I originally titled this post “24 hours to decide: Dedicated hosting instead of shared hosting?” but the more I have thought about this and discussed it with a few others, the more this situation seems like web hosting extortion.

When I first started podcasting several years ago, I admit I had some grandiose dreams of one day having a popular podcast and blog. Before I had much experience with podcast filesizes and download quotas from web hosting providers, I posted all my podcasts to The Internet Archive (for free) and had explored the possibility of paying for a LibSyn account just for hosting my podcast files, since their pricing is so reasonable for podcasters and offers unlimited bandwidth for accounts. Eventually I realized my monthly bandwidth quota from my hosting provider was REALLY big for my predominantly audio-only podcasts, and because I had technical problems (eventually) with the CCPublisher application which I used to streamline the uploading and meta-tagging process to the Internet Archive, I started at some point just publishing my podcasts to my own server. I also realized at some point that many schools block the archive.org domain, so from a content filtering / accessibility standpoint it was/is preferable to host my podcast files on my own server.

This morning when I got online, my browser showed a “403 Forbidden error” when I tried to access my blog site. I logged into my account with my current web host, Siteground, and saw I had some new trouble tickets. The most recent one stated that my account had been suspended for a “Server Resource Usage Violation.”
My website has been consuming a lot of server resources

I have installed a new instance of Moodle this fall on the same server account where I have my blog, and that Moodle installation could be generating an additional server load on my account which is not related to my primary WordPress installation. One of the biggest problems with this situation is that my web host has literally pulled out a “CPU usage” graph out of the blue and said (I am paraphrasing here):

You have 24 hours to start paying us $179 per month for your website, or at a minimum $100 per month. We’ve deactivated your account to get your attention. Start paying.

While I am certainly open to the idea I may have to pay more for my web hosting since my site does get a lot of hits these days, I have a problem with the fact that my web host has not to date provided me with any dynamic tracking tools in my account so I can monitor CPU usage on my account and view historical data. I don’t remember ever hearing that CPU utilization on my shared hosting account was limited: The limits on my account I’ve known about previously were total storage space and monthly bandwidth. It makes sense CPU utilization would be limited, but I don’t think these were terms in the original agreement for my hosting service. Of course, most “terms of use” include a lawyer’s clause that says something like “you acknowledge we can change these terms at any time to whatever we want” so I’m doubtful I’d have much of a leg to stand on if I tried to claim something about CPU utilization not being in my hosting agreement.

To date, I’ve been paying about $90 per year for my hosting account with Siteground. I’ve been very pleased with them, especially relative to my previous webhost, and I don’t want to change. I am loathe to start paying almost $200 a month for my website, however! At $179 per month that is $2,148 per year. Compared to the $90 per year I’ve been paying, that is a 96% increase in charges. (If I’m doing my math right here.) Goodness gracious. This feels like extortion.

This is the CPU utilization graph my web host provided to me, to “prove” my account is utilizing more CPU cycles than a normal account. I asked to see the historical data on CPU utilization, and was told they have just been keeping this data for the past 2-3 months. I am asking again to see this historically presented to help troubleshoot if this is a new problem or something that has been ongoing for a long time.

CPU utilization on my shared hosting account at Siteground for wfryer.wpengine.com

This is my AWStats graph showing accesses to my blog and website in the past year:

Statistics for speedofcreativity.org (13 Nov 2008)

My site does get a lot of hits, but it does not look like these accesses or the bandwidth used on my account has really spiked much recently.

This screenshot shows the amount my web host has recommended that I start paying per month immediately ($179) instead of my current $90 per year:

My web host wants me to start paying $180 per month

I do currently use a WordPress caching plug-in to take some of the pHp access load off my server, and I’ve used this for at least the past year. To help determine if the additional server load is being caused by hits to my Moodle site (which may indeed be insecure and not locked down as tightly as it should be) I used CPanel to password protect that directory on my website:

CPanel used to add password authentication

A friend of mine also recommended that I use a free program which will send my server log files through a parser, and let me readily identify what URLs or files are getting the most access and potentially causing problems. I haven’t found one to use yet but plan to do that soon.

At this point I am asking my web host to provide me with all the historical stats they have, even if it just goes back the past 2-3 months, on the CPU utilization of my site. I also am going to ask for direct access to CPU utilization stats, and a recommended way to compare those utilization stats to my server logs to find out where the high utilization is coming from.

$179 per month is a lot to pay. That would be a “new” used car payment. Certainly this would be something difficult to explain to my wife for our family budget.

If you have any other suggestions on courses of action I should pursue in this situation, I’d love to hear your ideas. :-)

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On this day..

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  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    This is the followup ticket I’ve sent to my web host:

    Tech Support:

    I need to see historical data and graphs which support your statement “Your high CPU usage is consistent.” I certainly recognize that my website gets a lot of hits. This is the first time, however, that I’ve ever heard about my account having a “CPU usage” limit.

