FatCow may feature on your radar if you are on the lookout for a real cheap web hosting package. But can it still be a good provider in 2017, if you strip away the cost factor?…
Well, that’s what this review is all about – finding out whether you can count on FatCow’s web hosting service to keep your site accessible to all your visitors.
FatCow’s flagship offering is shared hosting, but this web host also provides a comprehensive list of support and services to complement its main business.
Their message is straightforward: simple hosting service coupled with easy user navigation, without the technical hassles.
The company provides two plans:
- The Original FatCow Plan
- And The Minimoo.
In addition, professional service is also made available to customers at a fee.
FC has been in operation for a while. It started life in 1988 in Albuquerque in the USA, only to be bought over by the Endurance International Group.
EIG is, of course, the giant conglomerate that owns quite a few web hosting companies like BlueHost. The parent company itself is an online solution provider, servicing about 2 million customers across their 40 different brands, mostly through acquisitions in the recent years.
Financially, the company seems to be doing very well as is evident from this report on bizjournals.com.
BBB Profile & Rating
As always I had to check out the Better Business Bureau’ website for ratings. But I was surprised to see that FC itself does not have a profile on bbb.org, instead, it is listed under its parent company, EIG. Which is weird considering that other subsidiaries of EIG like iPage are listed on BBB separately. That said, EIG is rated A- on a scale of A+ to F.
Fat Cow’s Hosting Plans & Pricing
The 2 shared hosting plans described above are only available on Linux platform on Apache powered server farm.
The website just focuses on shared hosting and makes no attempt to mention VPS, dedicated or cloud hosting.
- MiniMoo: $5 a Year
The MiniMoo is the low-cost alternative here. It’s not really a web hosting package. It’s actually for domain parking. It offers a single page and single email account solution to get you quickly started on the web.
- The Original FC Plan: $3.15 a Month, or $40 a Year
This plan ($3.15 per month) does allow you to do more with your website.
Please do keep in mind that the prices mentioned here are the official prices shown on their website at the time of writing this review. But as with other products and services, market changes dictate price changes as well.
Moreover, you can almost always get a better deal by suing coupons, promotional and discount codes.
Theoretically, you should be entitled to unspecified ‘oodles’ of space and bandwidth, but you would be advised instead to cut down on usage should they exceed the normal level of resources, i.e. the whole thing operates on shared storage and files.
With the Original Plan, you get access to unlimited domains and email accounts.
There is a Registrar Transfer tool that allows automatic transfers of your existing domain names. If you want, you can engage FC’s tech team to perform a manual transfer.
The company says that their shared web hosting plans do not discriminate between personal use and business use. It’s “one-plan-one price philosophy” is a testament to that commitment. And the company would have you know that your site can easily get on the web in exchange for a reasonable sum of money.
More impressively, the company makes use of wind energy to power their machines, so in essence, that demonstrates Fat Cow’s compliance to Eco-sustainability.
There are also reselling scheme for partners and referral program for new customers.
Reliability (i.e. Uptime)
FC does not provide any uptime level guarantee, so they never bother to publish stats with regards to their uptime or downtime. However, the systems management tools and technical folks work 24/7 to ensure that data center can keep to maximum uptime.
Moreover, the data center employs a clustered architecture on all its servers (i.e. if one has to go down, another one will take over, no question asked!) The backup operation is also done at regular intervals, to minimize the risk of loss data.
Boston, USA hosts the FatCow data center. The facility boasts of half a petabyte of storage space spread through its army of over 800 servers.
There are two firewalls to provide protection to the data center, and it is under professional surveillance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
An automatic backup option is available for customers who are willing to pay to have their sites backed up daily. It consists of the daily backup routines and a backup and restore tool. If you do not want to pay, it is prudent on your part to back up your data regularly.
Support facilities come in the form of a knowledge base, user guide, and tutorials. In addition, there are also the 24/7 telephone, email and live chat support.
Take note that all these mentioned come free. But the absence of forum or message board makes it difficult for you to look for help from other users. They are not into wiki either!
All these suggest that the company would like you to approach their technical support department when you run into a problem with their service.
Another thing that shows how nontransparent the company is is the fact that it never explicitly says that if their support operation is outsourced or maintained in-house.
They do have a blog on their website, but it does not seem to attract active participation, as the last entry (at the time of writing this review) was dated some half a year ago.
Its Facebook does fare slightly better, the same thing with their Twitter and Google+ account.
One outstanding feature from FC is a unique ‘HeiferCratic Oath’, to underline their commitment to delivering a positive support experience to users.
If they can’t keep up to the oath, an account credit (worth one month of hosting) would be awarded. I thought that is a pretty cool gesture and the act also aligns with the lighthearted image they company projects.
As mentioned earlier, FC employs a custom built control panel for website administration. As you try your hand at it, you are not likely to be blown away by the experience, especially if you have been a Cpanel user.
