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Can a domain registrar be a good web host?

In a word – YES!

But let me elaborate on this frequently asked question.

This question often crops up on forums, social media and message boards. And I see a constant stream of misleading advice suggesting you keep hosting and domain registration separate. From WebHostingTalk to Facebook and Twitter, people often insist you keep your domains and hosting separately.

But this blog post is going to dispel the above as a myth. And it is going to show you that a registrar can be a host and if you choose wisely, i.e. someone like Namecheap, you’ll have no problems in buying both services from one service provider and can actually enjoy many advantages.
I will concede that once upon a time, it may have been wise to keep both separate. But this advice is very, very obsolete. And this advice stems from two main roots which I identify below.

Web hosting is an afterthought for domain registrars

This is the first of these two roots. If we go back 10 years, I’m inclined to agree. Some registrars offered a basic shared hosting service in addition to their main domain registration services. These shared products were overpriced, under-featured and poorly presented. Support teams treated hosting as an alien product and something that scared them. And the combination of these did lead to a poorer overall experience. The end result? The feeling that hosting from a registrar was inferior to that of a specialist web host.

But registrars are not stupid. At least we are not. The huge growth of hosting in the past decade has spurned a ton of new hosting providers with a median age measuring just a few years. And it caught the attention of several registrars, including us.

We’re currently celebrating our 13th birthday. And we’re in our 7th year of offering web hosting. I myself have over 12 years of experience in the industry and the team I’ve built is also vastly experienced. More experienced, in fact, than many of the newcomers that are sometimes recommended in Namecheap’s stead.

Let’s run through the initial objections that I raised (overpriced, under-featured, poorly presented and poorly supported). Please visit our hosting section of Namecheap.com at https://www.namecheap.com/hosting/shared/. Is it poorly presented?  Are we lacking any features?  And too expensive? Our technology is inferior? Our 24×7 live and helpdesk support is slow?!
The answer is no. Bu I’ll come back to these core hosting components in just a minute.

Web hosts might hold my domain hostage!

This is the second of the two roots I mentioned. And it may have more substance than the first; I wouldn’t recommend keeping your domain name with a company you don’t trust. Trust, however, is the operative word. Why are you working with a service provider you don’t trust in the first place? Have doubts? Not sure of their longevity? Don’t use them in the first place.
Smaller web hosts do have an uncanny ability to disappear into the abyss. And they might seem an attractive proposition when you are one of a few customers sat on 1 server, getting all of the server resources and all of the owner’s time to support you. But how do they scale? What is their plan to get past the first few hundred clients or servers? Often no plan exists and we say bye-bye to a said hosting company. Some larger web hosts do hit you with plenty of hidden fees for domain registration. I’ll name no names but again this comes down to trust. Do you want to deal with a provider known for hitting you with hidden costs and complex terminology? Or why not just deal with a provider known to put its customer first, a provider known for integrity?

There have been some “fly”-by-night registrars too. But not that many. And brownie points for if you get the pun. At the end of the day, it all comes down to trust and reputation.

There’s also very blurred lines between typical “web hosts” and “domain registrars”. And in the interests of keeping this blog post quite concise, I’ll save it for future ramblings 🙂

Those core components again – what does make a good web hosting service?

For the last part of my post, I’m going to dissect a good web hosting service and let you decide whether a “web host” can exclusively deliver such a good service.

Let’s start at the very beginning. The datacenter.

1) You need a datacenter.

All servers need to be located in a datacenter whether they’re registry interaction services, DNS servers, email servers, database servers or hosting servers. A datacenter is not a business broadband connection to a couple of servers housed in your garage. For Namecheap, a datacenter is somewhere Tier3 or above (namely fully redundant power, cooling/environmental and security) where we install our own suite or cage. This datacenter must be in a none-to-low natural disaster risk area (you should note our NYC datacenter did NOT go offline in Sandy as we were careful with our selection). This datacenter must have redundant fiber paths into the building with multiple bandwidth carriers onsite. This datacenter must have ample fuel for the generators onsite should the mains go out, on top of the UPS and ready-to-go gensets. This datacenter must have ample cold water storage onsite for the environmental systems should the water mains be cut. This datacenter must have proven redelivery contracts for any consumable substance to power the operation.

