Choosing a managed web hosting company
When I joined Wirehive in October 2014 I realised that my understanding of web hosting was extremely limited especially regarding the technical side of the business. I needed a method to better understand the business I was going to start a career in.
I have put together a guide based on my most recent findings on the concept of managed web hosting. Although this project started as a personal task for myself to learn about the business I felt I would share it as my Wirehive marketing blog debut!
Having a website is an essential marketing tool for any business today. Your local window cleaner can even benefit from having a website – and probably does!
Managed hosting is all about outsourcing your technical requirements. Someone has to do it and your choices are to either hire the staff in-house or pay someone else to take care of it. The problem is that most people don’t consider web hosting a priority, often superseded by web design.
Digital agencies have exploded onto the market with sleek website design boasting advanced digital marketing and search engine optimisation benefits. The topic of web hosting is often not discussed until later – quite often too late. Choosing a web hosting company is not something that should be rushed by any means and this guide will aim to highlight some of the key factors which are generally perceived to be important for any business website.
Consider different types of hosting packages
Just like any part of business you have to consider your options and make decisions that best suit you. For example if you are an online retailer that is reliant on your website to trade then you will need to consider investing in a hosting package that offers protection from hacking and corruption , good quality service, and the tech support needed to keep your site running 24/7.
A shared hosting package will secure a space for your website on a server that is shared with other customers who have purchased a similar package. The main advantage is an affordable price tag however sharing the price also means sharing risks with other users. The obvious pitfall here is that as more customers use the same server, the more the system can become crowded and this may lead to poor website performance, caused by higher traffic sites dominating the resource. Having a stable server environment is worth paying for especially if you want to install any specialised applications or content management systems which may be prohibited on a shared hosting package.
The most important element in shared hosting however is security. In a shared hosting package you are only as secure as your fellow occupants of that server, which you will know nothing about. It’s important to remember that you are responsible for the upkeep of your site, and if you don’t keep it updated it becomes vulnerable. Therefore if another client’s site corrupts the system then there is a good chance that this could affect you.
Another very important element of shared hosting is that it is not managed and in fact shared hosting services will typically include the bare minimum of upkeep with no special attention to security or performance.
In the beginning dedicated servers were actual physical servers assigned to each customer making them highly inefficient. The servers needed to be stored and racked in a safe environment which is temperature controlled. They needed to have an adequate power supply and a vast number of additional hardware such as cables.
Although dedicated physical servers were a step in the right direction it wasn’t until virtual private servers came along that having a personal server became more affordable and less risky. Before virtual servers a power outage or hardware malfunction meant the possibility of a site being down a regular risk.
Although physical servers are still needed, the ability to have additional virtual servers meant that information was transferable from one server to another in minutes limiting the risk of downtime affecting a business. A business that has a high volume of traffic or online transactions would benefit more from a dedicated server due to the added security from corruption or downtime.
Virtual private server/cloud server
Virtualisation gave birth to the term ‘cloud’. The ‘cloud’ was marketed very broadly however the original concept stems from the virtualisation of servers. Virtualisation is the creation of a virtual version of something such as a server or storage device. In the context of web hosting, virtualisation simply means the ability to divide an expensive single physical server into multiple mini servers, through revolutionary software such as VMWare. This enabled a much safer and cheaper hosting service with individual virtual servers.
There’s a lot of ambiguity out there regarding what a VPS or Cloud Server actually means. For the most part a VPS will be reliant on a single physical server for its storage and compute, so if the physical host fails so will your VPS respectively. More and more it is expected that a Cloud server will involve the active migration of the workload from one physical host to another, and therefore relies on a virtualised storage platform in addition to a physical server. This typically gives Cloud servers greater resilience, however the lack of defined terminology means you should always ask exactly what VPS or “Cloud” actually means to the provider!
At the end of the day these services are a variation on a shared service, with multiple VPS or Cloud servers on the same infrastructure, so you need to find out what guarantees are available. If your provider offers 100% resource guarantees then they aren’t overcrowding their system and your performance will be the same as if you were on your own dedicated physical server. If they only offer less than 100% then you know they’re gambling with your performance. The devil’s in the detail with products of this nature as most providers have their own views on how to implement this type of technology.
Considerations beyond technology
Getting the right technical solution is important but the selection process shouldn’t end there. Do you need any services on top of the tech to help you get the most out of your website? If you don’t have a team of techies in house you should consider managed hosting.
“Wise men don’t need advice, fools don’t take it”
Managed hosting offers a service contract between you and your hosting provider so that they can take ownership of the day to day management of your server. This often includes important things like making sure the server’s software is always up to date with the latest security fixes.
Another key benefit is having a team on hand to provide a much needed service when any problems arise with your web page. Outsourcing your technical requirements can mean saving you a lot of stress if anything goes wrong. Experienced professionals can assist you in your time of need to help keep your business competitive. A managed service is safer, supported and will keep you free to focus on your business. If your core business is not IT related and you don’t have technical people on your staff, you need managed hosting.
“You’re just too good to be true”
Most web hosting companies worth their salt will have an uptime guarantee that offers a refund if the server is down for a certain period of time within a given contract period. A simple Google search for the web hosting company should reveal any such guarantees that they offer. However it is impossible to guarantee 100% uptime and if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.
“You get what you pay for”
One element of any web hosting provider search that is absolutely crucial is customer service. A provider who openly advertises, and is proud of their customer service is a great find especially if you are not experienced in the technical side of running a website. Having a telephone number to call is essential and 24/7 service is preferred.
“Nothing is free”
Free web hosting may sound like a great option however nothing is ever really free. Most free offers are plagued with spammy ads and bugs. More importantly, most free hosting services have little to no customer service at all.
“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”
Backing up your data is something that most web hosting companies will do. However if there is a crash and your data is lost there could be data recovery fees so make sure you ask beforehand what potential charges could lie ahead if the unthinkable should occur. Your back up requirements will vary depending on what you use your website for, but a company which conducts online transactions will usually need a retention period of 7 days as a minimum.
Upgrading and downgrading options
“Plan for success”
As your website starts to receive more traffic a smooth transition to a more powerful hosting system will be very helpful. Of course an equally easy transition to a less demanding hosting offer is also great if your website does not demand as much as initially forecasted or if you run a seasonal business.
How to find them
Finding a good hosting company is not difficult if you consider some of the options included in this guide. Another helpful method of finding a good hosting provider is to discover who hosts a site that you like or to look at testimonials. At the end of the day the best people to trust are the ones you know, so finding out from colleagues past and present who they’ve worked with and would recommend is a great way to start the ball moving.
For more web hosting friendly reading you can check out our blog page here