'Providing fast servers at guaranteed low prices'
Hostwinds wants to "provide fast servers at guaranteed low prices". This big statement shines bright as the main claim on the company's homepage. It's a bold goal - but looking for the best hosting available, that's precisely what we search for. So let's have a look. In this HostWinds review, we'll break everything down in detail. From the in-your-face stuff - to the nitty gritty aspects of what, as a hosting provider, Hostwinds offer.
Founded in 2010, Hostwinds aim to change the face of the hosting industry with a new set of standards. To cite Hostwinds: 'We want to make a personal promise to each and every one of you that we'll always treat you as if you were family'. In this review, we'll find out if this is a happy family, or if it needs counseling
Hostwinds Hosting Services
- Hosting - Shared / Business / Reseller / White Label
- Cloud Hosting
- Dedicated Servers
That's a very wide selection. "White label" hosting is perhaps the most interesting one of them all. It means that Hostwinds actually offer their services for other companies, which sell them as their own. Maybe that means I've actually used Hostwinds before? If so, let's see what does the real thing offer.
What’s Included In The Hostwinds Hosting Packages?
Every single Hostwinds plan will get quite a package - aside from Softaculous applications and cPanel (which come as standard in most good hosts), there are some brilliant things.
First things first, there are unlimited MySQL databases, FTP accounts, email accounts and subdomains. That's a luxury unavailable to many way more expensive plans. But there's one thing that really got my mind racing. It's the free dedicated IP address. This is crazy, and let me explain why.
Current, IPv4 addresses are seriously scarce. And the demand for them is very big, Therefore, due to the laws of open market, they tend to be seriously expensive. For example, SiteGround actually charges around $50 a year for it.
And Hostwinds give an IP away for free! It's amazing news for users.
Because if you, for example, shared it with several other websites, and one of them would send out malicious information, your website would be punished as well.
And if an IP gets attacked in a brute-force attack, guess what - you're affected as well.
For Hostwinds, it's an anti-DDoS and an anti-abuse system, helping to track down spam/abuse accounts and protect the users. And for them, it's a great bonus.
So now, once we covered the exciting features, let's have a look at the prices.
In the picture above, you may have seen that Basic, Advanced and Ultimate plans cost $3.50, $4.50 and $5.50 respectively.
But it's not as straightforward as it may seem. Let's take Basic plan as an example. The monthly prices for this plan actually fluctuate quite a lot - have a look:
The $3.49 price is valid when purchasing a plan for 12 months. If you go for a longer term, it becomes slightly cheaper. If for a shorter one - more expensive.
Renewal prices are a bit different - once your plan finishes, you will be charged for the same period you chose previously. They will cost $6.99, $8.99 and $10.99 respectively.
Hostwinds, like many other hosts, expect you to pay for the entire plan up front. This is what the prices in the cart would be - for every plan and every duration.
Overall, a pretty good deal, especially considering the features that you get. And the price gap between the plans isn't very big - so if you're considering to have several websites running on one account, this isn't a bad idea.
Talking about payments, we should take a brief look at the payment options available to us!
Mostly standard options, but it's really nice to see another company accepting cryptocurrencies! Hostwinds also gives a nod to an ever-expanding Asian market, by accepting Alipay payments from customers in China.
There are actually over 500 million registered Alipay users at the time of writing. With so many Chinese consumers gravitating towards Alipay, it’s no surprise that so many companies worldwide are adapting and starting to accept it as a formal payment option.Hostwinds Blog
Plans in detail
We talked about prices and checked out the main features. But to really see what you'd be getting, we need to go in detail. Here's a head-to-head-to-head comparison of all 3 shared hosting plans.
|Disk Space Limit||Unlimited||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|How Many Domains Allowed||1||4||Unlimited|
|SSD or HDD||HDD||HDD||HDD|
|SSL||In cPanel||In cPanel||In cPanel|
|Anti-DDoS Protection||'Technicians working 24/7 to keep it from happening'||'Technicians working 24/7 to keep it from happening'||'Technicians working 24/7 to keep it from happening'|
|Anti-Malware Protection||Bi-monthly scans||Bi-monthly scans||Bi-monthly scans|
|Website Builder||Yes, Weebly||Yes, Weebly||Yes, Weebly|
|Assisted Website Transfer||Free||Free||Free|
|Money Back Guarantee||60 Days||60 Days||60 Days|
|Customer Support||24/7 Chat, Phone support, Tickets||24/7 Chat, Phone support, Tickets||24/7 Chat, Phone support, Tickets|
|Choice Of Server Location||Dallas / Seattle||Dallas / Seattle||Dallas / Seattle|
|Free Automated Backups||No||No||No|
Let's discuss these in more detail, below.
