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How To Choose A Webhost Provider

By Darcy McDonald
Posted Friday, August 6, 2004

Doesn't sound hard does it? Just go to one of the big boys on the Internet like Verio or NetNation and give them your credit card. But maybe these guys aren't the best or maybe you don't need that expensive a service. What are your requirements? What do you really know about these companies? They have a nice web site, but does that translate into 24x7 super reliable, high bandwidth service? Certainly NOT. Not that it precludes them, but it is probably smart to understand what you need, and then go get it. We will address these main points in this discussion:

Bandwidth
Reliability
Cost
Types of service
Shared or dedicated service

Bandwidth: all you really care about is providing a decent service to your customers. This is a tricky point as most webhosting providers advertise a huge pipe they offer to their clients. How many clients are sharing it? Is CNN one of their customers that is gobbling up 75% right off the top? These are questions that need to be asked of the sales people where you are considering purchasing the service. Remember: how much do you really need? Is your site a content only site? Or do you stream video and audio? Are you selling a service that the masses want (like free porno) or are you providing a service for a niche market (a few hundred customers per day). Try not to delude yourself here because you will PAY for the higher grade service even though you may not need them.

Reliability: Everyone wants his or her site to be up most of the time, but do you provide a service that your customers need every waking second of the day and night? Maybe it would be a good thing if it was but the cost of a 99.999 uptime hosting facility is prohibitively expensive. Chances are that all you really need is a decent data center run by some professional administrators - people that can keep things running most of the time, with maybe an hour
downtime a week for maintenance etc. This is a much more affordable option. If you really need the five nines (99.999% uptime) phone IBM and get ready to give them your wallet. Otherwise, a local provider might do the trick. Talk to the sales people from contenders and weigh the price/feature options.

Cost: There is an amazing array of web hosting services being offered: everything from Basement operations to Sun Miscrosystem's world class data centers. One note that is very important to note is that there are free web hosting services. It really depends on the products and services you offer. If it is a site for your kid's hockey team, the free services are the most economical. If you are trying to set-up an Internet bank or stock trading company you should talk to IBM or Sun. I think that 90% of all the people reading this don't want a free provider, or the high end companies. Most will want a local provider (cheap but not as reliable) up to a (www.verio.com) or (www.netnation.com). We don't endorse these vendors or even purchase services from them (we run our own data center). The point I am trying to make is that you should try to determine your revenue streams and purchase the service that can support what you are trying to sell. Use the search engines to find local hosting companies and the big boys.

Types of service: Be careful of some of the options that hosting providers give. Do you need an NT server, or a Unix server? Do you have shopping cart software or do you want your web hosting company to provide it? Does your system need a database? The vendor may not support them (or not the one you rely on). Does it have offer secure
transactions (SSL) does you need it, are you sure? Any chance you want to stream some audio or video? Maybe now, or maybe in the future? Do your homework. Figure out exactly what you need, then make a list of the things you plan to add to your site and compare web hosting based on these services. It will be a pain to move your site once you have
established it somewhere.

Shared or Dedicated: This is an interesting point. Automatically you are thinking, "I need to be on my own server!". Chances are good that you don't though, as long as the hosting company can guarantee that the load on the server will be monitored closely. The only way that your service will be impacted is if you end up sharing with a very popular site. The hosting company will be monitoring this situation carefully because they will be more then happy forcing a popular site into their expensive dedicated server offering. Don't worry, no one will have access to your site or files that you share the server with. In fact, you may never even know who you share with! The bottom line is you get economies of scale from the vendor this way and it will be cheaper for this service then the dedicated service, and like I said the vendor will be sure to inform you when they think you need it.

There is no rocket science in this article or hidden gems. Shop carefully and compare all the prices and services from each vendor. We have always endorsed the "ladder" system. Choose a very low cost vendor to begin with and then as your service proves itself (through sales) upgrade to a better (and more costly) provider. As you need more bandwidth and reliability you can purchase it. It is orders of magnitude easier to do if you own your own domain name too. Then all you have to do is get someone to swing the DNS entry to point to your new provider and Ta-Da! Your done and know one even knows! Just make sure that you evaluate hosting providers at all the "steps" in the ladder and pick the best of breed. Either in cost, support, or services.
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About the author:
Darcy MacDonald operates Babblebot, an excellent new site dedicated to search engine submission, ranking, and
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