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The main part is about my experiences from September, 2010. There is an update at the bottom from June 2011.
Based on the IP address I was given for my account—and nslookup—it looks as if the server and presumably data center is in Dallas, Texas. Which should be great because I am in Texas, too. Hence, the connection speed should be fairly well. So, I thought!
First impression: Static content
As with probably all hosting provider you don't get a free test account where you can find out if this provider is any good, speed-wise. You have to buy a one year contract or let yourself rope in to an even longer plan with great savings, though.
Good news first, the static HTML web pages I set up first are popping up blazing fast in my browser. I mean split second fast. You hit enter and the page is there before you can blink or say: "Awesome!"
Second impression: PHP
Once I switched over to PHP things changed considerably. Even simple basic PHP test scripts in a "Hello World" manner take anywhere from 1 to 6 seconds.
Then I uploaded my whole Zend Framework application and not much of a surprise here—the response time is even worse. Pages in average take anywhere from 6 to 14 seconds to arrive at my desktop.
In my internal network setup (within a VMware virtual host) this takes 2 or maybe 3 seconds—tops. With another provider I use, i.e. over the Internet, for this same application it takes even less than 2 seconds. However, I had some other issues with that provider why I thought I need a backup solution and gave FatCow a try.
I cannot really tell without more in-depth testing what the real problem is where the delays are coming from. One thing I know for sure, though. It seems to be some internal problem within the server environment. Some network tests revealed that the page is requested and then nothing happens for some seconds. The whole page and data usually is delivered with .5 seconds.
For one thing there is no FastCGI available which could speed up things with PHP but I have no real experience in this regard and if this would make any difference.
My feeling is that they have some problems with the internal network or setup of servers. As mentioned, if you have a few static pages everything works fine. If you have to access a whole bunch of files in a framework you are asking for trouble. It might be either I/O file requests to remote storage (SAN,NAS) or memory limitations for your virtual server, resulting in page faults. Hard to tell without proper access to the server and thus tools to measure performance.
I never really used FatCow in production because of this initial experience. Then I came back and did some tests again in June 2011. Things have vastly improved and response time is usually around an acceptable 2 seconds.
There are still other issues, though. Because of this I would not recommend this provider for any of my clients and a production environment.