Host Europe vs GoDaddy vs Hetzner vs Rackspace

Introduction

This is a review of web hosting services. I compared prices, customer service, backend, speed and the DNS management of the contenders.

I'm almost sure you were also stabbed in the back, spitted upon, lied into your face and left in the dark by a hosting service company at some point during your career as an IT professional. I did this review because I was asking myself to know if anything has changed since Ecommerce alone accounts for $1 Trillion of the world wide B2C sales.

Whether as a hobby web master or as an employee you most likely came to a point in your career where you desperately wanted to know if there exist any good hosting service providers out there at all.

The good news is: Yes there are.

After being ripped off by countless of third class hosters I cancelled my latest one, I settled with them in court (yes it went that far), I took all my domains and moved them to goDaddy, one of the probably most reknown hosters. Furthermore, I rented myself a cloud server at Rackspace. But I needed some backup, so I signed with the hosting companies DomainFactory, Host Europe and Hetzner Online, too. In this roundup I will try to compare these companies to each other. Please bear in mind that I am not a professional journalist and therefore this review might seem biased or as being not very scientific.

Hetzner Online deserves some attention. They won the bavarian state startup award. And in Bavaria everything is better anyway; if you want to believe the German saying. Although Hetzner being located in Franconia (one should never call Franconians Bavarian, or they're going to hang you). Hetzner expanded internationally and is known for extremely good service, fast servers and low prices.

If you are concerned with renewable energy, there is one thing I should mention. HostEurope as most premium hosters is powered with RECS energy, which is in fact re-labeled fossile energy. They promise to plant a tree for every server. Hetzner on the other hand powers its datacenters with energy produced in hydroelectric power plants. This is much better than RECS labeled energy. However these are owned by EnBW which, in theory, could take the revenue from the renewable energy to build new nuclear plants or coal-fired power stations. This situation is typical for ecological decisions: everyone has to know for himself the level of ecological involvement that suits his consciousness.

Review

RackSpace

Customer service was helpful and knowledgable . Very fast server deployment. The 'order-until-ssh-login-time' equaled to a few minutes.

Pricing

They charge about $12 a month for a 256MB RAM cloud server; given that your site attracts low traffic. You have to shell out $40 a month for a 1024MB vServer. This is the only one that is actually usable in a production environment and the one you should get.

Front End

Unfortunately the administration front end was very slow. This drove me nuts. At least it came with all important functions like server restart or DNS configuration.

Speed

I could not test their network and server speed properly due to the overall slow server I bought. 256MB of memory for a cloud server was clearly insufficient for even my simplest of Web pages. They do recommend a 1024MB server. So I can imagine the speed of a more pricey server to be great. High-traffic Web 2.0 services like Tweetphoto host on Rackspace.

DNS

You will get only the option to alter your basic DNS records, although I could not alter any of my NS records. Rackspace does not want to be a domain registrar, but it is possible to register with them through Tucows.

GoDaddy

I could instantly transfer my domains to GoDaddy and use the front end after my order was confirmed. I found their FAQs to be really helpful. GoDaddy has a high reputation among customers.

godaddy1

DNS with GoDaddy. Simply amazing.

Pricing

They charge around 5€ for .com domains and you can choose from a lot of top level domains (TLDs).

Front End

The UI of the front end tended to seem a bit cluttered, yet offers a lot of functionality in return.

Speed

I only used GoDaddy as a domain registrar and DNS manager, so I cannot tell you about the speed of their Internet uplink.

DNS

Simply amazing. Zone File Entries, editable name server records, domain forwarding, pointing to a static IP. Almost every configuration I could think of was possible. They even got an iPhone app and a HTML5 iPhone ready Homepage if you need it. They support AAAA and TXT records as you can see in the screenshots.

godaddy2

DomainFactory

Domain Factory has a high reputation among their customers. They are in the business for a long time now. With a very competitive pricing scheme and its corporate-responsible stance to support WikiLeaks Mirrors hosted on its servers they offer a compelling package.

Domains, Hosting und Server-Lösungen von domainFACTORY

Domain Factory's Homepage promises fully editable name server entries and they also offer a moneyback guarantee in case you are not satisfied.

At first both promises turned out to be untrue. Name server SOA editing was not possible in 2011. When I wanted my money back they told me I should read the small print. However in 2012 they added the feature and you can edit name servers to a great extend.

Pricing

Starting from 6€ for single domains and they have a great SSL certificate offering, although you are best advised to consider other options post-PRISM than trusting sensible data to U.S.-based CAs.

Front end

Fonts are much too small, very hard to read. This is the Web 2.0, someone please tell them. Many options and a lot of pre-configured software to choose from in case you buy into their Web hosting packages.

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Speed

I did only buy domain services.

DNS

You can create SOA records only for third level domains (NS-Delegate), not for second level domains. As pointed out in the comments below by Chris AAAA and TXT records are possible.

