Let’s face it, when you’re busy running your own business, hosting might not rank as a high priority decision. Business premises, sales, banking and staff are likely to be the main focus, followed by marketing and IT support. Viewed by many as a commodity, hosting tends to be an afterthought by most business owners.
Some might not even fully understand the need for hosting or what part it plays in helping to run your business efficiently. This blog post will take you on a hosting journey, from understanding what it is and why you need it, to what to look for in a host to ensure your business gets the best hosting.
What is hosting?
Just like your business premises is sited on a piece of land that you rent (or own), so your businesses digital assets need to be housed somewhere, digitally speaking. For your website and email to function, they need their own piece of virtual real estate. That’s where hosting comes in. Your web host will store your computer files; HTML, documents, images, videos and email on its server. They usually provide additional services including: security, server management, support and backups. Hosting can be split into three main categories; shared, VPS and dedicated. Which one your business needs will depend on a variety of factors which we’ll explore further on.
The types of hosting available
All hosting is not made equal. The choice of hosting companies, packages, hosting types and pricing varies wildly. There are so many components that make up a great hosting company which we’ll explore once we’ve covered the three main types of hosting; shared, VPS and dedicated.
Liken it to commuting; shared hosting is the equivalent of being on a double decker bus. You’ve got your seat, but you can’t spread out because someone is sitting next to you. You have to take the same route as everyone else on the bus and you have no real control apart from when you decide to get off.
Shared hosting, the most common type of web hosting, will see your website sat on a server with multiple other websites, all sharing the same resources. This is perfectly fine for freelancers, bloggers and start-ups where you’re not expecting a large volume of traffic to your site.
Most websites won’t need much space, bandwidth or server resources, so shared hosting is a good starting point, especially as it is the lowest cost method. But at some point, your business might outgrow travelling by bus and at that time you might want to upgrade to the private coach transfer that is VPS hosting.
VPS or Virtual Private Servers to give them their full name, are the next step up from shared hosting. While still ‘shared’ with other users, VPS provides more security and stability than standard shared hosting.
VPS hosting features more powerful hardware, root access and dedicated resources in an isolated environment. While a few other people might share the same physical system, you will have a ring-fenced virtual area with allocated resources which belong exclusively to your website. The benefit of this is that the websites sharing the VPS cannot affect the performance of your website.
Returning to the transport analogy – the private coach transfer might involve sharing with a few other people, but it’s spacious in comparison to the double decker bus and those other people won’t affect the quality of your journey.
If you’re looking for the next step up, the ultimate in luxury travel, a car all to yourself with a chauffeur thrown in to boot, dedicated hosting is the one for you.
With dedicated hosting, you’ll get an entire server to yourself, located in a managed data centre. This offers freedom and control that you wouldn’t get with shared or VPS, including a choice of operating system and hardware. You can install the software that your business requires, set up your own security measures and increase security and stability with no outside interference. Simply put, a dedicated server is dedicated to just one business and only their own websites or email accounts sit on there. No sharing!
If you want to install custom leather seats, you can. Fluffy dice in the window? No problem. This car is yours to custom build to your business requirements. As with car ownership, there are certain levels of technical knowledge that are required to set up and keep your server running. You need to know your way around the dashboard.
With great freedom comes great responsibility though – more often than not these dedicated servers come unmanaged, so knowledge of server management is essential. You’ll ned to be able to maintain and perform upgrades for it to run efficiently.
Due to its relatively high price, it is mostly used by websites that receive large volumes of traffic.
What to look for in a web host
Most hosts will offer a checklist of features in their hosting packages. Here’s a few to consider:
While it’s possible to buy your domain name and then host your website with a different provider, it might make life easier if you have everything in the same place. Most good hosting providers will offer a domain transfer, purchase and renewal service.
Attracted to low prices? It’s only rational to want things at the lowest price, just make sure you’re getting value too.
For good quality shared hosting, expect to pay around £2.50 per month and around £9.50 for VPS. Dedicated servers start from around £30 per month. Be aware that most companies will charge upfront for 12 months, rather than bill you monthly, especially with the low cost shared packages.
UK-based telephone support, instant chat and video tutorials, look for a host that delivers high levels of customer support in a way that you like to work. Call your prospective host to test them out. Can they provide the level of customer support that you are likely to need? Are they friendly, knowledgeable and helpful? Do they understand your needs and more importantly do they have a hosting solution to suit your business?
Most hosting companies will offer between 99 and 100% uptime guarantee. This is usually echoed in the SLA (service level agreement) and a refund may be due if your downtime exceeds this figure.
Space and features
Consider your business needs from the start. An ecommerce site is likely to need many more features than a simple blog will. Most hosts will offer unlimited bandwidth and SSD disk space as standard. Ecommerce sites will require an SSL certificate to protect customers’ sensitive credit card data.
Most web hosting companies will offer multiple email accounts as part of the web hosting package, although you can buy stand-alone email packages from as little as 99p/month. These will be IMAP, POP3 and webmail based. For exchange mail – with automatic syncing of mail, calendars and task lists across devices – you will need to pay more, around £5.99/month per mail account.
Telephone, ticket and live chat are the most common ways of getting technical support from a hosting provider. Ensure your provider can offer 24/7 support in your preferred method. UK-based technical support is also preferable to ensure a slicker service.
Look for a secure UK-based datacentre, multiple levels of firewall as standard and daily backups to protect your site and data. Load balancing technology will also ensure that your site performance is maintained and protects against any single point of failure.
If your business is such a size that you’re considering dedicated hosting, you’ve probably got some data to protect and valuable information stored on your website. While no server is 100% safe from malicious attacks – dedicated servers are more secure as you’re the only one using it. If anything does happen, at least you’ll know it’s definitely come from your site and the problem can be resolved more quickly.
Do your homework. Find out what other people think of a hosting company before you take the plunge. There are lots of different places to look for ratings of a hosting company. Serchen is the industry standard business and cloud computing review centre. Look for five-star reviews and if there are any complaints check and see if the company has addressed them in the comments section. If a company is concerned about its customers and its reputation it will respond.
Room to grow
As your business grows, you’ll need hosting that will grow with you. Scalability is a feature to look out for when you pick a host. While it’s possible to transfer your site to another host to expand, it’s time consuming and extra hassle.
If you’re already aware of your hosting performance and watching the speed of your site, the chances are you’re ready to get off the bus and start travelling by coach or car. With your website, email and data such a crucial part of any organisation, your hosting must reflect the desired performance of your business.
Bio: Jeremy Rose is director of Certa Hosting, a leading web hosting services provider.