Web Hosting Checklist

Once you have decided what web hosting services you require, it is then time to make a list of certain web hosting features and options you must consider. Here are some of the most important aspects of web hosting;

Disk space and bandwidth

You should have figured out how much data your website will generate, and also the amount of bandwidth you will need. The disk space is the amount of storage assigned to the account by the web hosting provider. Bandwidth is the amount of traffic that the provider allows to be transferred to and from the website. Websites that include a lot of graphics would require more hard drive storage than a predominantly text based site. The same would be the case when dealing with bandwidth. If your website is dynamic or uses databases, make sure to check if the webhost has separate limitations on the size of databases. Also check how much your web host charges for extra hard drive space and bandwidth. If you envision that your site will continually grow, then allow some headroom in terms of storage and bandwidth. Remember, there is no such thing as unlimited or unmetered bandwidth! Internet bandwidth and storage space are finite commodities, they are not available in infinite amounts and are capped at some point of based on hardware or service levels. Don’t be fooled by the ‘unlimited’ or ‘unmetered’ monickers, there is no such animal.


Operating system and programming tools

Most web hosts run on a Unix based operating system, usually Linux or BSD. Unix based hosts will provide PHP, Perl/CGI, Frontpage, and very limited ASP functionality. If you will be developing your own web applications, it would make sense to get a good idea of their operating system environment. If you will be running an application that requires ASP, .NET, MS SQL, SBS or Access, you will need to find a Windows based web host; usually a little more expensive. In some cases, Windows webhosts will also provide access to other technologies like Perl/CGI, PHP and MySQL.

Look beyond the price

As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for“. This certainly holds true in the realm of web hosting services. If you focus too much on the price, you are likely to end up with a sub-par web host that will provide you with a combination of overloaded servers, poor connections to the Internet backbones, frequent downtime or little or no support.

Support, guranteed uptime, and backups

Always choose a reliable web hosting provider with a good service level agreement (SLA) and support options. Many web hosts provide telephone support – some even have 24/7 support through local or toll-free numbers. Other ways that web hosts provide support includes online trouble-ticket/helpdesk systems, web discussion forums, live chats with technicians and email support. With respect to uptime, this guarantee is usually a little harder to find and enforce. If you settle for 99% uptime, that means your website could be down for an average of 14.4 minutes a day. That is acutally quite a lot, especially considering the amount of potential revenue you might be losing. On the other hand 99.99% uptime makes a huge difference and leads to a average negligable down-time per day. Some webhosts will also provide refunds if they do not meet their SLAs and others may include extra security features like automated backups and load balancing. So if you need reliable webhosting, make sure to check the support, uptime and backups provided by any prospective hosting company.

Hosting features included

A plain vanilla HTML based website requires different resources compared to a PHP/CGI/ASP based site that uses a database, special image libraries, and custom programming. So if you are developing anything more than an HTML web site that will require custom programming work or uses any type of scripting language, make sure the web host supports these standards and needed features. Often, web hosting companies list everything they offer up front, but if you have questions, make sure you ask. Apart from programming languages, you might need special access to your website, say through FTP or Telnet. Just about every paid web host allows FTP (File Transfer Protocol) access to your website, but Telnet or SSH access is more rare or might cost more. Same with mail, just about every web host will provide SMTP/ POP3 and web based access to email. If you require IMAP or say a secure access protocol, check with the hosting provider.

Data centers, bandwidth quality, and security

Web hosting providers both big and small need a central location where they house their servers and equipment. It is important to have some idea as to where these systems are located. If you seek reliablity and high quality you may not really want your important web venture hosted in someone’s basement off an xDSL connection. You might also want to check what type of data connections/providers are being used your web host. Just because someone says that they have a “10-MBit Internet backbone” does not mean high quality and reliability. One would rather see them accessing the Internet backbone through multiple, reliable providers that allow world wide traffic to be routed in the most efficient manner. Most web hosting companies will provide some detail on their data centers including the built-in redundancies, their use of UPS and/or diesel generators, the different bandwidth providers they use, and physical security of their premises. It is really worth looking into this aspect of web hosting.

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