A2 Hosting - Can Any Hosting Provider Be Trusted?

It's been a turbulent last few days at the house of A2 Hosting where not only all their Windows hosting, but also a number of Wordpress hosting (as of 23rd April) has come to a standstill. After much pressing by its customers, it has come to light that a malware related security breach caused an outage, not only in one service, but many across A2 Hosting infrastructure. 

It's now been 3 days in counting where the outage still persists. Luckily, I managed to move back to my old hosting provider after waiting 2 days patiently for some form of recovery and I'm glad I did! I truly feel sorry for the many others who are still waiting on some form of resolution. I think I managed to get out from under A2 Hosting relatively unscathed.

This whole outage has caused me to not only reflect on my time with A2 Hosting but also hosting providers in general.

The Lies

If I'm honest, the days were counting down after getting infuriated by their support (lack of!) and the lies by their marketing and sales to meet my relatively simple hosting needs. I like to think I'm very scrupulous when it comes to hosting and do my due diligence... In this case, A2 managed to get one over me in that department!

I run a couple of sites on Kentico CMS and it was important to find a hosting company that caters for this platform due to the hardware resources required to run.

Lo and behold...

A2 Hosting - Best Kentico Hosting

Judging by that page alone filled me with confidence at a reasonable price with a lot of extras thrown in. I confirmed this was the case by talking at length to the A2 sales team beforehand and was ensured any tier would meet my needs. So I opted for the mid-tier plan - Swift, costing around £125 for 2 years after some nice promotional offers.

Knowing what I know now, I can report that the Swift plan and potentially all the other shared plans do not fit the requirements of a reasonably small Kentico site. Hosting Kentico on A2 Hosting was the bane of my life, as every so often my site would randomly timeout, with only one explanation from their support team:

We suggest you optimize your website with help from your web developer to fix the issue.

After politely requesting more information on the issue and also entertaining the fact I may need to up my hosting, I never really did get any adequate reason. It was always the efficiency of my website to blame.

Don't Believe Them, Don't Trust Them

Lack of Transparency

In light of recent events, transparency isn't one of A2 Hostings strengths (unless when pressed upon by its many customers). When problems arise, I'd prefer to know exactly what is the root cause. Knowing this actually puts more confidence in a hosting provider. I think we all know the feeling when we're not given the full picture.

Our minds have a habit of thinking of a worst-case scenario when we do not have the full picture.

Honesty is the best policy!

A2 Hosting Tweet - Transparency
(Example of A2 Hosting Lack of Transparency)

99.9% Uptime Promise

In reality, I don't expect 99.9% uptime from hosting providers as things do happen due to unforeseen circumstances. But I still expect the 98-99% range.

A2 Hosting - 99.9%25 Uptime

Judging by my uptime monitoring, I have never been blessed with 99.9% uptime during my tenure (1 out of 2-year plan) at A2 Hosting. My site has always encountered timeouts and downtime. The last major outage was around 2 months ago -  amounting up to 24 hours downtime!

Trusting Your Hosting Provider

If your website is big or small, handing over your online presence to a third-party is a big deal. You are whole-heartedly trusting a company to house your website with tender loving care. Any downtime and slow loading times can negatively impact your client base and SEO.

I've learnt that a hosting provider could have many 5 star reviews and still lack the infrastructure and support to back it up. In fact, this is what perplexed me about A2 Hostings many positive reviews.

Finding quality and appropriately priced hosting is very difficult to find. There are so many options, but the hosting industry has the classic issue of quantity over quality.

Backups

Regardless of how good any hosting company is, I would always recommend you take suitable measures to regularly carry out offsite backups on all your sites. Yes, this can be a laborious task if you are managing many sites, but its the only way to 100% sure you can be in control.

This was the only way I was able to move swiftly back to SoftSys Hosting and not wait on A2 Hosting to restore their services. At one point, there was a question mark over the current state of A2 Hosting's backups are in.

Tweet - A2 Hosting Backup
(A2 Hosting Questionable Backups)

Moving Back To Previous Hosting

Believe or not, I can't remember the exact reason why I left Softsys Hosting. After all, I never had any issues with them throughout the 9 years I was with them. Very accommodating bunch of guys! I think what attracted me to A2 Hosting was their shiny website, the promise of faster load times and the option to have my site hosted on UK servers.

It's always an absolute pain having to move and set everything back up again. But thanks to Ruchir at Softsys Hosting who was very attentive in helping me during my predicament and answering all my queries, managed to assist in achieving a quick turnaround. So in total, my site was only down for just under 2 days.

It seems quite apt that I come back to the hosting provider I call home under the same reasons to why I started using them in the first place back in 2009 when I was failed by my first ever hosting provider (Ultima Hosts). Oh, the irony!

Conclusion

Unfortunately, there isn't an exact science to finding the most ideal hosting provider for your budget and requirements. If you ever have any qualms regarding your current hosting provider, you might have good reason to be. Hosting should be worry and hassle free, knowing that your data is in the hands of capable people. If you have the finances to move, just do it. Hardware can be replaced, data can not. Data is a commodity!

Take online reviews with a pinch of salt. Instead, take a look at the existing users responses through their main Twitter and status accounts. Some might even have status pages. This will hopefully give you a more unbiased view on their operation and approach to resolving past issues.


