If you take no other impression away regarding a2 Hosting after seeing its homepage (pictured above), it will be that it’s fast. And while the performance of website hosts depends on several factors, a2 does provide a number of features (as you’ll see below) to ensure you’re happy with your website’s performance.
But speed aside, a2 is also a very capable and versatile web hosting provider. Whether you’re just starting out and just want a WordPress site to blog on, or you’re a tried-and-true website admin, a2 has the options you need regardless of the type of site(s) you have.
We tested the web hosting platform, so keep reading to see how to fared.
Other Available Levels of Service: From Basic to Advanced
Shared Hosting from A2 is available at the following levels:
- Lite: The entry-level Lite service is available for use with a single website, although it does include unlimited storage and bandwidth. You won’t be able to add any of a2’s speed-related features (more on these in a bit) to this service level either, and the service only allocates a single processor core and 512 MB of RAM to your account.
- Swift: The next step up, Swift, adds unlimited websites and domains, although you still can’t add any of the proprietary performance options. It does up the resources however to two processor cores and 1 GB of RAM.
- Turbo: Finally, the Turbo tier, the one we tested, provides two processor cores, doubles the RAM to 2GB, and makes all of a2’s proprietary performance features available. Some of these are included gratis, and others will come with an upcharge.
Platform: Linux and Windows
Most other web hosting companies offer services based on Linux. And a2’s default Shared Hosting services are on Linux as well, CloudLinux to be precise. This distribution is based on CentOS, which is in turn based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. So, the basis of a2’s environment is very solid. But CloudLinux has been tuned for use by hosts and resellers, meaning it has additional security and performance enhancements. At the same time, it remains compatible with a large number of applications already packaged up for Red Hat-based distributions.
In addition, a2 Hosting also offers Shared Hosting on Windows servers. This allows users (most likely companies) to host sites or applications built on Microsoft technologies like ASP, .NET, or even Silverlight. These accounts also have access to open-source software as well, so users can run applications such as WordPress using the MySQL database engine and PHP programming language, for example. Best of all, users can add both types of Shared Hosting to their accounts for less than $20 month ($7.99/month for Linux hosting at the Lite tier, plus $9.99 for Windows hosting at the same level).
Storage: All the Storage You Can Use
As we mentioned before, there is no limit on storage at a2 Hosting. Even the bottom-tier services can use as much disk space as required or go crazy installing lots of different sites or applications. This is particularly attractive given the large number of one-click app installers a2 makes available (more on this in a later section).
Bandwidth: No Need to Keep Tabs on Traffic
Likewise, a2 Hosting doesn’t meter traffic to your sites. So feel free to put up those high-res images or that HD video gallery. With unlimited storage and bandwidth, you don’t need to worry about overages for media-heavy sites or applications.
Registration Process: Quick and Easy
Getting registered on a2 Hosting is straight forward. The registration process steps you through a small number of screens, although unlike some competing providers there’s no navigation to let you know precisely where you are in the process. You’ll start by clicking on the Get Started! links for whatever level of service you’re currently reviewing.
The next step is for you to indicate the domain name you’d like. You can also elect to transfer your domain name or use an existing domain host at this stage.
Next, you’ll select some options to your new hosting account. These include your billing cycle, the data center you’d like to use (likely the one closest to you), as well as add-ons such as a dedicated IP address or performance enhancements. You can also have an application, such as a content management system, installed automatically for you.
Finally, you’ll reach the checkout page. Here you enter your contact and payment information. Set your account’s password (you’ll use your email as a username), and you’re off to the races.
Domain & Site Management: The Right Tools Are Here
When you first log into your a2 Hosting account, you’ll land on a dashboard. There are tiles with information, or enabling functionality, as follows:
- The topmost contains a summary of the services you currently have as well as domains, any support tickets, and a link to invoices.
- The next item down lists all your domains, and contains quick links to each one’s 1) cPanel admin screen, and 2) connection and payment details.
- Blocks below these two main bars let you open support tickets, register a new domain, view the company’s Tweets and news, or make referrals for credit towards service.
The site’s menu also contains links to important services:
- Services: You can use the entries here to view your current services, order new ones, or browse add-ons to the services you have.
- Domains: The Domains menu includes tools to order new domains, renew your existing domains, transfer domains from other hosts to a2 Hosting, or perform a Whois lookup to see who owns a domain you might want.
- Billing: In this menu, you can change your payment information (including credit card or PayPal), and view invoices. If you’ve requested services from a2 Hosting and received a quote, you’ll also have access to it here.
- Support: The Support menu contains links to sources of information such as a2’s blog and knowledge base as well as links to request assistance, for example with host migrations.
- Open Ticket: This item will take you to a screen where you can open a support ticket.
- Account: Lastly, the Account menu lets you edit details such as your contact information, change your password, grant others (such as web developers) access to your account, or log out.
Advanced Options: cPanel in All Its Glory
Within each domain, your admin options are within cPanel, which you can reach by clicking the above-mentioned quick link. That said, you can still use all the power that the cPanel interface provides by going to the Advanced menu. The right side of the screen provides some statistical information on your account, such as your server’s address, how much storage you’ve used, and how many databases you have.
The sections in the center of the screen contain collections of tools as follows:
- Files: This section contains a link to the web-based file manager, tools to track disk usage, and backup features.
