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  #1  
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Join Date: Feb 2012
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Windows VPS Hosting Recommendation


This site is a very good resource. I've been lurking here and learning quite a bit. Unfortunately I'm still having trouble finding a site that offers what I need that I'm comfortable with.

We actually did start to get set up with a host two days ago only to find that the 24/7 phone support we were pitched is not available with their windows hosting services. An up charge of $90 a month was also tacked on for MS SQL web after the fact.

In the end I'm here to ask for some recommendations.

I was originally budgeting $75 per month but am finding this is not adequate. I'm prepared to spend what I need to but also don't want to be paying more than I should. We expect to spend about 6 weeks testing the site prior to going live with the same host.

Requirements
- Asp.net 3.5 or 4.0 supported
- SQL Server 2005 or 2008
- Allow to access SQL Server DB using SQL Mgmt Studio
- Environment supporting Backup and Restore of DB on my own, without involving tech support team
- Full Text Search support
- FTP support
- Ability to send 1000 Emails per hour
- Initial Setup support (If required)
- Alert Email sent for maintenance or during downtime

If more information is required in order to make a good recommendation, please let me know and I will get it posted.



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  #2  
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Can't really recommend a VPS hosting provider as I wasn't terribly happy the two VPS hosting companies I've used so far. However, if you're looking for a VPS, then most of your requirements will be met by any VPS hosting. With a VPS, you get your own virtual machine with Administrator access and you can do whatever you want with it, including installing and configuring any software you wish.

So the .NET Framework, SQL Server, SSMS, FTP access, Full Text Search and SMTP server are all entirely up to you. You're free to install whatever you want on your machine and configure it the way you want to.

For SQL Server, you can install and use SQL Server Express for free unless you have specific requirements that mandate the Web edition.

For emails, at 1,000 emails per day, you're probably better off using one of those email-as-a-service providers such as SendGrid, Postmark or Amazon SES rather than trying to manage it yourself. It'll cost you pennies, probably give you a much better delivery rate and save you a lot of hassle.

If you want to backup and restore your databases on your own, again, with a VPS, you can just do it. You can use SSMS, T-SQL scripts, maintenance plans (not sure if maintenance plans are included with the Express edition though), tools like SQLBackupAndFTP or anything really - you're in charge.

  #3  
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The best Windows host I've ever used -- anywhere in the world -- is EuroVPS in Netherlands. Even if you're based in USA, it's an excellent host (the AMS-IX is fast and peers well with NYC, so NA website traffic moves just fine). But I don't think their support is by phone.

In fact, phone support in general is frowned on because there's not much you can actually do over the phone.

SQL Server has licensing costs, if not using the freebie version.

I have second-tier Windows choices (example: JaguarPC), but my go-to will always be EuroVPS because they've demonstrated a high degree of competence for 6 years now. Most Windows hosts are sorely lacking in competence, often run by Linux admins that want to treat Windows as if it was Linux with a GUI (it's not!!!)

FTP, emails, etc -- that's all standard stuff.

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  #4  
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Thanks for the replies. MehdiE - It sounds as though with the scenario you propose we could host anywhere. Would this require a "windows" host?

kpmedia - Does hosting outside of the US create any potential problems?

It does seem like most of the hosts have really focused their business in other areas and that windows is just an added feature. I am reluctant to go with a provider that doesn't depend on keeping windows customers happy to further their own business.

I am also struggling to understand the dedicated, vps and cloud options.
- It will be a while before we are to the point that would require dedicated so the expense isn't justified.
- I have been told we need vps instead of cloud hosting but I am not sure why. It may be the software required or the potential for growth.

We are also trying to get a handle on the amount of RAM, hard drive space and bandwidth we will need. The site will have a social networking component with user to user email withing the site. We have a very hard time predicting expect 1,000 users in the first month, and up to 75,000 at 6 months. My non IT description would be that it is a fairly complex site that will have a fairly regularly growing group of heavy users. There is a very limited photo and video component but limited to the point that neither will be heavily used.

