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How to pick a web hosting company

 

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Question:

I need to pick a web hosting company for our company's new site. There are so many with similar features. How can I find a good one?

Answer:

Do not look at the features too much. Any decent web host will offer these standard server features and should not add to the price if you request a mysql database or some additional ftp account.
Keep in mind that the software used by most web hosting companies costs them nothing as they exclusively build on free open source software (Linux, Apache, mysql, perl, php). So these features cost them nothing directly, all they need to do is click somewhere in an administratorís panel and youíve got those extra ftp accounts.

However, what costs them is bandwidth and CPU time. If you ask for 10 extra FTP accounts, chances are, youíre going to use more bandwidth. Usually there is a monthly limit (transfer volume) for that reason. CPU time is critical if you have a highly dynamic web site. A cheap host may have 1000 sites hosted sharing one Intel PC. A more expensive host will only have 100 sites hosted. Assuming that all those sites are similar, your scripts will run 10 times as slow on the cheap host and e.g. if you have a search engine running searching your thousands of documents, youíll have to wait one or two extra seconds. Server side includes are a great way to eat up CPU cycles and thatís why the cheapest guys wonít offer them.

Most web sites are not that highly dynamic so bandwidth remains as the single most expensive factor for a web hosting company's operating costs. So if a web hostís more expensive (higher level) web hosting offer doesn't offer a greater bandwidth advantage over their lower level web hosting package, then you might as well stay with the lower level offer, or better go with another provider.

The following criteria cannot be verified easily except looking for public feedback in discussion forums.
  • Uptime.
    99.995% Uptime means that the host is down 0.005% - in the course of a year that means 43.8 hours. That could be 5 days of over 8 hours downtime each. Clearly 99.995% sounds good but is actually a bad number. Or do you want your web site to be down 5 full business days? Possible on 10 days for 4 hours each? 99.99995% is a better claim, yet hard to verify. Check forums.
  • Customer service, do they have an 800 number?
    Easy to check if they have an 800 number, but is their staff knowledgable? Do they respond in a timely manner? Do they offer to restore your data from a backup tape if you lost it and how much do they charge for it? How long do they keep backups Ė one week, one month or 2 years?


Don't underestimate the importance of picking the right web hosting company, especially if you plan to do more than just a dozen of static HTML files. If you select the wrong company, first your business will suffer from service outages. But the real pain will come when you attempt to switch the hosting provider. The longer you have worked with one provider, the more your scripts and configuration files will be tailored to this company's setup. This is especially true for shared hosting environments, less if of a problem where colocate your own hardware. There is a saying in German "moving twice is like having a fire". In English the saying even says "the only thing worse than a fire is a move". This is true for web hosting as well. The result is that to avoid the cost of switching, you will stick with the bad company longer than you really should. However, if you only have a few dozen of static HTML files and GIF/ JPEG images, then do not worry too much. You will always be able to switch to a new provider within an hour - all you have to do is move your files.


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