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Nine Things to Know Before
Selecting a Web Host for Your Business

 

by Chris Kivlehan

 

1.
What kinds of Web hosting services are available?
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> As the hosting industry has matured, hosting offers
have split into categories. To choose the one that is right for your business,
you need to understand the distinctions among shared, collocated, unmanaged
dedicated, and managed dedicated hosting.

 

Shared
hosting
(sometimes called virtual
hosting) means that you are sharing the host’s server with other clients. The
host manages the server almost completely, although you maintain your site and
your account. Costs for each client can be low, since many clients are paying
for use of the server. But having companies other than yours use it means that
heavy traffic to some other client’s site can hammer your site’s performance.
Also, you usually can’t install special software programs, because the host
needs to keep the environment stable for other clients.

 

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 then plugs your server into its network and
its redundant power systems and takes responsibility for making sure its
network is available. You are responsible for all support and maintenance of
your server. Some hosts offer management contracts to their collocation clients
that let you outsource much of the support to them, but most don’t.

 

Unmanaged
dedicated hosting
is very similar
to collocation, except that you lease a server from a host, usually for about
$100 a month, instead of owning one. The level of support varies widely from
host to host. Ask for specific information about the support a host provides.

 

Managed
dedicated hosting
means leasing a
server from a host that provides a robust level of support and maintenance
backed by quality guarantees. Support typically includes services such as
server uptime monitoring, a hardware warranty, security patch updates, and
more. Companies have been known to disguise unmanaged dedicated hosting as
managed dedicated hosting, so—as above—be sure to get specifics before you sign
on.

 

2.
Does the potential host’s network have blackholed IP (Internet protocol)
numbers?
Many hosts care little
about who is on their networks as long as the clients pay their bills. That
means that many allow porn sites, spammers, and servers that create security
issues for the sake of the dollar. Even if you put ethical issues aside, this
can have a negative impact when, for example, a network gets blackholed for
spamming—that is, when other networks refuse email originating from it. If your
business relies on legitimate opt-in email marketing to drive sales, being on a
blackholed network can severely cut response to your campaign.

 

Ask any hosts you are considering
whether their networks are blackholed. And check <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>www.spamhaus.org/sbl/isp.lasso
for a
list of blackholed networks. Also visit <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>www.spamhaus.org/mailinglists.html
for
help in understanding what is labeled spam and what isn’t.

 

3.
How stable is the prospective host?

Don’t confuse size with stability. A Web hosting company may not be stable and
secure even if it’s big. In fact, many of the biggest have filed for bankruptcy
protection or been saved from ruin only by being sold to some other company, a
development that can create uncomfortable transitions in service for clients.

 

To protect yourself, ask some key
questions:

 

·      How long the has the host been in
business?

·      Is current ownership the same as
original ownership?

·      Is the company profitable?

·      Is cash flow from operations
positive?

 

4.
What will you pay?
The lowest
price shouldn’t be your highest priority. Remember, the old saying “You get
what you pay for” generally applies. When you overprioritize price, you risk
ending up with a host that provides you with a connection to the Internet and
little else, and even that connection may have capacity or uptime issues.

 

5.
Does the prospective host have data centers that are fully redundant in terms
of power and connectivity?
Make
sure that prospective hosts do, especially when dealing with smaller vendors.

 

Here are a few questions to ask:

 

·      How many lines do you have coming
into the facility?

·      What is the average utilization of
connections? (No matter how large the connection, it will be slow if it is running
at maximum capacity.)

·      Do you have redundant power to the
servers?

·      Do you have a generator on site?

·      How often do you test the
generator?

·      What security measures are in
place for the network?

·      What physical security do you
have?

·      What fire-suppression systems are
in place?

 

6.
How experienced are the systems administrators on the support staff?
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> When you call in for technical support, it can be
frustrating to talk with a nontechnical “customer service” representative. Find
out how the support department is structured, how quickly you can get to an
actual systems administrator when you need to, and what systems administrators
will be available.

 

7.
How flexible are the host’s systems?

Even managed dedicated hosts won’t usually support applications that are not
part of their initial server setup.

 

8.
What do current and former clients say?
Can your prospective host provide success stories about clients with
sites configured similarly to yours? Can the host provide references from
clients who will tell you about their experiences with the company?

 

9.
Will the host’s support involve extra charges?
<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Any host you consider should give you a comprehensive
outline of the support it offers, so that you can understand what is free, what
you will pay extra for, and what is simply not supported. Many hosts try to
hide a substandard level of free support behind general statements about
high-quality support. Make prospects get specific to win your business.

 

Chris Kivlehan is the
marketing manager for INetU Managed Hosting, an award-winning Allentown,
PA–based hosting provider that offers 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. For more information: 610/266-7441;
chrisk@inetu.net; or www.inetu.net.

 

 

 

 

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