How to Find the Right Web Host for your Business
Most business owners know very little about how to choose the internet hosting provider that’s best for their website and for their business. What makes a good web-hoster, or a bad one? How can this important decision help, or harm, your business? What types of services are available, and which are best for you?
Whether your business is a tennis shop or a facility, and whether you’re signed on to the Tennis Welcome Center program or not, more and more people will be looking on the internet for information about your business and your programs. Here are some tips to help you make the right decisions about who to select to host your website.
1. Understand the Differences Among the Types of Web-Hosting
It is crucial that you know the distinctions between shared, collocated, unmanaged dedicated and managed dedicated hosting so you can choose the one that is right for your business. As the hosting industry has matured, hosting offers have split into distinct categories, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
- Shared hosting (sometimes called “virtual hosting”) means that you are sharing one server with a number of other clients of that company. The host manages the server almost completely (though you maintain your site and your account). They can afford to charge you little since many clients are paying for the use of the server. However, that means companies other than yours are using the resources of that server, and heavy traffic to one of the other sites on the server can really hammer the performance of your site. Also, you are typically not able to install special software programs on these types of machines, because the host will need to keep a stable environment for all of the clients using the server.
- Collocated hosting means that you purchase a server from a hardware vendor, like Dell or HP for example, and you supply this server to the host. The host will then plug your server into its network and its redundant power systems. The host is responsible for making sure its network is available, and you are responsible for all support and maintenance of your server. Good hosters will offer management contracts to their collocation clients so that you can outsource much of the support to them and come to an arrangement similar to managed dedicated hosting. Most collocation hosts do not offer this service, however.
- Unmanaged dedicated hosting is very similar to collocation, except that you lease a server from a host and do not actually own it yourself. Some very limited support (typically web-based only) is included, but the level of support varies widely from one hoster to another. A typical price for this type of server is around $99 a month. Support levels are typically only provided in general terms. Ask the host to go into specifics about what support they will provide — will they apply security patches to your server? — before signing up. This service is typically good for gaming servers (like Doom or Counterstrike servers) or hobbyist servers, but not for serious businesses that need responsive, expert-level service.
- Managed dedicated hosting means leasing a server from a host and having that company provide a robust level of support and maintenance on the server, backed by quality guarantees. This maintenance typically includes services such as server uptime monitoring, a hardware warranty, security patch updates and more. Make sure your managed dedicated host is specific about its managed services.
2. Ask if Your Potential Host’s Network Has Blackholed IPs
Many hosts care little about who is actually hosting on their networks, so long as the clients pay their bill. That means many hosters will allow porn sites, spammers, and servers that create security issues on their network. Placing ethical issues aside, however, this does have a negative impact on customers in general, for example when a network gets blackholed.
Getting blackholed means that other networks will refuse e-mail originated from Internet Providers (IPs) that are blacklisted. Some hosts have a number of entire class C (up to 256 IPs) networks blackholed and redistribute these tainted IPs to new clients. That means if your business relies on legitimate closed-loop opt-in e-mail marketing, being on such a network can severely cut response to your campaign because your e-mail may never get to its destination.
Check with any hosts you are considering to see if their networks are blackholed. Also, here is a link to a third party source that tracks blackholed networks and lists them: http://www.spamhaus.org/sbl/isp.lasso
The following URL is a good resource to help you understand what is labeled “spam” and what isn’t: http://www.spamhaus.org/mailinglists.html
3. Don’t Confuse Size With Stability
Just because a web-hosting company is big does not mean it is stable and secure. How do you protect yourself? Ask some key questions: How long has the host been in business? Is current ownership the same as always? Are they profitable and cash flow positive from operation-generated revenue?
4. Don’t Make Price Your Only Priority
The old saying “you get what you pay for” applies. When you over-prioritize price, you run the risk of ending up with a host that will provide you with a connection to the internet and little else in terms of support (and even that connection may be running at maximum capacity or have uptime issues).
5. Make Sure Your Host Has Fully Redundant Data Centers
When dealing with smaller vendors, make sure that they have their own data centers and that those data centers are fully redundant in terms of power and connectivity. Here are a few questions to ask:
- How many lines do they have coming into the facility?
- What is the average utilization of their connections? (No matter how large the connection, it if is running at maximum capacity it will be slow.)
- Do they have redundant power to the servers?
- Do they have a generator on-site? How often do they test it?
- What sort of security measures do they have for the network?
- What physical security do they have?
- What type of fire suppression systems do they have?
6. Do They Have Experienced Systems Administrators on Their Support Staff?
When you call in for technical support, it can be a frustrating experience to be stuck talking with a non-technical customer-service rep when you really need to talk to a systems administrator who can resolve your issues. Find out the structure of their support department, how quickly you can get to an actual systems administrator when you need to, and which systems administrators can help you when you need help.
7. Make Sure the Host Is Flexible
It is important that the hoster understands how important quality servers are to your business. Even most managed dedicated hosts will not go near supporting applications that are not part of their initial server setup. Find a hoster that has a vast amount of experience to support a wide variety of applications, and one that can bring that expertise to you through their services.
8. Find Out What Their Former and Current Clients Say About Them
Can your prospective host provide you with success stories for clients with similar configurations to yours? Are they able to provide references from clients who can tell you about their experience using that company?
9. Make Sure The Host’s Support Doesn’t Include Extra Charges
Any host you consider should provide you with a comprehensive list outlining the support they offer so that you can have an understanding of what is supported for free, what is supported at a fee, and what is not supported at all. To win your business, make them get specific.
See all articles by Chris Kivlehan
About the Author
Chris Kivlehan is the marketing manager for INetU Managed Hosting. INetU (inetu.net) is an award-winning Allentown, Pa.-based hosting provider that specializes in managed dedicated hosting for businesses nationwide in the online retailing, web development, e-learning, financial services and online marketing industries, as well as for governments, nonprofits and civic institutions.