Hosting a Site on NearlyFreeSpeech.NET

This is part of my series of try some alternative hosting options. Next up, I decided to try NearlyFreeSpeech.NET. It’s a long-standing pay-for-use service that’s been around since 2002, so has a good history and isn’t about to disappear.

Getting Started

The setup process wasn’t particularly straightforward. First, you need to create a member account. Then a billing account (you can create multiple of these), then a site (again, multiple supported). Note that you have to enter a bunch of name and address details in your account record. You should get a couple of cents to allow a ‘trial’ when you create it.

To run it permanently, you’ll need to deposit some funds. What it costs to run is based on the type of site(s) you set up, as it’s essentially a combination of bandwidth, storage space and ‘Oomph!’ — or CPU+RAM.

When setting up a site, you get the option to pick from the different types of site. Static sites don’t incur a daily base charge ($0.01 for dynamic sites) or a cost for resources (based on a unit of CPU+RAM called a RAU).

Bandwidth starts at $0.25 per GB, but it goes down depending on how longer you have been a member and how much total bandwidth your account has used. Their pricing estimator put me at about $0.50 a month.

As part of the setup process you get an alias — essentially short_name.nfshost.com — this is what you need to create a CNAME for if you host your domain name elsewhere. In order for NFS.NET to associate your domain with your account you need to add the┬ádomain name as an alias of the site.

They don’t seem to advocate using a bare domain (leepenney.com) but rather the www subdomain (www.leepenney.com). As most of my static site was setup for the bare version (references to CSS files, etc) I had to add an additional alias to cover this.

If you want to use regular FTP to upload your files (only SFTP/SSH is enabled by default), you’ll need to enable that both at the billing account and site level. The domain and login details for all types of access are located under each site.

When I signed up, they were offering free bandwidth if you opted to test some new request processing system. That would have meant I could have hosted for free. But I was intrigued as to what it would cost me so didn’t enable it. After nearly two weeks I was still showing no bandwidth cost (in fact no cost at all), a quick check showed I was opted into the beta system so wasn’t being charged for bandwidth. I opted back into the regular billing for the rest of the time.

I found the admin panel very clunky. Much is spread around and involves far too many clicks (you shouldn’t have to show a page with nothing but a confirmation message any more). The help text, while comprehensive, was very dense and even the getting started guide felt like it contained way too much. It feels like a service aimed at geeks, I’m not sure how a regular user would get on.

The billing process is based on deposits, rather than PAYG. I loaded up a whole $1 initially, of which $0.15 was taken in fees, leaving me with $0.85 to run the site. You can add warnings to email/text you when certain balances are hit so you don’t run out and find your site suspended. I quite like this approach, and it’s very useful if you get slashdotted.

My site’s tiny, at less than 9Mb including the images. The number of visitors I get is small too, so I was expecting the bandwidth to be tiny too (hence why I loaded so little). Looks like they have Gzip enabled by default, which helps with both speed and bandwidth costs.

Speed

I again ran my standard series of tests once uploaded.

Original hostTest host
PS Rank (Mobile)88/10082/100
PS Rank (Desktop)93/10088/100
WPT First Byte0.156s0.633s
WPT Fully Loaded2.892s4.024s
WPT Bytes (KB)1,0931,096
GTMet YSlow88%85%
GTMet Load Time2.5s3.6s
GTMet Size (Mb)1.051.06
GTMet Requests1515

Most stats took a hit compared to a regular LAMP host, though not by much. If you’re keen on performance, this may not be the place for you.

Summary

Set-up difficultyAverageIt certainly wasn’t as easy as Surge and was harder than a regular host.
Set-up timeGoodOnce you know where to go, it’s pretty quick, but it was confusing. Adding additional sites would be easy.
SpeedAverageNot the fastest host out there, nor does it claim to be.
CostGoodA month’s worth of storage and bandwidth cost me $0.04!

Final Thoughts

NFS is one of, it not the, oldest PAYG hosts available. That age not only gives you piece of mind that they’ll still be around next year, but it also means they know what they’re doing. That comes across in the service, but it’s not for the faint of heart. I’m a tech-head and I found the set-up process more confusing and arduous than it needed to be.

The admin UI also lacks any attempt at polish, with everything split onto multiple separate pages and the options both confusingly labelled and unclear as to whether they’re on or off.

Once you get used to it the system is perfectly workable though and you can’t really argue with the cost. My site is small (<9MB) and I don’t get a lot of visits (around 55 in March) so those numbers will be vastly different if you’re popular. Given that it’d cost me at least a couple of bucks a month on normal shared hosting (with more features, granted), you can see the potential saving.

If you have a lot of small sites I’d definitely say it was worth a look, but be prepared for a bit of a learning curve.