Finding the best managed VPS hosting company in 2016

by Tim Hill (aka Doodled)

February 14th 2016
Finding the best VPS hosting company isn't easy
Finding the best VPS hosting company isn't easy. Image by Adlynh

I'm not a web hosting expert by a long mile - my job is to rank websites high up on search engines and that alone is full time. For over a decade, I haven't had to think about it because Webfusion provided a solid solution time and again.

Unfortunately recent changes at Webfusion (the termination of their VPS service) and the meltdown of the Heart Internet data center (Webfusion's recommended replacement) has meant I've needed to do a little homework.

This post is about how I identified some quality managed VPS hosting companies so this post is only relevant to you if you are after a VPS (Virtual Private Server.

Searching Google for a managed VPS hosting company

The obvious place to start is Google. Here are some phrases and filters I used:

  • best managed VPS hosting 2015
  • best managed VPS hosting UK (I have some UK clients)
  • best managed VPS hosts 2015
  • experience with [hostname] with the search tools set to within the last year
  • [hostname] reviews with the search tools set to within the last year

What exactly is a 'managed' VPS

This was the first obvious discrepancy in the search. Some companies listed their VPS service as 'managed', some as 'fully managed' but it turned our sometimes that what was included in 'fully managed' from one firm was less comprehensive than a 'managed' offer from another. So check carefully and assume nothing.

'Managed' or 'fully managed' may also not mean exactly what most are hoping. If you have had a VPS you will be well aware of technical support pointing out to you that they have no idea what is wrong with your server and they aren't going to look into it because it is 'self-managed'. You might have thought going to a 'managed VPS' service would get round this. Not so

A VPS is still a VPS - you can fiddle and twiddle with it and that's not the fault of the hosting company. The fact that most people don't is neither here nor there, the point is you might have so no host will offer full support.

'Managed' really comes down to rebooting your server if it goes down, applying security patches and flagging up issues before they become major problems. Actual fixing is a paid extra. But, in my opinion the managed option is still better. Why learn how to apply security patches to a server when you could be doing your day job and the price difference is minimal.

Blog and media reviews for managed VPS hosts are limited in use

OK, so I know 'managed' means many different things. What about the websites that Google came up with?

It gave me the usual list of blog and media reviews for various firms but things did not stack up pretty quickly. As an example I looked at reviews on hostingadvice.com who ranked InMotion hosting top of the pile so time to click through and read their offer in detail. This is where I started to get suspicious.

InMotion hosting had a banner that said because I had come from hostingadvice.com I could get a discount. They also have an affiliate program - if I recommend someone to them who signs up I'll get a kick back. So now how do I know whether hostingadvice were genuinely listing the best shared VPS hosts or the ones that were decent enough but gave them a kick back. Trouble is I don't!

In fact these affiliate or reseller packages are widely used in the hosting industry so when you see bloggers raving about one service or the other its unfortunate but you can't put too much stake in any of them because you don't know who has put pen to paper to earn $$$ and who is genuine.

I become even more suspicious when most of the information in the review on hostingadvice.com is simply the content of the hosting companies website re-written. It didn't sound like the reviewer had actually used the service.

So when you read these sorts of reviews, even from what seem to be respectable sources, look for clues that the writer has some first hand experience ... warts and all ... nothing is ever all good.

In the end I had to conclude bloggers and the media would have to be taken with a severe pinch of salt as there was no way to prove the motivations of their written work.

Review sites for managed VPS hosts are unreliable

I've long been an opponent of Yelp! Its not Yelp! itself, it is the concept that people can write reviews anonymously without proving if they ever used said service. So how can you trust that?

Inmotion, incidently, get slated on Yelp but glowing reviews on other review sites like WhoIsHostingThis which pretty much wraps up the value of review sites.

WhoIsHostingThis (by the way) had a link to inmotion that looked like they belonged to Inmotion's affiliate programme so were these reviews filtered because .... ? Again, the trouble is you just don't know.

The one possible exception I would say here is Facebook. Many hosting companies allow people to place reviews on Facebook and here there are profiles that you can track back to decide if they look like genuine people or imaginary figures created to be positive or negative.

I have to say I found a good mix of reviews on Facebook for some hosts which looked far more genuine than many review sites.

Forum chat for managed VPS hosts

Forums have to be treated with equal caution. Take this thread on WebHosting Talk for KnownHost. The person who started this positive thread has only ever posted ten times in the forum ... ever. Not exactly the actions of a seasoned person actively involved in the field of finding hosts. Might be genuine, might not but the thread is full of posts from similar profiles until the end.

Blogs, the media, reviews and forums

The internet has made searching easier but it is also a sea filled with misinformation. Its all about rooting out what's really real, what could be real and what can't be backed up and that takes a lot of time.

No Managed VPS service is going to be crystal clean, they all have their downtimes or occassionally hire a useless person to their support staff ... it happens. Its the overall vibe you are looking to track down from multiple sources that all back each other up rather than contradicting.

Managed VPS hosts are highly likely to be managing their online reputations

Some misinformation might be coming from resellers but you also need to bear in mind that reputation management is a huge industry. Hosting is a highly competitive field so you can bet many companies spend a great deal on making sure the negative web pages about them are managed out of Google's top ten.

The internet is not all it seems so a great deal of digging is required to get a full picture. Hosting is business critical so this is one area where you really have to dedicate a serious hunk of time to getting it right. Its a marathon, not a sprint!

Final checks

Even when you have your shortlist don't forget to check what might be key to you. I highly recommend hosts who offer telephone or live chat support. Live chat is slightly better because there is always a record of the conversation but both mean you have some instant, or near instant, way to get through. Ticket based support systems only are to be avoided - aka Heart Internet.

To me it is also crucial that the hosting company actually owns their data centers where the servers are housed so they have direct control when needed. I've dealt with many hosts who just shrug their shoulders when there are technical difficulties and say it isn't their fault because they rent servers from someone else or ... you guessed it ... they are just resellers. Avoid.

The best managed VPS hosts for 2016

So who are they from my search?

For the US it came down to two:

  • knownhosting - there were just too many positive comments from too many locations to ignore. A fair sprinkling of unhappiness throughout the web let you know this company was a leader but not artificially perfect.
  • wiredtree - not a big player compared to some but they are receiving a lot of love from a lot of directions. Sometimes it is the smaller companies with bigger ambitions who have more to gain through outstanding products and customer service.

For the UK there was really just one that stood out:

... and no, I get no kickbacks from any of these!

UPDATE 29/03/2016: Heart Internet support continue to be the worst I have ever experienced. During their data center melt down one of our VPSs got a virus - their response: "Fix it yourself"!