- Scriptaculous Apps Installers: You can install any of hundreds of available applications with a single click. There are multiple options in categories including Blogs, Wikis, Social Networking, e-commerce, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) in addition to the obvious content management systems.
- Staging: A “staging” area is a web development term for a copy of your “live” website where you can test out new features. a2 Hosting provides the ability to copy your such an area with a click.
- Billing & Support: Use the tools in this section to managing billing information, request or upgrade services, open a help ticket, and manage domains.
- Databases: You can administer databases here using either the MySQL or PostgreSQL database servers, and access web-based management tools such as phpMyAdmin (for MySQL) and phpPgAdmin (for Postgres).
- SEO & Marketing Tools: This section aids in optimizing the SEO and/or social media links for your site(s). You can also access a free site builder application from here or set up email marketing campaigns.
- Domains: There are additional links to domain tools here, including registration. You can also set up subdomains or aliases/redirects (automatically sending visitors to one domain when they visit another).
- E-mail: Create your e-mail addresses, set up mailing lists, adjust spam filters, and configure autoresponders using the tools in this section. There’s a module for calendars and contacts as well, and a tool to enable encryption for your mail.
- Metrics: You can obtain stats on basics like visitors and bandwidth or use more advanced tools such as Awstats or Webalizer to visualize your site’s performance.
- Security: a2 Hosting provides SSH shell access to verified users, which you can set up here. You can also manage your SSL certificates (you do get a free Let’s Encrypt cert when you register), or block access by specific IP addresses.
- Software: While this may seem to overlap with the one-click installers mentioned above, this section is really about your software environments. This includes setting versions of programming languages like PHP or setting up frameworks like the popular Node.js.
- Advanced: The Advanced section is a collection of miscellaneous tools. These include some configuration for the Apache web server, setting up Cron jobs, error pages (like the dreaded 404 Error page), and how to handle MIME types. a2’s own optimization tools are also located in this section.
- Preferences: Finally, this section lets you change the language shown in cPanel, manage your users, set your password, or change your contact info.
Administration: Straightforward, No Matter Where You Find It
All the primary administration options are available in at least either 1) the main site menu, or 2) cPanel. The tools themselves straightforward, with easy-to-use-forms that let you change your payment method, for example.
One useful feature is the ability to create “Sub-Accounts.” If you’re a small web developer using a2 Hosting to service your own clients, you can set each one up with a Sub-Account that allows them to not only access their files but upgrade their own services or pay invoices.
Support: It’s All About Opening Tickets
One downside to a2 Hosting is that the main method of support appears to be support tickets. There isn’t any real-time options such as phone or even chat. If you have an issue, you’ll need to submit a ticket and wait until a helpdesk staff member gets back to you.
Key Features: Performance Enhancements
a2’s Hosting’s “claim to fame,” though, is the enhancements it does to ensure your site is working as fast as it possibly can. The main method they use to do this is the Turbo account add-on. This assigns more server resources to you as a user, and also limits the number of other users that will be on your server. These together minimize the chance of a bottleneck that will slow your site to a crawl.
On top of this, Turbo accounts also use a replacement to the generally-available Apache web server that is tuned for performance. Finally, there are a number of options you can activate such as caching you can turn on for top speed.
a2’s Hosting’s “claim to fame,” though, is the enhancements it does to ensure your site is working as fast as it possibly can.
Price: Great Performance, But A Little Expensive
Compared to some other hosting providers, the $18.99/month for a2 Hosting’s Shared Turbo service is a little high. If you can live without all the performance enhancements (and unless you’re serving a lot of media or running e-Commerce, you probably can), one of the lower tiers will probably serve you just fine. But if you want the very best-performing site you can get on a budget, the Turbo service gives you dollar-for-dollar the best deal without upgrading to a private hosting service of some kind.
Competition: a2 Hosting vs. GoDaddy
The most direct competitor for a2 Hosting as a “generalist” hosting provider is GoDaddy. Both offer tools catering to users ranging from newbies to tech gurus. Both provide both Linux and Windows options, and both position themselves as a host for any type of site.
The main difference between them is at the high end of their Shared Hosting plans. a2 Hosting’s plan provides the performance enhancements mentioned throughout this review, where GoDaddy provides the same raw processing power, yet none of these special enhancements. At the same time, a2’s service is significantly cheaper than GoDaddy’s ($19.99/month vs. $29.99/month). GoDaddy does throw in a free domain for a year, but once that’s over (if not before), a2 clearly provides the better value.
Worth it for power users, but newbies may be overpaying.
a2 Hosting provides a solid service that can handle any type of site, from basic to complex, with little difficulty. And the company makes all the right tools available for those who know how to use them. If you’re just getting started with building websites, you might be able to use another service that costs less and still has great value. But if you’re a veteran, want the full suite of tools and features, as well as a speedy website, a2 can make that happen easily.
- Product NameShared Hosting Turbo
- Product BrandA2 Hosting
- Available Levels of ServiceLite, Swift
- PlatformLinux (CloudLinux), Windows
- Registration ProcessMulti-step “shopping cart”-style registration
- Domain & Site ManagementDashboard plus simplified tools in main menu
- Advanced OptionscPanel provides a wealth of configuration options
- AdministrationMain menu contains basic tools for contact and payment info management
- SupportOpening a ticket is the only available support method
- File AccessFTP, SFTP
- Shell AccessSSH
- Version ControlGit, Subversion
- Payment optionsCredit Card, PayPal