When good suppliers go bad, or why we don’t recommend Cartika Hosting anymore

For years we had our sites all on Cartika Hosting and we loved it. For about five years I think. We recommended Cartika Hosting to all our clients and put up a lot of sites on Cartika.

The disk space limits and even bandwidth were always pretty tight in comparison to what you could get with Dreamhost, Bluehost or Hostgator. But we didn't mind.

What we wanted was quality and security and for that we were prepared to pay a significant premium over discount hosting. We called it "business quality hosting", after a rough ride with our own site Foliovision on Dreamhost for a few months with our client sites on Hostroute.

Our main guy there Jonathan was helpful and innovative and we like him a lot. What Jonathan admired about Cartika was the owner of Cartika Hosting Andrew Rouchatas's insistence on performance both in terms of the servers and in terms of customer support.

Performance meant keeping both disk space and bandwidth limits relatively low in comparison to the competitors. Support meant a staff of real hosting and IT experts who are excited and thrilled by hosting. And Andrew managed to do it with Jonathan, Steven and later Ellen. A core team of four or five crack experts managed to keep the whole ship running smoothly for years. Most of the time the support staff were not even in the post drop address on the Danforth in Toronto but in New York or Wyoming or even Jersusalem and working via IM and VOIP.

Cartika was wildly successful with this affordable but high value offer, keeping all shared hosting on a large (50 node) cluster with control panel, email and front end separated. Everyone who's had a taste of quality hosting doesn't want to go back to budget hosting. Nor do many of them want the pain of running their own servers. We were in this group.

As Andrew himself insisted, it was not possible to be affordable, honest and offer nearly unlimited or enormous hosting plans. The hosting company had to have a trick up its sleeve. In the case of Dreamhost it's CPU time (if you actually use any CPU time which all modern database driven sites do, you get cut off after a certain amount of CPU). In Bluehost's case, it's the number of connection requests. Too many of them and your weblog is temporarily suspended. In many other fly-by-night hosting operations, the trick was just overloading the servers and letting them groan (Dreamhost has some very slow servers as well).

Here's what Andrew himself wrote about overselling in 2007:

Marketing driven, marketing gimmick adverts specifically designed to misguide the consumer into buying into a low price point with the ultimate intention of upselling the consumer to a much more expensive solution (otherwise known as bait and switch) – ie) marketing a solution that is impossible to deliver with the pre-meditated notion of attracting customers with a low entry point and quickly upgrading them to more expensive solutions which often times arent required and ultimately will cost the consumer several times more then they actually need or should be paying for their service or intended to spend....

A lot of companies call us trying to buy a dedicated server for a website pushing 40 GB of transfer saying that all shared hosting is unreliable and they countinually get suspended for CPU violations, etc. Now, sometimes this is just a result of poor coding that can be remedied – but, more often then not, this customer would be fine in a good shared environment that may cost them $40-$100 per month for 40-75 GB of transfer, but instead, they have been spending $5-$20 on hosting services with massively oversold providers, have had countinual issues, have had their reputations suffer for site suspensions and are now willing to spend upto $500-$1000 per month for a dedicated environment, when one clearly isnt required and they can save a bundle by using an appropriately configured and allocated shared environment.

Alas over the last two years, matters began to slip. Disk space limits went way up, bandwidth limits went way up. New staff multiplied like rabbits. And like rabbits many of them were not too clever, even if they strived to remain adorable. Cartika Hosting always used an awful control panel called H-Sphere. The great technical support made up for the inanities and problems with H-Sphere. In the last couple of years, I found that I knew more about H-Sphere as Andrew's frontline crew.

I hate H-Sphere and consider myself a barely passable end user. Not only that these new support staff were reluctant to admit functionality that I knew existed. And very whiney when I insisted that they get the right answer.

So what was Andrew up to with the new high limits and all the new staff?