But the navigation is actually quite straightforward and it is really decent when it comes to customization.
They also have a video tutorial handy to educate new users on this control panel, and you don’t need to be a paying customer to access to this help video.
So, if you are still not entirely convinced about this new custom panel, you can check it out first!
Just steering sideway, I am not sure if any cron job (by the way, that link points to an excellent guide on what cron is and how you can use it) is possible using this control panel.
To get new users on board, the company entices customers with a $100 Google Adwords credit, $25 Yahoo!/Bing search marketing credit and a $50 Facebook advertising credit. (Not really unique to them, most web hosts offer these nowadays.)
If that is not enough for you, there are more credits from their hosts of referral and affiliate programs.
The tools made available for your site include a web analytics, website builder, FrontPage extensions, FTP access and Google custom search and webmaster tools.
Their one-click installer includes an array of applications, including WordPress, Joomla, phpBB and GBook.
Shared SSL and PayPal Shopping Cart are all embedded within the site, and there are also other online payment options.
If you are willing to pay, the company can incorporate helpful bolt-on services like Facebook and website design, premium support, SEO services and more.
Cancellation can take effect after 30 days written notice to the company. There will be a $35 early cancellation fee.
They also promise a money-back guarantee if the cancellation takes place within 30 days of signing up, but they will not refund the fees for domain registration and any other services you happened to purchase.
If you have been the recipient of any free domain name, the associated fee will get deducted from the refund, provided you want to keep it.
FatCow Reviews from Around the Web
As usual, in order to not just rely on my own experience with the company, I started reading other reviews left by other customers of FC on sites like Cnet and popular web hosting forums and discussion boards.
I do this simply because I believe it gives me a better and more accurate picture of the web host, in turn enabling me to percent to you a more realistic view of what the company is all about.
Of course, I couldn’t just add every single review I have read here (I would need a few hundred pages to do that!), so I narrow it down to the most common things these reviews were mentioning.
- Nobody else offers that ridiculously low $40 price tag for the first year – but expect the price to go up quickly after the 1st year.
- Even the basic package comes with unlimited domains.
- They now have dedicated servers in the plans as well.
- The price tag of $40 is indeed low for your hosting, but that number could easily go up to $113.88 in just a matter of one year or two!
- The company won’t offer you dedicated IPs under their shared hosting plans, so there is no chance you can get an SSL – a necessity for e-commerce operations.
- vDeck is FatCow’s control panel. vDeck isn’t exactly lousy, just that it is really slow. In fact user navigation is super friendly; but it will take its sweet time very time you click, in comparison with other control panels.
- Their claim of “Oodles” of bandwidth on offer should be taken with a pinch of salt. They must have interpreted oodles to be short for “not enough”, as sites hosted here go down easily and frequently.
- FC is known in the industry to be over zealous on their server capacity planning. In May of 2013, all their hardware was upgraded and the result is a solid improvement of 99.77%. uptime. But compared to the industry standard, there is still some catching up to do.
- Lousy chat support; even for questions that require straight responses.
- Almost entire support operation (including chat and support ticket) is outsourced. Typical response time is 3 hours on tickets, but there is no guarantee if it is the right response.
- Phone support sucks as well. Getting through is just a matter of a few minutes, but the operator will channel your call to another destination, and results in much longer waiting time.
So, Is FatCow the Best Choice?
I personally think if you take way the cost factor out, FatCow fails miserably in all other aspects; technical capability, service, and support. After all, you can’t have your cake and eat it.
The company claims it is currently making an incremental improvement in order to present its operation at a more respectable level. But it is going to be hard work for the company.
To be frank, FC surely stands out among its competitions in the shared web hosting industry, for its ultra aggressive pricing scheme. Moreover, the competitive and straightforward price structure would appeal to novice users.
The company has positioned itself as the ideal provider for small to medium sized online businesses while promising the right type of support. Hence, a lot of internet newbies tend to view their hosting services favorably. But, if the choice was up to me, I would go with a host with similar price range but far better support and features, perhaps HostMonster.
On one hand, their simple and efficient site builder and support structure have proven to be attractive to aspiring internet entrepreneurs, who are often hampered by their lack of technical knowledge. On the other hand, the readiness to get WordPress and other applications installed on the websites has been responsible for it to gain fans out of the more experienced customers.
More significantly, the flexibility to selectively add bolt-on services make it easy for their customers to come out with tailored services, so they better match their individual requirements.
For example, some customers may not have adequate exposures on SEO; the possibility for them to acquire this specific service will be so helpful to become more competitiveness among their peers, to make them a favorite of the search engines.
The flip side is that the company’s insistence on a bare minimum approach – by focusing exclusively on shared service alone with no upgrade path to VPS (as mentioned earlier in this review), dedicated or cloud hosting (plus the corresponding restrictions on storage) – may make FatCow less of an ideal choice for more established businesses.