Go with a reseller?
Is a reseller host a good choice?
I noticed a trend - I don't know if it's very new, but it can't be very old either - that quite a few people are looking for hosting and specifically ask that the host is not a reseller. Obviously they have somehow decided that a reseller is not a good choice for them. Why it has come to this and if this attitude is a right one or not, are some of the things that I will try to answer here...
What's a reseller
The word reseller derives from the verb to resell, which means to sell (something) again after having bought it. Considering this definition, almost anyone who sells something is a reseller, at least to a certain extent, because almost anything, even a service, requires the purchase of some tools or services in the first place, which are, in a sense, resold at a later time.
A host that rents servers from a datacenter and then sells shared hosting and/or reseller hosting accounts or whatever other types of packages, is in fact reselling what it has bought from its provider. Despite that, it is generally regarded as a full-fledged host. Sure, they do take care that the servers are managed properly, that they are secure, they provide customer support, so they add to the original product that they have bought, but in essence they are resellers.
Putting that aside though, in a relatively short period of time, a "hosting reseller" has come to mean almost exclusively, an entity that buys some space on a server (a reseller account) and then sells it to other people in smaller pieces/slices. (Sure there's more than just space involved in this, but for the sake of simplicity I referred only to the space.)
Hosting reseller typologies
As many have noticed in the industry, basically anyone can become and becomes a hosting reseller. Regardless of their chances to succeed, there are a few types of individuals who are prone to become hosting resellers.
One type of person that often winds up becoming a web hosting reseller is the guy who wants to start a web based business and has no other business idea or no other business idea that is better than this one.
Being a hosting reseller is not costly and for many it looks like the perfect business, where you just acquire clients and then bill them each month. These are often the resellers who fail to realize that it takes a lot more than that to run a successful business and they are the ones who give resellers a bad name because of the mistakes that they do.
Another type of hosting reseller is the individual who specifically wants to start a hosting business but has a very low budget and/or hasn't the all necessary knowledge to administer a server and decides to start small in order to learn. A reseller account is said to be a very good way to learn more about hosting.
Others choose another route: they get a job at a hosting company to learn how things work from the inside and then, or even while they're working there, they start their own small hosting business, some using reseller accounts. These resellers are usually better prepared and tend to know what they are doing.
Many hosting resellers are in fact web designers. Because most web designers often create websites for brick and mortar small businesses that usually have very little or no experience with the "ways of the internet", they often become a sort of web consultant, web designer, webmaster and even search engine optimization specialist for those businesses.
When the problem of hosting arises the web designer is practically offered the possibility to host the sites that he has designed - at great prices - and I mean that literally. The prices paid for hosting by brick and mortar businesses are often several times higher than the norm in the hosting industry as a whole.
Because most web designers don't qualify as server administrators they prefer to use reseller accounts to host their clients. Reseller accounts are often the optimum choice because of the flexibility that they offer at acceptable costs, both of time and money.
Similarly, an SEO (search engine optimization) professional could seize the hosting opportunity when it arises - although this might not happen as often.
The fact that almost anyone can afford the cost of a reseller account makes it possible for anyone who doesn't have the money to start another type of business to start a web hosting business as a reseller. This is where the danger lies for both the reseller and for his clients. If the reseller is only doing this because there's nothing else to do, not because he's got of the necessary qualities and inclination, because he's prepared to do this the right way, no one wins: neither the reseller, neither the client.
Is a reseller a good hosting choice?
This is the 1 million dollars question, and it's not easy to give a definitive answer because there isn't one. If you're looking for shared hosting, asking if a reseller is a good choice is quite a natural question though. As I said, some people actually weed out resellers from their potential hosts list and they do have their reasons - which I will try to present here.
The first one is that the reliability, the uptime and server performance depend almost entirely on the upstream provider (the host behind the reseller). Considering that the reseller did a good job in finding a great upstream host, these things should be fine, but, unfortunately, in their search to get the best deal out there, many hosting resellers (if not most of them) end up being hosted for just a few bucks a month on highly overcrowded servers with stability and performance problems, frequent downtime etc. which will in turn translate into poor service for the end user.
The other major concern is the knowledgeability of the reseller. The very ease of becoming a reseller and the fact that almost anyone, or, as a WebHostingTalk user said it once, "anybody and his dog", can be a reseller, makes it very hard for some to trust a hosting reseller.
I would never say a reseller is a bad choice, but some things are not to be expected from a reseller. For example most resellers are a one man show and thus 24/7 365 days a year support can not be achieved without outsourcing some of it. This however is not a very cost effective solution for low volumes and this is why most resellers provide all the support themselves, which will obviously not be 24/7.
Also a reseller has only so much freedom on the server. A reseller cannot do some things and has to ask his own host to do them for him. That means it will take longer for those things to get solved.
On the plus side, a reseller often gets to know his customers and their needs and the client-reseller relationship often gets quite close. A friendly tone is worth for some people more than a 99.99% uptime statistic. If you're one of those people a reseller could very well be the right choice.
As I said earlier, web designers often use reseller accounts to host their clients' websites. Most of those clients are small businesses that have no idea how the web really works and they love the fact that they're getting a complete solution for their Internet side of the business. They often just don't have the time nor the knowledge to find a host on their own and set things up. They need this "all in one" solution and as long as the web designer is a stand-up guy, I believe this is a very good approach.
The dreaded question: Are you a reseller?
Yes, this is a question that most resellers dread and some might even frown upon. What and why should they answer to this? Should they openly admit it? If they do admit it, the other dreaded question will most likely be asked: who's your provider?
While the first question signals that they're dealing with a potential client that might be wary of using their services if they're resellers, the second is ten times more troublesome. Not only that they could lose the sale because they are resellers, but they are almost bound to lose the sale because their provider offers similar services at lower prices.
While an honest person will admit being just a reseller, don't expect them to share with you such private information as who their provider is.
Truth is that in most cases it is possible to find out if a host is a reseller. It might require a bit of knowledge, but in most cases a reseller can be spotted quite fast - in a matter of minutes.
Resellers however don't like to be known as such and their hosts go to great lengths to make sure they get their privacy/anonymity.
Reseller accounts are not just for hosting resellers. Buying a reseller account can be a very cost effective solution for people who have many websites of their own. Not just that, but it allows easier management. There is at least a downside that I can think of though. If the server goes down it will affect not just one of your sites, but all your websites. That can be a serious hit!
Question to self: Would I get hosting from a reseller?
Yes, I definitely would, but chances are that I will never go with one because of the lack of feedback from customers. Hosting resellers have relatively very few clients, so finding reviews made by their customers is a very hard thing to do, often even impossible because there are none to be found! There is one small hope: to visit their support forum if they have one. But their support forums, even if they do exist, will, most likely, be quite empty too.
I value reviews very much (some might say too much even) and I wouldn't use a host that doesn't have at least a few positive reviews posted freely by its customers. Because of this I don't really see myself using a reseller, but should a reseller be a knowledgeable friend of mine or be recommended by a knowledgeable friend, I would consider using their services.
I hope my rambling about hosting resellers was of some value to you. In the end, I can tell you that from my list of hosts most offer reseller accounts so if you're interested in getting one you can check them out, but I seriously suggest that you learn how to find good hosts on your own by reading the articles that I wrote. Happy hosting hunting!