Choosing a Web Hosting Service
By Ray Herold
Given the sheer number of web hosting providers, making the decision as to which one to go with can become a daunting task. What many people don't realize is that the wrong choice can introduce a "single point of failure" into your otherwise successful online business. In this articles, I will discuss some of the major factors you should consider before you make that choice.
SPACE AND BANDWIDTH
The most common thing people look for in a hosting provider is the amount of disk storage space and "bandwidth" available to them. While these are certainly important, they should not alone be the deciding factors. Truth is, most providers today allocate more disk space and bandwidth than most people would need. As I explained in an earlier article, 5-10 Gigabytes (or more) of storage is A LOT of storage. Most people will never need this much. If you already have your website designed and ready to go on your own computer, simply right-click the folder and select properties to determine how much space it requires. Even if you use backend databases (e.g., MySQL, MS ACCESS), the vast majority of sites would never come close to requiring 5GB or more. As long as the hosting providers you are considering give you that 5GB or more, you will be fine in all but a few rare cases. If you discover you need more at a later time, make sure your provider gives you an easy upgrade path to a hosting plan with a higher allocation.
The same thing applies to bandwidth. Many, if not most, providers now give bandwidth allocatioins of 200Gb/month or more. That amount would be more than adequate for most small businesses. Let's look at an example. If each visitor to your site uses, on average, 1MB of bandwidth to surf through your pages, a 200GB/month bandwidth allocation would handle 200,000 visitors/month. Even if each visitor browsed an average of 10MB on your site (which is HIGHLY unlikely), you could still handle 20.000 visitors/month. Of course, if your business really explodes into a huge success, your failsafe fallback position is choosing a hosting provider that allows for a painless upgrade path.
SHARED VS. DEDICATED HOSTING
In a shared hosting environment, your site is placed on a server that also provides hosting for a number of other people. You have your own space, your own domain and the rest, but other people are also using the resources of that server for their sites. There is no risk of your pages showing up on the other person's site, or vice versa. Each site has it's own unique set of folders, logins, and so forth.
Besides the fact that shared hosting costs considerably less, the important consideration for most people is that the hosting company support staff administers the server. If there is a problem with the server, they have to fix it, not you. When the operating system or other system software needs to be upgraded, they do it. All you worry about is your own site and the pages contained on it.
For a large number of small businesses, shared hosting is the best way to go. In a shared hosting environment, there is no need for you to have technical knowledge of Windows or Unix server administration. That's not your core business so why would you want to take that on?
In some cases however, there may be specific reasons why someone needs to administer their own server. These usually involve people who have specialized requirements. In that case, a dedicated server would be the option of choice.
In a dedicated server environment, you have full control over everything. You configure the server the way you want it. You install operating system upgrades and patches, and you fix things when they crash. You determine what components run on the server (e.g. ASP .NET 1.1 or .NET 2.0). You determine if the server runs CDONTs or some other mailer program. It's almost as if the server were in your home or place of business, except that you are administering it remotely.
Again, in the vast majority of cases for a small business, shared hosting would be the preference. In those cases where a dedicated server is required, most hosting companies provide that, along with the headaches.
It is amazing to me what some hosting providers charge for their services. It is even more amazing that so many people pay these prices. Let's consider a few of the "low end" hosting plans offered by some of the "big boys" in the web hosting sector.
One of them charges $9.95/mo for their basic service. They also require a $25 setup fee. For that, you get 2GB of storage space and 20GB of bandwidth. Another charges $14.95/month. With that, you get 500MB (MB, not GB) of storage, and 30GB of bandwidth. Are you kididng me?? There are thousands of hosting providers that will give you 10 times these amounts for $5/month or less. And if you compare other features, you will find that in most cases, these other providers also give you more in terms of email accounts and other "freebies". It pays to compare. For those who want to spend double, and even triple, for domains and web hosting, go right ahead. It is your money after all.
Of course, you can always go with a "free" hosting account. You can't beat the price. But that doesn't normally allow you to use your own domain. You just become an extension of someone else's' (e.g., somehostingservice.com/yoursite). That doesn't do much for your branding. With free sites, you can also expect a boatload of ads that the hosting company puts there. I doubt that is really the image you want to portray to your customers.
HOSTING PROVIDER VIABILITY
Many people overlook this consideration, but doing so can be a critical mistake. The last thing you need is to get a great site online, start receiving a ton of visitors and sales, and then have your hosting company go belly-up on you. It's happened all too often.
It is to your benefit to make sure that whoever you host with will be there tomorrow, next month, next year and five years from now. You would be surprised how many hosting companies are run by a single person out of the basement of their home, or how many of them are operating on a shoestring.
Don't be afraid to ask a potential hosting company where their servers are located, or how many people are on their staff. I have stated in other articles that it is vitally important for all businesses to have a Business Continuity Plan. Ask your potential hosting company if they have one. Ask them what happens to YOU if there is a fire in their server complex. And don't be afraid to ask them what happens to the company if the owner gets hit by a beer truck on the way to work. It happens.
Depending on the needs for your online business, there are several other factors to consider when choosing your hosting provider:
- how many email accounts do they provide?
- do they provide "Blog" software or do you need a 3rd-party plugin
- do they provide "Discussion Forum" software, or do you need a 3rd-party plugin?
- do they provide a "shopping cart"?
- do they provide "merchant accounts" if you don't already have one?
- do they provide "SSL" certificates for secure transactions?
- what is the upgrade path for adding features at a later date?
- do they provide robust traffic statistics?
You may not need all these features, but if you do, it's easier to go with those that are integrated into your hosting plan. Determine what YOUR needs are, then select the hosting provider that gives you the best combination of price and features.
About the Author
Ray has a 30+ career in the Computer Information Technology (IT) field. He has been a Systems Analyst, DB and Network Administrator, Website Development Manager, IT Architect and Director of IT. He has owned several successful online businesses. He is also the author of several books.
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