Web Hosting , Domain Registeration, Dedicated Server

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Web Hosting Guide

One of the most important business relationships for a Website owner (whether the site's for business or pleasure) should be
with a Web hosting company.After all, you pay a host to look after your site -- you should expect them to take good care of it. So it stands to reason
then that host selection is important for anyone who manages or runs their own site.This Guide to Hosting is in two parts. Today we'll:

look at why it's important to choose the right host, review a hosting assessment checklist you can adapt to yur needs, and consider the aspects of shared or dedicated hosting, and choosing server software.

Then, in Part 2 , we'll explore in detail the basic elements you should consider as you develop your checklist and assess
different hosts, including:disk space email accounts FTP Access data transfer bandwidth multimedia support ...and more.
But first, let's look at why the choice of host for your site is so important.

Saving Face -- and Money!


How your chosen Web host looks after the server that hosts your site will reflect on you as the owner of the site. If the
site is frequently unavailable due to unreliable servers, poor server configuration or the server simply being unable to
handle the traffic your site receives, this will give your users the impression that you don't really know what you're doing.
This is bad enough with hobby sites, but is of particular concern if you run a virtual store, or have potential employers
trying to view your online portfolio.We'd all like to think that once our site's up and running, it'll always be available to everyone who wants to view it,
whenever they want to. But as we all know, this certainly isn't the case. There will always be those times when a site you
try to visit isn't available for whatever reason. That is, unfortunately, the unpredictable nature of the Internet.If your site is a business site, it could suffer from the lost opportunities to take orders or enjoy brand exposure, and
personal and hobby sites, too, could miss revenue opportunities while they're unavailable. Even not-for-profit sites can get
a poor reputation if visitors find them unavailable or slow to use.While the potential loss of revenue is the most obvious reason for wanting to choose a good host, your decision can often
have other ramifications than simply up-time. Quite often a problem with a host can affect the other services associated with
your domain. Services such as email and FTP could also be affected, so you might find that while your site's down, you're
also unable to check your email. Worse still, email messages could be returned to the sender, giving your visitors the
conclusion that the site no longer exists...

Service Level Guarantees


While undoubtedly some downtime will be beyond our control, we can reduce the risks if we choose the host that is most
suitable for the needs of the site. Any host worth their salt should inform you of any scheduled downtime before it happens
via email, which will allow you to make alternative plans should you need to. Of course there is no way to predict any
unscheduled downtime, but many hosts will offer an uptime guarantee that compensates you in some way for any downtime over
and above that scheduled. The hosts that are more confident of their levels of service will usually offer better terms of
agreement than will their less competent counterparts.It's one thing to think that you're covered by these up-time guarantees, but quite another when you think you actually have a
claim for compensation. It may be an idea to keep both a print and an electronic copy of the Terms of Service and any other
important documents from the day that you purchase a new hosting plan, just in case.Often problems can occur simply because you aren't able to monitor the site yourself 100% of the time. There are, however,
products and services that can carry out various tests to check whether your site is live. But even if you can prove that
your site was unavailable to you (or to your monitoring service) for more than the agreed acceptable level, you should always
check the small print: if the problem wasn't your host's fault, they may not need to pay up!

You get what you pay for!


One thing to remember is that there is a host for every site. My perfect host could be your perfect hosting nightmare! A
server that is well suited for one of your sites may slow down another. And there's no right host, so don't even try to visit
and assess them all.Remember, it's in your best interests to find the most suitable host set up for your site that you can afford, otherwise you
can easily get a reputation for being unreliable, unresponsive and uncaring.

Building a Checklist


Before you begin to look for a host for your site, you really need to establish a checklist - a method that you can use to
rate and score any host that you're interested in. Of course, before you can assess any service, you'll need to have a good
idea about what features you want your future host to offer. This is where a checklist of every feature you're looking for --
and a collection of questions you want to ask -- comes in very handy.Preparing a checklist before you search for a new host can save you both time and money in the longer term. It forces you to
prioritize the various features of your site, which is handy when you have a restricted budget and need to make compromises
between features and cost.This guide has been designed to help you prepare a checklist of features that are tailored to your particular site's needs or
expected future potential, regardless of whether you know the type of hosting features you want.Once you've compiled your checklist, you'll be able to assess much more quickly whether a particular host is suitable for
your site. Since many hosts fight for a site owner's attention (and hard-earned cash!), you'll probably find yourself
referring to your checklist frequently during your research. But this works both ways - it would be silly to host your site
with the first service you came across that matched your criteria, given the vast number of hosts out there. Be discerning.

Rating the Hosts


Once you have put your checklist of features together, you can then use it to help you rate each of the hosts. Exactly how
you go about doing this will depend how important each of the features are to you. If you've sorted the features on your
checklist in order of importance, then you can simply award points on a sliding scale, 1 point for the least important thing,
2 for the second least important, and so on. Then when you assess each host, award them a point for each feature they offer
that's on your checklist, and add them up to reach a final score.Here are some of the features that I personally look for in a host.Support for PHP (least important) User Control Panel Site Statistics Support for ASP and Perl Price below £10 a month (most important) When I visit potential hosts I compare the features available with my checklist. The example scoring system shown above
favors the cheapest hosts first (cost is important to me, as mine is a hobby site). If I were seeking hosting for a business
site, then the cost obviously wouldn't be so important, as the quality of the service itself would in this case be the
critical element. But whatever bases you use to rate each host, the one that offers the most of the features you want will
achieve a higher score.The sliding scale is probably the easiest way to convert your checklist into a score or rating, but it is by no means the
only way. If you have two or more features that are equally important, then you can give them all the same score. However you
use the checklist, it's sure to make the process of host assessment easier.

Remember, you get what you pay for.


It's a sad but true fact of life that many of us have very small hosting budgets. While there are hosts out there that can
offer a rather tempting deal at pocket money prices, don't expect these hosts to offer the kinds of guarantees that come with
similar but more costly packages. If your site is going to be important to your business or livelihood, do yourself a favor
and look upon your hosting as an investment rather than an expense. The extra cash helps to pay for things like
infrastructure, back ups and security, so if anything does go wrong you'll be in a better position to do something about it.A checklist is a good way to sort out which hosts are most likely to offer the kind of hosting you want, but there really is
no substitute for doing that extra bit of research in newsgroups and on message boards once you have your potential host
short list. The people who will know best how a host performs will be the customers themselves, and unfortunately they can be
quite hard to track down at times. Having said that, it shouldn't be too hard to identify hosts you should avoid, as most
unhappy customers like to share their experiences with likeminded individuals.