He'd found a secret path to huge profits - the same model he had publicly deplored in 2007 on his weblog and in hosting forums all over the world and to clients and to anyone who'd hear him out. Those higher limits were his marketing bait. He would lure clients into his shared hosting package and when they used any substantial amount of the new huge packages - bang, you get a call.

"You are exceeding your share of server resources. You must move to VPS hosting within X days."

In fairness to Cartika, when they forced us and our clients to move into VPS's and dedicated servers that we neither needed or wanted, they did give us substantial time to make the moves: usually between two and six weeks. But we were told that was a privilege accorded long time clients.

Unfortunately unlike their shared hosting, Cartika's VPS offer is both very expensive and it performs rather poorly. A full dedicated CPU VPS at Cartika with H-Sphere and 2 GB of RAM and 2 dedicated CPU underperforms our cPanel VPS at VPSville with 768 RAM and shared CPU's. Unfortunately that VPS at Cartika will run you $250 ($200 for resellers) and the VPS at VPSville will run you $75. Cartika Support is more responsive than VPSville. But the guys at VPSville get the fixes right and keep your virtual box running fast. You end up needing a lot less support. Which suits both us and VPSville.

I still feel guilty about moving a client onto Cartika's VPS plan for over a year. That valued client and friend finally left our hosting and our care as he'd figured out he could get better hosting elsewhere. I'd made the mistake of trusting Andrew Rouchatas's value assurance. I felt Andrew had pushed me to shortchange a client.

The final straw came when Andrew contacted us to let us know one of our NPO sites whom we maintain and help as a contribution to the world would have to go to a VPS. That client is not in a position to pay $200/month for a VPS even if we passed the costs along at par. What's worse - there was no reason that this client should have to leave the shared hosting environment. He wasn't over in terms of either bandwidth or disk space.

Andrew argued that our client was using up to 40% of the a 8 CPU XEON server all on his own. We said, where are the issues, we'll bring the client's CPU time down with caching and plugin optimisation. And in fact we did bring usage down to under 10%. But it was a no go.

"No they have to move onto a VPS," insisted Andrew.

This meant we had to move all of our hosting onto a dedicated server, as there was no way we were going to carry on having our larger clients picked off one by one to go into $250/month of VPS. I'd seen our Cartika hosting costs expand from $125/month to $500/month in a year. Hosting which was a side business for us was gradually costing us money.

The last thing I wanted was to have to administer our own server. We'd bought into Cartika's high value shared hosting and that's what we wanted, even if we had to pay an extra $50 or $70/month for each of our very high volume sites.

"No, you cannot stay on shared hosting even if you pay extra for that client," boomed Andrew.

So we talked it over and decided to move all our accounts onto a single scalable server node on Cartika's new cloud hosting offer.

Unfortunately we made the mistake of making the move staying in H-Sphere to make the move easier. As events revealed, we should have moved to cPanel at this time as it would have saved us a lot of time later.

Our cloud server node was a dual processsor, Core2Duo equivalent initially. We found we had to go up to three processors quickly enough. On the cloud we had trouble getting accurate information on which client was using which resources and we found our server slow. We were already at $420/month for this cloud solution. It sounded like a great idea to be able to scale up to 16 processors on the Cloud.

But if performance was so crappy with even three processors maybe it was time to look at a dedicated quad processor solution which would cost less than two processors in Cartika's cloud and likely outperform 

I'll be honest it was not easy to find a good dedicated host. We wanted to go to Canada and looked high and low for the right host there. Canadian hosting remains either overpriced and underspecced or the service expertise simply isn't there. We had to disqualify many of the companies we spoke to as we'd be pretty much on our own with the hardware once they'd put our dedicated server online. We were willing to pay for support but we were not willing to be hung out to dry. We were not partial to the idea of our server admin and our hosting hardware provider being two separate entities. Separating hardware and support seemed a surefire way to spend a lot of money and see a lot of finger pointing.

In the end, one name consistently came up for high quality managed dedicated servers, WiredTree.

