I’m inspired to write this after reading PapaJoneh’s post about his hosting woes. Mind you, I’m not claiming that these are the be all and end all things that you should consider when committing to a web hosting deal. At the very least though, they’re a reasonable skeletal guideline.
I’ve summed up the main criteria to be considered in order to choose the right hosting provider into the following:
- Features and Goodies
This is the main reason why I don’t host with a Malaysian hosting company. All things being equal, our Internet connectivity infrastructure is really not up to par.
I mostly blame the almost total monopoly TMNet has on the end-to-end Internet service industry. Regardless of who you are and what your needs are, you will in one way or another, have to go through TMNet’s infrastructure.
This would not be a bad thing if TMNet is a reliable business partner. Unfortunately though, monopoly breeds incompetence; especially if the company knows that there’s no way in hell that its status quo would be challenged. Thankfully, you are not required to host in your country of origin. It is recommended that you subscribe to the services of a hosting company located in a developed country with a mature web hosting industry.
In addition to the upstream provider, you should also consider the specs of the hardware your web hosting provider uses. Take note of the advertised server specs, especially the following:
- CPU Type; Is it multi-core processor? Is the company using a multi-processor setup (SMP)? What type of CPU are they using?
- RAM; How much RAM does their servers use? What type of RAM? What’s the RAM speed?
- Storage Devices; What type of hard disk? IDE? SATA? SCSI? What sort of RAID setup are they using?
- Backups; How are backups done? Tape backup? Offsite backups? How frequent are the backups done? How long does a restore take?
- Software; What OS does the server use? What sort of programming languages does the server support? What sort of databases are available? Is the server’s software setup compatible with the scripts you want to use?
Even the best infrastructure would be useless if the company you’re hosting with has no idea how to properly manage a server. This is how most people discover that they’ve just signed a hosting contract with a web hosting company from incompetence hell; even the most trivial of request gets met with an irrelevant response.
Managing a server is not like maintaining a typical desktop computer. It’s not as easy as defragging, keeping anti-virus software up to date and having an always updated operating system core.
Imagine this scenario; If you have a toothache who do you go to? A mechanic with almost all kinds of pliers in existance or a dentist? Sure the mechanic can pull out a tooth, but you still go to a dentist because he is a professional in dentistry.
One of the worst mistake someone looking for web hosting can make is to rely on somebody who is good in a related field. More often than not, this would be asking a web designer to not only design your web site, but also host it. From my experience, 80% of such cases often end in frustration and friction between the two parties. This is made worse because the designer often does a good job with the web design process. It’s just that hosting is an altogether different ball game.
This is where you need to do some homework. Look up the name of the web hosting company you’re considering. Read past and existing client reviews of their quality of service. Don’t give too much attention on the number of stars or any other so-called rating systems. Those can be easily manipulated. Instead, focus on written opinions. If possible, contact the clients or ex-clients directly.
Contact the company you’re considering to engage with additional queries about their service and state that you are considering to subscribe to their services. Take note of the response time. If they’re serious about their business, they would get back to you within a couple of hours… and no, autoresponders do not count! Avoid companies that take more than six hours to respond. Obviously those are amateurs who are probably trying their hand at web hosting.
If a company showcases a list of testimonials, pick up a few of those names and contact them directly. Ask them if they are an existing or ex-customer. If they are a former customer, ask them why they left.
Features and Goodies
When it comes to hosting, most customers, especially those who are new to purchased web hosting, would only look at the amount of storage space, bandwidth allocation and number of email accounts that are offered by a hosting plan.
However, they soon discover that they require a plethora of other needs such as database access, multiple FTP accounts, some sort of process scheduling mechanism (ie. cron on Linux systems and Scheduled Tasks on Windows systems), as well as remote administration access (this could be SSH access on Linux systems or Remote Desktop for Windows ones).
For some of the more exotic web scripts out there, customers might even need availability of certain programming languages (such as Ruby, TCL or Python) to support them.
I recommend that you pick a few web scripts that you think is most suitable for what you want to implement with your web site and study the shortlisted ones closely. Once you’ve picked a few, try to get them to run on your own computer. Identify what the requirements are for the one you like the most and look for a suitable hosting plan that meets them.
Depending on your level of familiarity with the necessary technicalities involved in setting up the installation and configuration of your chosen web script, you may want to have your hosting provider to do the dirty work for you. If this is so, you could opt for a hosting provider that has a one-click installation feature for your script, or one that can guide you to set the script up, or even do it for you.
Other things you need to look out for are:
- The number of domains you can host
- The type of databases available
- The types of built-in statistics reporting tools at your disposal
- Availability of pre-installed webmail software
- What sort of support are available and how do you submit and track your support requests
- What sort of billing cycles are available and what payment methods are accepted
Please take your time when searching for a web host. Subscribing to a host on a whim might hurt you very badly in the future especially if the hosting company cannot deliver its promises and you are left stranded. Remember that subscribing to a hosting package is like buying a house for your web site. Buy the wrong house and you can get all sorts of problems once you’ve moved in.
Depending on what your requirements are, hosting your web sites can be a fairly inexpensive affair or one that requires significant investment on the hosting facilities. For example, a shared hosting environment would be good enough for a blog or a simple corporate web site of an SME. However, if you’re planning to roll out an e-commerce project, you’d be safer on a dedicated server where you have almost total control over the operating environment.
In the realm of web hosting cheap does not necessarily mean bad and expensive doesn’t necessarily equate to quality hosting. The most important thing to consider is the credibility of the hosting provider. Can they deliver? What sort of experience do they have? Are they a reliable business partner?
At its current stage, you are virtually guaranteed to find a hosting package that meets your budget. However, the old adage applies; If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. Do not be easily fooled by unbelievably cheap prices for unbelievably good hosting specs. Remember that in most cases, you’d find yourself unable to verify the authenticity of superb hardware claims.
As a general rule of thumb, a decent shared hosting package consisting of about 1GB storage and 5GB monthly bandwidth allocation would cost around US$5 to US$10 per month. Benchmark that figure with your actual storage and bandwidth requirement to get the average price of your ideal package.
For example, let’s say you need 1.5GB of storage and about 7GB monthly bandwidth, then a suitable monthly price range for your package would be around US$7 to US$15.
Another thing to look for when it comes to pricing would be the availability of discounts. Most web hosting companies offer significant discounts if you pay for your selected hosting package’s annual fee in advance. For example a package that costs US$5 per month would cost you only US$50 per annum if you pay in advance.
If you’re very happy with your web hosting provider, find out if they have a referral scheme. You could save a lot from your hosting rates by referring new customers to them. Essentially, you’re just promoting a service you’re happy with and earning discounts for each new customer referred. A win-win situation in my books 🙂
Always be on the lookout for promotions and other seasonal events for which you can get more value for your money. Some companies offer additional storage space and bandwidth, discounts or other goodies when you use online coupons or other promotional mechanisms.