Any thoughts on space, RAM, bandwidth, we should plan on needing? If anyone can help me figure out the best way to host (VPS, Cloud, dedicated) and a few more recommendations on actual hosts, I'd very much appreciate the help.

  #5  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noxpert View Post
kpmedia - Does hosting outside of the US create any potential problems?
Nope. Not if content is just webpages.
If you're trying to stream video, it can come into play, however.

Quote:
- I have been told we need vps instead of cloud hosting but I am not sure why. It may be the software required or the potential for growth.
"Cloud" is a loose term, and can be defined in many ways.
If you don't know that you need a cloud -- you probably don't.

Quote:
We are also trying to get a handle on the amount of RAM, hard drive space and bandwidth we will need. The site will have a social networking component with user to user email withing the site. We have a very hard time predicting expect 1,000 users in the first month, and up to 75,000 at 6 months. My non IT description would be that it is a fairly complex site that will have a fairly regularly growing group of heavy users. There is a very limited photo and video component but limited to the point that neither will be heavily used.
Then again -- this suggests VPS > dedicated, or a true cloud.

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  #6  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noxpert View Post
Thanks for the replies. MehdiE - It sounds as though with the scenario you propose we could host anywhere. Would this require a "windows" host?
A VPS is nothing more than a virtual machine so yes, in theory, as long as you're able to provide your own OS image, you could get any VPS and install whatever OS you want on it.

In practice, not all VPS providers might let you do that. Some might require you to pick from their pre-made OS images.

In any case, as you say, you definitely want to go with a provider that specifically supports Windows customers. Whenever something goes wrong, you want to have access to somebody who actually has a clue and doesn't just blame Windows for everything.


Quote:
Originally Posted by noxpert View Post
I am also struggling to understand the dedicated, vps and cloud options.
- It will be a while before we are to the point that would require dedicated so the expense isn't justified.
- I have been told we need vps instead of cloud hosting but I am not sure why. It may be the software required or the potential for growth.

We are also trying to get a handle on the amount of RAM, hard drive space and bandwidth we will need. The site will have a social networking component with user to user email withing the site. We have a very hard time predicting expect 1,000 users in the first month, and up to 75,000 at 6 months. My non IT description would be that it is a fairly complex site that will have a fairly regularly growing group of heavy users. There is a very limited photo and video component but limited to the point that neither will be heavily used.

Any thoughts on space, RAM, bandwidth, we should plan on needing? If anyone can help me figure out the best way to host (VPS, Cloud, dedicated) and a few more recommendations on actual hosts, I'd very much appreciate the help.
Impossible to say really - it completely depends on how the system has been built and on the usage pattern of your site. Your developers could stress test the system to get an idea of what resources would be needed to scale to 75,000 users.

Having been involved in tech startups for a few years now, I can tell you that the estimates of exponential growth to dozen of thousands of users within a few months that entrepreneurs like to make almost never happen. Even Foursquare, a startup that was founded by an experienced and well connected tech entrepreneur, that launched at SXSW and quickly kick-started the hype machine still only had about 60,000 users after 7 months.

When it comes to hosting, we're actually in a similar situation and there's no straightforward answer unfortunately. One key question to ask is: who will be in charge of maintaining the server(s)? Do you have a tech team capable of looking after this or are you going to be left on your own devices?

If you're an early stage startup, have you thought of enrolling in Microsoft BizSpark? You get free licenses for every Microsoft product (including SQL Server) for 3 years. And free hosting on Windows Azure (two small instances + 5GB of SQL Azure) for 3 years as well.

Windows Azure could be your best bet actually, especially if you get it for free via BizSpark. Unlike a dedicated or VPS server, with Windows Azure you don't have to worry about either the hardware or the software side of things. You don't actually have to manage your own server - you just deploy your web app and database to Windows Azure and Microsoft takes care of hosting it for you. It can save you an awful lot of time and hassle. Windows Azure is also great for scaling to any size, as long as your app is properly designed.

