bent over backwards to communicate well, treat me well, and keep my business.”

Veerle Pieters |

“I am very happy with EngineHosting and the service is top notch so far. Not so long ago my site + database had to move to new servers and get a new IP and they helped me (I only had to do simple things like putting the system off) and everything went very smooth for such a big move. At my previous host this cost me more than a day downtime. I think my blog was only down for 5 minutes tops.

“As far as I know there aren’t any drawbacks, at least I didn’t find any yet. Great people, personal approach. Maybe the one thing, if you are looking for a development kind of thing I believe they aren’t it because it’s not that they have a control panel like MT where you can fiddle with everything. To me personally that wasn’t important. My main focus was keeping my site uptime as high as possible + on an acceptable speed. I rather worry about my content than fiddling with settings.”

Jonathon Snook |

“I use Dreamhost. I picked it because, at the time, I noticed a number of other sites using it. While the service hasn’t been fantastic, I still feel it’s the best bang for the buck for personal sites. I wouldn’t put a business site on there, though. Not reliable enough.”

Ethan Marcotte |

“Currently, URN is hosted at SegPub. My other, mostly defunct sites (sidesh0w, Vertua) are still hosted at TextDrive/Joyent, where I have free lifetime hosting as one of TextDrive’s first 200 customers (the “VC200,” as they used to call it).

“While TD’s available technologies and customer support were excellent, they had frequent uptime problems during my time there that made launching a new site difficult. SegPub, by contrast, has been excellent—while it’s a bit more expensive than what I could pay for a web host, their support has been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’d recommend them in a heartbeat to anyone looking for quality shared hosting.”

Wolfgang Bartelme |

“My site is currently hosted at Media Temple. I chose MT because of their high availability and performance. Since I also use my server to store proposals for clients I needed plenty of storage and bandwidth—so MT’s Grid-Service was the best choice.”

Cameron Adams |

“I’ve been using Media Temple for a while now (4/5 years?).

“Their site exudes smoothness—more than most hosts, who generally have terrible site design—this might seem a bit superficial, but the polish gives me confidence. This flows through to their control panel which has the same level of detail and good design.

“The *actual* reason I chose them was mainly because they did some good marketing around the time I was looking for a host — they hosted a lot of design sites at the time (k10k, et al), and I trusted those people.

“Since signing up, the experience has been pretty smooth. No major downtime that I can remember. They’ve been very easy-going with billing (when my traffic has gone over they haven’t charged me) and tech requests (helping on some back-end scripting problems/requests I had). However, I’m not too demanding of my hosts —I don’t need one-click installs and Rails servers or any of that, just plain old PHP and Perl.”

Simon Collison |

“Erskine Design now work with United Hosting, based in London. We have a few DV servers and so far the service has been excellent.

“For six years across two agencies I’d worked with Media Temple. Initially, their reputation proved well founded and I was happy, running a few DV servers with them. However, customer support was always slow and not very helpful. As the years went by, the performance of the servers got progressively worse, and customer support became so light that often their one-sentence support responses were barely of any use at all. Phoning them yields better results, but I don’t particularly want to call Los Angeles when a simple support ticket should suffice.

“You get Plesk installed by default, and if ever you have an issue with Plesk or need to do something complex with it, they’d just tell you that they don’t help with that. MT’s Dv servers still run outdated PHP and MySQL and showed no signs of ever upgrading, and modern systems and CMSs performed slowly, even on their PHP Rage servers. Rubbish. You get big, and they don’t care, it seems. I have a long list of more technical moans too, but I’ll save you the pain.

“Putting our faith in United Hosting was a brave decision, but we needed to work with people we could talk to or visit in person—people who could build services around our needs. It’s too early to give them a glowing report, but so far so good. And our sites run so, so fast on their servers. Everything is just better.”

Shaun Inman |

Media Temple, on one of their dedicated virtual plans. I have been with them for almost three years now.

“Their reputation and position in the online design community is what originally drew me to Media Temple. I was fed up with the overconfident Dreamhost swagger and the jury-rigged setup (and this was well before the recent downtime and billing scandals). Their prices and features are standard but competitive.

“I can’t complain. My sites are up. Setting up new sites is breeze with Plesk and the Media Temple Account Center. Mileage may vary, of course, but it’s been a smooth ride for my sites.”

A big thank you to all who contributed. If you find you’re not on the list but have an experience you’d like to share, please feel free to do so in comments.