We moved there to a quad core i7 with SSD. Our sites are faster, our CPU usage is usually around 5% with spikes going up to 20%. The nightmare of constantly monitoring CPU usage and seeing 50% and 70% numbers at Cartika is over.

When we first moved over, our CPU usage was closer to 20% at peak times and I wanted to improve performance. Joe Doss made the very good recommendation that we switch to LiteSpeed. We weren't all that keen as we prefer FOSS on principle as well as cost, paying $40/month just for server software sounded crazy. It was a great recommendation. We now enjoy:

  1. security
  2. client monitoring
  3. speed

My suspicions about poor configuration at Cartika turned out to be true. Here's the diabolical part: the slower their VPS and Cloud offering run, the more the client needs to upgrade the hardware. So instead of what would be $100 of VPS, you need $400 of VPS at Cartika. Instead of $300 of dedicated or cloud at Cartika, you need over a $1000 of dedicated or cloud.

What really surprised me is how Andrew abandoned his core business principles to go with overselling and forced upgrades as a new business model.

Overselling seems to be working well for Cartika Hosting. But I can't really recommend their shared hosting anymore (you still could do worse: support is at least reachable and about half of the current crew are competent or skilled). We recommend LiquidWeb instead because of their fast servers and 24/7 telephone support. We haven't seen a client site there underresourced or prematurely pushed onto VPS or dedicated.

On the other hand, if you do ever find yourself pushed to upgrade at Cartika Hosting, I highly recommend you run for the hills. There are much better performing offers on dedicated hosting from WiredTree and other providers. There are much better performing offers on VPS from WiredTree, VPSville and other providers.

The other lesson to be learned here is to stay away from H-Sphere. Not only is H-Sphere a pain to use, migration is difficult between H-Sphere clusters, VPS and dedicated hosting. What is worse, once you are on H-Sphere your choice of providers is very limited. So if you want to move your sites the process is sure to be very painful. The extended musical chairs which Cartika led us  (remember all we wanted was to stay on shared hosting and expand our account or even pay penalties) between shared, VPS's and Cloud hosting cost our company about $10K of programming time before we were finally settled.

If we'd been on cPanel, it would have been a couple of days work to move to a new dedicated server. And if one of our current clients blows out of our existing i7 and VPS's, it will be short work to move them onto a dedicated server of their own.

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18 Responses to When good suppliers go bad, or why we don’t recommend Cartika Hosting anymore

  1. R

    Hi there

    I have just read your article about cartika hosting.

    i must say that i believe that i may be having the same trouble as you.

    recently i moved my main site to a innohosting shared plan – dirt cheap and shared – and my hits more than doubled.

    since then, i have decided to give cartika another shot – only because of the hassle of moving all of my other sites off.

    … and traffic has more than halved.

    is this a cartika problem that you identified?

  2. Hi R.,

    Thanks for your note.

    Unfortunately we have little good to say about Cartika Hosting.

    Our last client still on Cartika has his site shut down on shared hosting as soon as it got busy just last week.

    Without any warning.

    I would move away if I were you.

    Making the web work for you, Alec

  3. john

    We tried Cartikahosting.com and we experienced everything bad. The billing the tech support are all pretty rude and not helpful. The servers are down a lot.

  4. Hi John,

    I wouldn’t say Cartika is that bad.

    1. tech support is pretty good, depending on who you get.
    2. the servers are a bit slow due to the far too conservative default configuration.
    3. billing is a bit up and down depending on Andrew’s mood, that’s true. Dave is truly a horse’s ass. Not sure why Andrew keeps him at all. Usually Andrew will sort out billing in a fair way in the end. Why it has to be so stressful is beyond me.
    4. servers are not down a lot. There was a very long down day a week ago but that’s rather an exception. We still have clients on Cartika and I would not say downtime is an issue.

