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Nine things to know before selecting the Web host for your business

It may seem simple yet it is often times overlooked. When it comes to choosing the right Internet hosting provider, the majority of business owners or companies know little about making the best Internet/Web hosting decisions.

Following are some tips to help make the right decisions.

Different types of hosting

Understand the distinctions between shared, collocated, unmanaged dedicated and managed dedicated hosting. It's crucial to understand the difference between the types of hosting offered so you can choose the one that's right for your business. As the hosting industry has matured, offers have split into a couple of distinct categories, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

¥ Shared hosting, sometimes called virtual hosting, means you are sharing one server with a number of other clients. The host manages the server almost completely, though you maintain your site and your account. They can afford to charge you little since many clients are paying for use of the server.

However, sharing the same resources means that heavy traffic to one of the other sites on the server can really hammer the performance of your site. Also, you are typically not able to install special software programs on these types of machines, because the host will need to keep a stable environment for all of the clients.

¥ Collocated hosting means you purchase a server from a hardware vendor, like Dell or HP for example, and you supply this server to the host. The host will then plug your server into its network and its redundant power systems.

The host is responsible for making sure its network is available, and you are responsible for all support and maintenance of your server. Good hosts will offer management contracts so that you can outsource much of the support to them and come to an arrangement similar to managed dedicated hosting. However, most collocation hosts do not offer this service.

¥ Unmanaged dedicated hosting is similar to collocation, except that you lease a server from a host and do not actually own it yourself. Some limited support (typically Web-based only) is included, but the level of support varies widely from unmanaged dedicated host to unmanaged dedicated host. This type of server can be had for around $99 per month.

Support levels are typically only provided in general terms. Ask the host to go into specifics about what support they will provide before signing up. This service is typically good for gaming servers (like Doom or Counterstrike servers) or hobbyist servers, but not for serious businesses that need responsive, expert-level service.

¥ Managed dedicated hosting means leasing a server from a host and having that company provide a robust level of support and maintenance on the server backed by quality guarantees. This maintenance typically includes services such as server uptime monitoring, a hardware warranty, security patch updates and more.

Make sure your managed dedicated host is specific about its managed services included. Be sure they are not disguising an unmanaged dedicated offering as a managed dedicated server. Unfortunately, this has been known to happen, which is why it's important to do your homework and ask the right questions.

Blackholed IPs

Many hosts care little about who is actually on their networks, so long as the clients pay their bill. That means many hosters will allow porn sites, spammers and servers that create security issues on their network for the sake of the dollar.

Even placing ethical issues aside, this can have a negative impact on customers in general -- when a network gets blackholed for spamming, for example. Getting blackholed means that other networks refuse e-mail originated from a particular IP. Some hosts have a number of entire class C (up to 256 IPs) networks blackholed and redistribute these tainted IPs to new clients.

If your business relies on legitimate, closed-loop, opt-in e-mail marketing to drive sales, being on such a network can severely cut response to your campaign because your e-mail may never get to its destination.

Check with any hosts you are considering to see if their networks are blackholed.

Don't confuse size with stability

Just because a Web hosting company is big, doesn't mean it's stable and secure. In fact, many of the largest filed for bankruptcy protection or were saved by being sold to some other company, in some cases causing uncomfortable transitions in service for their clients. How do you protect yourself? Ask some key questions:

¥ How long the has the host been in business?

¥ Is current ownership the same as always?

¥ Are they profitable and cash flow positive from operation-generated revenue?

Don't make price your priority

The old saying "you get what you pay for" applies to most things in life, and hosting is certainly one of those things. When you over-prioritize price, you run the risk of ending up with a host that will provide a connection to the Internet and little else in terms of support.

Fully redundant data centers

When dealing with smaller vendors, make sure they have their own data centers and that those data centers are fully redundant in terms of power and connectivity. Here are a few questions to ask:

¥ How many lines do they have coming into the facility?

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

¥ Do they have redundant power to the servers?

¥ Do they have a generator on-site?

¥ How often do they test their generator?

¥ What sort of security measures do they have in place for the network?

¥ What physical security do they have?

¥ What type of fire suppression systems do they have in place?

Systems administrators on staff

When you call in for technical support, it can be a frustrating experience to be stuck talking with a nontechnical "customer service" representative when you really need to talk to a systems administrator who can resolve your issues.

Find out the structure of their support department, how quickly you can get to an actual systems administrator when you need to, and which systems administrators can help you when you need help.

Flexibility

It's important that the host understands how important quality servers are to their clients' businesses. Even most managed dedicated hosts will not go near supporting applications that are not part of their initial server setup. Find a host that has a vast amount of experience to support a wide variety of applications, and one that can bring that expertise to you through their services.

Testimonials

Find out what former/current clients say about a host. Can your prospective host provide you with success stories for clients with similar configurations to yours? Are they able to provide references from clients who can tell you about their experiences?

Extra charges for support

Make sure any host you consider provides you with a comprehensive list outlining the support they offer, to give you an understanding of what is supported for free, what is supported at a fee, and what is not supported at all. Many hosts will try to hide a substandard level of free support behind nonspecific statements of high-quality support. Make them get specific to win your business.


Kivlehan is the marketing manager for INetU Managed Hosting. INetU is an award-winning Allentown, Penn.-based hosting provider that specializes in managed 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, visit www.inetu.net, e-mail chrisk@inetu.net or call (610) 266-7441.

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