    Siteground (to my knowledge) is not providing me with a web-based way I can monitor my CPU usage. You indicated Siteground just started tracking CPU usage in the past two months or so. Please send me my server stats for as much time as is available, so we can determine if my CPU usage has remained high for the entire time it’s been tracked, or if it has spiked recently. Can you please provide me with a web-based interface which shows my current as well as historical CPU load data? That way I can directly monitor this.

    I do use a caching plugin for wordpress to reduce the pHp server load.
    http://mnm.uib.es/gallir/wp-cache-2/

    Because I am suspicious that my Moodle installation may be insecure and could be the source of the high server load, I have password protected that directory so no one (including web spiders) should be able to execute moodle php requests on my installation currently. Please let me know if this change is affecting my CPU server load.

    Also, a friend recommended that I use a parsing web service or program to process my server access logs, so I can readily determine which files and URLs are being accessed the most and causing the server load to spike. If you have any recommendations on programs or websites to use for this purpose that would be great.

    Again I am not averse to the idea of paying more for my hosting, because I realize my site is popular, but my site has been getting a lot of hits for quite awhile now. I need to understand and see statistics that will specifically isolate where the high CPU server load is coming from.

    One last question: Has Siteground recently amended its hosting contract to address CPU server load limits? Again I understand this is reasonable, but the main limits I have known about to this point are monthly bandwidth quotas and total disk space storage.

    Thanks very much. Again feel free to call me by phone to discuss this.

    Let’s watch the CPU stats now that I’ve password protected the Moodle site and see what happens / if anything changes. I will be interested to see the 2+ months of historical CPU usage data on my account to see if this has been something that has changed recently.

  • http://www.funnymonkey.com Bill Fitzgerald

    Hello, Wesley,

    Moodle can be resource intensive, but unless your site is VERY busy it’s not likely to be the culprit.

    IMO, this is an unreasonable response, especially since their next tier is 179/mo.

    I’d advise that you look at a virtual dedicated server; these can range (on the low end) from 20-30/month, and they go up from there.

  • http://1000days.douglasblaine.com/ Douglas

    I’m no web guy, but I’d think that CPU usage and bandwidth usage (hits) wouldn’t necessarily correlate. At least not the way you’re thinking.

    A single hit to a badly programmed page that called a particularly cumbersome query to the database could result in excess CPU cycles, where a 1000 hits to a well written bit of code would not.

    I don’t have a solution per se, but I’d look into any recent installs of full applications: WP, Moodle, Galleries, plug-ins, etc that may have created a drain on the CPU. The graph doesn’t reach back far enough for me to decipher if there is an obvious date that could pinpoint the install. Maybe simply uninstalling what you suspect is the culprit saves you some money.

    All that said, let me be the second person that suggests you find another host. The Coverville podcast puts out 3 45 minute shows a week for the last 4 or so years. He uses and recommends Bluehost.

    Good luck,

    Douglas

  • http://www.nstoneit.com D Nstone

    This is a long reported problem with siteground. Do a google search and you will find others with this problem.
    Check out this article from 2006 which is about the same issue
    http://andreasviklund.com/blog/internet/siteground-boosts/
    For them to say they have only been monitoring for 2-3 months is pulling facts out of the air.

    This forum post may also be of interest
    http://www.webhostingtalk.com/archive/index.php/t-508972.html

    I just moved our moodle from siteground. It was cheap but I lived in fear of it suddenly seizing up. I’m much happier to be paying more for piece of mind (though it’s work that pays not me personally!)

    Best of luck

  • http://lovejoy.posterous.com Dan

    Douglas’s comments are right on. If you have real-time CPU monitoring, you’ll be able to tell right away which apps are causing a problem. It may be as simple as a WP plug-in. (If you were running Expression Engine, I could help with details. More likely, it’s something hammering the mySQL server. You want to optimize, cache, and trim down unnecessary processing.

    It is likely that you’ll have to upgrade to a higher data plan, but it’s extremely UNLIKELY that you need to spend $179/month.

  • http://mrwilliams.edublogs.org J.D. Williams

    I used http://www.cornerhost.com when I had a website that needed hosting.

    The customer service was incredible. Less than an hour usually for a reply. It wasn’t ever an autobot reply, but a reply from one of the three people that work there. I also didn’t experience hardly any downtime.

    Also right now they’re offering a “hosting for life” option. I don’t know how much bandwidth that gives, but if your looking to change service providers they’re worth a look.

  • http://itmoves.wordpress.com Ben Chun

    Sounds like you need to get away from that company as soon as possible. Most people I know are using Dreamhost, and while it’s not perfect, they also don’t seem to try to extort you.

  • http://www.ineedlink.com aluisita

    I think that price is correlate with hardware spesification. we don’t need so much bandwith that gives for the first time.

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  • Tonya Witherspoon

    Hey Wes – I used siteground for several years and was very happy with their service during that time but recently moved all of my websites to Bluehost because of this very same problem. The move wasn’t bad and I am now very happily back to paying a reasonable monthly fee for web hosting.

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