Explosive growth in use of information systems and the Internet for all manner of business applications has made provision of proper web hosting services. Whether novice or expert, you can find some useful information in this article to learn about some of the considerations to look at when you choose a web hosting service.
The cost of hosting services that you can find on the net varies a lot. Options like disk space, bandwidth allowance, control panel and operating system in a hosting account determines the price that you have to pay. First, to start finding a host for your site, you need to determine your requirements for your site. For the sake of the beginners, I will consider shared and dedicated hosting only.
1) Size, scalability and disk space.
Will your website and content grow from time to time or you just need to publish a set of content that will expire after some time?
> A corporate site with less than 20 web pages, a disk space of less than 40MB should be enough.
> If you want to start a site about a certain topic or industry, consider getting a hosting account with at least 60MB disk space for a start.
> If you intend to publish a site with a lot of pictures or mp3 for users to download or purchase, consider a 100MB disk space hosting account.
> For personal sites, consider a 30MB MB disk space hosting account.
> If you are in charge of an enterprise that needs to publish a lot of information and offer intranet system and public services, consider a dedicated server instead.
These days, many hosting providers offer hosting services that exceed the disk space requirement standard for any given websites. Although more is better, it is not always necessary. Disk space can be purchased from time to time if it is not sufficient. So choose a hosting account appropriately depending on how much space you will need.
Secondly, consider hosting providers that can support the growth of your website and business, so that you can scale your website affordably. Ask about the companies’ application, network, disk space cost, facilities and the solution they can offer as your site grows.
The features of a hosting account has a lot to do with what you can do for your site. It is of utmost importance to find a host that matches your skills and interest. Let’s go step by step!
2) Platform and hardware requirements.
The most popular web server nowadays runs on Windows 2000, Apache, Cobalt or Linux®. The design goals of both Unix®/Linux® and Windows are very similar in nature. These operating system are portability, extensibility, and an ability to run on various different computers, whether they are desktop PCs or departmental servers. Your choice of operating system will classify the service and type of software that you can deploy and the kind of applications that your site can run on.
Windows NT® or Windows 2000 servers are configured to be compatible with Microsoft® applications, such as FrontPage, Access and MS SQL. NT/Windows 2000 servers also offer programming environments such as Active Server Pages (ASP), Visual Basic Scripts, MS Index Server and Cold Fusion. So if you are familiar with Microsoft®’s Internet Technologies, consider Windows NT® or Windows 2000 hosting services. Also, consider the speed of the processor and the amount of RAM (memory) that is installed on the server. Compare and choose the hosting provider that can offer you high processor speed and bigger amount of RAM (memory) at a reasonable price.
The Unix® platform offers tried and tested stability and the speed for enterprise level e-business. Linux® should also be mentioned when talking about Unix®. Many people do not realize that Linux® falls under the realm of Unix®. This is because Linux® is actually a Unix® derivative. Unix® or Linux® hosting often comes with telnet access, mySQL database, Perl, PHP and CGI support. If you are familiar with Unix® file naming, PERL or PHP applications, consider a Unix® or Linux® hosting account.
If you are not familiar with any of these operating systems, and if you prefer an easy to use platform, consider a Windows 2000 hosting account. If you are looking forward to learning the Perl programming language or if reliability or stability is a concern, consider an Unix® or Linux® hosting account.
Whichever platform that you choose, determine your goals for your site and find out the requirements to run your site. Based on your needs, determine the compatibility of the application or programming language that you need to use. Once you have all these in mind, you can safely and easily decide which platform is most suitable for your need.
3) Email Accounts.
Look for email accounts with web based access as well as POP3. The best ones are those with administrator control. Generally, you should have at least 5 email accounts for 3 users. Depending on the number users that have in your organization, you should have least 2 to 5 standby email accounts. Some hosting providers offer unlimited email accounts as well. Features like auto responders, email aliases and email forwarding is very common nowadays.
4) Software and services.
Web hosting in the open Internet market today is very competitive. A good hosting provider will offer speedy internet connection, proper security measures, featured rich hosting, and reliable server uptime. There are over a 100 types of features that a host can offer. Look for only what you need. Some of the most widely offered features include.
