Joshua Platt

Searching for a Webhost

During the course of my site redesign two things happened that made me reassess my web hosting. The first was becoming a site speed geek. Static sites are fast, and the techie in me wanted to know if a new host could be faster. Second is Linode kept having issues with their Fremont datacenter and provided no answers as to why. This pissed me off and began the quest for a new host, which ended in a twist.

I’ve chronicled my quest here because I found it difficult to wade through the information. Often there was just a lack of information. Plus being a product manager and ux designer, rather than an server admin, mean I have a slightly different perspective. So hopefully some of this is helpful to you, and saves you a headache.

The Goal

The goal was simple. I wanted to determine if after 2 years Linode was still the best host for me. What’s best for me? Well I know my way around the command line and can Google with the best of them, so I’m cool with no control panel. But I’m not a full time server admin, and have a kid that I want to give my time too, so stability is critical. I also put value in my personal brand and try to only do business with those that strengthen my brand. Lastly I wanted to feel like I was partnered with my webhost, not just a ticket number. Being active on the interwebs puts food on the table, so I’m in this for the long haul and need to know they are too.

I did some pre-quest research and had narrowed down the field to three contenders: Linode, Media Temple, and Rackspace. In many respects these are 3 very different companies, but that was the idea.

The Method

For each company I would be evaluating the same things:

So every host would get at minimum a call, email, and tweet from me. I would leverage Pingdom to test performance and uptime of at least 5 sites I knew where hosted by the company. Google would be my friend for the rest. Let’s see how they faired.

Rackspace - C

I’ll cut right to the chase, Rackspace was out 30 minutes after I started. I currently use Rackspace Cloudfiles as a CDN and it performs well as a CDN, but I hate it’s control panel. Their pricing is crazy complex and their knowledge base leaves much to be desired. I called to discuss Cloud Servers with one of their reps and was just completely turned off. Perhaps if your a business needing managed hosting, exchange, and CDN they are a good choice. Not for me, moving on.

Media Temple - B+

I really like Media Temple. I can’t tell you why I think that, maybe it’s because they were the first webhost I used way back in 2000. Bottom line is the marketer in me respects what they have done with their brand. They are the cool kids club and I want to be in their club.

Online knowledge base

They have one of the best knowledge bases you will ever come across. It’s well organized and written. I found it very easy to find information on. In fact often when googling how to do something on the server it was a Media Temple KB article that popped up. The knowledge base is extended further by the Community Wiki. While not officially supported I found it to be helpful. I’ve placed a dozen articles on Pinboard for future reference it’s just that good.

Forums, Phone, and Email

Skip it. Seriously. No offense to the people that earn a living here, but my call with (mt) sales was like calling Moviefone. Useless and annoying. Sorry, just my experience. I asked 9 questions was given spin for all but one. I am a product manager, I understand needing to maximize your strengths and downplay weaknesses. But 1 for 9 is rubbish.

Social Media

It’s odd to think the call I had with sales is the same company as the one I interacted with on Twitter. The people behind @mediatemple deserve huge praise. Post a question or make a comment and a super friendly person will respond almost immediately. As far as I am concerned this is their sales & support and they are damn good. I interacted with 4 people on Twitter and they were all great. I can’t stress this enough. If you are considering Media Temple just use Twitter, you’ll be much happier.

Reliability & Performance

I watched 5 sites I know are hosted on Media Temple for 30 days on Pingdom. One was even on the often discussed Grid. Rough math puts them at 99.8% uptime. There were several incidents displayed on the Media Temple status page during this period, but none so bad as to kill uptime. The transparency the status page provides is great. All hosts have problems, it’s nice to see them communicating.

Response times (including the Grid) averaged 240ms. I think this is important. Each of these sites will have been setup differently with a different admin keeping it going. That they averaged fast response times says a lot. Reliability and response times are not bad at all, on par with Rackspace.

Account Control Panel

I signed up for a (ve) account to play with the account center. It hasn’t changed much from back when I used them for shared and grid hosting, but it gets the job done. Adding domains is a little confusing, but you don’t do that often. The lite Plesk panel you get on the (ve) is nice. Nice not having to configure iptables firewall from the command line.


I really like Media Temple. They’ve got their image down, and everything they do exudes the Media Temple panache. You really do want to be part of the club, and their social media crew is just stellar. The one stop shop for hosting, CDN, and soon email is attractive. The user experience designer in me gets all excited about Media Temple’s design excellence and having the (mt) on my site. The product manager in me also has great respect for the transparency of the product team.

Linode - A

If Media Temple has all the marketing and experience design excellence, Linode has the technical excellence. Their website says it best:

“We’re a VPS hosting company built upon one simple premise: provide the best possible tools and services to those that know what they need — better hosting.”

Linode is not cool. They don’t really do social media, and they only have one type of hosting. But it is the best hosting you’ll come across.

Online knowledge base

Strictly in terms of content Linode and Media Temple are on par. I prefer the Media Temple’s design and found it easier to navigate. Linode’s is plain and simple, but it gets the job done efficiently.

Forums, Phone, and Email

A quick Google search will confirm what I am about to say. Linode’s forum’s and email support are incredible. Email’s are thoughtfully responded to in minutes more often than not. Not once did I feel like it was a copy & paste deal. Even more so though are the forums. You can pop into the forums anytime of day and experience a very active community. It’s the single best place I’ve found to get help. They they even help you if your not hosting with Linode. If social media is Media Temple’s go to communication, the forums are Linode’s.

Social Media

Linode does social media, but it’s not on the same level as Media Temple. Again it’s serviceable and efficient, but I don’t want to tweet with Linode the way I do with Media Temple.

Reliability & Performance

Pingdom says the average uptime of 5 sites for Linode this month, one in each data center but Fremont, is 100%. Prior to all the issues Linode had with HE in Fremont I had 300 days of 100% uptime. Then it all went to shit. Things appear to be stable again, but the lack of communication and action still stings.

On the performance front Linode is in a league of its on. Average response times were 80ms, the fastest being in the 20’s. Again these were sites run by different people. That kind of crazy fast performance across all of them says something. I don’t know what they do, but you will never get argument over how blindingly fast a Linode is.

Account Control Panel

Outstanding. Of the 3 hosts, Linode’s in-house account control is near perfect. Unlike other Linode features, this is actually well designed, not bad on the eyes in addition to being functional. I check the account graphs all the time, and the iPhone app is just as great.


Linode does one thing, but they do that one thing better than almost anyone. They don’t have the cool factor, variety of services, or human element of Rackspace and Media Temple. But neither of them come close to Linode in terms of technical excellence. Stackscripts also make deploying a fully functioning and secure server stupid easy.

A Concluding Twist

On more than one occasion I almost paid up for Media Temple and migrated my sites over. But I kept coming back to one thing. Media Temple is great and everything except being a webhost. They are just adequate at that. Linode is an exceptional webhost, and mediocre at everything else. The outages are frustrating. But every host has outages, and on the whole Linode doesn’t have them often. So I stayed with Linode.

If you need more than just web hosting Media Temple might be a better fit you. I would definitely recommend them over Rackspace. But if all you need is a webserver Linode is in a league of it’s own. Hopefully they can sort out Fremont soon.

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