Moving to the cloud - web hosting options for Classic ASP and ASP.NET

By · September 15, 2016 · 1 comment

Including a review of Gearhost and my experience so far


Lately I've been looking at options for hosting various Classic ASP and ASP.NET websites that I am responsible for. Some are hosted on VPS and some are on shared hosting plans with various providers.

Shared hosting isn't always great because websites go down fair often with all of the providers I am with, which could be as a result of one bad apple on a shared server that could be hosting 1,000 websites (and in the case of Arvixe the same server could also be hosting 1,000 databases and a 1,000 email domains and 1,000 DNS zones and a 1,000 FTP accounts, etc etc).

Also I seem to have gotten in trouble for being a resource hog on occasions with shared hosting, and some hosting companies seem to sneak in and do things like block IP addresses (including my own once) and add database indexes (not such a bad thing but I prefer to manage this myself).

VPS is an inexpensive way to manage your own hosting (somewhat) independently of other websites. But with this comes hassle. Some providers will set it all up for you with everything a web server needs and take care of the ongoing management for you. But this will add to the cost and many providers will provide your VPS with the operating system only, possibly with an installer for the various applications needed. There may be a lot of configuration required and then you've got the ongoing maintenance: updates to the operating system and applications, installation of new technologies, and then what if something goes wrong?

The other issue with shared and VPS hosting - you may have experienced it - is when/if the server fails. Generally your website is down until the problem is fixed and if it's a big problem and a server needs a rebuild or your site/server needs to be migrated to a new server, then it can be down for hours.

So with all of this in mind I went looking for options where management is left to the hosting provider, and there is better availability in the case of server issues. It would also be nice to have the ability to add or reduce resources as needed to accommodate increases and decreases in website demand and allow for growth.

The first thing I found after looking at tens if not hundreds of web hosting company websites is how bad most of them promote their services. Most have little explanation as to why to choose them over competitors. Many might have actually offered a kind of service that would have appealed but if they did they didn't make it clear.

I also think there is a bit of an opportunity in the market for someone to come along and come up with a VPS hosting plan where the server comes fully configured as a web server with everything needed like Windows, DNS, IIS, SQL, MySQL, mail servers, etc - all the services you would normally get with shared hosting - plus a control panel, full management, and NO remote desktop access. It could be promoted as a step-up from shared hosting without the maintenance overhead of VPS or dedicated. Separate database and mail server configurations could also be offered. Arvixe already do the fully configured web server, although they don't promote it well and they do allow RDP. However Arvixe has next to zero support since their takeover.

I looked at "semi-dedicated" hosting which is really just shared hosting but with much less customers per server. It has all the advantages and disadvantages of shared hosting but should be faster and more reliable as not as stressed due to the lower number of sites. Also there's little or no scalability or and no redundancy.

Microsoft's Azure is the go to choice for "cloud" hosting for Microsoft developers. With Azure you can host a website or your own server and you get load balancing, redundancy and scalability. However as someone not very familiar with these services I found the Azure system and pricing structure a little complicated and overwhelming.

Azure lead me to alternatives like Amazon AWS, which seems to have all the maintenance issues of VPS (but with benefits of cloud hosting), and Google Compute Engine. Again, like Azure, the way these services are promoted is not so friendly to people not experienced with this type of hosting.

Then I found Everleap and Gearhost. I don't know much about Everleap but I thought I'd give Gearhost a go as they had a lower price entry point and they also offer lifetime free hosting for low resource demanding websites, which is perfect for both trying out the service and also test sites. They also review very well and management and staff often post replies to reviews and in forums.

Gearhost use the Microsoft Azure Pack so is similar to Azure, but I much prefer their simple pricing structure and friendlier way they promote their service.

I deployed a couple of my websites using Gearhost's free accounts and both ran without issue. One was an ASP.NET 4.x Web Pages website, and the other an old website with a mixture of ASP.NET 2.x Web Forms and Classic ASP. Both have run without modification and even on the free account they also appeared to run noticeably faster than their current shared hosting plans.

The control panel is real easy to use and provides access to everything you need such as .NET versions, error modes, FTP, database, email, SSL and scheduled tasks.

So what is Gearhost offering?

Basically you get your own instance of IIS that is load balanced and has redundancy. You can add and remove various resources or change plans at any time and pay by the hour for these (or month in case of some resources like database space). There's no downtime when you make changes either.

For free (for ever) you get a website with limited resources that you can use for low volume unimportant websites - probably just for testing. Disk space is 100MB, bandwidth is 1GB, CPU/RAM is limited and there's no support for SSL or 64-bit processes.

For US$5 per month you get a website with more resources including 1GB disk space, 1TB bandwidth plus SSL and 64-bit support.

For US$25 per month you get a reserved web node, which is further isolated and has more resources.

All plans come with a (tiny) 10MB MySQL or MS SQL database limit. You can increase this to 1GB for US$5 per month and beyond that it is US$1 for each extra GB.

If you need more hosting disk space it's US 25c per GB.

Email is an option on the paid plans, at US$1 per mailbox per month with up to 25GB storage (US$2 per GB over that). Although the FAQ says you need to use a third-party mail service if you want to send email from your site, you can use one of these mailboxes instead. However, Gearhost recommend you use a third party service and Mailgun seems like a good choice where you can send 10,000 emails a month on their free plan.

For SSL they use SNI where you don't need a dedicated IP address. This is fine for all except for some old browsers (most notably IE on Windows XP). Apparently they will be offering dedicated IP addresses in the future, possible at US$10 per month (pricey compared to the usual $2 or $3 most hosts charge). You can buy a certificate from Gearhost or any other provider and it is easy to install.

For one website I need to have the site's server IP address white-listed with a third party payment gateway and I was worried that with cloud hosting there might not be a single IP address. Fortunately Gearhost informed me that there is one outgoing IP address so this would not be a problem (I better not tell the gateway people that there could be tens of thousands of websites on the same address).

Although they don't have a simple control panel option to schedule SQL Server database backups, they do have an API and it is possible to write some code that runs within your site that will do a backup and make it available in one of your site folders. The control panel does have a scheduled task option that can call a specific URL on schedule (as little as 10 minutes).

Anyway, so far so good with Gearhost. Although to host a small site with a database and email account it's going to cost US$11 per month, its money well spent over US$3 per month shared hosting.

Visit www.gearhost.com.

Everleap

Everleap offer similar Azure Pack based hosting. There pricing is a more expensive and starts at US$25 per month.

The only downside to Everleap compared to Gearhost is that Everleap's database servers are single servers, not high availability cloud servers, so your database could be a single point of failure.Visit www.everleap.com.

Applied Innovations

Applied Innovations also offer managed Azure Pack hosting. Their plans start at US$24.95 and you can host up to five websites. They have other plans up to US$99.95 and beyond, depending on CPU and memory allowances and number of web workers.

They have their SQL databases running on high availability servers.

Visit www.appliedi.net.
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