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How to Find the Right Web Host

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If you’re in business and online, it’s likely that at some point you’ll want to switch Web hosting companies or consider using one if you don’t already.

The greatest benefit to using a Web host is the greater assurance that it will keep your site up. With redundant connections, backup power, and security safeguards, Web hosts specialize in keeping you online, letting you focus on your core business.

Finding a Web host is easy, but finding a quality host that’s right for you can be less so.

Jupitermedia’s List of Web Hosts, at http://webhosts.thelist.com, lets you search for hosts according to type and services, but offers no quality ratings or opinions. (At the same site, Jupitermedia also provides useful background information about Web hosting.)

TheHostingChart.com, at www.thehostingchart.com, provides reviews and ratings for a small number of Web hosts.

Netcraft, at http://news.netcraft.com, offers monthly rankings of Web hosts in terms of reliability, as well as rankings for longer periods of time (search for “reliable”), but doesn’t indicate what type of host each company is.

Choices

The most important consideration in selecting the right host is knowing which type will best serve your needs and budget, says Dev Chanchani, president of INetU, a Web hosting company in Allentown, Pa., and on the Web at www.inetu.net, which has consistently ranked high in Netcraft’s reliability rankings.

You can choose among four main types of Web hosts.

With shared hosting, sometimes called virtual hosting, you share one machine with other clients of the hosting company. The hosting company manages the server (the machine), while you manage your site. This is an economical option, but it can limit your use of special software programs and is better for lower-traffic sites.

Collocated hosting involves buying the server and supplying it to the host and is appropriate for do-it-yourselfers. The host takes care of the network connection, including providing redundant power systems, and you take care of the machine. For an extra fee, some collocated hosts will provide server support.

With unmanaged dedicated hosting, you lease a server from a host, which typically supplies limited Web-based support. Unmanaged dedicated hosts can be appropriate for gaming and hobbyist servers.

Managed dedicated hosting, like unmanaged dedicated hosting, means leasing a server from a host company, but the company provides a full range of services, from backups and monitoring to security and support of specialized software. It’s these services that make this the most appropriate option for many businesses that rely on their Web sites.

Criteria

One of the keys to reliability in a Web host is redundancy. Ask any host you’re considering about the number of lines coming into its facility, the average utilization of its connections, whether it has a generator on site, the network and physical security measures it uses, and the type of fire suppression system it has. “If your Web site is down, that part of your business is down,” says Chanchani.

Ask about fees, but don’t base your decision on price alone. Very inexpensive hosting companies may skimp on performance, reliability, or support. Ask any host you’re evaluating for a list of support services provided and whether any come with extra fees.

Stability of your Web site can be influenced by the stability of your Web host. Ask how long the host has been in business, whether the ownership has changed recently, and whether or not the business is profitable.

Look into references, but ask specifically to talk with clients who have had problems. You want to find out how accessible the hosting company’s support staff is, whether you can reach a systems administrator as quickly as a nontechnical customer support staffer, and how quickly the inevitable problems get resolved. You should also be able to talk with clients who have needs and configurations similar to your own.

Make sure the hosts you’re considering aren’t “blackholed” (blacklisted) for hosting spammers, inadvertently or otherwise, by checking with OpenRBL.org, at www.openrbl.org. If you go with a blackholed host, this may cause problems with your own e-mail.

Candidates

If INetU is half as accommodating with its clients as it was with me during the interview process, you’ll be served well. But other Web hosts are also worth considering.

Here’s a short list of other recommended companies from individual members of the Internet Press Guild, an organization of writers, at www.netpress.org, that specialize in the Internet:

    • AQHost (www.aqhost.com)
    • Hostway (www.hostway.com)
    • pair Networks (www.pair.com)
    • American Internet Communications (www.amhosting.com)

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@netaxs.com or www.netaxs.com/~reidgold/column.

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