Founded in Canada in 1996, iWeb is a capable provider of business and enterprise-level website hosting. It's now owned by Internap, the big US IT infrastructure company behind the first commercially available OpenStack-based cloud computing service.
Browsing iWeb's website reveals a wide choice of high-end products: cloud servers, private clouds, virtualization, dedicated plans, server clusters, colocation and more. But don't be intimidated – although the service is targeted at expert users, the baseline prices are reasonable.
The cloud servers, for instance, are a VPS-like product based on cloud hosting. You get faster performance and a more scalable server, while multiple copies of your website improve disaster recovery. There are no traffic limits, yet prices start at only $43.80 (£32) a month for 1GB RAM, 1 CPU and 50GB storage. The server is managed by root access via SSH, though, rather than cPanel, so you'll need plenty of experience to set it up.
The dedicated server plans also include some bargains, including an 8GB RAM, 1TB storage and 12TB bandwidth Montreal-based server for a mere $95 (£70) a month. This has a basic spec – a limited Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU, a single standard hard drive (not SSD) and a 100Mbps network connection – but there are plenty of upgrades for anyone who needs more. You can manage your dedicated server by SSH, but other options include the regular cPanel and Plesk control panels, Remote Desktop or KVM/IP.
The costs do begin to mount if you're looking for any kind of add-ons. Server monitoring beyond the most basic Ping approach costs $49 (£35) a month, for instance, and the $75 (£55) Managed On Demand support plan gets you two hours of system administration a month.
While that sounds expensive, iWeb does have a substantial support system to maintain. You don't just get a single phone number, for instance – the company has multiple toll-free numbers across five continents, and provides support in English, French and Spanish. We've not seen another host that compares in this respect.
There's also a surprise green bonus in iWeb's Montreal-based data center, which gets free cooling for five months of the year thanks to Canada's freezing winters, and uses hydroelectricity for 98% of its other energy requirements.
If you decide to sign up, you're protected by a 30-day money-back guarantee. Or at least that's the theory. The current document says that you must close your account and request a refund by sending a fax, and the company will get around to processing it within 10-15 days, which isn't exactly convenient or efficient. Still, it's good to know the option is there, even if it might be difficult to use.
The iWeb website has an array of plans and configuration options, but they're generally well presented and it's easy to find what you need. We decided to order a cloud server, expecting to be set up within a few minutes, but it turned out to be a little more complicated.
Creating an account with iWeb didn't just require entering our name, physical address, email address and phone number. The company also asked for a scan or image of a government-issued photo ID to verify our account. We can see the security benefits for the firm, but customers may have security concerns of their own pertaining to sending images of such sensitive documents to someone else. It's also inconvenient if you don't have easy access to a suitable document.
We sent a scan of our driving licence anyway, and were told it could take up to 24 hours to be verified, another potential inconvenience if you're in a hurry. Maybe this was a maximum time and in reality, our account would be opened in an hour or two, we wondered? Well, no: it took four days before we finally received a 'Welcome to the iWeb Cloud' email telling us we could now deploy cloud servers.
This doesn't necessarily mean you'll experience the same delay. We could have been unlucky – and we didn't try contacting support to ask what was going on, which might have sped up the process. Still, this was poor service, especially as we didn't receive any emails prior to verification to explain what was going on. We've never come across another web host so apparently reluctant to sign us up.
Creating a site
Logging on to iWeb takes you to the iWeb Control Centre, a stripped-back web console where you can view, manage and deploy your products.
This was much more straightforward than we've seen with many hosts. There's no on-screen clutter, no attempt to sell you add-ons, just a simple sidebar with a basic product tree.
We chose the Cloud Server option, clicked Deploy, and were offered plans ranging from 1GB RAM and 1 vCPU to 8GB RAM and 8 vCPUs. All plans are charged based on usage, ranging from $0.04 (£0.028) to $0.27 (£0.193) an hour.
SSD storage is priced separately, from 50GB at $0.021 (£0.015) per hour, to 250GB for $0.103 (£0.074).
Our operating system choices were Centos 7, Ubuntu 12.04 LTS or 14.04 LTS for free, with Windows Server 2012 or 2016 available for $0.02 an hour (£0.014).
After entering a host name and agreeing to the terms and conditions, a web alert said our server was being provisioned and would be ready in just two minutes. Just in case that wasn't impressive enough, it actually took less than a minute, with a second pop-up providing our SSH login credentials. There is no cPanel, so configuring your server must at least start at the command line.
If you're unfamiliar with Linux, you could equip your server with Windows Server 2012 or 2016. We created a Windows-based cloud server, logged in and were able to view and control the server's desktop from our browser. It will be a more comfortable working environment for many, but you'll still need some expertise to find your way around Server Manager, set up and secure your site.
The web console provides some useful tools to help manage your project. There are buttons to rename, clone or delete a cloud server, reboot it, create a volume snapshot (a full copy of your storage device), or resize the server to add or remove resources (RAM, CPU, storage).
Choose a dedicated server plan and you can get more standard management including access to the cPanel, WHM or Plesk control panels (depending on the operating system you're using). Experienced users should feel at home right away, and beginners will at least get all the core tools they need.
iWeb's support service starts with a Feedback & Support panel on the right of its web console. The panel pops out with a click, offers a Knowledge Base link and a Search box, and a separate My Tickets tab.
While this looked good, we quickly spotted a few problems. The search box reported 'no articles found' for every search we tried, including basic keywords such as iWeb, cloud, server, cPanel. And when we clicked the Knowledge Base link to manually browse its articles, the site opened a new browser tab and told us 'the page you were looking for doesn't exist'.
Reworking the broken link took us to the real Knowledge Base page, although it really wasn't worth the effort. A news headline reporting that Windows 2003 product support would end on April 18, 2013, suggests the articles aren't updated very often.
This has an impact on the content, as for instance the Windows articles all relate to Windows 2012, with Windows 2016 not getting a mention. The remaining guides have some useful information, but there's also a lot of more trivial articles, along the lines of: 'How do you delete a cloud server?: 1) Select the server, 2) Click Delete.'
If you can't find what you need, clicking the My Tickets tab displays a simple form where you're able to enter the details of your problem, and optionally attach a file. Subscribe to the $75 (£55) Managed On Demand plan and you'll get up to two hours of attention a month. You can also choose to pay as you go, but the cost rises to $75 (£55) an hour.
We completed our tests by using Bitcatcha to assess the speed of our cloud server. Connection times from the UK were better than we expected for a Montreal-based data center, and download speeds were consistently high from the US and UK. That's impressive for a cloud hosting product with a 100Mbps port, and opting for a dedicated server, maybe with a 1000Mbps connection, could deliver even faster results.
iWeb isn't a host for the novice user, but if you know what you're doing you'll find the service offers stripped-back speedy cloud and dedicated services. Add-ons like monitoring and support can bump up the price, though, so check the details of every plan before you buy.
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