Magento Hosting Review: Crucial Web Hosting

August 14, 2009

It’s been a while since I have done any of my Magento Hosting Reviews but I’ve finally gotten around to reviewing Crucial Web Hosting. Ages ago (I mean months) a reader specifically requested I review Crucial for their Magento hosting capability, and they were very keen to participate.

Crucial have gone ahead and pre-installed Magento on one of their split shared hosting programs. I’ll talk a little about what that means during the review. Crucial have also kindly offered to keep their Magento demo install up and running so that you guys can try the Crucial Magento demo out for yourselves.

In this Magento Hosting review, just as with my others I’ll be looking at the hosting proposition itself, the value and the price and how they stack up. I’ll also look at the responsiveness of their data centers and comment on the general access levels the hosting provides.

Crucial Web Hosting

I noticed that my last Magento Hosting Review became a bit of a monster and probably put a lot of people off because it was too long and not that well structured. This time I’ll try and give the whole review a little mini-index so that you can jump to the parts you actually want to read about, if you are not interested in the whole thing.

The Hosting

In this section I’ll discuss the actual hosting solution offered by Crucial. I’ll look at the hardware they’re operating, explain the notion of split-shared hosting and how that relates to other shared hosting solutions. I’ll try to weigh up the offering with other similar solutions for value.

Right off the bat the hardware offering is definitely high-end. The Crucual website claims “Quad Core Intel Xeon Harpertown 3.0 GHz, 32 GB DDR-2 RAM, 15K.5 RPM hard drives, and a Gigabit uplink”. I checked this out on the command line and sure enough 8 3GHz processors from cat /proc/cpuinfo! A look at the output of top on the box reveals the beast is hardly even raising an eyebrow at the work it’s doing, an avg 0% cpu usage and over half the RAM is free. Although this is a shared hosting solution, it is definitely not a machine that is being over worked or put under any pressure by too many clients having to share the same hardware.

Split-shared hosting is a way to divide up the available computer resources (the hardware) among more users without having to share the resources with so many people.

In a traditional shared hosting arrangement all of the users on a server are in the same ‘system’. That means they are basically all users on the same Linux box. If everyone is playing nice then there’s not too much of a problem with that. Provided the host is not overselling. The problem is that with so many clients on a box, if one of them has security problems, or get’s ‘slashdotted’ then the entire system is put at risk.

With split-shared hosting the single Linux box is virtualized into several small Linux boxes. Each is not a real server, but a virtual one isolated from the others by a special underlying piece of software. Each virtual server has it’s own allocated resources which means that if someone in a neighboring virtual server is slowing a server down, it will not affect your virtual server.

Does this really help? Well, yes and no, there is much less chance that you’ll be affected by the shenanigans of one of the clients you share with, when there are fewer of them, but you are fundamentally still sharing a server with others and exposed to the problems that can accompany that. So it’s better than pure shared hosting, but still no match for a VPS or an actual dedicated server.

Now that we know how the hosting works and how grunty the servers are, what do you get for your money? For $25/ month (less if you pay in advance) you get 50GB of bandwidth and 5Gb of storage space. With ecommerce I always think that if someone is doing 50GB of bandwidth they probably have tens of thousands of visitors and should be making enough sales to warrant a much bigger hosting solution, so bandwidth is probably nothing to worry about. With disk space, 5 gigs is probably more than enough for most webstores, even if you used ultra high-res product photos (say 300kb) and had 3 such images per product, that would be 4500 products (with leftover for the actual Store install etc). In general for small Magento stores the disk space and bandwidth will be adequate. For larger ones, do not look at shared hosting!

To put the price in context, for the same monthly amount you could get the SIP account from Nexcess which in my review I do really rave about. How does Crucial’s Magento hosting option stack up in the performance stakes against Nexcess’s Magento optimized SIP? Read on 🙂

The Performance

I normally look at page load time and latency when deciding how well a Magento host performs. To test latency I use the free and excellent service just-ping.com. The results of the test against the Crucial Demo server show that the ltency to large parts of the world in in and around that 100ms sweet spot. Us poor antipodeans in NZ, Aus and SA get a bit slow communication, but hey, no-one cares about that right?!