Hetzner Online

This is a very fast and professional hoster. Very easily and responsive customer support, clearly one of their strenghts. Their online documentation is excellent. From their server packages you can choose between multiple Linux or Windows operating systems. They even offer FreeBSD starting from their vServer packages.

Pricing

In my opinion €29 for your own root server sounds rather great. At first I went with their Level 4 Hosting solution for €4,90, but upgraded to a more premium plan soon. No minimum contract time. They offer a discount if you pay in yearly installments. With the Domain Registration Robot Package you can register domains starting from €3,6 a year. To me this seemed outstanding.

Front End

Functional and fast. In my view the UX is very clean, very fast and the most user friendly of them all.

hetznerfe

Speed

Ping roundtrip was great at 24ms. The reason for such a low ping might be that their data centers is located very near to me. However I read at an U.S. Internet board that real-life package roundtrips between the continents are great as well. You can judge yourself since I host this very blog with them.

DNS

DNS configuration is done via a delightful interface. The DNS Zone File entries were configurable in full detail. For a one-time setupfee of €19 they offer a package called Nameserver Robot and for €29 you get the Domain Registration Robot which is included for free in the server packages.

hetzner1

DNS Zone File entries were configurable in full detail

Host Europe

Host Europe owns fast servers that have got a high international reputation. They have helpful and easily reachable customer support. You get account details on paper from them which I liked because it seemed more secure than electronically.

Pricing

I paid €12,90 monthly for a vServer. I could choose from a couple of Linux distributions and went with CentOS. They even offer Windows Servers at a little higher price, in case you are a lover of malware (There I said it).

Front End

Their vServers came with a pre-installed LAMP stack. Their apache Web server had been pre-configured with the MaxClients directive - tailored to the server's specifications - very nice. You also get a pre-installed Virtuozzo and a cPanel if you like.

hosteurope2

Speed

Pings ran at ~30ms roundtrip time. Their data centers are located in Cologne about 600km away from me, so these are very good values. For €12,90 the server performed beautifully. You get 1GB memory guaranteed with up to 2048MB of memory dynamically allocated. Add the 50GB HDD and you have yourself an excellent offering.

DNS

They offer DNS management even if you don't register your domain with them. I successfully pointed a domain from goDaddy to their name servers. Within their Web hosting package they possibly charge you for DNS management in combination with an external domain, but for their vServers it has been free of charge. Once you imported an external domain into their DNS you can also set AAAA, TXT or NS-Delegate records.

hosteurope1

Alternatives

If you are looking for a great Domain Registrar in Germany InterNetworX might be one of the best choices around. The screenshots on their Web site about their user front end looked very promising. You can set the SOA nameservers yourself at no additional cost. According to customer experiences I read, domain transfers take just a couple of minutes. However, I did not try INWX yet.

Speed Tests

I had the opportunity to get my hands on a just-released vServer from Hetzner. I got the v12 which features 1024MB of memory. I will compare it to HostEurope's vServer which has also 1024MB of guaranteed memory. The prices are the same and it will be interesting to see which one is the faster one.

Cashing and Compression I turned off. I deactivated dzone, twitter, gostats and adsense. So only Askimet and Syntax Highlighting with Chili was activated in my Wordpress settings. The values should therefore be accurate and comparable. I flushed my local cache after each testing round.

Loading Times

Firebug (loading time in seconds)
hetzner 1.19
heurope 1.07

iWebtool (loading time in seconds)
hetzner 1.13
heurope 0.99

Computing Times

mod_headers (computing time in milliseconds)
hetzner 132, 296, 1.31
heurope 151, 225, 0.43

The above values represent loading times including HTML, Javascript, jQuery and Stylesheets.

Roundtrip Times

ping (roundtrip in milliseconds)
hetzner: 27 avg
heurope 25 avg

Conclusion

HostEurope's vServer performed about 100 ms faster than Hetzner's vServer. I would say the results are very comparable and are a draw. So to conclude the paravirtualized server by HostEurope would be a more attractive choice speed-wise by a very small margin in terms of latency, but if you need fully rootable virtualization then Hetzner is the only choice.

httping

I had the opportunity to do another test using a Linux tool called httping. This tool is like ping but for http-requests and not over the ICMP protocol.

Give it an url, and it'll show you how long it takes to connect, send a request and retrieve the reply (headers or whole page). Be aware that the transmission across the network also takes time! So it measures the latency of the webserver + network. (httping website, 2010)

Results

httping -G -B -c 50 akamai.com

Hetzner to Akamai

round-trip min/avg/max = 304 ms
Transfer speed: min/avg/max = 24.3 KB

HE to Akamai

round-trip min/avg/max = 428 ms
Transfer speed: min/avg/max = 81.3 KB

httping -G -B -c 50 meshfields.de/<someDeeplink>

MacOSX Client to Hetzner

round-trip avg = 302 ms
Transfer speed: avg = 95 KB

MacOSX Client to HE

round-trip avg = 239 ms
Transfer speed: avg = 118 KB

Switches

-g selects the url to probe and -c sets how many probes should be done. -G issues a full GET request instead of a HEAD request. -B enables compression given that the server supports this.

