Towards the end of 2010 I was on the lookout for a suitable VPS hosting provided who’d be able to provide me a decent service at a decent price – as it was only going to be for a hobby server (trying scripts, staging demos and generally just gaining experience with running a server) I decided to find something which didn’t cost too much.

I came across http://www.lowendbox.com/, which I must say is a great site for finding low-cost boxes with decent specs, and usually with a generous coupon code too!  The site seems to be totally impartial, and the owner doesnt even use affiliate links when referring you to the various hosting providers.  Whilst browsing on this site I came across Hostrail who were offering a massive 65% recurring monthly discount.  Lured in by the price which was effectively working out to £10-12 a month I felt as if I had nothing to lose even if the service was poor at the end of my first month.  I took the plunge and signed up for my hosting account!  Here’s how everything went from then onwards:

The Positives

  1. Setup – as I ordered on a Saturday morning, I wasn’t too surprised that the setup was not done within a couple of hours.  It was done on that Saturday evening (10 hours after ordering) and I was happy with that.  No issues there!

The Negatives

  1. Password security – during the signup process I was prompted to enter a password for the root account.  I entered a password which I’ve used a few times on other services that I feel need a very secure password.  After completing the checkout process, I was appalled to see that I received numerous emails from Hostrail with logins to various parts of the server (WHM, SSH, HyperVM etc), and within each email they had sent me that password as plain text.  On top of that, it was even plain for me to see that password when I logged into my support panel on their website.
    Immediately alarmed at the implications of having such passwords sent via plain-text email, I had to spend a couple of hours going through and changing my password on any other site that I’ve used that password on.  Then of course I changed the password on all the logins provided to me by Hostrail
  2. Login details – when I received my welcome emails from HostRail, I expected to find all the relevant URLs to my logins.  This I received, but the one for the VPS control panel was completely wrong and would not allow me to login despite trying numerous times with the login details I was sent
  3. Email responses – due to the above problem with the control panel login, I decided to submit my first Support Ticket to Hostrail.  Whilst the response time was good, and answered my question, it wasn’t what I had been expecting.  As new customer, and for the company to have made a mistake within minutes of setting up my account I would have expected at least some form of apology, even if it was as little as “Sorry that you experienced this problem”.
    Instead I simply received the URL to the Control Panel, URL for WHM and the root username and password (again, plain text).  From this response I honestly got the feeling that this company cared very little about their customers and were to an extent unwilling to help.
  4. Server Location – when ordering the VPS I opted to go for a slightly more expensive service where the server is located in the Netherlands instead of US, which of course is closer to the UK and should deliver better performance.  However, when I tried to geolocate the IP address of the address, it actually resolved to USA instead of Netherlands.  Whilst I know that geolocating IPs isnt exactly a precise art, I’ve not known a fixed IP of a server to ever return the wrong country altogether.  I almost dismissed this point anyway as it made almost little difference to me – I was still getting the service for an extremely cheap price and so couldn’t see the point in kicking up a fuss over this, especially considering that it could just as easily be said that the IP geolocation service was not working properly.
    If anyone reading this does have an off-shore plan, I would be glad to know where your IP address resolves to, so that I can amend this point if need-be.
  5. Server Issues – once everything had been setup, I started playing around the VPS and installed JIRA and SVN so that I could manage my projects and host demos of sites that I was working on.  After these initial installations, I made no further changes to the server.  Everything worked fine for 3 weeks.  After this I started receiving continuous emails from the VPS saying that various services were not working and kept having to be restarted.
    Thinking it may have been an issue that I caused, I started looking up the WHM documentation to see what I could do about it.  After trying numerous things, none of which seemed to work I pretty much gave up, but was hesitant to still get in touch with Hostrail thinking they wouldn’t be too willing to help after my last experience with their support.After a couple more weeks with these emails, I decided to try again at fixing the problems.  When I tried logging into SSH, I couldn’t even connect to the server.  I tried my website instead, which wouldn’t load and then tried WHM which was also down.  I logged into the VPS Control Panel instead and tried rebooting the system, but still couldnt login to the server.

    At this point I was extremely frustrated with the company, and from all the previous issues with them, not to mention 100s of daily emails from the server I finally decided to cancel and submitted my cancellation request.

  6. The Cancellation – When I asked them to cancel my account, I immediately thought perhaps I could give their support one more try and save myself the hassle of having to switch provider.  I emailed them straight-away and asked to cancel the cancellation and instead have a look at the issue I was having with the logins.  I didnt even ask them to deal with the email issues I was having, thinking I’d deal with those myself after the logins were sorted.  I soon got a reply back stating that everything was now fixed and my cancellation had been cancelled.The next day I spent some more time fixing the issues, and then finally decided to contact CPanel to see if they could help.  The support agent from there started having a look at the issue and fixing any issues she could find, but 10 minutes later I got another email from her saying she could no longer login to SSH.  I tried from my end and also couldnt login.  I logged into my VPS Control Panel to restart the VPS, only to find that it was no longer listed under my services.  My account had been cancelled!
  7. The Reason – I quickly emailed the CPanel support agent to let her know what had happened and apologised for the inconvenience, and then emailed HostRail to find out what was going on.  Here’s the response I received:
    Hostrail
    I had no requested any kind of cancellation a second time and have double checked my email accounts to make sure of it.  There’s no mention of a cancellation ticket in my Hostrail Customer Login section – so I have no idea where they got that idea from.
    The response I received was also not a proper response to the question I asked – I asked for my service to be restored so that I could at least get a backup, and in return I got told that the service was cancelled – as if that’s final and there’s no more they’re going to do about it.  I’m still awaiting a response to my second question, but until now have heard nothing from them.

After this terrible experience with Hostrail I’d definitely advise anyone to be at least cautious when dealing with them.  Even if they’re a budget company, I think it’s fair to say I asked very little from them and still in response got even less back.

I’ll keep you updated if and when I hear more back from them!

If you’re ever stuck trying to find out which web hosting service a website uses, then there’s a very simple way to find out.
All you need to do is perform a WHOIS lookup, which provides information about any domain name.

A popular WHOIS site is http://www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp. All you do is enter the domain name, and check under the “Domain servers” section. It should look like “ns1.hostingsite.com” so the part after the ns1 will tell you who the web host is.

This could be really useful if you’re looking for hosting yourself, and are impressed by the speed and stability of a site you come across. You can quickly lookup its host and get the same great service for yourself!

Many of you may be aware that HostGator did not support InnoDB, and therefore the newer versions of Magento did not install on their servers.  As our hosting uses HostGators servers, we were unable to host Magento sites for you.

However, this morning we have received confirmation, that:

13 May 2009, InnoDB will be supported by HostGator

From that date Cube Websites will become an official Magento web host, and we will be introducing a new web hosting package simply for Magento!