Next up in the hosts that are part of our $1000 Web Hosting Case Study, is a name you may not have heard much about. HostGator is well known in the web hosting space and has been around for 15 years. Recently, they have started offering a cloud version of their hosting and this review is going to dive deep to help you understand everything you get and what you should watch out for.
HostGator is a pretty common choice for new bloggers or website owners who are looking to find an inexpensive option as they start their adventure. In fact, many of the top search results for how to start a blog promote HostGator. But, it is important to understand that they offer one of the highest affiliate commissions for referred sales. This may color their review of the company and their options. We'll make sure to focus on just the facts so you an choose the right web host for yourself.
HostGator has the standard suite of hosting options for people looking for web hosting. They offer dedicated servers, shared servers, and their new cloud hosting. We are going to focus on the specifics of the cloud hosting option on this page.
With cloud hosting, your website is not restricted to a physical server which is common with all shared hosting plans. Instead, there is a pool of physical hardware and the individual hosting installations are virtualized on top. I'm not sure which specific virtualization system they use, but is is very similar to VMWare, KVM, and other hypervisor installations.
Because your hosting instance does not sit on a physical server, when there is a hardware failure, network overload, or datacenter outage your hosting instance can be migrated to another host that may even be in another country. This increases uptime dramatically and allows for a lot more flexibility to ensure availability and performance.
The downside of cloud hosting (and cloud everything) is that there is usually no guarantee of server resources. Since you are sharing multiple physical machines in this virtual cloud, you don't necessarily have 2 full processing cores or 4 GB of physical RAM. Everything is shared and performance can be a lot harder to come by. In the performance section of this review, we'll help you understand exactly where the HostGator cloud option stacks up.
You can create as many subdomains (subdomain.domain.com) as you want. In a lot of cases, existing websites will already have subdomains set up and when you transfer your website you need to make sure that the host that you target has the right functionality. Luckily, subdomains are standard for all of HostGator's cloud offerings.
Some low budget hosts put a cap (similar to cell phone data caps) on the amount of traffic or downloads that they support and they won't charge you any extra based on your bandwidth usage. However, if you end up with a lot of traffic (and a lot of bandwidth) your site may still go down if you don't have enough processing power or memory.
You can store as many images and cat pictures as you want on your server without running into storage limits. You also won't be charged based on how much you have stored on your server.
There is one thing to keep in mind if you are a power user though. HostGator has a TOS set up that requires its users to not use 25% or more of system resources for longer than 90 seconds. They are trying to make sure you aren't running extra software or using an instance that is too small. If you are hogging the host that you are on you may get a nasty email. For most normal uses, this will never be a problem, but if you have questions or think you might be getting close to this limit, be sure to check in with their support.
Varnish caching comes standard with all three of their offerings. A Varnish cache is a little program that sits between your host and your visitors. It will automatically cache any static content so your website doesn't have to spend extra time recreating data that doesn't change. Data such as static HTML and pictures are eligible to be stored in the Varnish cache.
1st Year $/mo
There are a few major caveats to this table. In order to get the best price, you have to pay for 3 years up front. Here is what the pricing looks like for the hatchling plan. This is the same for all 3 so make sure you understand how much you have to pay up front to get the best rate. The TCO table below may help you understand your real payments, too.
Introductory pricing can be misleading because the renewal price after the first year will go up. If you only pay 1 year at a time, or 1 month at a time you will be paying more and won't get the low advertised rate.
The 3 and 5 year columns represent your total cost after that much time. The 1 year cost is what you will have to pay on day 1.
1 Year Cost
3 Year Cost
5 Year Cost
1 Year Cost
3 Year Cost
5 Year Cost
The hatchling plan is great for a small site where you expect to get less than a few thousand visitors per month. Many low-budget hosting plans only have a single core with their smallest offering, but HostGator will give you two on one processor. Remember, these aren't 2 dedicated processing cores and they don't actual mention the speed. It just means that you should be able to handle multiple visitors at one time.
The 2GB of memory is plenty for PHP and a MySQL database to use for a small site. You won't actually run out of resources, but you may see slowdowns while visitors wait in line to get access to the hardware.