Determine your requirements and decide if database is required. If you need to store a lot of records or transactions, a database can be very helpful. MS Access, mySQL and MS SQL Server are some of the most widely used database on the internet. If you are decide a Unix® or Linux® hosting is your preferred choice, mySQL suits perfectly for your site. Alternatively, if a Windows 2000 server hosting is your option, you have the choice of either a MS Access or a MS SQL server.
b) Scripting language
If you think Microsoft® Active Server Pages can’t be used in Linux® or Unix®, you are wrong. With more and more new and advanced technologies coming up to support cross platform, virtually all popular scripting languages can be used on either Windows 2000 and Unix®. Nevertheless, it is advisable that you still stick to the platform and scripting language that you know best. If Perl, Cgi, Php and mySQL are your favorite scripting languages and tools, stick to Linux® or Unix®. Find the host that supports the latest version. Insist that they inform you so that you maximize the latest web technologies for the fee that you pay.
c) Microsoft® FrontPage Support
This configuration allows you to use Microsoft® FrontPage to design, create and manage your website.
d) FTP Accounts
This is by default the standard method of uploading and downloading files from your computer to your site.
e) Raw Log Access
Often you don’t need raw log. Each log size is very big and it is very hard to interpret it into useful information. Instead insist the host provider offer web statistics software for your site so that you can harness the detailed analytics buried deep within gigabytes of raw log and provide you the insights you need to market your site successfully.
f) Control Panel
Control Panel is a service provided by the host to help manage your web hosting account efficiently. This a is very useful tool that you need when you want things to be done quickly and dynamically. Check out this feature when you are looking for a host to sign up with
g) Ecommerce Options
If you want to sell a service or product online, you need to find a hosting provider that offers a selection of ecommerce features and payment processing services. Shopping cart, SSL security certificate and credit card merchant providers are some of the options you need to consider. Currently, the easiest and most widely used ecommerce system is Miva® Merchant. Look for a host that supports this. Other shopping cart systems are also available and some hosting providers offer this feature for free as part of the hosting plan.
Many scripting languages require third party extensions or additional extension to develop cutting-edge web technologies. Some of these components are available at an additional cost. View carefully and ask if required whether the hosting company provides the components that you need.
For example, if want to develop a site using Microsoft® Active Server Pages, you may want to know if the host provides additional third party components like SAFileup, ASPMail, and BrowserHawk.
Web users do not tolerate slow websites, and to a certain extent, you can avoid the problem by choosing a hosting provider that is committed to supply high speed connection and redundant lines to ensure your site remains responsive and that your data moves quickly even if your primary Internet connections are temporarily unavailable.
Although the speed of a site can be caused by various and complicated problem areas, ranging from routing, web server set up, and local area networks, the main and major concern of how fast your site is depends very much on the types of network connections. The general types of network connections that a hosting provider often provides are given below.
Many hosting providers still connect to the Internet through T1, or T3 connections, although there has been an increase of hosting services using OC (Optical Carrier) lines.
A T1 line will offer data transfer rate of 1.5 Mbps (megabits per second), while a T3 line can supply data transfer rates of 43Mbps. Ultra-High Speed OC3 and OC12 lines offers 155Mbps and 622Mbps respectively. Some hosting providers have connections to major internet backbones at the speed of OC48 (2488Mbps).
Thus, consider finding a host that provides reasonable internet connections. You can do a speed test to determine the average response time from a hosting provider’s site to your computer. Ping displays a report that includes the time it takes to receive a control packet from the remote host. High values of packet loss and response time indicate low connection performances, while low response time often means more reliable and faster connection. Please take note that the user’s experience of response time is not limited to server’s connection, but the throughput of the web server, the Internet itself, and user’s connection.
Bandwidth is the amount of files and data that you can transfer per month. The standard allowance you get is 1 gigabyte of bandwidth per month. Every time a visitor views your site they are downloading files from your site, this uses your bandwidth. If you have a page that is 30kb in size including images and 10 people view that page you would have used 300kilobytes of bandwidth.(1 gigabyte = approximately 1,000,000 kilobytes)
7) Reliability and Scalability.
Choose a provider offering a guarantee that your Website will be open for business at least 99% of the time. Excellent Web hosting providers can offer this guarantee because they have invested in the best automatic monitoring equipment, hired experienced engineers who can anticipate problems and emergencies, and installed redundant back-up systems to take over the moment anything goes wrong.
Maintaining and running a web hosting company is not easy. In fact, finding highly experienced web technicians to respond and support inquiries 24 hours and 7 days a week is even harder. Because successful implementation of a web hosting company often depends on how the management team executes its plan, policies, and goals, you can easily test if the web hosting company will respond to you quickly by asking them questions through email a few times.
There are a few things you can do to find a host with good technical support.
Find out if the company provides online knowledgebase and FAQ support. Check if the system is frequently updated and used. Online knowledgebase and FAQ are very handy tools when you have trouble with your website at anytime.
Find out if a control panel is available for your site. Control Panel allows you to change and manage your hosting account remotely at anytime without any support intervention.
Find out the company’s current status and how many years the company has been operating. Hosting providers that do not determine the needs of their customers have ceased or will eventually cease operations in this industry, leaving only the best-of-breed hosting providers to progress and move ahead.
Find out if the company has any technical certification in supporting and providing the service you purchase
Check the cost of the hosting plans carefully. Some hosting features are optional. You can also save some cost if you prepay a yearly payment. The cost of shared hosting plans and dedicated hosting plans varies a lot.