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27Sep/101

What to Look For in a Web Hosting Provider

Hello all.

I wanted to step in and provide some advice (while trying to be as unbiased as possible, of course) for those of you shopping for web hosting providers.

While there are hundreds of hosting providers out there, there are many areas you should research when it comes to your next hosting purchase. I've personally read and heard hundreds of horror stories. Believe me, asking questions and taking your time will save you hours (sometimes days) of time and effort, not to mention headaches.

I listed some topics and questions to ask and think about when making a decision on your next web hosting provider. These are especially important if you're generating income from your site.

1. Background
What type of technical background do their employees have? Are they a legitimate company? Have they incorporated? Are their employees in-house or do they outsource? Ask questions. Call them, email them, chat with them.

2. How long have they been around?
You would be shocked at the number of fly-by-night operations around. Hosting companies come and go more often than you can imagine. Horror stories about them are scattered all over the internet, stories so bad that they're almost unbelievable. Some of the clients we've brought in were burned in the past by those same companies, and burned badly. In the worst cases, the companies lost all their clients' data, which is especially heartbreaking since several of them depended on their websites for their sole source of income.

3. What do their clients (past and current) say about them? Read reviews.
Google is your friend. Search forums. Do they have a Facebook page? Read testimonials.

While doing your research on reviews, be wary of fake review sites. There are many of them. I'd avoid the ones that display "Top 10 Hosting Companies" on their homepage, etc. Many of our competitors like to create their own hosting review sites, and consistently rank themselves at the top.

4. What is the average response time to support questions? (Experienced techs are key!)
Response time is important. You don't want to be waiting until the next day to hear back. Resolution time is more important. There are companies who boast about a quick response time, but what good is that going to do if the issue is prolonged and hasn't been resolved? This is where it pays to go with a company with knowledgeable techs.

5. How many clients are on each server? What is the average load on the server?
I've seen companies pack as many as 5,000 clients into a shared environment onto one machine. Yes, it may be a fast server, but any more than a few hundred small sites is asking for trouble. I like to call these companies "shared jam operations." You'll see this with providers who offer plans at <$5 per month. Things may be great at first, but as they pack on more clients, you'll quickly notice the performance decline.

6. Where is their datacenter?
The geographic location itself isn't always important, but are they in a legitimate datacenter and not in their own basement?

7. Do they provide network redundancy?
Who are their network carriers?
Note: As a heads up, be wary of ones that use Cogent as a primary carrier.

8. Power redundancy?
Ask for more details; how far do they go to ensure constant power? A battery backup from Best Buy won't do anything to keep your site online. How often do they test their generators? Have they been performing maintenance and replacing the batteries in their UPS (Uninterruptible power supply) systems?

9. Hardware Redundancy?
Do they offer RAID? If you're not familiar, RAID provides protection against the failure of a hard drive.

What types of hard drives do they use? Are they consumer grade drives or enterprise grade? While performance between some consumer grade and enterprise grade drives are nearly the same, consumer grade drives have a much higher failure rate, and you'd be surprised at the number of providers using them. Enterprise drives are thoroughly tested and built with better components.

10. What type of technology do they use? (Control Panel, Virtualization Technology)
Does it include 1-click installation of popular apps/software?

Everyone is going to sell you on their control panel. It may not be the most important factor. IMHO as long as it is very secure, easy to use, and does not affect performance, you should be fine. cPanel is the most widely-used control panel in the hosting industry today, and it has been for years. We use them because it is the most tested and secure system available. Plesk is another very reputable control panel company.

If you are purchasing a VPS or going with cloud services, be sure to read up on their virtualization technology. Some systems are built much better than others, but all have their pros and cons. A VPS is much better than being on a shared platform, and all of these technologies provide isolation from other clients in one form or the other. We chose XenServer technology because it provides the most isolation of anything available today. IMO, it's even better than dedicated servers because of its scalability. You can dedicate more CPUs, RAM, and/or hard drive space, all on demand.

11. What type of scripting/programming languages does your site require?
If you are having your site designed, be sure to ask your developer what programming language they are using. Is it PHP, ASP, ColdFusion etc? If you are using ASP, you'll want to be hosted on a Windows platform. (There are some providers that have managed to provide ASP using Linux, but I wouldn't recommended it.)

12. Feature set
What features do you require? WebMail, email forwarders, 1-click installs? Be sure to ask the host if it is included in their packages.

13. Bandwidth and Disk Space
In the last 5 to 7 years, there has been an ugly trend in the hosting industry. Many companies are now using the terms Bandwidth and Disk Space simply for marketing. The average shopper looks at the numbers. Most will ask, "How much disk space am I provided with?" "How much bandwidth?" A number of companies advertise 1TB of disk space, 3TB or even worse, "Unlimited Disk Space, Unlimited Bandwidth. All for less than $10/month." Think for a second; is that possible? If it were true, Facebook would be on this $10/month plan. Clearly, it's not. It's all about numbers.

Once you go above a certain threshold with a provider, it's very likely you'll be suspended — or sometimes even terminated — for either too much CPU usage or resources. Read the fine print. Many companies state that if you use 10% of the server's resources, you may be suspended or terminated immediately. IMO, if you plan on expanding, you should avoid these "unlimited" plans altogether.

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Hopefully, these questions will help your decision making.

We pride ourselves on service, support, and provide personal attention. (Yes, I know it sounds cliché, but read our reviews, and check our Facebook page; it's true.)

If have questions about about us or hosting in general, please feel free to contact us anytime 24/7 by phone. 312-957-6000 or call us toll-free 877.7.DUPLEX

Comments (1) Trackbacks (1)
  1. #3, among others, is a huge factor…especially in today’s social media climate, where potential and current customers comments (negative and positive) are so essential to your overall brand. No matter how negative a comment can be, it is your duty as a brand to reach out to that user. Nothing worse than to simply ignore that person.


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