You can host only 1 website on the hatchling plan so if you have a few hosts that you want on the same shared hosting plan you may want to step up to the Baby or Business plans.
Lastly, you can't run any SSL on hatchling plans. If you want to use https:// you will need to upgrade to the Baby Plan.
Stepping up to the Baby Cloud plan, you double the number of cores and memory on the shared cloud host. Again, there is no mention of the speed of the processor, but you can now have 4 processes working on something in parallel. In standard WordPress stacks, you will have the database, php, and linux processes running and only 1 thing can run at a time per processing core. So, this should allow you to have many more simultaneous visitors before you see major slowdowns.
The 4GB of memory will also allow for more caching in WordPress and MySQL which will speed up the requests that access the same data.
This is also the most inexpensive option if you want to host multiple websites on the same HostGator shared cloud host. Remember, that all of the websites will be using the same cloud host so plan accordingly and make sure you don't get too much traffic.
At the Business Cloud level, you now have access to 3x the number of processing cores and memory as the Hatchling Plan. This allows even more simultaneous processors and users as well as a more caching of your data.
This is probably the instance you want to use if you are hosting multiple websites as well since there is spare processing power to handle multiple sites of traffic.
HostGator cloud's add-ons are all services that are run by another company. This could make a lot of sense because a hosting company may not be the most qualified vendor of an email solution (such as Google) or a backup solution (such as CodeGuard). It may also mean you will have to work with third parties if anything goes wrong so weigh the pros of an all-in-one before you buy these addons.
SiteLock Monitoring monitors your web pagesto help identify possible hacks and vulnerabilities. Most viruses have a constant "signature" that is used to identify it. The signature could be a certain HTML snippet on your website or a full takeover of text. The SiteLock add-on has a database of these signatures and constantly checks your site for problems. If it spots something you will get an email and can try and fix it or restore from a backup if you have one.
HostGator Cloud partners with Google for a custom email solution. For $5/mo (which is the same price if you buy it directly from Google), you can an email account that is firstname.lastname@example.org. Since it is powered by Google, you will also have access to the standard GMail interface you may already be familiar with.
HostGator cloud also partners with CodeGuard for their backup solution. You can take a look at their site to get a sense of which services they offer and what you can expect for the money. It looks like if you purchase it through HostGator you will get a slight discount on their plan that offers 1GB of backup every day. You will also get access to the cPanel UI where you can view your backups and restore to a previous data if you need to.
Per their Terms of Service, if you use 30% or more of the hardware for more than 90 seconds you are in violation. This limit is in place to ensure that a single bad actor doesn't take down the entire cloud server (remember you are sharing multiple servers with many other people). For most small sites this isn't a problem, but it is something to watch out for if you see growth.
HostGator (part of EIG) is a very large company that owns tens of hosting providers. Along with their massive size is a lot of support and cost reduction. When you need help, you will be sent to a large call center where the customer support representatives will be handling multiple issues at a time.
The bright side is that there is an extensive knowledge base that has been curated over tens of years. Most of the simple questions and even some of the more advanced features are documented and can be accessed through their self-service interface.
HostGator offers the three standard support options:
They don't list any information about standard wait times or hours of operation for the phone or ticket system.
We decided to ask Live Chat about the fundamental backup addon they offer through CodeGuard. You can buy this through HostGator or through the third-party vendor directly. I wanted to have Live Chat help me understand the difference.
2:05 PST Monday
Time to 1st Contact
Time to Answer Question
Not very helpful
10 minutes later
The backup addon is already confusing especially if you aren't experienced in IT, and the answer didn't help clarify the service. CodeGuard offers a WordPress plugin based solution, a separate solution, and one through HostGator. It isn't clear after the support conversation how the prices match up or if it is really the same service.
The pricing answers also didn't add up. I'm not sure how the Ninja plan (which is offered directly at $5/mo) comes out to $10 more a year than the service that HostGator offers as an add-on. Overall, the answer wasn't satisfying.
As you can see from the chat logs, there was a marked period of 2-3 minutes between each question and answer. This is pretty typical for large call centers and mega-companies that have their support agents handling multiple issues at a time.