Selecting a Web Host for Your Business
By Chris Kivlehan
It may seem simple yet it is often times overlooked. When it comes to choosing
the right Internet hosting provider for their websites, the majority of business
owners or companies know very little about making the best Internet/web hosting
- What makes a good Internet/web hoster for a business
What makes a bad one?
- How can the wrong Internet/web hoster help/harm your
What are the different types of Internet/web hosting services?
Which ones are best for which industries?
Here are some tips to help you make the right decisions:
1. Understand the distinctions between shared, co-located, unmanaged
dedicated and managed dedicated hosting so you choose
the one that is right for your business
It is crucial to understand the difference between the types of hosting offered.
As the hosting industry has matured, hosting offers have split into a couple
of distinct categories, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
Shared hosting (sometimes called virtual hosting), means that you are sharing
one server with a number of other clients of that company. 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, companies other than yours are using the resources of that
server. That means 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 using the
Co-located hosting means that 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 hosters will
offer management contracts to their co-location clients so that you can outsource
much of the support to them and come to an arrangement similar to managed dedicated
hosting. Most co-location hosts do not offer this service, however.
Unmanaged dedicated hosting is very similar to co-location, except that you
lease a server from a host and do not actually own it yourself. Some very 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/month. Support levels are typically only
provided in general terms. Ask the host to go into specifics about what support
they will provide -- will they apply security patches to your server? -- 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 that
is backed by quality guarantees. This maintenance typically includes services
such as server uptime monitoring, a hardware warranty, security patch updates
and more. Be sure to make sure your managed dedicated host is specific about
its managed services so that you can be sure they are not disguising an unmanaged
dedicated offering as a managed dedicated server. This has been known to happen
unfortunately, which is why it is important to do your homework and ask the
2. Ask If Your Potential Host's Network Has Blackholed IPs
Many hosts care little about who is actually hosting on their networks, so long
as the clients pay their bill. That means many hosters will allow porn sites,
sp@mmers and servers that create security issues on their network for the sake
of the dollar. Even if you are to place ethical issues aside, this does have
a negative impact on customers in general, as for example, when a network gets
blackholed for spamming. Getting blackholed means that other networks will refuse
e-mail originated from IPs that are blacklisted. Some hosts have a number of
entire class C (up to 256 IPs) networks blackholed and redistribute these tainted
IPs to new clients. That means 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.
Also, here is a link to a third party source that tracks blackholed networks
and lists them:
The following URL is a good resource to help you understand what is labeled
sp@m and what isn't:
3. Don't Confuse Size With Stability
Just because a web hosting company is big, does not mean it is stable and secure.
In fact, many of the biggest 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 has the host been in business?
- Is current ownership the same as always?
- Are they profitable and cash flow positive from operation-generated
4. Don't Make Price Your Only 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 you with
a connection to the Internet and little else in terms of support (and even that
connection may be running at maximum capacity or have uptime issues).
5. Make Sure Your Host Has Fully Redundant Data Centers
When dealing with smaller vendors, make sure that 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, if it 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
6. Find Out If They Have Actual Experienced Systems Administrators
On Their Support Staff
When you call in for technical support, it can be a frustrating experience to
be stuck talking with a non-technical "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.
7. Make Sure The Host Is Flexible
It is important that the hoster 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 hoster 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
8. Find Out What Their Former/Current Clients Say About Them
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 experience using that company?
9. Make Sure The Host's Support Doesn't Include Extra Charges
Make sure any host you consider provides you with a comprehensive list outlining
the support they offer so that you can have 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 sub-standard level of free support behind non-specific
statements of high quality support, so make them get specific to win your business.