Over the past few weeks in the fall of 2019 I decided to consolidate our websites with one host. Previously our 3 site schaab.com, RetroFutureelectrics.com and onookinawa.com were hosted via 3 different methods. schaab.com was hosted on a Raspberry pi 3 at our house, retrofutureelectrics.com was hosted on Bluehost, and OnoOkinawa was hosted on wordpress.org. All three had serious cons. In this note I discuss our reasoning, and then in the follow on I discuss the technical how tos.
Problems with hosting:
- schaab.com – hosted on Raspberry Pi version 3
schaab.com gets almost no traffic right now as we are building out content, the pi was more than fast enough to run WordPress and the assorted support software. The problems were more logistical. The pi is at our house, on our home internet connection, which means it’s only as reliable as our commercial power and internet, in addition to suffering down time every time the router is rebooted while new dynamic DNS entries propagate. So the reason to move schaab.com has to do mostly with reliability.
2. retrofutureelectrics.com – Hosted on Bluehost
Bluehost is an ok hosting provider. They spend tons on web advertising and partnerships, they are official partners with people like google domains and WordPress, how can they be bad? My actual interactions with them left more to be desired. When you hit their site you’ll see a $2.95 a month option plastered all over as great for low volume sites. (edit: They have upped this to $3.95 recently). It seems like a reasonable deal, I got it for a 2 year pay in advance plan. At the end of the 2 years they went full Comcast on me. It was now going to be $10 a month, and the domain was no longer included, it was $18 a year additional, and this wasn’t for any additional service. Now the service technically worked, but my website was so slow to respond that more than once a fortnight I got emails from major search providers saying my slow website speed was impacting my search results. Average page render was often over 8 seconds, despite the same page rendering in under 1 second off my raspberry pi!
I understand promotional pricing, but the jump for such poor service was too much. I was able to get another year at a slight discount by threatening to move to one of the many other providers who provide a cheaper option (and free wordpress migration) but they still charged extra for the domain ($18 is $6 over the going rate for a domain from Google Domains, Go Daddy, or any other mainstream provider). So in short, the site was slow, and Bluehost charged an eye wateringly high price after the promotional period.
3. OnoOkinawa – Hosted on WordPress.com
WordPress.com offers a great free service. It’s completely free to the site creator for the base tier. The site was responsive, and it really worked quite well. The only problems came in the free tier restrictions. The main one being a 3Gb total storage space limit. Again this is free so no complaints, but lots of hi-res photos quickly ate it up. In addition on the free tier you must host WordPress.com advertising (google Adsense generally), you can’t install plugins and your overall control is limited. The main thing for us was the storage space. WordPress offers several pay tiers, but they still offered limited functionality even for significantly more money (To use plug ins you must get the $30 a month business tier, but you still can’t install backup or migration plugins!
So we had 3 very different sites, none of them required a hosting service that could serve millions of hits per day, and we’d like to be able to put up our own google adsense, use themes and plugins, and generally have full control of our site. The solution for us is AWS Lightsail.
The solution for us was Amazon’s AWS lightsail. Unlike Bluehost and others they offer no commission for linking to their site, (Our other Amazon links may provide us with a percentage of your purchase, this one does not). This us a flat monthly rate offering from Amazon. The monthly fee starts at $3.50 a month for a full Ubuntu server (other options available) with WordPress multisite pre-setup and running. $3.50 a month doesn’t get you a supercomputer, it’s one core, 512M memory, 20G SSD and 1TB transfer a month. This is actually enough to run all of our sites! The core reports as an Intel Xeon core, although I have noticed the performance fluctuates as it’s still a shared server. $5 a month doubles your RAM, storage and transfer limit. The extra RAM is nice, as 512 does involve some swapping when you are importing sites. Should our sites every take off, we can upgrade to multiple cores and more memory and transfer.
So after a lot of research we went with AWS Lightsail, starting with the $3.50 a month plan (and they offer some free time your first month to play around!) The transition wasn’t 100% smooth, and took some trial and error and lots of web searching to figure it all out! But at the end of the day we had our 3 sites running as one WordPress multisite on AWS, if you’re reading this it’s coming from there! Over the next few posts I’ll describe the initial set up, and each service migration in detail.