This is one of a series of assessments of various Service providers for hosting sites belonging to a small business but equally applicable to advanced home users. They all follow a common format and end with conclusions on the overall suitability. Firstly Fasthosts is one of the largest providers of web space, they claim to be the biggest at present with 120,000 sites being hosted, many under other badges through their reseller accounts. Fasthosts provide a number of accounts on both windows and linux servers - the web space depends on the price you pay (44 plus VAT per year for 750 Mbytes). I have taken nearly 5 years to reach 25 Mbytes and a site for a small business is unlikely to need more than 10 Mbytes for several years. You have complete control of your account account through a on-line Control Panel where you can configure almost anything and look at statistics etc. You need to be logged in to an account to see most of the support files.
The Reseller account is much more expensive but allows unlimited web space and many domain names each with the possibility of separate FTP and email boxes. It is therefore possible to configure the account so there can be multiple users who are completely unaware that they are sharing an account - hence the name Reseller Account. It is possible for a small charge per annum) for each of the users on a reseller account to have their own Control Panel. It may be a good option if you have several Domain Names registered and wish to keep everything together and you may be able to help out others.
2. Domain Registration
Fasthosts is excellent for Domain Registration you can easily register both UK domains and International Domains through an associated service UKreg. Initially you could only use it through Fasthosts who also run the service but I believe you can now register separately. If you register through Fasthosts your existing Fasthosts "Control Panel" user name and password is used and the registration charges are billed directly to your nominated credit card. The first domain you register will definitely need to be linked to your Fasthosts account. You can register additional domain names at very favourable rates but if you have a Business User Account only one can be linked.
UK Reg however offer a very simple to use and set up service which is included in the costs for forwarding email and aliasing onto existing web space. When this is in place anybody accessing www.myname.com would be forwarded to www.myname.co.uk. In the case of emails up to 50 separate email addresses can individually set to be forwarded and any other addresses can be sent to a default email address. In both cases the forwarding does not have to be to a domain registered through UKreg or hosted on Fasthosts. International .com Domains can be registered for up to 10 years and the costs are sufficiently low (10 per year) that you may well want to register additional names to your primary .co.uk and forward them. The UKReg web site is at http://www.ukreg.com
3. Email Services.
Fasthosts provides very comprehensive email facilities even on the Home package where you can create 3 advanced email accounts with Virus and spam checking, 200 normal email accounts and unlimited aliases as well as chosing how to deal with any other addresses used in error including sending them to one of your accounts. You can set up forwarding on any mailbox and also auto responders which send a message back saying, for example, you are away or that replies are typically taking 2 working days. The email system is extremely versatile and flexible but does take a little care and time to set up - once one has set up the first few addresses it becomes very easy to add more. Total email account space is 100 Mbytes. There is webmail and an authenticated smtp service for Advanced mailboxes only.
Dial Up Connection
Fasthosts has an associated service providing a free Dial Up Network
(DUN) service which provides internet access and had to be used to send email using their SMTP server. This service has had a bad reputation but has recently been changed and has a new access number and Fasthosts say that the new service offers significantly faster access and brings improved reliability. Details are available at http://dial.fasthosts.co.uk
. I have not used it recently but note it is now available without registration - simply change your dialup settings to:
Phone number: 0845 604 2367
SMTP server: smtp.fasthosts.co.uk
4. Web page hosting
You now get a massive 750 MB of disk space on the home account and there are no limits on traffic at present - many ISPs now limit one to 300 or 500 Mbytes per month. You are issued with an FTP account so that you can upload the files for your web site. Some configuration of the Web Space is needed on accounts on Windows NT accounts to link it to your domain name and and other setting up it before it can be fully exploited such as setting the permissions for various access Read, Write, Execute for yourself, the world etc. and you have to set up if you want to run applications (creates a cgi-bin) - this is all very well explained in the comprehensive support files but does take a few hours to understand and configure the first time. The new Home, Developer and Business hosting can now be on either Windows 2003 servers or Linux servers and set up is easier. The basic option via UKReg is limited to Windows servers and does not have script support but has free and very useful MatrixStats.
5. Forms and Scripts
- Full PHP (4.3) Support - My favourite choice for scripting for forms and ideal for database connectivity. See my updated pages on Forms and Scripting for more about this on Fasthosts with examples.
- iHTML Support iHTML Professional Edition is installed on FastHosts' servers. iHTML is a powerful server side scripting language which can rapidly speed up web site development. This is also covered, with examples, in my page on Scripting
- Full CGI Support Each domain has its own CGI-bin directory, enabling full and unrestricted use of CGI scripts. A PERL 5.0 interpreter is installed on the servers. More appropriate on Linux server options.
- Microsoft ASP Support ASP is similar to iHTML. It is a powerful tool for creating dynamic content and connecting to ODBC databases.
- FrontPage 2000 Support FrontPage 2000 extensions are available at an additional cost
6. Secure Server Support
SSL functionality available at 45 plus VAT per year on all hosting solutions.
7. Ease of use
You are provided with a control panel to configure your account. One has an extremely powerful and flexible account and the price one pays is considerable configuration is required before it can be used. The support files are likewise very comprehensive but some of the setting up is still complex for a newcomer although their new control panels are Much easier than at the begining.
8. Technical Support
I have used the telephone support which is first class and without long waits for a response. Most of the support pages on the web are clear and their are some examples of difficult areas like scripting. I have also had replies to emailed enquiries. The offices are now manned from 24 hours a day and on the few occasions they have been busy the queuing system tells you what number you are in the queue.
I have been told there is an unofficial Fasthosts help forum at http://www.communityzero.com/siteonsite/ which may be worth a look.
- Home 750 Mbytes web space iHTML, CGI, PHP and ASP - 3.99/month or 44 per year plus VAT
- 3 Advanced mailboxes with Virus checking and spam
- 200 standard mailboxes
- Extra Advanced mailboxes with Virus checking and spam 14.99 per year plus VAT
- Blogging - basic service free
- MySQL database - 25 per year plus VAT
- Passworded protected folders - 10 per year plus VAT
- FrontPage 2000 extensions - 20 per year plus VAT
- Domain Name Registration - 5.95 plus VAT (for UK domains for 2 years).
- Matrix Stats - now free
- SSL functionality - 45 per year
Costs and packages are often changed so check these figures which were current in November 2006.
This is one of the most comprehensive and flexible of the options I have looked at and currently offers good value. It however needs some configuration to start with - you can not have flexibility without making choices. Once the initial configuration is done and one has a model to follow it should be possible for someone to take over and keep it up and running - all one should need to do is to add or remove POP/IMAP mail boxes (and you do not need that facility initially).
The reliability was poor at times and I have recently had troubles with the iHTML application becoming unattached stopping my forms working. The support staff cured it quickly the first time but it occured shortly afterwards and I was unable to successfully reconnect it myself. Again the support team provided a very quick response and checked the server out as it was something which should not happen on a regular basis. Since then (Aug 2001) all has been well. The bottom line is that many of the small businesses I support use UKreg and Fasthosts and I find it easy to maintain and keep them running. They are big and a safe choice - the only caution being that they have recently been taken over.
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