Fasthosts was founded in 1999 by Andrew Michael, originally as part of an A-Level school project, but it grew so rapidly he was able to sell it for £61.5 million (around $75 million) only seven years later. These days Fasthosts is owned by United Internet, the German parent company of 1&1, although the two companies maintain their own product ranges.
Fasthost’s shared hosting plans start with the baseline Ignite, priced at £2.50 ($3) plus VAT per month for year one, and £5 ($6) afterwards. This supports only one website using a maximum 10GB web space, but you do get a free one-year domain registration and some welcome bonuses elsewhere. Those added boons include unlimited 100MB mailboxes (you get 5 x 2GB accounts), unlimited email forwarders, unlimited FTP accounts, unlimited subdomains, and ‘OneClick’ installation of WordPress and other top apps. You can also tweak the package significantly during the signup process (more on that later).
The mid-range Momentum plan – priced at £7 ($8.50) plus VAT per month for the first year, £10 ($12) monthly afterwards – bumps up some of these allocations, with 20GB of web space, 20 x 1GB databases (up from 2), 100 x 2GB mailboxes and support for hosting up to three websites.
The best additions here are probably the dedicated SSL certificate and access to the goMobi mobile website builder, although you also get advanced scripting support (Python, Ruby on Rails), intelligent load balancing and improved website performance.
If you need lots of space or website support then this might seem a little expensive, especially as 1&1 gives you unlimited websites and web space on even its most basic account. At Fasthosts, even the high-end Ultimate account increases the key limits, but doesn’t lift them entirely: 100 websites, 120GB web space, 120 x 1GB databases, 1090 x 2GB mailboxes.
Elsewhere, the company offers a standard Website Builder tool from £5 ($6) a month and a powerful eShop Builder from £25 ($30) a month. There’s no specialist managed WordPress plan – you can use a regular hosting account instead – and dedicated servers are available from £29 ($35) a month.
A 30-day money-back guarantee covers your hosting fees (not domain registration costs). That’s longer than some services – 123-Reg gives you only 14 days – but there are the usual conditions in play. Nothing too restrictive, but check out the small print if you’re concerned.
The Fasthosts website gives you a general idea of what’s included in each hosting account, but that’s not quite the end of the story. Some plans have optional add-ons which throw in valuable core features at minimal extra cost.
Purchase the low-end Boost account, for instance, and you’ll be offered a ‘Boost’ add-on which includes a 1-year dedicated SSL certificate, advanced scripting (Ruby, Python), and the performance features from the other plans (load balancing, low contention web servers and databases). This is only £1 ($1.20) a month extra for the first year, £2 ($2.40) after that, £7 ($8.50) a month total – very good value.
Better still, Fasthosts offers the plan on a ‘pay monthly’ system, which means you can try all these high-end performance-enhancing goodies for a mere £3.50 ($4.20) plus VAT – welcome news for anyone on a budget.
We opted for the midrange Momentum account. Signing up required providing all our personal details – name, email and physical address, phone number – before paying by credit card or PayPal.
Fasthosts quickly directed us to the service dashboard, a web console for managing our products. This proved much simpler than some of the more bloated competition (123-Reg, we’re looking at you), clearly displaying our Momentum package upfront and allowing us to log in with a click.
Creating your site
Fasthosts basic Cluster hosting accounts don’t give you access to standard frameworks like cPanel or Plesk, which means sites must be managed with the company’s own front-end.
Beginners will find this easy-to-use, and it does give you speedy access to some handy site-building features. But the main reason it’s so simple is there’s barely any functionality. GoDaddy’s cPanel-based system or 123-Reg’s custom front-end deliver far more site management power.
To take just one example, if you’re hosting anything serious you’ll be interested in reports on your visitors and site performance. 123-Reg gave us access to standard log analysers like AWStats and Webalizer, and Fasthosts does have a powerful MatrixStats tool for use with other accounts, but the shared hosting plans offer nothing at all. The best the support pages could do is recommend we use Google Analytics instead.
What you do get is a capable Installaron OneClick installer. We used it with WordPress, and although the installer presented us with a long list of settings, sensible defaults mean that beginners can ignore virtually all of them. Scroll down, click Install, and you’ll be ready to go within a couple of minutes.
Fasthosts also bundles goMobi, a capable mobile website builder. We’ve had mixed results with this, but it’s easy enough to use and a welcome addition to the platform.
We’re always interested to try out a web host’s support services, and Fasthosts has more options than most: a web-based knowledgebase, a community forum, a ticket-based support system and a 24/7 phone line.
We checked out the website, and were a little disappointed. The tutorials are clearly written, and – unusually – had dates to help us identify the most recent information. But they were often very basic. A ‘Troubleshooting new websites’ section covered only two core types of errors, for instance, caching and permissions, and their advice on the latter was basically “if permissions are wrong, use FTP software or SSH to change them”. You’ll have to search elsewhere to understand the issue or figure out exactly how to fix it.
The forum had a friendly moderator who seemed to be doing his best to help, but needed to call in more experienced help for anything tricky. This could take days but did help to explain some weirdness, even if it was the type of bizarre issue which shouldn’t exist in the first place.
For example, this February 2017 thread explained that Fasthosts cluster architecture caused “some issues with changing file permissions”, and as a result “basically, you have to have a 7 in there somewhere. IE 700, 070, 007, 744, 474 etc” until a fix arrives within a month or two.
Novice users might not notice that kind of problem, but it’s still an absurd restriction which could cause all kinds of issues for others. Still, it’s probably been fixed by the time you read this, and at least Fasthosts admitted and explained the problem in its own forum, rather than trying to bury it.
When we explored the permission issue ourselves, we noticed another problem. Fasthosts’ net2ftp-based File Manager allowed us to create a folder, but any attempt to change its permissions resulted in a ‘can’t run CHMOD’ error. Annoying, but also a perfect test for the support system, so we picked up the phone.
Our call was answered within a couple of minutes, and seemed to progress well: a capable support agent listened to the problem, asked for our details, requested a username and password so they could test this themselves on our account, and managed to reproduce the issue.
We were less impressed later, when after 20 minutes the agent told us it wasn’t possible to use CHMOD from the File Manager, even though there’s a button for it. This didn’t work for Fasthosts’ Cluster-based shared hosting accounts, and the only way around this was to use SSH. Overall, that has to be a thumbs-down for the Fasthosts infrastructure, but a credit to the support agent for at least realising this. Okay, it took 20 minutes, but you might spend that long on hold somewhere else.
We had separately created a simple support ticket mentioning the ‘raw server logs’ feature, asking if Fasthosts had any way to process the data or could recommend one. We raised the ticket at 6:40pm and a not-so-great reply arrived at 5:16am the next day.
“You can use Google Analytics as it will record your website logs and visitors”, we were told (it won’t ‘record your website logs’). And: “There are other Log analysers such as WebLog Expert and Splunk. But we do not normally use or recommend them as they are not a fasthsots [sic] product. Therefore we cannot confirm if it is a safe one or not. AWstats maybe.” No great help there. We’d have got better results in seconds with Google.
As usual, we completed our review by running a few performance tests (Bitcatcha, WebPageTest and more). These gave fractionally below average results but showed nothing that would indicate any serious problems, and real-life speeds were very acceptable.
Fasthosts is easy-to-use and some plans offer good value. We tried to move beyond the basics and ran into several annoying issues, but capable phone support gave some help.