Web Hosting and Email
Choosing a web hosting company can seem overwhelming. There are so many things to consider. Your content management system, bandwidth, databases, operating systems, server space, and processor usage are just a few of the things to consider.
Cheap web hosting is abundant, but because of its importance, it is imperative that you find not only an affordable plan, but a reliable company. Web hosting and email services are like the electricity in your house. They usually go unnoticed until they stop working. Then it will feel like the end of the world. We focus more on how much to host a website a month later.
Hosting Account Types
The amount of resources allotted to your website will depend on the type of hosting account you choose.
When first starting out, you will probably want to choose a virtual or shared hosting plan where your website will be hosted on a server with several hundred other websites.
This is the most affordable route and is similar to renting an apartment in an apartment building.
One thing to keep in mind with Shared Hosting Plans is that it’s in the hosting company’s best financial interest to squeeze as many tenants onto one server as possible. The more websites they can cram onto one computer, the more money the hosting company makes. But this also keeps the cost down for you.
Let’s go back to the apartment idea. Apartments have many units housed within one main building. A shared server hosting account is like an apartment. It is the most affordable option, but many other tenants (websites) reside in the same building. Some may be well behaved…others may cause strain on the building (server) and its other residents. You will be sharing a web server, CPU, disk space and bandwidth with all of those other tenants.
It’s important to make sure that the hosting company’s typical setups are beefy enough to withstand the resource requirements of all of the tenants on the server.
A VPS is similar to a shared hosting plan in that you will be sharing a server with several other tenants. Similar to condos or townhouses, they are a collection of units in one building or structure, but not as many as an apartment building or shared server. In a similar fashion as the shared server, some residents may not cause a load or problem, but other bad apples may still have a negative effect on your site’s performance.
A VPS’s resources are divided evenly among accounts and are containers which appear very much like an independent server installation. This gives you a few more control perks and freedoms in your account that you wouldn’t have in a shared environment. But these benefits probably won’t be necessary if you are just starting out.
Dedicated servers are just that. You rent the entire building and all of the available resources are not shared among other tenants on that box. Along with the freedom of having your own server, also comes the responsibility for maintaining it. And you also get to enjoy the added cost. If you are generating a lot of traffic and hosting large amounts of data, a dedicated server may be your best and only option.
When talking about server capacity many hosting companies will refer to their plans as unlimited. Usually they are talking about the amount of hard disk space, bandwidth, email accounts and databases. But you’ll want to be careful, because there are many ways they define the word “unlimited”. And in most cases even if they say the plan is unlimited, what they really mean is “reasonable use” – and they define the word reasonable. You will want to read the fine print of any hosting account to determine its true limitations.
Your web hosting provider will be providing disk storage space for your website. This includes the storing of files like web pages, documents, databases, images, video and audio. But what isn’t so obvious is that the email to and from your domain will also be managed and stored on your account. In addition to that is your web logs and statistics files … and they will start to grow and use up your allotted disk space.
By offering “unlimited” disk space they mean disk size, but what is not unlimited is what they call “Inodes”. These essentially are the quantity not size of the files stored on the disk. This is a real limit you’ll want to pay attention to in an “unlimited” account.
Bandwidth is a measurement of data transferred to or from your hosting account each month.
If you will have videos, audio or any other rich media being offered from your hosting account, you may run into hidden limits often referred to as “fair” or “reasonable” use. What once was unlimited in the marketing material can quickly turn into a forced upgrade down the road if you’re not careful.
It helps if you have an idea of the amount of visitors your website will bring. The best thing to do is find a server with at least twice the bandwidth you will need, but if you are not sure, get as much bandwidth as you can within your budget.
Don’t be fooled by companies offering unlimited bandwidth. In reality, no hosting is really unlimited. Unlimited bandwidth, often coupled with unlimited disk space is a marketing ploy and your site may wind up sharing some very limited resources. Every server has a limited amount of space on its hard drives and every internet connection is only capable of transferring a certain amount of files at a time.
Check the terms of service for any hosting account for their real, practical limits and restrictions. Usually, if your site is new or relatively small, you should still be safe even with the limits of an unlimited plan. You’ll want to know and plan for your future bandwidth needs so that in the case that it exceeds your expectations there won’t be any surprises.
Almost all hosting packages come with one or more email addresses based on your domain name. This gives your business communications a professional touch by associating them with your website. Your web server acts like an electronic post office, sending and receiving all of your email.
Many web hosts will give you database access, which means more flexibility for your business website. Imagine the catalog of any online store. Each item you see represents an entry in a data base and the coding of the website builds the individual pages on the fly for the end user. Now imagine a blog powered by WordPress or other content managers like Joomla. Each posting you see is also an entry in a database.
If you have a store with a big catalog or lots of content to display, finding a web host with database options and content management support can be vitally important.
Operating Systems and Applications
Just like shopping for a computer you will be presented with a couple of choices for operating systems. In web hosting, these are usually Windows and Linux.
At first, it could be tempting to opt for Windows hosting since that may be what you are most familiar with. But most websites use Linux based hosting. But don’t worry about having to learn a new operating system to manage your web hosting account. Most hosting providers will offer a web-based control panel to make things a lot easier. We recommend finding a host that provides cPanel for its ease of use. cPanel makes most website administrative tasks very quick and easy.
Many of the popular website management systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla will require PHP and MySQL databases along with some other technologies that are most commonly available on a Linux operating system.
If your website does require applications like ASP, Cold Fusion or uses a Microsoft Access database, you will require a Windows based hosting account and that changes things up as far as control and cost. In the world of servers, Windows hosts will always be more expensive because the server software licensing is more expensive for the hosting company.
Your website may simply be made up of plain HTML files with some images. In this case you will only need a very basic account and again, Linux will probably be the most affordable and simple solution.
E-commerce websites like an online retail store or other shopping cart system, will have additional requirements. You will need an SSL certificate which will allow you to provide a secure connection with your customer to exchange personal and/or credit card information during a transaction.
PCI compliance is another consideration when accepting credit card payments through your server. Your merchant processing provider will probably require that your web server is scanned regularly by a security vendor to check for vulnerabilities.
Reliability and Uptime of the Service
Always check on the hosting company’s uptime through reviews and guarantees. If they are claiming 100% uptime they are lying. Every server is going to have some down time eventually. They are computers and require repairs and maintenance, so outages are guaranteed. But how long does it take them to get the server back up. The response time and the speed at which the company brings that server back online is going to be very important.
Quality of Customer Service
Speaking of responsiveness, what is their customer service like? How accessible are they? Do they offer phone tech support, live chat. Do they respond to trouble tickets quickly?
Choosing a well known company with great customer service will always help in avoiding headaches in the future. It can be pretty miserable if your website and email are down and you can’t get in touch with anybody who can help.
We always take into consideration, the company’s security policies, uptime and whether they have support staff available 24 hours a day.
Whatever direction you go, you’ll want to make sure that your provider systematically monitors the load on their server otherwise your website could experience regular slow-downs or outages. A solid company will be able to support their customer base, cover their expenses and not one day disappear, leaving your website unreachable or lost in cyberspace.