The downside of Windows Azure is that it's definitely not cheap. But then a good managed server or a sysadmin would not be cheap either. And if you get it for free with BizSpark, this isn't an issue (for now).

The other downside is that Windows Azure hosting has a number of limitations and restrictions and your app will have to be adapted for it. Depending on what your app does, the changes required for Azure may be minimal or significant. Full-text search for example isn't supported on SQL Azure (but then Lucene is generally a much better option anyway although it may require quite a bit of extra development work).

If Windows Azure isn't an option and if you don't have somebody who can take care of the sysadmin for you, your best bet is probably a managed VPS to start with. You'll be able to easily scale it up or down if and when you need it. And once you have a better idea of usage patterns, user growth, and the resources your site needs, you can always move to a more appropriate hosting platform if it turns out a VPS isn't the best for you. It's not a big deal.

  #7  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MehdiE View Post
Impossible to say really - it completely depends on how the system has been built and on the usage pattern of your site. Your developers could stress test the system to get an idea of what resources would be needed to scale to 75,000 users.
I understand. From my perspective users may not ever be a good way to try to quantify usage. Can yo properly load test a site in a VPS or cloud server setting? It seems like you would need to be on a dedicated server to be able to get a result.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MehdiE View Post
When it comes to hosting, we're actually in a similar situation and there's no straightforward answer unfortunately. One key question to ask is: who will be in charge of maintaining the server(s)? Do you have a tech team capable of looking after this or are you going to be left on your own devices?
We will have part time support. This is a real concern for us until we can get to the point to hire full time support. Any suggestions?

Quote:
Originally Posted by MehdiE View Post
If you're an early stage startup, have you thought of enrolling in Microsoft BizSpark? You get free licenses for every Microsoft product (including SQL Server) for 3 years. And free hosting on Windows Azure (two small instances + 5GB of SQL Azure) for 3 years as well.
Not sure what you mean by early stage. We are ready for testing after 7 months of development. I will have to talk with our developer about this to find out if it is an option.

Thanks for offering up some new options and advice.

kpmedia -
It is sounding like we may be looking for a dedicated server option. I'm hoping we can keep expenses a little lower at least until we go live.

  #8  
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If you do for dedicated server, be sure that you don't fall out for low prices and get yourself storage configuration with at least RAID 1 so that you are protected from single HDD failure (Yes, HDD's do fail whatever make/quality it is since they are basically physical devices - except SSD's). If budget permits and if you have an application/requirement which will need better disk I/O, you will need to consider RAID 10 w/ SATA II or SAS drives or a mix of SSD + SATA / SAS drives.

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  #9  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Softsys Hosting View Post
If you do for dedicated server, be sure that you don't fall out for low prices and get yourself storage configuration with at least RAID 1 so that you are protected from single HDD failure (Yes, HDD's do fail whatever make/quality it is since they are basically physical devices - except SSD's). If budget permits and if you have an application/requirement which will need better disk I/O, you will need to consider RAID 10 w/ SATA II or SAS drives or a mix of SSD + SATA / SAS drives.
I still need to google about 5 things to figure out what you just said but thanks for the heads up. Any idea who offers this? What should I expect to spend per month to get this type of service/insurance?

Update - BTW I just finished my googling and that does make sense.

  #10  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noxpert View Post
I still need to google about 5 things to figure out what you just said but thanks for the heads up. Any idea who offers this? What should I expect to spend per month to get this type of service/insurance?
You can find these components with most of the providers around in the market - however, you will need to study and ensure that you are getting enterprise class hardware. With hardware RAID configuration, you should be looking at anywhere around $200-$250 mark.