The Watchmouse service is excellent for looking at page load times. I have run the tests and the results are shown below:

WatchMouse test results for the Crucal Magento Demo

WatchMouse test results for the Crucal Magento Demo

And here is even more!

Even more WatchMouse test results for the Crucal Magento Demo

Even more WatchMouse test results for the Crucal Magento Demo

What’s interesting is that even though this is a shared host and there is no advertised performance optimizations carried out on the Magento install, the response times are snappy (around or under 1 second) in most places the tests are run from. That’s really good to see, and if you actually browse around the demo you’ll get a feel for how punchy the pages show up.

Access and Support

Of all the hosting companies I have dealt with I’d have to say I have never had any real problems with the service. Crucial is no exception, the contact I dealt with at Crucial has been polite and really helpful, setting up Magento and installing sample data, responding really quickly to emails and tickets and generally being the good host everyone says they are.

The server access is top notch as well. SSH access is granted by default, and the initial support ticket had all the access details required. Anyone who has approached me for Magento installation help/advice will know that as soon as someone tells me they only have cPanel or (far far worse) only Plesk access, I normally run for the hills and advise others to do the same. As far as I am concerned if you are serious about running a webstore and you want at any time to get a professional involved in support or customizing your store, you need to have the ability for them to access your server using SSH.

Conclusion

Geez this is really tough for me to say! On paper I’d say Nexcess’s SIP looks the better plan for the same money, it’s been optimized for Magento and offers slightly more value. But, I’ve tried out the Crucial demo, I’ve looked at Crucial’s server and I have to say it is as fast or faster, the support is great and I can’t really fault them either. In the end it will probably come down to preference. Both companies offer a money back first month, so perhaps you should sign up for both and decide for yourself based on your interaction with their support and sales team!

PS: As with my other reviews I’m inviting feedback from my readers on personal experiences with the hosting company, because often (as was the case with Simple Helix) the negative experiences that come out of the woodwork can be a real influence in the hosting choices we make.

Ashley

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Hi! I'm Ashley Schroder, a Software Engineer from New Zealand - this is a collection of notes on my experiences with Ecommerce Web Development, particularly Magento Development.

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18 responses to Magento Hosting Review: Crucial Web Hosting

  1. Hi Ashley, My clients are hosted with Crucial and Nexcess and I am very impressed with Nexcess speed wise. Crucial server is erratic at times.

    I have spent more hours on Crucial servers therefore can’t give any feedback on Nexcess yet.

    What criterial do you have for your web host review? I don’t see customer service and support being listed. I don’t have negative comment for Crucial, just some neutral thoughts, that their customer support is less desired. What I meant is, if a webhost specialized in “Magento Optimized Server”, you expect to get more out of it when concerning Magento that might be server related, and I don’t see any value from Crucial on this area.

    Not sure if I am asking too much, one thing I find it lacks as a Magento optimized host thus far, is that Cron job script for Magento isn’t already configured – the crobjob for magento confuses many people including web designers who are not knowledgeable with PHP and server stuff as many didn’t even though they needed to do something extra from their servers. Having this configured (I assume it can be done with automate script when Crucial setup a new server for its new customer) goes a long way for its customers. I contacted Crucial support for help, and was getting a generic answer: “did you contact Varien support for help?” My thought was, you market yourself as “Magento optimized host” yet you don’t have this setup ready for us?

    Crucial don’t have a web mail and my client who loves webmail found out hard way – I don’t see this mentioned in the magento plan.

    The ticket support is very inconvenient to put it mildly – I don’t mind ticket support at all but it’s a pain everytime I need to login to view the response – you can’t save login info. I think Crucial uses a very bad system for its ticket support.

    Apart from the cronjob, other issues I raised are common for shared hosting therefor it’s very hard not to expect this from Crucial.

    Nexcess do have webmail and the ticket support system is far better, which I don’t need to login to the account to view the response. It comes right in my mailbox.

    New clients do ask me for advice on Magento webhosts, I give them 3 names and give them my thoughts on the webhosts, so far Crucial is still in the list.

  2. Wow CD, thanks for the informative comment! It’s great to hear form someone with real-hosting experience, and also to compare notes. I’m interested, who is the 3rd host in your list, I’m assuming Nexcess, Crucial and ?, I would like to review them as well.

