Network Solutions is an industry veteran in the truest sense. Founded in 1979, Network Solutions has been present in the web hosting industry since the very beginning. They present their services in a very goal-centric fashion to allow an individual to
- “create a website”
- “get a web address”
- “attract new customers”
Although they provide domain registration and marketing services, in this review we will be focusing primarily on the company’s web hosting services.
Features and Pricing
Web hosting with Network Solutions is broken down into four categories, each designed to serve a different purpose. There is nsHosting, nsSpace, nsBusinessSpace, and nsCommerceSpace. The services are presented in a way that makes them comprehensible for individuals who are unfamiliar with web hosting. There are various feature differences between the four hosting plans. Some features, such as FTP (file transfer protocol) seem like they should be standard across all of the plans, as is the case with most web hosts, yet this is not the case. The plans appear to be designed to strictly fit the specific purpose from which their name is derived.
For the purpose of our review, we will be examining the nsHosting category, which appears to be for general purpose web hosting, for those who want “a reliable place to upload and manage [their] website.”
Today many hosts offer unlimited disk space and bandwidth. Network Solutions does offer a plan like this under their nsHosting category, yet it is the most expensive plan and is priced far higher than comparable offerings from competitors. As with most unlimited shared plans, the unlimited nature of this plan is also restricted as it is dependent upon the resources issued to the account, and in a shared environment these boundaries can be reached when the space and bandwidth is heavily utilized.
The lowest priced plan (“small”) offers a relatively competitive amount of disk space and bandwidth for the money.
At least one free domain name is available with the annual purchase of any of the nsHosting plans. A generous number of email mailboxes is provided with each plan, with 1,000 mailboxes being offered on the “small” plan, 2,500 on the “large,” and unlimited email accounts with the unlimited plan. There is a limit of 25 FTP accounts on small, 50 on large, and as you may guess, unlimited on the unlimited plan.
For website statistics, AWStats is offered, which is a popular solution for tracking information related to the traffic visiting your website. A variety of scripting language support is available including Ruby on Rails, PHP, Python, ASP and .NET, with Java available starting with the large plan, and the unlimited plan adding support for JSP. This covers support for the majority of web applications available, so compatibility of a piece of software should be of little concern. Support for Cold Fusion is also present on the Windows unlimited nsHosting plan.
Network Solutions also provides support for three different types of databases: MySQL, MS Access, and MS SQL, with the second two being exclusive to Windows-based plans. Software is included to administer the databases. A nice feature that Network Solutions offers is automatic database backup. Real audio/video streaming, and Windows Media streaming is also included, which is helpful if a customer has any intention of presenting media on their site in the form of streams, though few likely require this.
Terms of Service
Network Solutions may very well possess the king of all Terms of Service documents. As large as their company is, I still found it surprising that they deemed it necessary to have a 58,000 word legal document. This document (the “Service Agreement”) does appear to cover all of their services, but they also have other supporting documents including a separate Acceptable Use Policy.
There does appear to be a 30 day money-back guarantee available customers with a nsHosting shared plan. When calling to cancel a customer must request a refund. For annual and multi-year billing cycles processing fees will be imposed on cancellations. These range from $29.95 per year for an annual billing cycle, to $9.95 per year for a ten-year billing cycle. Therefore, for plans ordered with billing cycles greater than one month, the guarantee is not really a complete refund.
Other than what is presented in the 30 day money-back guarantee, Network Solutions does not appear to refund any fees that have already been paid. Therefore, if a customer signs up for the longest billing cycle (three years) providing the greatest value, and decides to cancel after thirty days, they may very well lose the money they paid long in advance. It also appears that one or more domain names that are included with the plan for free will be canceled if the plan is canceled. This may cause a customer to lose their domain name; for example, it may be purchased by a domain harvester, as it “may thereafter be available for registration by another party.” Network Solutions may also terminate services without any notice to the customer if the terms are violated.
Like other web hosting companies, Network Solutions does display “Under Construction” pages for web addresses on a hosted site that otherwise do not resolve to any content, yet they take it to the extreme. For any site that does not resolve, or any webpage on a site, Network Solutions by default returns a page that may contain promotional items for Network Solutions as well as third parties. If this is not wanted, Network Solutions offers the option of showing a page containing only Network Solutions branding and a domain registration search. So, it appears by default Network Solutions may drive traffic away from a customer’s site to a third party for any page that does not resolve, and if the customer doesn’t like this they can have a page with only Network Solutions-related promotion. Of course, a customer can place their own error pages on a site, and therefore rectify this issue, at least for the most part.
