Choosing a Good Web Host
On August 19, 2004 At 7:01 pm
Category : Beginners
Tags : asp, database, design, ecommerce, email
Responses : No Comments
In today’s Internet enriched business world, the choice of a Web Hosting Provider can make or break a company. Whether you are choosing a Web Host for an e-commerce site, for sharing corporate data with your investors, or are just making a personal web page, the decision is critical. Although the price and value of your web hosting package are high considerations, never overlook the intangibles like good service or quality web connections. Use the following strategies to help guide you in your decision.
A Question of Stability
There is nothing worse than moving your Web sites from one host to another. A Web Hosting Providers stability is a very important factor. Try choosing a well-established Web Hosting Provider. Logistically, switching from one Web Hosting Provider to the next is not only a hassle (lost data and clients must tolerate downtime), but can also have a serious effect on your checkbook.
When looking for a stable provider check their background and make sure they don’t change company policies to meet the marketing whims. Also ask their clients and get their opinion on how stable the provider is. If you have any doubts about a providers stability, you should strongly consider choosing a different one.
The Double-Edge Sword of Popularity
A Web Hosts popularity is often a double-edged sword. On the one hand, knowing who uses the Web Host for their own needs is a good indicator of the quality of service they provide. High profile clients are an indicator of the stability and quality of features the Web Host provides. However, the problem with this is, if the Web Host has too many clients it may provide slower service in the form of waiting on the phone for customer service or slower loading pages due to traffic constraints.
When it comes to popularity, balance is the word to keep in mind. Make sure the Web Host has plenty of high ratings from its customers and also keep in mind the total size of the customer base they have as opposed to their hardware (connections and server).
The sheer volume of data that can be passed between your site and your customer is mainly determined by the bandwidth allotted to your site by your Web Host. When hunting for a Web Host, your best bet is to find a provider which has at least a T-3 backbone connection. A T-3 Internet connection can pass data of speeds up to 45 Mbps. In comparison to a T-1 connection, it would take 28 T-1s to equal the data passing potential of a T-3. A good connection is the foundation of your site. The next thing to look for is how much of the bandwidth is being used by the existing demands on the system. In other words, how much of the bandwidth is used by the host providers current customers. An average Web Hosting Provider should have less than 30 percent of the total available bandwidth utilized during off-peak hours and no more than 70 percent during peak hours.
Last, you must check the proximity of your website to the backbone. Many hosting companies connect to larger Internet connectivity providers. Think of it like a stream moving to a river with your web host being on a stream. The more upstream connections a host provider has to the Internet backbone connection, the more opportunity for data loss and bandwidth loss for your company. When looking for a Web Hosting Provider, try to find the one that is closest to one of the primary Internet backbones.
So you have chosen a Web Hosting Provider that fulfills the above, but what happens if the T3 connection drops what do you do now? As with anything that requires high availability, redundancy and reliability go hand in hand. The same holds true for your Web Hosting Provider.
Check to see if your Web Host Provider has multiple Internet connections. Many providers will have access to more than one backbone to the Internet. This redundancy is provided in case of such emergencies as hardware failure. Many T3 connections will have, at the very least, T1 connections in place to take the load. Cost not withstanding, a wise web hosting consumer would do well to find a Web Hosting Provider whose T3 connection is backed up by one or more T1 connections or have multiple T-3 connections making up their backbone.
Can Their Equipment Handle your Clientele?
You must make sure your Web Hosts hardware can handle your business. The provider should have redundant connections to include more than one backbone, uninterruptible power supplies in case of outages, plenty of bandwidth during peak times, etc. On top of this, make sure that the provider performs daily backups of your data. The last thing your clients need is for their information to be destroyed or the web sites to go down. Your provider will not get the blame when things go bad, you will.
Keeping Your Data Secure
Security comes in many forms. Operating system security is often the first line of defense. Many of us are more than familiar with the age-old questions going on between Windows NT and UNIX so they will be touched on briefly. Other security problems and/or concerns that you should ask about are, physical security, data security physical and electronic, and security needs of the equipment.
In many areas both Windows NT and the UNIX family of operating systems are comparable and even provide the same features. One of the main areas of debate between NT and UNIX is security. The primary difference is UNIX has been around longer and therefore has had a longer time dealing with security violations. This translates over to a more tried and true method of dealing with breeches in security. NT on the other hand, is relatively new and therefore has not faced the gauntlet of computer hackers, however, there will continue to be security holes found in both UNIX and NT, which will continue to be patched by the appropriate vendors.