    I wish you better luck with your next host. With a bit of distance from our experience with Cartika and more experience with some other major hosts, Cartika is better and worse in some ways than the others.

    At this point, I’d say no host is perfect and good is all you can realistically hope for. I’d consider Cartika Hosting again for either shared or dedicated, but we’d insist on our own performance configuration if we hosted with Cartika again. We’d avoid their VPS and their cloud option as overpriced and underperforming.

  5. Denny

    Hi Alec,

    Only wish i had read this before going with Cartika!

    My first experience with Cartika in 2011 was nothing but bad!

    1.They messed up my billing at the very beginning. Not impressed.
    2.They Handed over a VPS with so many problems that it just kept hanging. We debated this issue and I was to blame for this. go figure.

    3.I Was told console access not working was my fault, when in the end it was their FW that was not opened!

    Anyhow I was amazed at how defensive they were and especially Andrew the owner, a really derogative attitude and a j**k in my book.

    Anyhow stay away from them! Unstable servers and bad customer relations!

  6. DaveColo

    As a 7 year Cartika customer using their UR1 Reseller plan, I’ve been generally satisfied, and feel like they’ve made efforts to improve the things I’ve found lacking–mostly their move from Colo4 to Databank and their deployment of SpamExperts were things I found positive. With the exception of some pretty awful outages last summer with Colo4, and some incredibly defensive explanations from Cartika, I’ve had a good experience.

    Einnar, Jonathan are two great support staffers who always seem to be ready and willing to help.

    But then came a minor suggestion and feedback, which turned into a circular argument filled with lectures and admonishment. It was really a shock to see in such a competitive industry, and although I’ve spent thousands of dollars with them, I could not get even one acknowledgement that I raised some good points, only that “my preferences are my preferences”. Gee, thanks.

    It’s now come down to leaving due to the tone of the CEO, and if the CEO is a jerk, then anyone who works for him will follow. You set examples as a leader of a company, so I can only anticipate future issues should they arise. It’s time to go.

    So my question is, where did you go Denny, Alec and others. And has wiredtree been satisfactory?

    Thanks

  7. Hi Dave,

    While the basic setup was brilliant (great speeds and performance), the actual hands on team at WiredTree was terrible. Every time we wanted anything changed (simple RAM upgrade or additional disk added to our box), the techs blew it, taking our server down for an hour at a time, unsuccessfully doing the upgrade up to three times. Once they even fried our motherboard.

    Then WiredTree turned out to crack under expansion. They sold oversold at too attractive prices. In the end, they overloaded their part of the datacenter and had extensive outages.

    That would have been okay but then WiredTree denied documented outage times and refused to honour their SLA (service level agreement). Alexis Babiarz is the wife or concubine of WiredTree owner Zac Cogswell and a real witch.

    Eventually I sent in multiple uptime logs from both pingdom.com and another service. Babiarz said they were both fabrications and inaccurate. Due to her lying and dissembling about downtime and very rude tickets refusing to honour SLA, we moved away.

    I would highly recommend avoiding WiredTree as despite the good tech infrastructure, WiredTree are dishonest. As long as Alexis Babiarz is in the billing department, I would cross them off my list. Given her relationship with Cogswell, that’s probably forever.

    Currently our primary server is on Netelligent in Canada. Some of the techs are very helpful and some of them are unhelpful, not terribly competent and obstinate. Recently Alex Naumchenko said there was no way for end users to see how much email quota is available in cPanel. Fortunately Charles-Olivier Demers stepped in with the solution:

    There is not a supported plugin for this for squirrelmail, but roundcube (which is a more modern webmail client) has this behavior built in. As soon a user logs in there, they should see a disk usage bar at the bottom left corner. Hovering the mouse over this will give numeric values as well. (e.g. 16 MB / 250MB (7%)) If you have any further questions, just let me know.

    Took twenty messages to get that answer out of Netelligent though. Netelligent also does not feel capable of deploying SSD at this point (WiredTree had that cracked three years ago).

