Way 2 Web

Web development tips

Web Hosting

End of the free ride...

To publish a web site you will require the services of a web host.

Hosts generally offer packages that include domain name registration, an amount of disk space for your pages, bandwith allocation (the amount of data you can transfer to your website visitors), and other features such as databases, site statistics, and the like.

Gone are the days of free web hosting. The closest thing are very basic hosting packages with unsightly banner ads. And if you're just looking to host a home page, you may as well sign up at MySpace.com.

You could, of course, host the site yourself on your home pc, assuming that it is on-line 24-7. However, chances are you will not get the same response-time and up-time as the high-performance, well-maintained servers of a professional web hosting service.

Finding a good web host can be difficult. This article outlines tips for finding a suitable web host based on personal experience.

3 Things to look for in a web host

We will not refer to the obvious considerations such as "does the host support my coding language and database of choice" and "is it within my budget?" We only consider issues that are not so obvious at first but can often make-or-break the success of your web-based business in the long run.

Listed in descending order of importance:

1. Reliability

Great - you've found an ASP .NET host that also offers MySql databases. But this won't help you if their servers are down every other day and your potential customers encounter "Site Unavailable" errors.

The larger web hosts have the infrastructure to ensure that you have 99% up-time and a support team to tackle problems as they occur. Hosts that can guarantee minimal "down-time" will generally advertise this on their site.

It is simply not acceptible to lose out on business because the server is down. You may as well host the site on your old, previous-generation pc at home and save a few dollars and fist-fulls of tornout hair.

2. Support

Although one tends to look at price first, good customer and technical support are worth a few extra dollars.

Support takes a number of forms:

  • Admin user interface

  • Technical support and maintenance

The first refers to the a web GUI the host provides and that allows you to maintain your site: to add/edit email accounts, enable features, etc.

It is important to have a GUI that is intuitive and easy to use. For example, GoDaddy.com offers very cheap domain name registration but good luck navigating their (at the time of writing) horribly complicated and advert-strewn interface!

The GUI may include statistics reports of site activity, which can be very helpful in measuring the growth of your business. However, you may find Google Analytics to be a more helpful tool, especially if you promote your site with a Google AdWords. (See referral below.)

The second refers to the host's staff of technical engineers. You'll need them to:

  • Trouble-shoot specific problems (Why is my site switching from .NET 1.1 to 2.0? Why am I not receiving emails? Please push our application's trust level above the default Medium?!)

  • Perform maintenance tasks, such as upgrading server software and performing monitoring tasks that can among other things, prevent your outgoing email from being trashed as suspected spam.

Many hosts offer "live chat" support whereby technical operators are available within seconds via messenger-style chat. Beware: not all support staff were created equal, and you may have to be find one of the two operators that actually know what they're doing. (Ask for the shift manager.) You may land up being supported by an out-sourced support center in Bangladesh. Good luck with that.

3. Scalability

You hope that your web site will be successful. But are you prepared for the consequences?

Make sure the web host can provide services that you will likely need in the future.

If you will need to capture sensitive data such as payment information, make sure that the web host can provide SSL secure connections, or your e-commerce options will be limited. If you're running a simple MySql 4.1 database, but will need stored procedures and triggers in future, make sure the host can upgrade you to MySql 5. Will you need to run your site on a dedicated server, without interference from other hosting accounts?

Additional disk space and bandwidth are generally not a problem to upgrade, for a fee.

In a nut shell...

Support and service is the name of the game. Go with the larger hosting companies and look for details on up-time, support availability and past user experiences.

Beyond that, it's all about the money.