Web hosting: best practices

Author: Razvan MIHAIU
razvan_rem@rem_mihaiu.name (please remove '_rem' and 'rem_')
From: www.mihaiu.name
Date: 11/04/2005

Finding a good web hosting package is not an issue any more today because most companies have offers that are very tempting. The difficult part is to find companies that can really support the features that they are selling.

The web hosting business is affected by "Marketing at its worst". Because companies are selling some quantitative measures like bandwidth or HDD space (they are not selling a real product) it is very easy to present unrealistic data about the hosting packages on sale. This is called overselling. For example, let's suppose that a given web hosting provider has the following resources:

100GB bandwidth

1 TB HDD space

If the average web site consumes the following resources:

2GB bandwidth

250 Mb HDD space

Then that hosting provider will be able to reasonably host 50 sites (being limited by bandwidth). If the web hosting provider chooses to go for the easy money then they will attempt to host much more web sites than they can really host. Problems will soon appear: overloaded servers, long downtimes and even cancellation of resource-intensive accounts.

The resource-intensive accounts can get cancelled without any fault from the webmaster's side. To put it simple: this business model does not support successful sites, sites that are using the allocated resources near limit. This business model works only for websites using a small percentage of available resources.

Some companies give you everything for almost nothing. Stay away from such offers or you will get burned !

When looking for quality web hosting the following arguments should be taken into consideration:

  1. Do not judge a company by the quality of their web site. Nowadays it is so easy to build a good-looking web site with so few resources. Companies with a bad reputation are allocating significant portions of their web site to explain what quality web hosting is. This is an irony but you have to consider that this tactic is very effective in deceiving people.

    Recently I noticed the opposite: a web hosting company having an engineering-orientated website without eye-candy had very good technical staff. After exchanging several e-mails with them I realized that they were the kind of people able to help in case of technical difficulties.

  2. Contact their support team - I mean ask some questions. See how they answer: how quickly, how comprehensive is their answer etc. Don't expect any better support after you've already paid.

    For me, a reasonable amount of time for answering a question is one day. Even if the question is trivial I don't expect somebody to be there all the time to answer my questions. I live in Europe and my web hosting provider is in USA. When I am asking a question the time in USA may be 3 a.m. Some web hosting providers will give you very detailed answers at any hour of the day but you have to understand that such a support is expensive. You cannot expect to pay 4-5 USD/month and have that kind of support.

  3. Do not buy the domain name from your web hosting provider. If the web hosting company fails to provide good services then you will be forced to move. The problem is that you will need approval from them in order to move your domain name. Basically you will need approval from a company with whom you do not want to do business anymore and you have to tell them about your intentions. This is not a good situation.

    Some companies may charge you "administration" fees in such a situation while others may try to force you to remain their customer by saying that your domain name can only be transferred after a certain period of time of using their services. Even worse, some companies may steal your domain name.

    Real stories about people having troubles after registering their domain name with a web hosting provider:

    web hosting talk Thread 1
    web hosting talk Thread 2

    Some people will strongly vociferate against the above recommendation. The most common argument is that it depends with whom you choose to do business with. Achilles' heel is exactly this assumption: that you know with whom you do business.

    Please remember that the above recommendation will only help in case of problems with your web hosting provider. If that is the case it is completely unreasonable to be at their mercy with something as valuable as your domain name. Call it paranoia if you want, but I prefer to pay 7-8 USD / year in order to control the situation all the time.

  4. Use different passwords for your domain name registrar and your web hosting provider. This way if your site gets hacked you will not be in danger of loosing your domain name. Loosing some data can be expensive but loosing your domain name is a catastrophe. Avoid at all cost !

  5. Do some research on the web hosting company before you buy. I suggest to try the following 2 places:

    If you are unable to find any references about them using the above 2 resources then you should definitively think twice before buying from them because they are too new on the market. You don't want to be the first person writing a negative review about them, do you ? There are plenty of companies having good customer reviews ! Consider those first when making your choice.

  6. Read the TOS ("Terms Of Service").

    Do not accept conditions like "Daily bandwidth limit". Let's suppose that the company ABCD sells a business package with the following configuration:

    5 Gb monthly bandwidth
    1 Gb Hdd Space

    This is what you will see on the selling page. The TOS reserves a surprise for you: the daily bandwidth is of 200 MB/day. At first sight this may sound OK because 200 MB / day * 30 days = 6GB / month, but what if you have a spike in usage ? What if in one particular day you need 400MB of bandwidth while for the rest of the time you need less than 200MB ? The web hosting company will have the right to disable your web site on the day in which you have the highest number of visitors coming to your web site . . . And you will not be allowed to complain because you already agreed with this policy when you signed up. Clearly, it is best to avoid such situations.

    Read the whole TOS and make sure that there are no other obscure regulations working against your interest.

  7. Look for a 30 days money back guarantee. The company should not impose any restrictions in getting your money back within 30 days if you are not satisfied with their services.

    Some companies offers money back guarantee only in case of "non-performance" from their part. But who is going to judge their "non-performance" ?

    Look for 30 days money back satisfaction guarantee without any other conditions.

  8. Find out how long the company has been in business. Don't pay a year in advance with a company who has been around only for a few months.

  9. Make and keep your own backups, even if your host does it too.

  10. If you have special needs (for example, a very populated forum) tell them about this in advance. Forums are resource intensive for CPU & memory. Tell them about the high CPU & memory requirements and ask them if they can provide what you need.

If you don't know from where to start then use the following link in order to get a list of web hosting companies matching your requirements:

http://findmyhosting.com/advancedsearch.asp

Use the above suggestions in order to refine the list that you obtained.

Best of luck in finding a good web hosting company !









Best regards,
Razvan MIHAIU



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