Founded back in 2003, A2 Hosting now provides products for just about all your web hosting needs. The company has a particular focus on performance, with website talk of ‘turbo servers’ and ‘up to 20x faster’ speeds for the top account, but there are plenty of other features on offer.
Shared hosting starts with the Lite plan at £3 ($3.90) a month initially, doubling on renewal. This limits you to five databases, 25 email addresses, and allows hosting one website only. On the plus side, there's unlimited storage space and data transfer, cPanel access and Softaculous-based one-click install of WordPress and hundreds of other apps.
Unusual extras include a free SSL certificate via Let's Encrypt. There's basic CloudFlare integration for faster page loading, along with free security modules to check your site for malware or out-of-date software, and you're able to choose from three server locations: Amsterdam, Michigan and Singapore.
A2's Swift plan gives you unlimited everything for £3.78 ($4.90) a month initially, doubling on renewal. It also doubles your allocated cores, physical and virtual memory; potentially a major speed boost for heavy-duty sites. Backups are included, too (they're often a chargeable extra elsewhere).
The Turbo plan is relatively expensive at £7.18 ($9.35) a month initially, doubling on renewal. What you're getting is premium hosting on optimised servers (Turbo Cache, APC/OPcache, Memcached) with fewer users. The plan doubles your CPU cores, physical and virtual memory again, and it adds support for HTTP/2, SPDY and ESI.
We're unsure whether all this will give you ‘20x faster’ speeds overall, but it should make a very major difference, and it's far more power than you get with most shared hosting plans.
The company claims to offer ‘ultra reliable’ hosting, with a 99.9% uptime ‘commitment’. That's not quite the same as a guarantee or SLA, and you don't get credits if uptime is lower, but having a figure is a start. A2 seems to be confident you'll be happy, anyway, as the firm doesn’t only offer you a full 30-day money-back guarantee, but also gives you a pro-rata refund after that.
A2 Hosting's plans have loads of features, and understandably the website does its best to boast about every single one. That's great for marketing, but makes it more difficult to compare the plans, even when they're listed side-by-side. You could spend some time scrolling up and down before you properly understand what's included with each one.
Once you've made your choice, the website asks for the domain you'd like to use. You're able to register something new, transfer a domain to A2, or use an existing domain and update your nameservers. There's also an unusual option to use an A2 Hosting subdomain, which allows you to postpone any domain decisions until later.
A configuration page enables choosing your data server location (US, Europe, Asia). You can add extras, including a dedicated IP – which will set you back £3.09 ($4) – and there's the ability to have WordPress and other applications preinstalled on the account (you can also do this later).
The headline prices are for a two-year plan, but the company doesn't ramp them up too much for shorter terms. The Lite plan is £6.16 ($8) a month over two years, £6.93 ($9) a month over one year, and only £7.71 ($10) for a one-month term. The initial discount cuts this to £3.78 ($4.90) for the first month, and there's not even a sneaky ‘setup free’ to bump up the total. Most hosts don't do monthly billing at all, and those that do are usually much more expensive.
The next page asked for our contact payment details. A2 supports payment via cards, Skrill, bank transfers, a recurring PayPal subscription or a one-off amount. We chose a one-off PayPal amount and processed it as normal.
Just when everything seemed about to complete as usual, the website messed up entirely, redirecting us to a URL of https://viewinvoice.php. Chrome unsurprisingly complained, warning that ‘this site can't be reached’. Issues in a payment process could become a very big deal, but as this looked like the important work had been done, we waited for a few seconds and checked our email.
Sure enough, everything had been processed, PayPal had sent an invoice for the amount we expected, and there were three – yes, three – messages from A2 about the new account.
Creating a site
A2 Hosting's welcome email is better than most, with login information, links to helpful articles, support pages and more. There's also a reminder about the company's free migration service, which may be able to transfer your site to A2 at no cost. (There are loads of conditions pertaining to that, but you can read more here.)
The customer portal was more ordinary. This makes it easy to view and access your hosting package, but otherwise the page is crammed full of panels you probably won't need at all: referral links, a ‘Register a new domain’ box, a suggestion box, a company newsfeed, an A2 Twitter feed and more.
Tap the Login button and life gets better, as you're taken to A2 Hosting's cPanel console. It's a routine setup using the regular Paper Lantern theme, so if you've used cPanel recently you won't have any problems finding your way around. Hosting newbies will have more of a learning curve, but it's not difficult to get started. Clicking the File Manager icon displays an Explorer-type window for working with your files, the Email Accounts button enables creating new emails, and so on.
A2 Hosting's standard shared plans don't have a website builder. The only ‘instant’ option is cPanel's Site Publisher. That's extremely basic – it’s just a handful of templates, and only capable of producing the simplest of single-page sites. But it's easy-to-use, and you could get something online in a few minutes.
The major site creation option is Softaculous, one of the best frameworks around for finding and installing apps like WordPress, PrestaShop, Piwik, Drupal, OpenCart and more. Many other hosts offer Softaculous, but A2 goes further with its own custom software.
‘A2 Optimised for WordPress’, for instance, configures your WordPress site for security and speed. Areas addressed include page caching, database caching, image compression, page compression with gzip, adding a reCAPTCHA to the comment and login forms, and more. It's a welcome addition to the package, and something that isn't offered by other hosts.
We did notice one possible security issue, in that our customer portal setting never seemed to expire. Sensitive sites typically time out your session if you're idle for a while, but here we were able to come back the next morning and access the portal – and cPanel – without logging in again. We had to manually log out before the site asked for our credentials.
This may not matter most of the time, but it does increase the chance that someone with access to your computer might also be able to access your A2 account.
Our A2 Hosting tests began with the company's web support. First impressions were good, with the customer portal making your support ticket history, server status page and other key areas accessible from a single menu.
We headed off to the knowledgebase, where a list of popular articles caught our eye. ‘Accessing e-mail accounts with client applications’ sounded like it would be a helpful document, and it did have some useful information, but was clearly written long, long ago. (One early line read: "There are many client e-mail applications available, such as Thunderbird, Outlook Express, Eudora, and Mac OS X Mail.")
Running real-world searches gave us better results. Using ‘import WordPress’ provided a couple of detailed and relevant results, whereas using single keywords like PHP, MySQL and more also produced some useful content. There's not as much as the best of the competition, and the results aren't always ordered sensibly, but keep looking and you'll generally find something helpful.
If you're a beginner, you can alternatively use one of the Getting Started guides to find what you need. They provide a simpler way of organising and presenting A2's support articles, and could be more effective for some. Take a look at the Shared Hosting guide here.
If the website can't help, A2 offers support phone numbers in different countries, separate ticket systems for sales, billing or tech support, and live chat, too. That seems like a major advantage to us, especially in a world where budget hosts sometimes restrict you to chat or telephone only.
We tried the live chat with some simple queries, and the results were very acceptable: response times were good, we didn't have to explain the question multiple times, plus answers were accurate and to the point. We didn't get the impression that the agent had any deep technical knowledge, but they should help you cope with most starting issues, and might be able to refer more complex issues elsewhere.
Finally, we ran a few basic server performance tests. Our site was hosted in the US and local access times were excellent, but connections from elsewhere were average. Keep in mind we're only testing access times, though. A2 Hosting's performance features will almost certainly improve page load and rendering times, but the exact effect will vary depending on the site – the only way to find out for sure is to try it for yourself.
A2 Hosting isn't for bargain hunters, but you do get a lot for your money, and experienced users will appreciate the company's many performance-optimising features and tweaks.