  3. Hi Ashley,
    I am glad you found my message informative. The third web host I recommend to clients, is Hosgator. It isn’t Magento Optimized, but I find it offers excellent value (unlimited and free SSL cert) for its share business plan and the customer service is top notch. On top of that, it’s semi-green, though some people might call it green washing as it purchases Renewable Energy Credits. It even comes with a Toll-Free number.
    Hostgator has a Inode limitation which is 250,000, so in reality there is no such thing as ‘unlimited’, but anyone who exceeds the limit of bandwidth, inodes or CPU usage, must be doing very good therefor should upgrade to a dedicated server.

    Another thing I can’t do with Hostgator is that I am not able to use Fooman Speedster extension. I installed it to a client’s store hosted in Crucial’s server, I can’t see how much difference it has made though Perhaps Crucial does well with this already therefore there isn’t a need for Fooman Speedster extension.

    The other two offer better speed performance than hostagator at a higher price (I aware there are a lot goinging on concerning optimization but whatever that are, non-server savvy people care only the word, “speed” ), but I think we developers can do quite a bit of optimization from the code, so I find some non-optimized webhost isn’t as bad an idea to consider (one of my clients is with Godaddy! Which I hate though) as I see only 1 – 3 seconds difference.

    If speed isn’t so much of a factor (1 – 3 seconds), I don’t see much value paying extra $10 for Crucial or other Magento Optimized shared hosting for a Magento site. Because Optimization for Magento shouldn’t just be the speed and security (this should be a standards for any shared-host), but the features that are out-of-the-box from Magento but require further configuration on server side, such as the cron job setup for the customers because Magento comes with cron script therefore it should be ready to go. PCI compliance is a great value to be included as an ‘optimized’ package, $5 extra I find Nexcess offers much better value than Crucial.

    cd

  4. I use hostgator also and I have raccomended to my clients as well. I say that this is very reliable and the support is very fast. I have never tried Crucial but I will definettly give it a try.

  5. Indeed your review does not seem to address some of the most needed point for ecommerce customers.

    We are currently the only hosting company providing true Magento support. In other words we can troubleshoot Magento issues in our support plans, unless other hosting provider who would not go beyond installation and permission fixing…

    When you deal with customers selling millions of dollars, then the actual Magento Ongoing support matter.

    Also the demo that you evaluated in this post say nothing about the actual plans… We have seen some crucial clients hosted on a Quad (4 not 8) processor… And I am not so sure that their server really has 32GB RAM…

    ANYHOW feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions….

    GentoHosting.com

  6. Haha, Nice plug GentoHosting.

    To address your concerns:
    The plan was the $25/month plan, as I stated in my review – at half the price of your plan I’d be interested to know how the hosting compares. How about you set up a demo and let my readers try it for comparisons sake? I’m not sure what you mean about the cores/memory, I was logged in via terminal session to their server, I saw the cores and memory myself. Does that mean it’s always the case? No, but I can say that in the demo they set me up with, they were true to their offered number of cores.

    I appreciate that your support might be useful for some users, but your example of a ‘millions of dollars’ store relying on their hosting company’s $50/month support offering is a little far fetched. Again, for comparison you could point us to some of your larger clients webstores, so we can test performance for ourselves?

  7. We’ve been with Crucial since March.

    Pros:
    1) great support – very responsive and they’re knowledgeable
    2) they switched us from Apache over to Litespeed at no cost and the performance improvements were dramatic for our Magento installations
    3) great hardware specs

    No real drawbacks… we had 1 hour of unscheduled downtime due to the SoftLayer DC they’re using. Also, our emails to AT&T users were blocked for abuse at the IP level, but Crucial got that resolved quickly.

  8. Does crucial offer PCI Compliance?

  9. @Akenova:

    We offer PCI compliant hosting for clients who do not store or transmit cardholder data. In order to build a PCI compliant ecommerce solution, your site needs to be paired up with a payment gateway partner (such as Authorize.Net, PayPal, or Google Checkout).

    You can host your entire ecommerce site on our hosting plans up until the point where the customer provides credit card information during checkout. When a customer purchases items from your site, you’ll utilize the API with your payment gateway partner to provide a transaction ID and dollar amount to authorize.

