Anyone involved in web development would know that whatever website you develop would be useless without publishing it online on the web. That’s the heart of the web hosting industry’s business – hosting websites on servers so that people around the world can access the websites through internet. It is therefore a crucial part of any web development business, be it huge companies or individual freelancers.
Because setting up own servers is expensive and is simply not financially viable for almost all web development studios (and freelancers), the most cost-effective and simplest way is to just subscribe an account with a web hosting company – companies whose business is simply to set up servers and host websites. This, of course, comes at a fee.
Web Hosting Dissected
There’s typically three types of web hosting package: dedicated server, virtual private server (VPS), and shared hosting. Dedicated server is often the most expensive, as the web hosting company dedicate one whole server to just one particular hosting account. It’s like renting a computer with blazing fast internet connection to host large number of websites or websites with huge disk space and bandwidth requirements. VPS comes second in terms of price, offering much of the features of a dedicated server, but instead of dedicating one whole server to just one account, several accounts are allocated to one server with restricted server resources for each account – less disk space, less bandwidth, less memory. However, you would typically still have the administrative features of a dedicated server with a VPS, like shell access (executing commands on the server through command line interface) and determining most, if not all, server settings. Then comes shared web hosting, which is the cheapest of all. This is because there’s even less disk space and bandwidth allocated, less memory, and a host of other restrictions apply, so that the web hosting company can allocate one server to as many shared hosting accounts as possible. With shared hosting, you will be so lucky to be able to find one that allows you to even play with the server’s settings.
Web development companies typically have the financial capability to subscribe to a dedicated server or a VPS account, but the fee for these are still more often than not too high for a freelancer. Thus freelancers like me typically have to resort to shared web hosting. Which is fine, really, for most of the websites that you see on the internet.
My Experience with Malaysian Web Hosting
Malaysia have quite a number of local web hosting companies. I’ve personally subscribed to two of those: MalaysiaHosting2u and MercuMaya.net. And my experience with both of them haven’t been pleasant, to say the least.
When I first subscribed to a shared hosting account with MalaysiaHosting2u, it was all good and fine. Because the server is physically located in Malaysia, the connection speed is blazingly fast. Until one day I suddenly lost all of my files on the server, after not being able to connect to it at all for a few days. The reason was that somehow the server was compromised (read: hacked), and somebody deleted all of the files on my hosting account. (Read more about this server disruption). Luckily they had a backup, though it was not recent enough and I lost an entire database, apart from a number of entries from another database was lost. The other shortcoming of the company is that their technical support takes very long (by web hosting companies standard) to attend to any issues reported by customers. I always have this feeling that the whole company is run by only a few people, and that they don’t really have the resources for proper customer support.
I stayed with MalaysiaHosting2u for about 2 years, and at the end of my hosting account period for that second year, I decided to move to another Malaysian web hosting service, MercuMaya.net. It was again all good and fine in the beginning, except that their server was not configured to enable certain features that would be very useful in running a website (like enabling a module that would compress website contents before sending it to internet browsers, thereby reducing bandwidth usage and speeding up website access). I had to come up with alternative methods to enable the compression, and that took me lots of hours and effort and the end result was still not as good as if the module is just enabled. It was really frustrating to work around the limitations of the server, especially when it could have easily been solved if the hosting company took a little bit more care into setting up the server.
But I was able to put up with that, and subscribed for a year of hosting with the company, even upgrading my subscription to allow for hosting of multiple domains.
And then one day came the intolerable: they suddenly suspend my hosting account and slap a terribly ugly “Account Suspended” page on my domain instead. This came with no notice, no warning whatsoever. When I enquired them about why my hosting account was suspended, they said that the CPU usage of my account was too high, way over the limit for a shared hosting. I wasn’t aware of this, and I thought it was caused by a rogue script going into infinite loop on my hosting account. So I asked them what could I do on my end to regain access to my hosting account. After 2 days and 2 phone calls later (that’s way too long a time for them to reply to me about the issue, and I’m in New Zealand so calls aren’t exactly cheap either), they finally replied and told me that the suspension was permanent. I was downright furious. A sudden suspension without notice, without warning, because of something that I wasn’t even aware of, and they made it permanent. That’s when I decided I’ve had enough.
Luckily, the awesome people at Stampede Design was generous enough to sponsor me for a hosting with one of their VPS account. It took me lots of hours and efforts to set up the hosting and get the websites back up again.
I would not reduce myself to someone who makes accusations out of anger. I acknowledge that it may have been my fault for running a leeching script (which somehow was stuck in an infinite loop, I suppose) to transfer files from another server to my hosting account, but as I had mentioned, I wasn’t aware of the high CPU usage. They didn’t even mention that I shouldn’t be running a leeching script on the server, and the links to the Acceptable Usage Policy (AOP) and Terms of Service (TOS) on their website both lead to an error page (404: Not Found). And the fact that they simply suspend my hosting account permanently without any notice or warning was simply unacceptable. It’s the worst customer service I’ve ever encountered. They simply had no courtesy at all to at least let me know about it. Luckily I wasn’t running a commercial website, so there’s not much financial loss for me, but two of my clients’ website that were hosted on the same account was affected as well, one of them being a not-for-profit organisation.
There’s simply a lot of room for improvement for Malaysian web hosting industry, especially in terms of customer service. Let me repeat that: especially in terms of customer service. And until that improvement takes place, I’m happy to be hosting my websites outside the country. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to support the local industry, but just not at the cost of unreliable service and endless frustration.