Update - 26/04/2019

I have asked A2 Hosting for some form of compensation, especially since I purchased 2 years up front. Awaiting their response to the exact amount. I am hoping they will add some additional compensation as a goodwill gesture for misleading on their Kentico host offering.

Update - 27/04/2019

As of 27/04/2019 8pm (GMT), I managed to log back into A2 Hosting Plesk Administration to get a more recent backup of my hosting. Noticed there were some database errors in the process.

Update - 01/05/2019

Not looking good. I think there is a very slim chance in getting any form of reimbursement from A2 Hosting as they have decided to delete my support ticket. Not "close", but actually delete. I thought this was probably a mistake and after delving into the mass of responses from many other unhappy users, it seems I am not the only one.

Tweet - A2 Hosting Deleting Tickets

One can only assume that A2 Hosting are wiping their hands of any form of user correspondence. There hasn't been any further considerable updates or timescales to when services will resume. I am still awaiting for the ability to carry out a proper backup.

5 Hours Of GoDaddy Pro Is More Than Enough For Me

Go Daddy LogoThere's a saying that goes along the lines of: if it ain't broke don't fix it. But as human beings, we're a very inquisitive bunch and like to delve into the dark abyss of the unknown just to see what's out there. This is exactly what I did when I decided to move hosting providers.

I've hosted my site for many years very happily on SoftSys Hosting ever since UltimaHosts decided to delete my site, with no backup to restore. Now when a hosting company does that, you know it's time to move on - no matter how good they say they are. If I have no issues with my current hosting provider, why would I ever decide to move? Afterall, my site uptime has been better than it has ever been and the support is top notch!

Why Make The Move To Go Daddy Pro?

Well, for starters the cost of hosting was not something to be sniffed at and based on my current site usage, the deluxe package (priced at £3.99 per month) on top of a promo code - an absolute bargain! Secondly, the infrastructure that consists of real-time performance and uptime monitoring (powered by NodePing) and high spec servers Go Daddy describe as:

Hosting isn’t about having the best hardware, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Our servers are powered by Intel Xeon processors for heavy lifting, blazing-fast DDR 3 memory for low latency, and high speed, redundant storage drives for blistering page load times and reliability.

Currently, my server is based in the US and wanted to house my website on servers nearer to home back in the UK, which unfortunately my existing shared hosting package does not offer. Even though it doesn't look it, my website is quite large and there are benefits in having hosting in the same locale to where you live, such as faster upload and download speeds when having to update a website via FTP.

Thirdly, to have my domain and website all under a single dashboard login that Go Daddy seems to do well in a clean manageable interface and have the ability to self administer an SSL certificate without paying the hosting company for installation on my behalf.

Lastly, the 24/7 support accessible through either email or online chat, where GoDaddy Pro boasts its low waiting time and highly specialised support that can be escalated to resolve problems quickly. But from what I experienced, it was at this the very point where they failed.

Go Daddy Pro Advanced Technical Support

The Extremely Painful Support Experience

I kid you not, it made me want to smack myself over the head repeatedly with my Macbook Pro. My experience with GoDaddy Pro's "specialised support" personnel was a painful one. For explanation purposes, I will call the person I spoke to: Gary.

After uploading files onto my GoDaddy Pro account, I carried out all initial setup with ease and was near enough ready to go. However, I was missing one critical piece of the puzzle that would demonstrate the low technical acumen of GoDaddy Pro support and thus my departure from their services. The critical piece being: the ability to upload and restore a backup of an MS SQL Server database.

Now, the SQL Server database backup in question is around 150MB and could not simply access the online MS SQL portal to allow me to upload my backup since the URL to the portal uses a sub domain (if I remember correctly) based on your own live website domain. This was a problem for me purely because I have not pointed the domain over to Go Daddy's servers. If I did, the consequence would be my current site going down. Not an option! I required a temporary generated domain that would allow me to not only access the MS SQL portal but also test my site before I re-point my domain. 

My query was quite a simple one, so I opened up GoDaddy's support chat window and Gary came online to help. After much discussion he did not seem to understand why I'd want to do this and never managed to resolve the access issue to the MS SQL portal. All Gary did is send me links to documentation, even though I told him I have read the support literature beforehand and there was nothing relating to my original query.

He then suggested that I log into the database through Microsoft Management Studio and then go through the process of restoring my backup directly from my computer to their database. As we all know, (unfortunately Gary didn't) you cannot upload and restore a database backup directly from your own computer. The backup needs to be on the database server itself and even after I told him I am a Microsoft .NET Developer and that this was not possible, Gary kept telling me I was wrong. This went on for quite sometime and got to the point where I just couldn't be bothered anymore and any motivation I had on moving hosting providers dissolved in that very instant.

On one hand, I cannot falter Go Daddy's support response. It is pretty instant. On the other hand, the quality of support I had received is questionable to say the least.

Outcome

I decided to stay with SoftSys Hosting based on the fact I haven't had any issues and any queries I've ever had was dealt professionally and promptly. I think it's quite difficult to see how good you have it until you try something less adequate. Their prompt support exceeded my expectations when I requested an SSL to be installed on a Sunday evening and to my surprise it was all done when I got up the next morning. Now that's what I call service!

If I can say anything positive about my GoDaddy experience is the money back promise within 30 days of purchase. I had no problems getting a full refund swiftly. I spoke to the friendly customer service fellow over the phone and explained why I wanted to leave and my refund was processed the next working day.

I just wish I could get those 5 wasted hours of my life back...