    The customer will then connect directly to the card processing system on a new session and input their payment information. After the processing system validates the transaction, it will return either an authorized or failed message. The failure messages can contain details such as insufficient funds, invalid card number, or failed to complete transaction.

    The communication from the card processing system to your ecommerce system can never contain cardholder data. This includes the primary account number, expiration date, the name as it appears on the card, and CVV number.

    Your ecommerce application’s database can store such information to uniquely identify the transaction with your payment gateway partner’s processing system, such as transaction ID, customer name, dollar amount of the transaction, timestamp of the transaction, and return status of the payment request.

    By designing your ecommerce site in this manner, PCI compliance is reduced to a Type A Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) for merchants processing less than 6,000,000 annual transactions.

    To achieve compliance when all cardholder data is handled by a partner, you only need to address two of the twelve sections of the complete PCI-DSS, and only a subset of the controls in each of those sections (specifically sections 9 and 12).

    The current version of the Type A SAQ can be found here:

    https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/saq/instructions_dss.shtml

    A portion of PCI compliance is the external vulnerability scan using an Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV), such as McAfee Secure. A list of ASV’s is available here:

    https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/pdfs/asv_report.html

    Your payment partner or acquiring bank may have a preferred partner to work with, so ensure their recommended partner appears on the ASV list.

    After you’ve selected your scanning vendor, you’ll provide the systems to perform the scan your domain. After the scan completes, it will provide you with a passing grade or list of open issues that need to be resolved.

    When scanning our hosting environments, the scanning tool will detect software version issues against the OS or application stack (such as MySQL, PHP, and SSH).

    If you transmit or store cardholder data, the only company who offers a truly PCI compliant hosting solution is Rackspace, but be prepared to spend about $3500/month on hosting (since you’ll need multiple servers), a yearly contract, and a $3500 setup fee. Also note that you’re getting an extremely low-end server.

    “Budget” hosting companies who claim PCI compliance are simply lying. Unless they can provide you with actual certification (which, when asked, they can’t), do NOT believe PCI compliancy claims.

    Basically, PCI compliance is a “pay to play” system. Most either pay the non-compliancy fine or use third-party checkout systems such as PayPal, Google Checkout, etc.

  10. Magento Developer November 11, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    I’ve dealt with several clients using Crucial. They are, first and foremost, great optimizers for Magento, and they’ve been active in helping people achieve success with Magento. They have clearly outlined client limits for each server so you know that you’re getting quality. They are also instantly responsive to service requests. These are the good things. There are however several issues which have come up with them.

    The first red flag came up when a client was informed that they were over quota on a semi-dedicated container (at just over 5Gb). However, the client was on a 10GB plan. Their explanation? Their INTERNAL mirrored backup counts against the plan total. So 10Gb plan = 5Gb usable space. There eventualy was some ambiguity in subsequent responses, and I’m pretty sure the client was allowed to go over 5Gb. The point being that it never should have been an issue.

    There have been a few other issues, such as their lack of offering of webmail clients (though I agree – why use a cpanel server as your mail host when Google Apps is available), their cpanel permissions, etc (need ftp users or subdomains? you’ll need to ask, but the response is quick and affirmative), but most recently a semi-dedicated client was SHUT DOWN without a phone call due to resource violations. They were sent the standard emails, which they either ignored or did not receive, but to SUSPEND a live ecommerce site that does hundreds in revenue a day is pretty severe, considering that Crucial has the phone number and can speak English. What was really irksome was that the violations were 2 backup files, which violated 2 policies:

    1) no file larger than 256MB
    2) no backups of any kind allowed on server.

    That’s right… no backup files allowed on your account, which necessarily includes the backups that can be generated via Magento admin panel. Also, I should note that the offending files were created in June, and the policy wasn’t enforced until November. WTH?

    So if you are considering Crucial, add this note to your consideration. They’re friendly and responsive, but one has to wonder about their policies and enforcement. Just ask lots of pre-sales questions.