You will notice above, that literally the only difference between the Basic, Advanced and Ultimate plans, is the number of domains you can connect to an account. 1 for the Basic plan, 4 for the Advanced, and unlimited for the Ultimate.
It's slightly odd for a company to offer something like this. Usually, there are several differences between plans, which would allow you to scale as needed. I suppose Hostwinds decided that everyone deserves all of the best features, and more expensive plans are there for people who want to scale and have more websites. Makes full sense.
This means that even the most basic of plans includes unlimited bandwidth/disk space/emails/FTP accounts, subdomains and as mentioned previously, a dedicated IP address. This is very awesome to see - fair play!
The most recent Hostwinds update brought one more brilliant feature. And that's one of our highest-rated, Weebly website builder. Its $4-a-month Connect plan is included free with every Hostwinds purchase - which may literally cost less than 4 dollars itself!
Besides that, all the code generated by Weebly (including the beautiful, functional drag-and-drop websites) is available for full editing. So together, Hostwinds and Weebly make a beautiful website building experience for beginners and experts alike.
Now, the shortcomings. There's always something and in the Hostwinds' case, there are no free backups and servers still use outdated HDDs. For most regular websites, HDDs are good enough, but if a hosting provider gets too many users in one server, the speeds can seriously go down.
Another big issue is no server level protection for DDoS or malware attacks.
Sure, Hostwinds perform bi-monthly malware scans, but quite frankly this just isn't enough to ensure complete protection. The protection this company has, is, and I quote:
Technicians working 24/7 to keep it from happening
That's what Hostwinds replied when I enquired about their lack of anti-DDoS prevention. You can have as many technicians as you want, working constantly, but it's not going to match the reliability of a built-in preventative measure, such as a piece of anti-DDoS software.
Luckily, however, there are enough free tools you can use in order to avoid problems. And I'm sure those technicians have tools of their own. So maybe it's good after all.
This section is an interesting one. There have been some real ups and downs with Hostwinds' customer service since we signed up to test their hosting.
These are the four support options that Hostwinds offer:
- Live Chat
- Email / Tickets
- Knowledge Base
You'll notice they label all four as '24/7'. This isn't exactly accurate though - some departments work around the clock, some don't. For example, if you wish to talk with a billing representative, they are only available from 8:00 AM PST - 6:00 PM PST.
In regards to the live chat support, on one hand, it's great, response times are super quick and the chat is proactive. That means you may get greeted by a live chat agent without specifically asking for it. It's a good way to clear any confusions the purchase may give you.
The issues start if you want to find out something specific about a service. Representatives tend to answer with one-word answers and sometimes, they are not very clear. In many ways, Hostwinds chat support reminds of a group of friends trying to help each other. It doesn't feel like an uber-professional customer service experience. But with trials and tribulations, it gets the job done.
Phone support with Hostwinds is something that I was looking forward to testing, as speaking with someone over the phone always gives us the chance to be more personable. It's a favored option for many people, often precisely because of that.
I wasn't disappointed by Hostwinds performance here. The agent I spoke to (hi, Michael!) I spoke to was professional, polite and understanding of my issues. He helped with what was possible - overall, Hostwinds has very good phone support. Keep it up.
Ticket support is slightly more problematic. Usually the most technical option, Hostwinds tickets don't feel much more advanced than a live chat. A code-related issue may take several responses to fix. Considering tickets response times are up to 12 hours, it can take a while!
First Impressions During Purchase
After completing your purchase, you should land here, on the dashboard.
Well, during a couple of purchasing processes, I've noticed that getting there wasn't always straightforward. In some (seemingly random) cases, you may get greeted with this:
At this point, the card was already charged by the company. So if you would bail and decide not to provide the documents, there would be a lengthy refunding process.
Other issues may occur if you're using a virtual credit card. As you see, Hostwinds asks for a picture of a physical copy. Having no other option, I sent them an image of my virtual credit card displayed on the screen - and my website got taken down a day after. So that sucks.
If you decide to use a physical card and don't get selected for the verification process, there still could be issues. For example, there's a cloud backup service you can purchase separately. If you uncheck it, attempt to pay and there's an issue with a card - it gets preselected again!
This is simply counterintuitive. If a user decides they don't want a certain service, it should remain so. I truly believe it's a development issue but it feels a bit unsavory.
And finally, if your card gets declined, you can't change a payment method to, for example, PayPal. You have to write all of your data and redo the order from scratch.
To put it in simple terms, the HostWinds purchasing process has some issues that need addressing. Hope that gets done in the very near future.
But for now, let's put this aside and see the performance of the service itself.
Hostwinds Dashboard and Panel
After everything's sorted with the payments, you should land here, in the Hostwinds dashboard.
Pretty standard! You have some quick options for email accounts, file managers etc. Above there is a link to option cPanel, and from there the options are quite extensive!