Physical security for your information may or may not be a big concern. If your information covers items such as bank transactions, credit card usage on a constant and global basis, or even handling secure information, then you should try looking for strong security measures. These include security guards, alarms, etc. on or around the area your information/server is stored.
Electronic security comes in many forms and covers OS security, data backup, and even password protection of your ftp connections to you site. Electronic security is normally taken for granted. This is yet another topic that can be researched by asking around and reading articles about your Web Host. Have their servers been broken into by hackers, is their technical support competent enough to prevent outside intrusion, etc.
The topic of data backup is as easy as reading the features that come with your web hosting plan. The standard these days is daily backup of some sort with the backup files stored in a separate area. The typical forms of data backup are a multi-drive RAID unit, using parity to store customer information across multiple drives, or magnetic tape backup.
Last, your Host should have a means of providing power to the servers during times of power failure, flickers, or surges. Items such as back-up generators should be considered for such problems. Additionally, high quality UPS systems not only provide a back up power source, but also form a key component in the overall power conditioning system of the Web Hosting Provider.
Select a Web Host plan that provides the most features for the price. However, when it comes to features, do not waste your money on items you will never use. Make sure to plan ahead and look for features that will be of use to you as your development efforts grow. Before shopping, make a list of the things that you need now and what things you will need later.
Items such as ASP database support and even e-commerce-ready sites are, often times, standard with many packages. The key here, is the more features that suit your development style and platform, the more equipped you are. This can also include pre-packaged software packaged with the hosting plan that you select. Getting all of these features up-front saves time (upgrading downtime and development time), and money (pre-packaged software is substantially less than upgrading at a later date).
When dealing with a Web Host it is important to know what you need and what you will need in the future. For this reason some time should be taken to identify those things you need to ensure continued growth for you website. Features that you need should either be included in the plan or there should be room to grow into these features via upgrades.
E commerce Concerns
Many commerce hosts incorporate ecommerce software bundles. Some offer mere support while others offer the complete package. Before looking for an appropriate Web Hosting Provider, try to find ecommerce packages that you are comfortable and confident in using, and then check your provider for support. Along with this, many providers have special contracts with ecommerce software designers. It does not hurt to see if your provider has special prices or deals on the ecommerce software that you feel comfortable with.
Databases provide the invisible, but essential, core functionality of data storage and manipulation. There are quite a few different database vendors and products ranging from expensive to free, with the main differences between database software being price, platforms, and performance. When looking for a Web Host for your database host needs, make sure that they support and can provide technical support for the database software you know how to use. If possible, see if they support multiple database platforms in case you need to use different or multiple database software.
A Tale of Two Supports
Technical Support: When it comes to technical support, there is no such thing, as enough. Look for at least 24-hour seven-day support. If available, make sure a knowledgeable technician is on call that understands your specific platforms ins and outs. In the case of technical support, time is money. Therefore it cannot be emphasized enough how important a knowledgeable technical staff is. If you have a question, or your clientele has a question, you must have technical support that can answer it thoroughly and efficiently. When testing technical support the following questions you should be asking yourself are:
- How long does it take for them to answer your questions?
- Are the answers accurate?
- Do they answer their phone after hours?
- Do they answer their phone during work hours?
- How long does it take to answer email?
- Are they quick to give you excuses or real answers?
Look around. Before you pick a provider check with their clients and ask them if the providers technical staff is up to snuff.
Developer Support: As well as technical support, check to see if you provider also has a development staff that can help you with your work. Although development support usually has an hourly fee or a consulting fee, it never hurts to have professional help when you need it. In the long run, a good development team backing you up can be a real lifesaver when it comes to handling your business. It will ensure that things are done correctly the first time every time.
When searching for a good Web Hosting Provider there are many factors to consider. The main thing to remember is prioritize and make a personal needs list. Find those things you need the most and focus on them. Use Web Host Finder sites and search engines to sort out the types of web host plans you need. Examine the details of the plans and look for the features you would like, as well as those that you may need in the future. Choosing a Web Hosting Provider for a business page is often a death do us part decision that is one of the most pivotal strategic selections a company wishing to establish and develop a Web presence can make. In other words, look around and learn as much about your Web Hosting Provider as possible before making a decision.