  11. We’ve now had our site hosted with The Rackspace cloud, Crucial and are currently with Nexcess. Rackspace cloud hosting and Magneto don’t mix, it’s way too slow. Our move from Rackspace to Crucial was a breath of fresh air, the site was fast, seemed to be setup properly. We went live with Crucial. Then the problems started to unfold. Chron never worked properly, despite several emails back and forth, Eaccelerator which is necessary for proper script caching never worked properly, abuse of mysql didn’t appear to be monitored very closely, was frequently at 100% usage stats, bringing everything on the site to a crawl. We were on their $99/month plan, the wanted us to jump to their next tier which was $250/month, in order to resolve any speed concerns. We’re not a huge site so this was completely overkill.

    So we started shopping and found Nexcess. WOW! These guys know their stuff. They migrated the site free, which was very painful for them due to Crucial’s server timing out etc. We now pay $79/month, chron jobs work perfect, Eaccelerator works flawlessly, their servers are lightning quick, and you can host multiple sites under the account, which you can’t do with Crucial.

    Crucial is not a bad host, they’re better than most and seem to know their Magento. I’m guessing they’re experiencing growing pains. But compared to Nexcess they’ve got a long way to go. Anyway, that’s my two cents. Hope it helps someone out.

    I could not be more impressed with Nexcess.

  12. Thanks Brock for the really informative comment – Nexcess has become my default recommendation for hosting over the last 12 months, including to friends, they’ve never let me down, there’s nothing worse than suggesting a host to a friend and then them having a bad experience. Did you read my Magento hosting review for Nexcess when deciding to go with them after Crucial?

  13. I have been struggling with the decision on who to host with for several weeks. Our site is a bit unique in that:

    1. It is Magento based, but will not be used for ecommerce transactions.
    2. Will have a good number of products (over 3000)
    3. Should mostly see geographically local traffic.

    So, even though we won’t be doing transactions, and our site visits should be in the 200-300/day range, we do have a lot of products and are somewhat graphic heavy.

    I have already “decided” on who to host with, and have subsequently changed my mind several times. I have had the luxury of not having to decide yet because we ended up purchasing a new domain, so the transfer has given me a few extra days to come to a decision. I have now done so, and will be choosing Nexcess.

    The most important reason I chose them, their site makes sense and their blog is full of stuff way over my head. We are going to go with the SIP-200 package, and depending on how it works out, we can upgrade if needed.

    Thanks for the reviews on magento hosting, I’ve found your info very useful.

    Preston

  14. Thanks for the input Preston, I’ll look forward to checking out your site when it’s live – if you want to do me a favor, please use my Nexcess link when signing up. Cheers.

  15. Hello,
    Great articles. I was wondering if you you had any input on a cluster environment vs a super server.

    I have the option of getting 2 decent servers from Nexcess. they are dual processor quad core servers, load balanced, with 16GB ram. Or, I can get 1 server from crucial that is a dual processor, hex core, 24GB. The single Crucial CPU is 3 X more powerful than the Nexcess cluster. Maybe this is better since Magento is so CPU intensive while putting together the php pages?

  16. Hi, Andy
    I’m actually hoping to get a few spare hours in the next couple of weeks to test out an EC2 Magento cluster. Until I have done that I won;t be able to say with any authority.

    What I can say is, start with the simplest thing that works. It sounds like you’d need a bloody lot of traffic to bog down the single box you’re investigating. A single server setup will be simpler, less moving parts, less things to go wrong.

    Once you get that server bogged down, you could put a web server in front of it, if you’re getting 50 requests per second – that’s a good problem to have.

  17. I came across this article because I’m currently. A crucial customer and I’m looking to migrate to nexcess, here’s why.
    I’m on the tier3 split-shared hosting account and I’m paying $100 a month.
    When a company offers magento hosting, it should include one of magento’s core functionality: multi-store. Crucial’s split shared won’t allow you to install two SSL for two domain names because you would need two IP adresses.
    I then found that a crucial member posted on a thread in the magento forums that you could get around this by purchasing a UCC certificate that would work for multiple domains with only one IP adress necessary.
    I submitted a ticket to crucial about this but they told me I couldn’t do that neither. The only option would be to upgrade to a split-dedicated for $250 a.
    month! I said no way, and now I’m looking for a new host, seems like I’m gonna go with nexcess.
    If only crucial would be upfront and direct about this…

  18. Hello guys! Does anyone have recent considerations about Nexcess and Crucial Split-Dedicated? I’m about to start a Magento project and I’m not sure about which server to choose. Thanks!