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Web Hosts

How do I choose a web host?
It is very tempting to look for hosting companies who offer everything for ridiculously low prices. Many of these hosts offer unlimited everything for a few dollars. They advertise global sales, well-trained staff, fully equipped data centers and more. If you can't help but wonder where they get all the money for all that they are giving you, then maybe it's time to shop around a bit more.

Nothing is unlimited, especially when it comes to bandwidth and disk space.

Take a step back and determine your hosting needs: think about what's critical, what's a "good to have" and what's "gravy on the side."

When it comes to choosing a web host, your major concerts should be: 1) reliability and speed, 2) customer and technical support, 3) creditability and 4) scalability and portability.

Reliability and Speed
This refers to server speed and responsiveness. One thing to keep in mind, if a host offers unlimited features with a low price, chances are that the server needs to be filled with a lot of customer to break even or get profit from the server. The more customers there are on one server, the slower the responsiveness and speed.

Reliability is critical, as you need to know that your website is accessible whenever a visitor wishes to pay a visit. Competitive pressures can drive a hosting provider to make unrealistic uptime promises - 100% uptime.

When a host advertises a 99.99% uptime, this gives them a cushion of about 53 minutes of outage time a year. This covers server down time due to regular scheduled maintenance and other unexpected disasters, such as denial of service attacks or overly popular websites that overload the server. The higher the advertised uptime, the narrower the margin for error and disasters a host has allowed itself.

We all know that Internet connections do go down, and websites do become temporarily unavailable for all sorts of intentional and unpreventable reasons. If your host advertises a 100% uptime, you may want to ask them about the measures they have taken to guarantee such an uptime. Their answer should including the following terminology: fully redundancy, mirroring, disk arrays, climate control, system administrators, uninterruptible power supply, etc. But still, keep in mind that there is no such thing as 100% uptime.

Customer and Technical Support
  • What is their response time?
  • How knowledgeable is their staff?
  • Do they offer more than one communication channels?
  • Do they have a support hotline?
  • Do they have an online library or knowledge base where you can access tutorials, help files and other supplementary material?
You should try to find a host that provides prompt and knowledgeable customer support. Your host should offer 24/7 technical support via the following channels: email, and live chat and/or telephone call center. Your host should also keep an updated library of tutorials, help files and supplementary documents for customers who prefer self-help. A web hosting company should provide more than just having your website on the web.

There are many web host review forums and sites where you can find references on a host. Look for recurring problems or feedbacks. Do keep in mind that the reviews can be subjective, but you can certainly look for any developing trend of improvements or problems.

Scalability and Portability
What happens when your website grows in complexity? Can the host accommodate your needs then?

Is it easy to switch hosts? Be wary about a single hosting package that offers you everything, from ASP to SSI. Very frequently, to have all these technologies running on a single box, the server will have many workaround configurations and security holes. Running a script in such environment will require you to modify your code with workarounds to match those on the server. The real problem arises when there comes a time you need to switch hosts and you realized none of your scripts work on the new servers, because the new server has their different workaround configurations.