Choosing A Reliable Webhost
An important aspect of any website is hosting. While it is tempting to go for the cheapest hosting provider (especially when you start out), it is not the best approach. This artcle is dedicated to give you some decision criteria about hosting and how to assess the quality of a webhost. If you already have hosting, you might consider switching.
Good reliable hosting helps to optimize the user experience. Google also lists in their company vision that the web should be fast. Whilst the true impact of a fast website on SEO is not known to but a few (Google employees), you should give attention to this. Visitors will always be happy with a faster website and numerous case studies (on Amazon for example) conclude that a faster website may result in more conversions (sales, signups, clicks, etc.).
Shared hosting simply means that you share the same physical device with more than one website. Dedicated is a server setup in which you own your server. Virtual Private Servers is a setup in which it feels like you own your server, but there can be multiple client on one physical machine.
What you first need to decide is what kind of hosting you want to get. On the popular webmaster forums, the main consensus is that you need to get dedicated or virtual hosting when you get more popular (or expect to get more traffic). I don’t share this vision. Dedicated or Virtual Private Hosting shift the responsibility of uptime, maintenance and installing software to you.
My advice is to ask yourself what functionality you would like to add in the future. If you want to install complex WebApps, go for a dedicated or Virtual Private. If you only run a website, go for a high quality shared hosting. The remainder of this chapter will delve into how to determine what high quality is and what to look out for.
When a website is requested several steps are required. One is translating the address (e.g. arevico.com) into an network address ( e.g. 126.96.36.199). Before a website can be loaded a connection also needs to be established. This requires a handshake. This requires data to be send around the world by large fiber optic cables, transcending continents. For the average website, this needs to be done multiple times.
Such lookup requests can take around 0.1 to 0.5 seconds. It all adds up. This delays depends upon the route data needs to travel physically. This route different from the distance between countries. Some connections have more bandwidth and some connections require more intermediate steps.
The main point to go for hosting company in a premium location (network topology). This means to select a higher tier internet service provider (ISP). A higher tier simply means that they are closer to those high bandwidth intercontinental cables, connecting people around the world.
So how do you assess a hosting provider in terms of network topology? Luckily, there are tools for that. First, make a list of your main customers. What is there home country? From which countries do you other visitors come? Select the most important.
A good measure of the distance (network wise) from the customer to your website hosting is the latency (ping). Luckily, enter tool… provides a free services called ‘Just Ping’ that tries to access your website from 50 countries. An excellent ping is below 20ms, whilst a great ping is below 100ms. Normally, this should be the latency for the connection to your primary customers’ country.
Also, take into account that different countries have a different base latency. Some countries may not have as much infrastructure as others, and some countries apply extensive filtering to any outgoing data. Include this into your list of decision criteria.
Another important criteria is support. Do they offer 24×7 support? Is the helpdesk polite and actually goes out of their way to help you address issues when they may arise? This is often difficult to assess, since nobody tells you on their website that there support isn’t adequate. The best way to review this is to check opinions of others on popular review websites and forums. Established websites that review hosting companies is WebHostingTalk.
A service level agreement (SLA) is also something to take into consideration. Basically, a SLA specifies quality of service provides (for example an uptime guarantee). If this is not met, a financial compensation is provided. However, it is worth considering to go for a reliable company not providing a SLA. Security patches causes downtime and if a downtime means that the hosting company has to compensate their clients, it is tempting to not apply those patches.
Another consideration are legal considerations. The location of hosting can affect the amount of privacy you are able to provide to your customers. For example, if you host your website in the U.S.A or a company that has a connection with the U.S.A you may be susceptible to the Patriot Act, signed in October 2001. The bottom line is that you are required to handover all your data to the American Government) when there probably cause that you or a customer of yours is involved in terrorist activity.
However, I’m not a lawyer and I do not know the specifics of this. If your organization values privacy or even requires it you will need to research and consider this or get legal help.
As for my website (Arevico.com) we went with HostDuplex. Since I’m a very technical person, support is less of an issue. The most important factor is location. Most customers of Arevico.com live around Chicago, Canada and Europe. HostDuplex is very close to a cross continental cable, provides excellent uptime (practically 100%, guaranteed 99.xx%). The only downside is that they have only two separate packages for shared hosting and storage is somewhat limited.