We are extremely stringent in our datacenter selection. The datacenters we use may power any number of our services, including domain registration and hosting. And customers of any of our services, including those who resell our hosting services.

2) The network.

A good web host needs a solid, fast and reliable network delivering websites, data and content from the servers to a global audience. The network must have sufficient capacity for natural usage growth and traffic spurts and must have sufficient protection against attacks that may look to congest it.

A high-quality network brings in a blend of different network providers. Workmen, regardless of where in the world, are excellent at causing service disruption by cutting through fiber. It happens time and again, even with the most up to date fiber path maps and ground-penetrating radar. It just happens. A high-quality network must also employ top of the range network hardware. I’m talking routers, switches and firewalls.

At Namecheap, the network connecting each datacenter we operate out of ticks all of these boxes. Our precise topology is a fairly closely guarded secret. I can reveal we use a range of Cisco, Juniper, Brocade in a multi-tenant, redundant network mesh. I’ll conclude by noting some other web hosts do go to the lengths we do with our quality network. Others go for a more budget solution. And others may just rent network capacity as bandwidth or data-transfer from their server provider. But our approach, as a “registrar”, follows a best practice approach.

3) The servers.

Websites, virtual servers, emails and more all sit on a server somewhere in the world.

To me, a server is an expensive, shiny piece of kit from the likes of Dell, Supermicro, HP or IBM. It is not a motherboard attached to a pizza box and slid into a book case. To some budget hosts, this may be. To us, this is downtime waiting to happen.

We use a mix of Dell, Supermicro and some HP in our server inventory. Each is a rackmount server with enterprise components. There is a massive difference between desktop grades RAM, hard drives and even CPUs that have a much shorter shelf life. They’re also generally slower. But enterprise components, fully monitored by the iDRAC/IPMI/iLO card within the server with multiple hot and cold spares onsite and same-day/next-day replacement from our vendors are an absolute must for us.

We also host a lot of accounts. This gives us a huge amount of data to work out optimal server loading policies. Like with any hosting provider, shared, reseller, VPS and cloud instances share the same physical hardware. And it’s very, very tempting for hosting companies to overload that physical hardware to try and maximize profit margins.

But we don’t do this. We load servers with around half the accounts our competitors do on similar, if not newer, hardware. We do use CloudLinux but we use this as a safeguard on the servers. We don’t use this to seriously impede what an account can do. The result is that our customers constantly tell us our hosting is the fastest they’ve ever tried. And I suspect they don’t always tell their friends about how fast our hosting is because they worry we’ll overfill our servers as some others do. I will say in writing that this won’t happen and we add new servers as existing servers hit their optimal load. I’m not going to share the specific numbers and settings as this is our IP but I do encourage you to test out our speeds (and take advantage of our money-back guarantee if it is just a test).

4) The support team.

Those amazing guys and girls that work around the clock, 365 days a year on a diet of pizza, cookies and coffee to deliver you the best support. In the world.

We have separate support teams for domains, hosted services and SSL. Each job requirement has different skills and while we do cross-train and encourage opportunities to work within different teams for learning and skill development, each  team has specialist skills to support a product set like a pro. No “let’s consult the book” answers because we know our products inside out. We have Level 1, 2 and 3 teams that each represent a different focus. Levels 1 and 2 are more customer-facing and can handle a range of sales, technical and miscellaneous questions. They also field requests to marry them, to go on dates, to become friends on Facebook. You name it, we’ve been asked it. And we don’t mind – it makes us laugh 🙂 Our Level 3 team is more operational and R&D focussed as they run our servers and network, plus everything between.

Our setup is similar to service providers who are pure “web hosts”. I will argue that our team’s focus on multiple products means you are more likely to get an expert who can help you across multiple issues. And you won’t get that annoying line that goes “It’s a problem with your registrar, go speak to them.”

On this particular note, I’ll wrap up this blog post. I hope you notice the particular benefit I’ve outlined in the paragraph above. My next blog post is going to carry this trend on and focus on the benefits of using one service provider for a range of services. I hope this has been insightful and I’ll look out for comments and respond accordingly.

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Matt Russell avatar

Matt Russell

CIO @ Namecheap, overseeing global infrastructure, cloud & hosting More articles written by Matt.

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