It’s been a bit over a month now with my payment for $240/year to SSDNodes on April 14, 2017. My last host, which was Wiredtree, cost almost $750/yr so I was able to cut two-thirds of my annual costs and got 8 times the server. I knew 2017 was going to be a budget year for me. Trimming the fat where I can wasn’t really much of a choice as I move into starting my own business and living on a fixed budget.
I caution anyone looking for a host to go slow and try it before making a bigger commitment. 10-years ago I was on shared hosting and I got screwed over from that with a host that tried to extort me for more money. I had no idea my host would try to hold my domains ransom and I didn’t have the domain names in my name because I registered them with my host. I knew nothing about the web. I learned everything from that host and mistake. Now, I have off-site backups, I own the domain names through a registrar and I can leave a host at any moment without a major loss. Always do your homework.
Now onto what the meat of this post is about…my new host and how I got from one to the other. I like to use something for a while before making a review so I don’t pass on potentially bad advice that someone might regret. Just remember that this is my 30-day’ish review and everything could go downhill at any time. It was 2.5 years into my shared hosting before my nightmare happened and I didn’t know what the red flags looked like back then. Now, I know only because of that situation and promised never to repeat that mistake going forward. If I can save others from making that mistake as well then this is all worth the time and effort.
Managed vs Unmanaged Hosting
I have been on managed hosting for years and I was always nervous about being on my own for crazy little issues that popped up. Managed hosting means that the host provider will support things like a WordPress installation question, updating the server operating systems, or upgrading the hardware. They worry about 99% of the server and how it is running. I put in so many tickets along the way and most were answered quickly with Wiredtree. It was like having this awesome babysitter for my server so I could focus on writing and not working on a firewall. I was comfortable and I don’t know if that was a good thing or not. I could have been learning so much more if I knew what I do now. Hindsight truly is 20/20.
Most people get managed hosting because becoming a system administrator is beyond most people’s abilities and that is why they earn 6-figure salaries. The managed hosting providers like WP-Engine and others put the cost of that managing into their monthly fees. This is why a good SSD-only VPS with Wiredtree was about $90/month without any discounts applied. There is about $20 for the hardware, $20 for software licensing, and the rest to pay for admins, electricity and everything that comes along with running a datacenter.
Switching to unmanaged hosting gives you the hardware and that’s about it. Some unmanaged host examples are Digital Ocean, Amazon EC2, and the one I ultimately chose…SSDNodes. I might be able to ask a question here or there but this is completely on me to make sure my server is good to go and my websites are up. Like anyone else, I spend a lot of time learning so I don’t have to depend on someone to do it for me. That’s just the way I have always been. I have that “if it is going to get done correctly I need to do it myself” kind of personality. I think it’s pretty much set for the rest of my life.
SSDNodes gives me raid-10 all on SSDs and it’s all virtualized using OpenVz. The OS (I chose Centos 7) and anything else I need to run my websites is in my hands. It’s not a simple ticket anymore when I want some settings adjusted or asking for Node.js to be configured. Those days are gone my friend, so I either need to go back to managed hosting, learn to become a sysadmin, or hire one that is on my team full-time or part-time. For now, I am digging in with everything I have to master the things I need. I want to know how every part works.
I look for challenges and I think I found one here with this host. I was really worried about where I could lay my hat down for a long time so I could get back to blogging and not worrying about my server. The bottom line is if you want the easy way and go with managed hosting then expect to pay for it. If you are like me and always curious and willing to dive in then go unmanaged. This will be a lot of learning but I think well worth it.
Free Web Panels, Paid Ones, No Panel
I was searching to cut costs and find an open-source web panel that was like the WHM/cPanel setup I was used to. It’s all I have ever really known from the time I stepped onto Wiredtree hosting. After reading and watching YouTube videos I decided on one that I thought would be the one. I proceeded to install my server with Centos 7 and decided to give the Centos Web Panel a go. I tried it for a day and decided to gave the $10 donation in order to use the pro edition. It didn’t last long as I discovered that it wasn’t anything close to what I was used to. It lacked a few features and I noticed the community around the web panel to be average at most.
I hate losing money, but I should be used to it as much as I test things out and then never use many of them again. I chalk them up to reviews and in some cases, my lack of knowledge in many areas like Node.
It was time to get back to researching like normal and took a couple days to research whether or not I should just pay for the WHM/cPanel license for $20/month. I still would be saving about $30/month compared to what I had on Wiredtree and I would have the safety net I came to love. I ran into a few comments talking about the Plesk panel. I have heard of it, but I have never used it before or even took a few moments to see what it had to offer. Naturally, it was time to spend another several hours watching YouTube videos, reading blog posts, and spent a lot of time looking through their features.
At $8/month per month, Plesk could easily be my next panel. The VPS and Plesk would bring me to $28 per month and give me top-shelf hosting, a web panel for safety, and a smile because I didn’t cut corners to save money. I managed to come up with a plan! I started the 14-day trial to see if I liked instead of just throwing money at it in hopes that I made the right choice. After that 14-day trial ended I gladly paid my $100 for the year.
I don’t want to base my entire perception on free panels because I disliked the Centos Web Panel Pro, but all of them compared didn’t really make me want to dive in. I took a lot of opinions from all around the web, discounted 70% of them and still came out feeling better about going with Plesk. After a month of using it daily I can say that I am thankful for all of the research and late night decision making. I don’t miss WHM/cPanel at all and I don’t mind the $8 per month that I gave to Plesk. It made managing my PHP/MySQL websites easy to manage. Now I just have to learn NGINX…
Let’s switch gears to the remaining week before my 30-day review and turn the corner to Node.js. I have always been curious in what advantages and what the world of Meteor/React and many other repositories had to offer. I decided that I wanted to build a site using Rocket Chat to offer real-time communications. This has to be done with the CLI so I dusted off my Putty and SSH’d into the server and ran through the commands. I installed it within a few minutes and next was MongoDB. I wasn’t successful, but I just realized that this was something completely different.