    Netelligent is also much more expensive than WiredTree (about the same level as Cartika). At least the server is in Canada, outside of the Patriot Act (not that Canadian PM Harper would mind opening up all the server rooms in Canada to whatever US organisation asked: the Canadian courts may still stop him though).

    End result: all web hosting companies suck.

    It’s a question who sucks less. Cartika still has a horse in the race, based on the poor performance of all the others.

  8. Denny

    Dave,

    To answer your question about where i went, well I never really needed Cartika since we are a web hosting company ourselves. I only tried their VPS as I needed an extra machine to test out CloudLinux since at the time I could not deploy it with my actual provider but now i can and run all of our servers on our own.

    Sorry you had to also put up with Cartika’s arrogant ceo (<– he does not deserve caps).

    So Alec. To answer your question NO not all Hosting Providers suck! I think your using managed servers by the sound of it so i cant recommend any. But if your wanting to lease a Linux VPS then do like we do and use Linode.com and be ready to be impressed with support and reliability. They are without doubt the best provider out there, they continue to impress me.

    They only thing missing to make Linode perfect is a Canadian data center, but that will come i suppose.

    Denny

  9. Hi Denny,

    We are running half a dozen Linodes. But frankly we are a strategy and web development company and would rather have *properly* managed servers.

    Thanks for sharing. Amusing we ended up having to manage our own servers as well to get high performance.

    Making the web work for you, Alec

  10. fred

    I tried this company but do not have anything positive to say about them. Main complaint is Cartikahosting servers go down a lot and a lot of the times you cannot find any tech support to help. Not sure but it seems there is only one person at the company who does the billing, technical support and sales. A lot of the times I could not reach anyone when the server was down. The server was down a lot. I read some good reviews about Cartikahosting on cartikahostingreview.com before signing up but now I’m realizing that this is their own review website run by them. So I guess I was tricked. I think the hosting company is writing their own reviews. It’s misleading to the public. I kind of feel scammed but I don’t want to waste a lot of time trying to get a refund. In addition, when I tried to ask their “billing” about this, no one replied. They just ignore you once they get your money. I have to say I really regret trying them out. What ever happened to money back guaranteed? What a mistake.

  11. Hi Fred,

    For all my own mediocre experience with Cartika, I cannot say they have just one person doing billing, technical support and sales.

    Cartika does not have a unified office it’s true – they are truly a virtual company which is not something I really agree with. I’ve built my own company with a central office and a satellite office, specifically avoiding this fractured system. Nothing can beat face to face casual meetings for inspiration and consistency.

    But in sales they have Andrew. In billing they have Andrew and a real turkey named Dave. In technical support, I remember Jonathan and Steven as very good. I think Ellen is gone now, but I’m not sure. There were some other guys too, most of them not as good or dedicated as Jonathan and Steven but at least one of them was alright.

    So like Andrew’s straight slander of Foliovision, your remarks are unfair. Why is it so hard for people to tell the truth on the internet?

  12. Justin

    We’ve been using them for over a year now and have not had the problems you’ve reported. I agree the HSphere panel (which we use just for paying them, that’s it) is really clunky but luckily I only deal with it once a month to pay our bill.

    One difference may be that we’re using their cloud offering, so we manage the OS and system on our own. There was one downtime due to a disk controller issue in their cloud storage (as I understand it), and they credited us a full month for the outage. They also coordinated with us about when they would take down the disk array to upgrade it to prevent the same problem in the future.

    With the cloud offering, we have dedicated resources so I guess if we have high usage, it won’t affect other customers anyway, as opposed to shared hosting.

    We actually use Dreamhost also, but for some internal company sites. I’d never run any real business (customer-facing) sites on it — way too overloaded.

  13. Hi Justin,

    We found the Cartika Cloud to be much slower than dedicated hardware and about twice the price for the same amount of resources.