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  #11  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noxpert View Post
We will have part time support. This is a real concern for us until we can get to the point to hire full time support. Any suggestions?
Part-time support may be perfectly fine. If you have a system that's stable, has been properly setup and tested and has good monitoring, you shouldn't need to have somebody looking after it full-time. What's more important would be to have somebody you can call at any time whenever things go wrong (which hopefully won't be too often).

One think you should probably look at is to get a managed service level agreement, regardless of wether you go for a cloud, VPS or dedicated server. What "managed" means varies widely from provider to provider and the cost of it varies widely as well. So before signing up for anything, you should make sure you get a clear list of what you'll get for your money.

But typically, with a managed server, things like system updates, monitoring, backups and, generally speaking, keeping the server up and running nicely is all taken care of for you. So all you have to worry about is your own application. This is for example what Rackspace have to say about their managed servers.

Quote:
Originally Posted by noxpert View Post
Not sure what you mean by early stage. We are ready for testing after 7 months of development. I will have to talk with our developer about this to find out if it is an option.
An early stage startup can mean different things to different people but I would define it as a new product-based tech business that's still young and hasn't yet reached traction (sustained and rapid user growth) or a sizeable track record of sales. If that's your situation, you should definitely apply for Microsoft BizSpark, be it just for the free licenses. Regardless of whether you go for cloud, VPS or dedicated hosting, free Windows and SQL Server licenses will save you a sizeable amount of cash every month.

If you're an established business launching a new service, then BizSpark won't apply.

Quote:
Originally Posted by noxpert View Post
It is sounding like we may be looking for a dedicated server option. I'm hoping we can keep expenses a little lower at least until we go live.
To be honest, I think that dedicated may be jumping the gun here. A dedicated server will often involve signing up for a 12- or 24-month contract or paying a large up-front setup fee (or both). Since you haven't launched yet, usage patterns, growth and resources required to keep the system running are all unknown at this stage. Which means that what server(s), setup and specs you'll need is mainly guesswork. Of course, you can estimate all that but the one thing that's certain with these sort of estimates is that they're almost always wrong. It's really hard to predict these things, especially when you do it for the first time.

Renting a managed VPS on a month-by-month basis for the first few months could be the ideal solution. Managed means that you can focus on getting people to use your site instead of spending a lot of time and energy dealing with the nitty gritty of running a server. VPS means that you can really quickly scale up or down your server at any point in the time it takes to reboot Windows. Getting featured in Techcrunch, Mashable and the New York Times tomorrow? Upgrade to 16GB of RAM and 8CPUs in a couple of minutes. Seeing that CPU usage never goes above 1% and RAM usage is resolutely stuck to 2GB? Just downgrade to 1CPU and 2GB of RAM and save money.

After a few months, once you'll have a better idea of the resources needed to run your site, your site's usage patterns and your tech support situation, you can review your hosting setup and see if it would make economical sense to move to either cloud, dedicated or stay with VPS.

  #12  
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Here's a tip: Sometimes hosts have "outdated" dedicated servers that they'll re-rack if a customer wants to pay for it. That can save on costs. But you'll have to ask them -- it's rarely published on their sales pages, where they advertise the latest and greatest only!

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  #13  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noxpert View Post
It is sounding like we may be looking for a dedicated server option. I'm hoping we can keep expenses a little lower at least until we go live.
As an aside, we were in a similar situation as you guys are a while ago and ended up going with a managed VPS. It worked well for us, apart from the fact that our hosting provider didn't actually do much server management at all and we ended up managing the server mostly ourselves.

So a few weeks ago, we decided to stop paying for a service we were not getting and looked at moving to an unmanaged dedicated server. It was quite a bit of a learning curve, even when we already had some experience running a server. So I posted what we ended up going for here - you might find it useful for your own setup.

  #14  
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You might check out the arvixe windows vps server. $60/mo with what you mentioned above.

  #15  
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I used vpsland for a while - Prices are competitive. No longer use them since I operate my own services now.

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