I have used the CLI before on several occasions but I never connected the fact that I wasn’t using a panel to manage packages. I have installed Python, Ruby, and lots of stuff locally on my Windows and Linux installs in the past. With all of this zooming around my head and a Skype call last night to a developer I wanted to enlist the help of, I realized you don’t need panels. You just need a server with SSH and you can build beautiful websites. It was that “holy shit” moment that I get sometimes when I connect all of the pieces.
Throughout the last 2-months I have realized that I don’t want to use free panels, I am okay with Plesk for my PHP/MySQL websites, and I am excited about learning the CLI and go panel-less. All have their own benefits and I don’t want to say that they aren’t good enough. For what I am wanting to achieve with each installation made me go through this unstructured learning event. I now know I am on the right track, but you have to ask yourself what you want.
Apache/NGINX, PHP/MySQL & Node.js
That was a title I would have never thought about writing! A lot washed over me with the new server and using Plesk because I still had little to no idea how to use the Command Line Interface (CLI) like a champ. I am just a Graphical User Interface (GUI) type of guy that just happens to know enough to login to a server using Terminal or Putty. This is the area I am most unlikely to win in. With that said, I have spent years using Linux, Apache, PHP, and MySQL, or known as the LAMP stack. It’s who I am, but try not to judge me too harshly. I just never had the right guidance.
Now, that the world of Node has opened it’s doors to me directly, I feel my mind shifting. A year ago I decided that all future projects would be created from Meteor/React because of everything I researched for months in 2015-2016. I hired my friend to develop a media hosting service using the pair. He is a programmer with Java being his go to. He has a sweet 6-figure job and is learning more than ever. He loves using this combination and has grown from the challenge. I learned from him that it is a good thing to try new adventures that make you uncomfortable.
I can assure you that I am the most uncomfortable that I have ever been, right now.
This new host has given me the opportunity to work in whatever stack I want (as long as it’s Linux) and give me free reign to use anything I want. If this is what freedom feels like then I am loving it. I am optimistic about the future now with the limits of PHP/MySQL lifted. You could say I am overjoyed about the potential in all of this. I still have crosses to bear and one of them is NGINX. I don’t want to stop using WordPress and other CMS’s just because I have the potential to work with Node. There is value, and best of all, there is choice.
All of these technologies and languages are in my grasp and can certainly be in yours if you wanted to give it a try. I don’t really have much to lose. I haven’t developed much in the past few years and this will give me that drive again. I at least hope it will. Count me in for 3 WordPress sites, 2 Xenforo installations and some other miscellaneous scripts as I dive in on my first Node project. I am going to be moving away from Xenforo though in hopes that I can achieve more in the open-source community.
Anyways, I really just wanted to say that having all of these options is powerful. I can choose now, whereas before I had no idea. I was locked in front of the WHM/cPanel with no idea that I could have done so much more. I am sure I could have ran this with Wiredtree, but it took this push to try something new and open my eyes. I can thank Liquid Web for this. They are the reason I moved by purchasing Wiredtree. Thank you LW.
Security With Let’s Encrypt
The project to bring security to the web after we learned so much about how the U.S. government and others around the world are scooping up our private data pushed many to “get real” about security. Born from Edward Snowden’s sacrifice was Let’s Encrypt. Let’s Encrypt is a free SSL service that is integrated with WHM/cPanel, Plesk and I am sure there are new partnerships and plugins added every day. It’s free to use so there is zero excuses even if you don’t have anything that needs to be secure.
If you are not secure by now then you are letting other websites pass you up in search rankings too. Google now uses it to rank web pages, so it’s good SEO to be secure. Throwing your site into the HTTPS world is a good thing for your users to see too. I remember that on my last project I hadn’t gone secure yet and a new member said that I should have this. I didn’t quite understand why back then, but I didn’t question it because Edward Snowden already happened by this time. I didn’t need to question security, but it’s important to still know why we should have it. If you have an eCommerce site or anything that collects someone’s data then it’s almost criminal not to have a secure site.
Without question I install Let’s Encrypt on every site I host. It would be lazy and irresponsible not to take advantage of this offer. I learned a lot about security while serving in the Air Force, but had no desire to get my CISSP or anything of the sort. Cubicles don’t really appeal to me. I just know that it is important and people are looking for ways to hack your site, steal data, or just suck up your information. If you do nothing else, please secure your site. If not for me, not for Google, then for your users.
I wanted this to be a thorough review of SSDNodes and perhaps I took the conversation to several other places, but I went where my mind led me. I absolutely suggest using them as your hosting providers. They are responsive with questions, quick to provision, and let you do your thing. I found them through the Web Hosting Forum. They don’t seem oversold and things have sped my websites up beyond anything I used before.
Affiliate Link: Use it if you think I gave you a reason to try them.
Non-affiliate link: I don’t live off of commissions, but they help as little tips along the way.
There you go. Two choices given to you and I hope this helps you. If it does then please comment below and let me know. Did I miss anything? You can see what I use by clicking those links. I decided to use the 4x Large for this website. I wanted a fast blog which is why I am tempted to try using Ghost out. We’ll see about that in the future. Happy hosting to you!