Ksenia asks, how difficult is it to move all our stuff from Media Temple to SliceHost? I want to be able to make changes on site any time myself.

That's not a simple question to answer, mainly because Media Temple and Slicehost offer completely different kinds of hosting. To help clarify hosting, let me break it down into a few different types:

Shared Hosting

The vast majority of hosting packages you see on the Internet are some variety of shared hosting. This means you're essentially getting a bit of disk space and bandwidth on some server on the Internet with hundreds or thousands of other web sites. You have to figure out how to get your content there, and generally have some web-based control panel for managing email accounts, accessing any databases available, and other settings. In some packages, you can set up as a "reseller" and offer shared hosting for your customers, keeping slightly more access for yourself, including the ability to manage settings for your customers.

With shared hosting, you're completely at the mercy of the hosting provider. These are generally cookie-cutter plans, with little room for customization. They vary in the number of email accounts you get, the specific technologies supported, how many databases you get, etc. Plans range between a couple dollars a month to $40 or $50/month, or maybe closer to $100 for a reseller account with a lot of capacity. The best hosts have phone support and knowledgeable people. The worst will cut you off if you hit some sort of ceiling on bandwidth usage, often unspecified. They also don't police people using their servers, leading to more frequent hacked web sites or problems trying to send email to larger ISPs or unexplained outages or any number of other issues.

Media Temple and Dreamhost have good reputations for shared hosting, among others. GoDaddy has mixed reviews.

We stay as far away from shared hosting as possible. We think it's cumbersome, insecure, a pain in the butt to work on, and generally not something we can control effectively. It's much harder to do development on, mainly because we usually can't run code management tools on shared hosts that allow us to keep code synchronized between development, test, and production versions of a site. You can't beat shared hosting from a price point of view, but you need to have some knowledge of how to manage a web site, use tools like FTP, and pick your own software to support what you're doing. While many shared hosts have added a variety of open source packages like Drupal, OS Commerce, Joomla, and others, these are mainly shortcuts for installation. They don't help you when new versions of these web applications come out--it's up to you to keep the software you're running up-to-date to prevent your site from getting hacked.

We don't provide shared hosting.

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated hosting addresses most of the downfalls of shared hosting. They tend to be far more secure, configurable, flexible, and powerful out of the box. Their pitfall is that they take a lot more knowledge to run, and cost substantially more than a shared hosting account. I group both dedicated servers and dedicated "virtual" servers into this category. Hosts like Slicehost, JohnCompanies, VPSLink, Linode, and dozens of others provide a "virtual" server for you that is usually indistinguishable from a physical server, if you're talking to it over the Internet. Dedicated servers can be leased from hundreds of providers (Adhost, RackSpace, and the Planet are popular for this), or you can purchase a server and take it to a data center. Virtual servers tend to cost $20 - $100/month depending on the amount of resources you're getting. Dedicated physical servers start around $100/month, and easily go up to $500/month or more. The newest options for dedicated hosting are the "Cloud Computing" models--with services like Amazon's EC2 or GoGrid, you can have a virtual server that may not even be associated with a particular piece of hardware.

With any dedicated hosting, however, you end up starting by installing the software you want to use--along with everything else necessary to run it. This is not for beginners. If you're used to a control panel to manage your web site, you shouldn't be going near a dedicated server without a system administrator around to run it for you. We regularly help people manage dedicated servers. For a basic web server installation, we charge $750 to set it up along with a redundant backup system, and $90/month to keep it up-to-date with security updates and regular checks for hacking attempts. And then we recommend a bucket of hours for help installing web applications, configuring development environments, consulting on code development practices, handling denial of service attacks, and other related issues. We don't care whether you're using a virtual server, a cloud server, or a dedicated server--as long as we can have full access to it over the Internet, we can help you out.

You should consider a dedicated host if you're doing e-commerce or anything of a sensitive nature, extensive custom development, or expect to have a lot of traffic and want to be able to scale hardware up to meet it.

We don't provide dedicated hosting, but we can help you find a dedicated host, set it up, and manage it for you.

Managed Hosting

A third category is what I've been calling "Managed Hosting," but the current buzzword is "Software as a Service" or SaaS. With this type of hosting, you don't get an FTP account. You don't have to configure a bunch of settings (usually). You have somebody available to help you with all of the technical stuff. Managed Hosting handles all the technical stuff for you. Most managed hosting companies are providing some specific software package for you to use. These include all the various site-building sites, Google Framework, SalesForce.com, and many others. A few provide hosting of a range of software, like us--we have a couple dozen different open source applications we support, including Drupal, ZenCart, Joomla, Word Press, SugarCRM, LedgerSMB, Gallery2, LimeSurvey, and many others.

The main benefit of managed hosting is that it costs a lot less than dedicated hosting, and you have somebody to handle all the technical details for you. For most database-driven web sites, our managed hosting starts at $30/month. For e-commerce or business applications, it's $50/month. When you need something, you give us a call or drop us an e-mail, and we make it happen. We manage our own servers, a mix of virtual, cloud, and dedicated physical boxes scattered across North America. We pay attention to security and have redundant backups, and have recovered deleted email for clients months after they realized they needed it. We set up dedicated boxes for e-commerce hosting, and implement the security recommendations of the credit card industry.

Squarespace, which you also mentioned, falls into this category. It looks like they provide hosting on their own proprietary system.

The main drawback of managed hosting is vendor lock-in--it's usually more difficult to move elsewhere if you're unhappy, especially if you're on a proprietary platform. The best services provide easy ways to import and export data (which I see that Squarespace does), but you'll lose a lot when switching to a different software package. We think this is a great reason to make sure you're using an open source package--because it means you can move to another provider without having to change the software you're using. You still may need to work with your old provider to get your data out, but you won't need to switch to an entirely new system if you're unhappy with the provider.

We provide managed hosting of a selection of open source packages, as well as custom applications--generally anything that runs on the LAMP stack. And we'll never hold your data hostage--we will make it available to you any time you ask.

Changing your web site

So if the goal is being able to change your web site, the question is, what is your skillset? If you're a designer, used to working with Dreamweaver or Frontpage or similar, perhaps a good shared host is all you need. However, if you don't already know how a web site is put together, you're probably better off going with a content management system of some kind. Which one depends a lot on what you're after--a news site, a blog, a gallery, a directory, a store, a mix of all of them, or something entirely different. It also depends on what your budget is--not just in terms of cash, but how much time you have to manage it or learn how to use it.

There are a ton of hosted services out there for blogging, photo sharing, and building a community site. Most of these start out free, and then charge for larger size limits or additional features. Check out Blogger, Blogspot, Flickr, Picasa, Ning, and WetPaint for a couple examples of each of these types. Squidoo is a convenient site to pull all these together, put your knowledge in one place with links to elsewhere. If you're on a shoestring budget, these services are the place to start.

When you have more of a budget, and would like to set up your own site rather than advertising somebody else's service, we'd be happy to talk about setting up the right system to meet your needs. Gallery2 is fantastic for showcasing art and photographs. Joomla is a quick way to get a corporate site up and running that you can edit yourself. Drupal has a tremendous amount of flexibility to add whatever capability you might dream up. Our bread and butter is helping people pick from the hundreds of different systems out there, setting them up, getting them themed and initial content in place, and showing you how to use them.

In general, it's really hard to get powerful software that's also easy to use. Inevitably, making something simple for new users means taking away features for power users. We tend to work with powerful systems, and then do our best to hide the complexity and provide training to make it easy for you to get started.

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