Network Solutions has had controversy in the past with this policy in regard to subdomains (as subdomains generally don’t provide error pages, but rather present errors that the server cannot be found). This would be more difficult for a customer to fix, but they do offer the ability to opt-out of these imposed pages.
Network Solutions specifies that there are scheduled outages every Saturday night for two hours from 12:01 AM to 2:00 AM (Sunday morning). For most this may not be an inconvenience, yet for those mission critical users who depend on email availability, or for international customers, this scheduled downtime may be a concern. Most hosts offer 99.9% uptime across their services; therefore this downtime is generally not the standard, and may be unacceptable for some.
For customers with the nsSpace, nsBusinessSpace, and the website builder plans, the terms of service limit the individual size permitted for images, documents, and other media. This may be a concern for some individuals wishing to host extra-large files for use with those services.
Included in Network Solutions’ terms is a clause providing the company with the right to cache all site content. This may allow them to increase efficiency within their systems, yet the caching of content may not be desired by all customers.
As with most hosts, the “unlimited” shared plans are only virtually unlimited. If an account adversely affects other customers by consuming an extensive amount of space and bandwidth, Network Solutions may suspend or terminate the services provided.
The Network Solutions terms are largely generic, yet the aforementioned components do stand out.
Since Network Solutions is such a large provider of web hosting services, it should come as no surprise that they provide their own proprietary control panel. cPanel is generally the industry standard when it comes to control panels, yet Network Solutions provides a very useful alternative. The control panel is both intuitive and functional in its offerings. The presentation is clear and simple with all of the core functionality present.
I was curious to see how quick and easy it is to install applications automatically through the control panel. This is functionality that many web hosts now provide, often called “one-click” installation. A customer can find Network Solution’s offering of applications under the “Open-Source Library” category within their control panel.
I wanted to install a blog, so I opted for the popular WordPress application. After a few steps in which I was required to select where I wanted to host the blog, input my username, password, etc. and agree to the terms, the blog setup process was complete. I was then instructed that it could take up to ten minutes to process. Yet it was only a couple minutes before it was ready. I then had a functional WordPress blog like any other. Some web hosting companies have been known to impose their own branding upon these applications like WordPress. Luckily, Network Solutions does not do this and the WordPress installation is void of any reference to them.
I also tested out the administration of databases. I found that only databases I manually created could be administered through phpMyAdmin. Therefore, I could not go into the WordPress database and modify the contents after creating it. It is likely that only advanced users would wish to do this, and that the majority would never need to. I also noted that database names must be unique to not only a customer’s account, but to the system as a whole. It appears that Network Solutions may, like other large hosts, centralize their database hosting. This is not necessarily good or bad, but it does mean that the database is likely hosted on a server other than the one which hosts the site utilizing the database.
Network Solutions won awards through J.D. Power and Associates for the quality of their customer service in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Given that, I was looking forward to an excellent customer service experience.
At 8:20 PM on a Wednesday evening, I placed a call to their customer support. The message informed me that I had reached the sales team. It appears that the number presented at the top of the site changes depending on what content you are looking at.
Within seconds I was connected to a representative who sounded like they were based in the United States. Even though I had a general question, the representative did request my account information, so it appears that they did process it as a support call. I asked the representative to clarify if the size limitations on email and database were overall limits or limits per each mailbox and database. He explained that it was the latter, which made sense.
Some representatives struggle with even the most basic of questions at times and have to reference information, yet this representative knew the answer off-hand and was very helpful.
I was on and off the phone within a matter of a couple of minutes with my question resolved. Network Solutions also has one of the fastest connection times to a representative that I have experienced.
Other than phone support, the only other alternative is email support which is available via a web-based form. This is acceptable as the phone support is extremely responsive.
Network Solutions provides services that are full-featured and which are easy to use for the newcomer, while still providing a good service for customers who are veterans to the industry. They provide excellent customer service as well. They charge about the same amount as other large web hosting conglomerates serving general users, although a bit more than some of the smaller shared hosts. Their unlimited plan seems to be a bit overpriced for what it offers, unless the servers are really able to support quite a lot of use for that plan, which likely isn’t the case.
Components of their lengthy terms may also cause some individuals to question their practices.
Overall, Network Solutions seems to be a good host and since the services are backed by such a large company, long-term stability is unlikely to be a concern.