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I know this isn’t strictly Magento development related, so I’ll apologize in advance to those of you uninterested in this post, I’ll keep it brief, promise. I just wanted to tell a little story about an ill-fated ecommerce transaction with Tosh Computers, so hopefully I can save others a great deal of hassle if they stumble upon this post when looking for a review of Tosh Computers. Perhaps we’ll all learn a little something about selling on the internet too, that is why we’re here, after all.

Tosh Computers (toshnewzealand.com) is a merchant of Apple Mac laptops and desktops in NZ and Australia. I ordered a top-spec iMac 27′ from them on behalf of someone who needed one for business. Being such a Mac-convert I jumped at the opportunity to help someone into one, the less Windows PC’s in the world, the better it is, as far as I’m concerned!

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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.

So I have got my first review for my Free Magento Installation offer, I’m very proud of it and thought I’d share it with you all.

I Helped Konrad Bloor install Magento for his store East To West. The store isn’t live yet obviously because Konrad is still configuring it and setting up his inventory. Here is what he had to say about the quality and professionalism of my work:

“Ashley’s magento services were just what we were looking for – we’d attempted an install ourselves but just couldn’t make it work. We wanted to use magento but setting it up was very complex, and we’d been coming up against a brick wall again and again.

“He first highlighted something about our hosting that had become incompatible with magento. Once we fixed that with our hosting company, he very quickly gave us a working install with a sample product (testing upload capability) and an obscured admin login to provide some protection against attack. He took care to establish trust, and backed up our existing attempt at installing. We also run a blog from that hosting on the same site, and because he left everything else alone apart from magento, that was still working as I expected. We don’t run cpanel but he figured out our control panel to get everything done without being given any instructions at all.

“I couldn’t be more pleased and would recommend his magento services to anyone – he obviously knows magento very deeply. I would happily hire him again.”

Konrad’s review has been added to my services page, which you should check out if you are interested in help with a Magento install or would like to discuss any Magento related services. As of right now I still have 2 remaining Free installations, with 2 reviews pending, so if you would like to get professional Magento help, and do not mind writing a comprehensive review like Konrad’s, then please get in touch with me.

I have recently put together a simple little Magento review and design showcase site called Magento Parade. It’s a chance for Magento designers and developers to check out stunning stores and get inspiration. For designers and developers with innovative ecommerce stores it’s a great chance to get some feedback on your stores and see how they are rated by your peers.

Screenshot from Magento Parade

I’ll be periodically adding a review and seeking feedback from other developers and designers. If you have a magento store you think is pretty special then suggest your store for review in the showcase.

I’m also really keen to try and find some guest reviewers to offer their expert feedback on the showcase stores. If you have specialty knowledge in ecommerce SEO, or web marketing and would be keen to offer some tips or advice, please get in touch with me to discuss.