A few days ago, I noticed a post made to the WordPress Hosting group on Facebook that said the following:
any shared hosting offer for 10$ at first year?
If you think this is a reasonable request, we need to have a good conversation about why this is a horrible idea.
Sure. It’s possible…
…if you don’t care at all about whatever you put on there. I could toss up a web server on a $25 Raspberry Pi right now, and charge you $10 a year. I could also do that to as many possible people that I can cram onto it, and just leave it running on a 15mbit upload cable connection while I go on vacation, not monitoring the server in the slightest.
If you’re only paying $10 a year, how many other people are doing the same just so that the web host can break even, let alone make a profit? When the server has an issue, who’s going to fix it? Nobody, because even my technology-deprived mother-in-law would cost more than $10 a year.
Let’s break down the cost.
For our hypothetical situation, first we need a server. Often times, this results in getting the hardware, getting it into a datacenter, etc. but for the purposes of this article, let’s just assume that a $10 DigitalOcean droplet is being used instead. At $10 a month, this puts the number of subscribers on a single server at 12 to break even.
Current number of subscribers to break even: 12.
Anyone who has ever had to fight with a server knows that you can’t just magically spin something up and have it work properly. There’s some tuning involved. I know quite a few people who can make a LAMP stack seem to appear out of thin air, but when running a web host, there’s quite a few unknown variables to account for. It’s hardly “set it and forget it”.
So in that case, you would need some sort of sysadmin to look things over, at least for a day or two (yes, many of you are chuckling right now while dreaming it was that easy). Let’s assume you’re an expert in everything hosting and development and you can do it yourself within a 40-hour work week. At the current minimum wage of $7.25/hour, that would amount to $290 that you’ve invested of your time. This adds another 29 subscribers to break even.
Current number of subscribers to break even: 41.
49 subscribers on a single DigitalOcean droplet is still entirely possible. With low-traffic sites, it could survive. But wait, if something happens on the server, what happens? Well, you now have to fix it. Let’s assume a part-time systems admin putting in 10 hours a week at minimum wage (if your sysadmin is working for minimum wage, be worried). That tosses another $72.50 per week into the mix. With 52 weeks per year, it adds another $3,770 in costs for the single server.
Hell, we’ll even assume that he can take care of all of your support tickets in that time-frame too.
Current number of subscribers to break even: 418.
Alright, now this is getting terrifying. What happens if that server suddenly explodes? You need a backup to fail over to. Duplicating the existing server, let’s add another $10 and another 2 hours of configuration to clone the server and set up automated backups to it once a day (once again, grossly underestimating here). That comes to another $134.50 for the labor and yearly server costs.
Current number of subscribers to break even: 432.
Ask any sysadmin if they can successfully handle a $10 DigitalOcean droplet with 432 shared hosting subscribers on it, and I can guarantee that they will look at you like you just grew a tail and started tossing around your own feces.
Going beyond breaking even.
Now, let’s assume that you’re going to try to live off of this venture and want to quit your full-time job flipping burgers at Mickey D’s. After all, you’re a world-class sysadmin!
The total cost of doing so, minus the week we already took away, would come to $15,790. That’s right; you guessed it. You would need to get another 1,579 users onto that $10 DigitalOcean VPS to handle that.
Number of subscribers to handle costs and pay yourself minimum wage: 1,997.
Yep, sysadmins across the world are now wondering who put the turd in their pants.
Hosting isn’t easy or cheap.
I’ve worked in the hosting industry and know it quite well. To put it as simply as possible, running a web host is ridiculously hard to do, and if you expect someone to do it for pennies a month, you’re either ill-informed or insane. Unfortunately, many of the budget hosts are in a race to the bottom in terms of low pricing, and anyone new to the market is forced to offer some sort of lower-priced hosting to the masses. Thanks to some of the awesome hosts out there (such as A2 Hosting, Pagely, and WPEngine), it seems that the trend might be changing, at least a bit.