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Offers not just Linux, but also Windows Shared Hosting
Expansive cPanel is packed with tools for any kind of website
Top service tier limits cohabitors on your server
Tons of apps available via Scriptaculous
Multiple tools to do the same thing can be confusing
A little pricey compared to other hosts
If you’re in need of tons of power, speed, or both, a2’s Shared Hosting Turbo should be on your short list. This tier limits the number of other users on your server, and power tools like SSH access and one-click installers make your web administration easier.
If you take no other impression away regarding a2 Hosting after seeing its homepage (pictured above), it will be that it’s fast. And while the performance of website hosts depends on several factors, a2 does provide a number of features (as you'll see below) to ensure you’re happy with your website’s performance.
But speed aside, a2 is also a very capable and versatile web hosting provider. Whether you’re just starting out and just want a WordPress site to blog on, or you’re a tried-and-true website admin, a2 has the options you need regardless of the type of site(s) you have.
We tested the web hosting platform, so keep reading to see how to fared.
Shared Hosting from a2 is available at the following levels:
Most other web hosting companies offer services based on Linux. And a2’s default Shared Hosting services are on Linux as well, CloudLinux to be precise. This distribution is based on CentOS, which is in turn based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. So, the basis of a2’s environment is very solid. But CloudLinux has been tuned for use by hosts and resellers, meaning it has additional security and performance enhancements. At the same time, it remains compatible with a large number of applications already packaged up for Red Hat-based distributions.
In addition, a2 Hosting also offers Shared Hosting on Windows servers. This allows users (most likely companies) to host sites or applications built on Microsoft technologies like ASP, .NET, or even Silverlight. These accounts also have access to open-source software as well, so users can run applications such as WordPress using the MySQL database engine and PHP programming language, for example. Best of all, users can add both types of Shared Hosting to their accounts for less than $20 month ($7.99/month for Linux hosting at the Lite tier, plus $9.99 for Windows hosting at the same level).
In addition, a2 Hosting also offers Shared Hosting on Windows servers. This allows users (most likely companies) to host sites or applications built on Microsoft technologies like ASP, .NET, or even Silverlight.
As we mentioned before, there is no limit on storage at a2 Hosting. Even the bottom-tier services can use as much disk space as required or go crazy installing lots of different sites or applications. This is particularly attractive given the large number of one-click app installers a2 makes available (more on this in a later section).
Likewise, a2 Hosting doesn’t meter traffic to your sites. So feel free to put up those high-res images or that HD video gallery. With unlimited storage and bandwidth, you don’t need to worry about overages for media-heavy sites or applications.
Getting registered on a2 Hosting is straight forward. The registration process steps you through a small number of screens, although unlike some competing providers there’s no navigation to let you know precisely where you are in the process. You’ll start by clicking on the Get Started! links for whatever level of service you’re currently reviewing.
The next step is for you to indicate the domain name you’d like. You can also elect to transfer your domain name or use an existing domain host at this stage.
Next, you’ll select some options to your new hosting account. These include your billing cycle, the data center you’d like to use (likely the one closest to you), as well as add-ons such as a dedicated IP address or performance enhancements. You can also have an application, such as a content management system, installed automatically for you.
Finally, you’ll reach the checkout page. Here you enter your contact and payment information. Set your account’s password (you’ll use your email as a username), and you’re off to the races.
When you first log into your a2 Hosting account, you’ll land on a dashboard. There are tiles with information, or enabling functionality, as follows:
The site’s menu also contains links to important services:
Within each domain, your admin options are within cPanel, which you can reach by clicking the above-mentioned quick link. That said, you can still use all the power that the cPanel interface provides by going to the Advanced menu. The right side of the screen provides some statistical information on your account, such as your server’s address, how much storage you’ve used, and how many databases you have.
The sections in the center of the screen contain collections of tools as follows:
All the primary administration options are available in at least either 1) the main site menu, or 2) cPanel. The tools themselves straightforward, with easy-to-use-forms that let you change your payment method, for example.
One useful feature is the ability to create “Sub-Accounts.” If you’re a small web developer using a2 Hosting to service your own clients, you can set each one up with a Sub-Account that allows them to not only access their files but upgrade their own services or pay invoices.
One downside to a2 Hosting is that the main method of support appears to be support tickets. There isn’t any real-time options such as phone or even chat. If you have an issue, you’ll need to submit a ticket and wait until a helpdesk staff member gets back to you.
a2’s Hosting’s “claim to fame,” though, is the enhancements it does to ensure your site is working as fast as it possibly can. The main method they use to do this is the Turbo account add-on. This assigns more server resources to you as a user, and also limits the number of other users that will be on your server. These together minimize the chance of a bottleneck that will slow your site to a crawl.
On top of this, Turbo accounts also use a replacement to the generally-available Apache web server that is tuned for performance. Finally, there are a number of options you can activate such as caching you can turn on for top speed.
a2’s Hosting’s “claim to fame,” though, is the enhancements it does to ensure your site is working as fast as it possibly can.
Compared to some other hosting providers, the $18.99/month for a2 Hosting’s Shared Turbo service is a little high. If you can live without all the performance enhancements (and unless you’re serving a lot of media or running e-Commerce, you probably can), one of the lower tiers will probably serve you just fine. But if you want the very best-performing site you can get on a budget, the Turbo service gives you dollar-for-dollar the best deal without upgrading to a private hosting service of some kind.
The most direct competitor for a2 Hosting as a “generalist” hosting provider is GoDaddy. Both offer tools catering to users ranging from newbies to tech gurus. Both provide both Linux and Windows options, and both position themselves as a host for any type of site.
The main difference between them is at the high end of their Shared Hosting plans. a2 Hosting’s plan provides the performance enhancements mentioned throughout this review, where GoDaddy provides the same raw processing power, yet none of these special enhancements. At the same time, a2’s service is significantly cheaper than GoDaddy’s ($19.99/month vs. $29.99/month). GoDaddy does throw in a free domain for a year, but once that’s over (if not before), a2 clearly provides the better value.
Worth it for power users, but newbies may be overpaying.
a2 Hosting provides a solid service that can handle any type of site, from basic to complex, with little difficulty. And the company makes all the right tools available for those who know how to use them. If you're just getting started with building websites, you might be able to use another service that costs less and still has great value. But if you're a veteran, want the full suite of tools and features, as well as a speedy website, a2 can make that happen easily.
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