    So basically by going to dedicated hardware we have three times as much power as on a cloud service. Overcapacity leads to faster load times in non-crisis times while leaving lots of headroom.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  14. @ Justin – thank you for posting your comments. Its nice to have feedback from a real, legitimate customer in this thread – vs people like Alec who are upset that we fired them as a customer and his customers he convinced that their issues are hosting related.

    We do have a central management and billing portal we have launched recently and are moving all services into this portal one by one (https://accounts.cartika.com)

    Cloud and VPS platforms are being moved into this platform next and being integrated with Flexiant .

    Andrew

    Cartika CEO

  15. Hello Andrew,

    We left Cartika as we put conditions on improvement of our hosting which you were not prepared to meet.

    Our experience is real world. We’ve hosted with you and we’ve hosted elsewhere. As I posted above, almost all hosting sucks for one reason or another.

    In your case, it was because of the slow servers Unlike your billing department (you and Dave), most of your support staff like Jonathan and Steven are very nice.. At WiredTree it was because of the incompetent line level techs who sat half an hour away from the actual datacenter and broke our server every time they touched it.

    At Netelligent, it was okay but their lead techs (unlike WiredTree) couldn’t competently implement a migration. I.e. their skills at the top were just not good enough for a company like Foliovision who is focused on VIP hosting for high end clients.

    It would have been nice if you had not erased my well-reasoned and balanced comments from your own blind rant which quite frankly is full of slander and lies. I was surprised you were prepared to post lies. I’d suggest you work on improving your service rather than slandering your ex-clients far and wide.

    Anyone who ever complains about Cartika gets the chainsaw treatment. Beware people.

  16. Hello Alec,

    lets please stop the insanity. You were indeed asked to leave Cartika.

    I do not lie or slander, but, that “Rant” you are referring to was indeed exactly accurate. Having said this, I have taken the higher ground and removed it from the internet – these petty, immature and irrational battles are not something I am interested in.

    Anyone is free to “complain” about cartika – but, you will notice that very very few of our customers actually do so.

    Its clear that you are upset with practically every hosting vendor you deal with – and I assure you, every hosting vendor gets tired of your act very quickly

    just do what the rest of us do Alec – try and build good business relationships, try to work with your vendors and stop yelling at people – and you may find that maybe you can start forming solid vendor relationships this way

    thanks
    Andrew

  17. Hi Andrew,

    I agree that we have had rocky relationships with our hosting providers. What you originally wrote back in 2005 remains true, hosting is a race to the bottom. So it’s turned into a business based mainly on gotchas and poor service.

    To meet pricing, SOMEWHERE the hosting provider is economising hard:

    * quality of service
    * quality of network
    * quality of front line techs
    * advanced server technology

    It shouldn’t be like this. Someone should be able to offer high performance packages at fair prices.

    But it appears that such packages are not popular with users so you have either cutthroat tactics and shoddy hosting or quality services priced sky high. The advertising is by necessity and by design full of false promises.

    In the end, we ended up having to set up our own rack to be able to provide the quality our clients demand. I hope things change in hosting one day.

  18. ali

    I have been in the hosting industry since 2001, i started with Wizards Hosting headed by Carlos and later moved to Relio again started by Carlos. Carlos had great customer skills and i stayed with him for the importance he showed at times when Hosting providers could care less.
    When Relio was sold to Weberz, the nightmare started. The control panels were always inaccessible, and the support never replied to the tickets nor answered their phone. after suffering for 2 years i finally moved to Cartika.
    I agree i found their prices steep compared to others but once i moved to Cartika, my customers stopped complaining and the calls at night stopped too. I haven’t had a major disruption yet with Cartika.
    Jonathan is great and i love working with him on support calls.
    I did face the resource overuse issue too, but then i moved the client to his on virtual server.
    I still feel the price is high, but i am prepared to spend some extra bucks for peace of mind.
    I never experienced slow server issues or downtime.
    So its a thumbs up from me.

    ali

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