See what I mean? Extensive. And pretty recently, Hostwinds added something even more interesting
It's the Weebly website builder I mentioned previously. Good to see Hostwinds improving on the product they already have.
Another really cool thing is Hostwinds' File Manager.
I went into the file manager of the subdomain I created, to make a simple index.html page in order to test the server speeds on a simple page, something we'll look at in more detail in the next section. This is what I found:
A pretty detailed and deep code editor! Not only HTML code, either. It's really nice to see this included, as it negates the need for a separate code editor, everything can be done from right there in cPanel.
Next up I took a look at the WordPress installer, to see how easy it would be to get a site up and running. Turns out, pretty easy!
One click, and it installs. Job's done! Hostwinds' panel and dashboard are doing alright here.
As always in the performance section, we'll be looking at three things:
- Host’s speed during low upkeep
- Host’s speed with a website created using cPanel site publisher
- Server’s overall uptime
Host Speed During Low Upkeep
These tests are all relatively light and easy. However, this one is by far the easiest. It's barely 20 lines of code! We used Bitcatcha, as always, to test the speed of the server response. Here is the simple site I coded, and below that, how it performed.
Honestly, pretty great! Things could be improved for the Bangalore and London servers, but all in all, not bad at all.
Host Speed With A Website Created Using cPanel Site Publisher
This next test is a bit more challenging, but again, nothing too heavy or difficult to manage as long as the host has well-optimized servers. Here is how it looks:
Beautiful, isn't it? And here is how it performed with Bitcatcha:
Once again, really quite good! Sadly London and Bangalore seem to be the neglected servers once more, but all in all a decent performance from Hostwinds here. However, it is worth mentioning that A+ score here is a bit skewed. It's better to look into the numbers here - and the host does pretty well here, keeping most worldwide response times hovering at around 150-350 ms. No issues about that.
Server Overall Uptime
For the third test, we set up a simple WordPress blog under our domain that was being hosted by Hostwinds. We popped that address into Uptime Robot and set the program to start looking for a keyword on that page. This allows us to see how often the keyword is found and how quickly, and this shows the response time of the server being used, as well as any downtimes.
Here's how it looks like:
Overall pretty good. Response times of 400-500 ms are not ideal but perfectly usable for most websites. What's more concerning is the uptime. 99.94% is only average, especially when Hostwinds itself promises "99.999%".
And while this server looks okay, it's still no match to the Dallas' "testing server", whose IP is given away publicly for those who wish to do some tracking without buying.
Hey, this is why we're here, right? Don't blindly trust the performance of the test servers. They're fully optimized to show the best possible data and not always reflect reality - which, I must add - is still pretty good.
Anti-Theft Protection Evaluation
For the final test, I will be trying to break into my own account. This will let us know how seriously Hostwinds takes account security. We already know they seem incredibly pedantic about ensuring we paid legitly, so I expect to see the same here.
Firstly, I attempted a brute-force attack. It's super simple. I simply went ahead and entered the wrong password as many times as I could in as little time as possible, to emulate a script trying out all possible combinations to get in. For this, I changed my IP address and browser and started incorrectly guessing.
After 40 incorrect attempts, I entered the correct password and was straight away allowed in. No captcha, no verification, nothing.
I know for a fact many hosting providers have very interesting protection mechanisms to help avoid that. Shame that Hostwinds is not visibly using them.
In the second test, I simply tried to lure a customer service agent into giving me my account details without proving who I was. It didn't go well, for me at least. I got nothing, not a tiny nugget of information. I was required to prove who I was by providing information about the card I paid with, address and ID number.
Now, this is what I'm talking about. Hostwinds live chat agents may have some shortcomings but your hosting account is safe with them.
Hostwinds Review – Conclusion
Hostwinds has loads of promise. A small American startup, this company still hasn't reached its full potential - and it shows.
A lot of the issues they have are easily fixable and by themselves, not that big.
- The purchasing process could be smoother.
- Customer support could be more knowledgeable and helpful.
- Pricing is confusing.
- Uptimes and response times could be better.
But that's about it. If you look behind that, you can see a very interesting project taking shape. For your money, you get incredible value with a dedicated IP address and Weebly website builder. Even on the cheapest plan around!
There are plenty of apps you can use and the user interface is very intuitive. I can only expect Hostwinds to become better over time.
There may be issues, there may be problems. But Hostwinds do their best and deliver very good value for your money. It's definitely a provider to be interested in. A couple of fixes will make it truly excellent.
Hostwinds promise to "always treat you as if you were family". I think this might be true.
- 24/7 support
- Dedicated IP
- Free Weebly website builder
- Purchasing process should be smoother
- Customer support needs to be more knowledgeable