Conclusion

The GET request to akamai.com was simply stunning, because it shows a 50MB/sec difference between Host Europe and Hetzner. HostEurope managed to get a 145MB/s peak transfer rate from Akamai. The most practical test however has been the MacOSX Client to the vServer test. It shows that my 16Mbit DSL connection managed to get data from Host Europe about 27KB/sec faster than from Hetzner's vServer.

Comparing the latencies inside the WordPress front end, it was very hard to tell any difference between both data centers.

Unix Bench

Unix bench measures computing and filesystem performance. If you want install Unix Bench yourself you can do it like this:

yum install libXext-devel
wget http://byte-unixbench.googlecode.com/files/unixbench-5.1.2.tar.gz

These are the results of the Unix Bench test:

Hetzner

System Benchmarks Index Score 1459.7

Host Europe

System Benchmarks Index Score 1487.0

Further Performance Tests

As I said earlier Hetzner uses fully virtualized servers. You could either build your own kernel or rather switch off unused kernel resources. In above test my Hetzner vServer had about 60 running processes and the para-virtualized vServer at Host Europe had about 20 processes running. Apache's StartServers directive was set in both configurations to the default 8/2 and MaxSpaceServers was configured to 8/5/20.

You can check for these values yourself with the stream line editor sed:

sed -n '/prefork.c/{p;n;p;n;p;n;p;n;p;n;p;n;p;n;p;}' /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf

Interestingly Hetzner's vServer had 8 whereas HostEurope had only 4 running apache processes. You can find that out with:

ps aux --sort -rss

Above line sorts processes according to the resident set size (non swapped physical memory) a process consumes. Since apache eats up the most memory, above command would most likely print out all apache processes on the top of the list. -rss will output the processes in reverse order whereas omitting the minus would list the processes with the smallest memory footprint first.

I wanted to know why I had more running apache processes with Hetzner so I issued a netstat in the command line window.

netstat -lnp

Apart from the common MySQL socket and ssh daemon I saw dbus-daemon and hald running. The hardware abstraction layer seems important enough to me to leave it running. Dbus is important to enable communication between processes.

Issuing a mount into the shell revealed that Hetzner comes preformatted with the ext3 filesystem and HE with reiserfs. I have to evaluate these topics further to see if I could possibly tweak something with dbus, Unix sockets or the filesystem. Keep in mind that reformatting or repartitioning isn't possible with paravirtualized servers.

Overall Conclusion

Pick any of the top three contenders and you will not be disappointed.

I cannot repeat this often enough: Stay away from cheap hosters. It is what I did this time as I did not mind the price and reward has been enlightenment.

The following awards should not be taken too seriously. I am in no position to judge these companies, even given the circumstance that my review is more of a analytic nature.

Domain Factory has an outstanding customer service and is very feature rich. From my experience and the good reputation they have, I can strongly recommend this hoster. If you should decide to sign-up, please use my referral link.

Rackspace might be great for your business, but their Web front end lacked the snap I wanted and they offered no domain services. The slow front end could be owed to the slow server I bought and probably the transcontinental network path. Overall I didn't want to shell out $40 quids for a server if I could get a more potent server for only €12 that also has a shorter network path to my home. I should point out that Rackspace seemed to me more than just another hosting company. I found out that Robert Scoble works for Rackspace and does some interviews on their blog building43.

3rd GoDaddy is certainly a safe bet. Their backend is outstanding. The FAQs are exhaustive. I could not test their server speed, but DNS and Domain Name options were really great.

2nd HostEurope has a very good reputation and their data centers are extremely fast. They feauture very low domain prices starting at 6€ per year. The DNS and front end user interface was not best in class. Nevertheless HostEurope has managed to impress me. Their customer support works fast. You get a specific service level agreement tied to your product which you can elevate to premium for more currency. I did send them a question via e-mail and received an answer within 24 hours. Host Europe marginally misses qualification for the 1st place. To be honest you can pick any of the top three contenders and you will not be disappointed.

1st Hetzner has impressed me the most. Their front end UI is extremely clean, fast and functional. That's very important to me, because I know I will have to spend time at the front end interface when things go wrong. Their shared hosting solutions are fast and their email package configuration options are a blast. Their name server robot package is very professional, you can upload your own zone file. The prices for domains were very low and on par with GoDaddy. I liked it a lot that phpMyAdmin is preinstalled on their web hosting packages. Customer support was immediately reachable. You get all this for €4,99 - therefore Hetzner gets the Web Hoster Blue Badge.

If you liked this review why don't you backlink to it. Please feel free to leave a comment in the section below, I always appreciate feedback.

Further reading:

Rackspace and NASA join forces to create OpenStack

Tune apache for max performance

How long does it take to serve a request?

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