DreamHost vs GoDaddy vs local… webhost pros and cons

Well this time around I am going to write about the choice of webhost platform. Web hosting these days can be a lot cheaper than it might have been in the past as there is a lot of competition. In New Zealand you can get quite reasonable web hosting with 150 GB of disk space for around $6 per month with no bandwidth limitations, or 500 GB around $12 per month (it’s possible the servers are offshore because some hosting platforms are a lot dearer for the same sort of value). For the purposes of this discussion I’m assuming a typical shared hosting package with a LAMP stack, but without root access (virtual hosting) or a domain included. These packages are the likes of Hostpapa and Crazy Domains who are trying to compete head on with international resellers and in all probability these are introductory prices for just the first year.

Then there is the likes of a big US company called GoDaddy which offered an introductory package at a large discount for about $1.50 per month (it worked out to NZ$21) for just the first year, renewals were $11 per month after that. GoDaddy has a New Zealand office and you can get pricing and make payments in our currency. Now it so happens that I did have previous experience of being a webmaster. Back in the 1990s when the internet was in its infancy relatively speaking and there was no such thing as social networking (Yahoo had a presence, as did MySpace, but Facebook and its peers were unknown) people did their own web sites for various things, and we also used Blogger on Google’s platform a fair bit as well. I had some free hosting mainly on the likes of Trainweb for my various rail interests, and also a hosting package with Godzone Internet Services. So I thought I knew a reasonable amount about web hosting and there would be no real surprises.

This time around (2020), things were pushed into being by the desire to set up NZ Rail Maps with something proper. The webmaps idea was not even on the radar at that stage or was thought to be too difficult or expensive to implement. Maps such as they were, were static images put into various types of web photo albums like Flickr. The latter was sold by Yahoo and its free option became a lot smaller. So from there it was a simple step to SmugMug, the new Flickr owners, and using one of their paid plans with the nzrailmaps.nz domain I had registered, began in May 2020. At the same time the development blog moved from Blogger onto WordPress, but it was still a free blog account with a wordpress.com subdomain.

After about four months I discovered the XYZ tiles export functions in Qgis and then found out about using the Leaflet javascript library to provide a web maps user interface. I then decided to go for a full web hosting platform and found GoDaddy appeared suitable and cheap. nzrailmaps.nz was migrated to GoDaddy within a few weeks and then in October I signed up for a second GoDaddy package for converser.nz and that is really where the latter got going the way it looks today.

GoDaddy was pretty simple to set up but I soon discovered a big difference from my previous web hosting experience. Nowadays every website is expected to run on a secure server, whereas back then only people who were using e-commerce and so forth really needed to look at this option. So then I started casting around to see how much it would cost to buy certificates for the sites. The initial blog setup chosen for converser.nz was a subdomain for each of the blogs. It turned out this would need quite an expensive certificate to handle multiple subdomains or a number of individual certificates which would also add up quite a high annual bill in the range of several hundred dollars. So as a workaround the converser.nz blogs were changed into subdirectories which should have worked with just one certificate for converser.nz although it seems it never did work properly. I then managed to find out about Let’s Encrypt but GoDaddy did not integrate this into their control panel so I would have had to manually renew certificates every 3 months as LE only issues certificates up to that lifetime.

With the fact I would have had to maintain and renew certificates manually for both sites several times a year, and since I would have to pay a big increase in hosting costs at the end of the year with GoDaddy and that would work out to around $250 a year for the web hosting (plus about $60 separately for two domains as was planned at the time), I was keen to see if I could find another option and after looking at a few, DreamHost looked like it was worth considering. Their first year would cost $85 and $170 after that but the package would be able to host both sites together and split the converser.nz subsites back into subdomains again, and each site would be able to get its own LE certificate that would auto renew for no cost and no inconvenience. So it would work out dearer for the first year than GoDaddy but cheaper longer term.

And so here we are.

I will try to dig into more of what I like about DreamHost where I think it does a lot better than GoDaddy in coming weeks as I get to know it a bit better.