TL; DR: The COVID-19 pandemic and an unexpected pricing change for cPanel recently threw the budget hosting industry into a bit of chaos. But Hawk Host has weathered both of those challenges and emerged with a devoted client base. Interest in the company’s shared, semi-dedicated, and VPS server solutions has increased, particularly with small businesses and hobbyists. The company’s journey from bare metal servers to cloud-focused hosting solutions has positioned it to provide robust service at an affordable price on infrastructure that’s ready for the future of hosting.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected certain segments of industries in radically different ways. Large enterprises, for example, translated corporate IT needs to a new distributed workforce. At the same time, medium-sized companies either moved to the cloud for the first time or doubled down on legacy remote collaboration tools.
Small businesses adapted depending on their industry, but the pandemic also prompted people to launch solo side hustles or online hobby projects.
Many of those hobbyists turned to providers like Hawk Host to establish their digital presence.
“It seems like we got more of those folks who finally had the time to dive into stuff for their side projects,” said Brian Farrell, Hawk Host Operations Manager.
Hawk Host specializes in low-cost, turnkey hosting. The company offers a mix of shared, semi-dedicated, and reseller hosting packages, and various types of virtual private servers.
The company’s mix of services — at price points starting at just $2.99 per month —attracts many small businesses, side hustlers, and online hobbyists. Packages also offer easy-to-use control panels and don’t necessarily require a high degree of technical sophistication to deploy tools — including WordPress. Hawk Host saw an uptick in that consumer segment during the pandemic.
“We got to the point where folks were looking for more hobby sites,” Brian said. “They finally had the time to dive into those projects. Maybe they found themselves with more free time, but not a community. So we saw an increase in the kind of signups from hobbyists. And that’s a lot of our customer base because our prices are not high.”
Pricing Changes Have Disrupted the Shared Hosting Market
Pricing has been a challenge in the budget shared-hosting industry thanks to a series of upstream disruptions kicked off by a massive update to cPanel’s pricing model. Many providers used cPanel — a control panel for shared hosting accounts — because it was full-featured, easy to use, and priced competitively. Then cPanel put per-server account limits in place, drastically increasing costs for providers that densely packed hosting customers on a single server.
“I think any providers who said that didn’t impact them are lying,” Brian said. “Just because of how drastic the price changes were. And now, we see that with WHMCS management consoles as well, which is not unexpected.”
Providers weathered the storm in different ways to recoup their losses. Some abandoned cPanel while others raised their prices — often significantly. That augured the likely demise of the era of ultra-low-cost hosting, especially for hosts that operated with high server density. But Hawk Host adapted to the control-panel pricing changes with relatively little disruption.
“Our shared hosting and semi-dedicated plans are cut off from sharing,” Brian said. “None of those prices were impacted. Some plans were restructured in a way where we had to eat the cost without impacting our reseller plans, however, because that’s where the big hit came, based on account totals. So we did have to adjust our reseller plans a bit — we had to drop the total number of cPanel accounts we offer. So we didn’t raise prices, but we did have to adjust our plan. I don’t think it had that much of an impact on either existing or new customers.”
Hawk Host’s ability to hold the line on pricing while keeping plans the same proved a boon for hobbyists and small businesses who aren’t engaged in reselling web services. And the company still honored its commitment to providing high-quality support.
Customer Support is a Market Differentiator
Many low-cost hosts cut corners — ask anyone who has ever used a budget host that packed hundreds of accounts onto a single underpowered server. Companies that engage in that type of revenue-maximizing strategy rarely care enough about quality and support to respond to customer inquiries and requests for help.
Today, above-and-beyond support models serve as a significant market differentiator.
“I genuinely believe that for the price you pay, the quality of support and the quality of hosting you’re going to get is excellent,” Brian said. “We’ve been investing in our infrastructure. And we haven’t increased our prices at all. So clients are only paying a couple of dollars a month, and we hit 100% uptime. So if anything does set us apart, I feel like we do give customers an extra notch in terms of quality and support for what they are paying us.”
Hawk Host’s infrastructure investments have focused on migrating from bare metal servers to cloud solutions that are less expensive and easier to scale and manage. Many hosting providers still use racks of on-premises hardware, with the attendant costs in silicon and engineers to keep everything running. Hawk Host delivers a better experience for customers at a lower price point by relying on cloud-powered solutions.
Brian has been in the business for more than 15 years, and he said he has seen a drastic change in customer expectations.
“In that time, it’s been such a drastic shift with what customers expect out of the shared hosting support,” he said. “And I think we’ve done an outstanding job keeping up with that because a lot of hosts tend to take a hands-off approach. We treat every type of ticket, whether it’s about changing PHP versions or trying to help somebody dive into code debugging, with speed and thoughtfulness.”
Hawk Host: Low-Cost Hosting with High-Touch Service
Hawk Host has seen an uptick in hobbyist hosting customers during the pandemic. The company was well-positioned to handle both the pandemic and the serious disruptions to the hosting industry following price hikes from cPanel and other major players in the upstream hosting sector.
Another way Hawk Host adds value for customers is in its support model. Because the company’s senior leaders are long-established industry veterans, they understand the shifting needs of shared, semi-shared, and private hosting customers. The team prioritizes customer support and gets involved with problems other providers may disregard as being outside their wheelhouse.
The next project on the horizon for Hawk Host is continuing its cloud evolution.
“Generally, over the last few years, the biggest project has just been converting everything from a bare metal type approach to building and hosting our own cloud base.”
The mix of low-cost hosting with a superior customer-support approach empowers small businesses and hobbyists to take a calculated risk at a low cost. Hawk Host has been around for a long time, and its cloud-focused infrastructure will endure well into the future.
“Working at Hawk Host since 2009, it’s just a way of life for me and my two other partners, the co-founders of the company,” Brian said. “We love what we’re doing.”