Choosing a web host
There are millions of web hosting companies, and there are many things to consider when choosing which one is right for your site. In this post I will try to offer some tips to help you find the right host. Some may seem obvious, others may be less so. My intended audience is companies looking at getting a website, and those starting out in web design.
For your website to be viewed by people, it must be sitting on a computer (a web server) somewhere, and that web server must have a permanent reliable connection to the internet. It must also be secure, so that no-one can deface or damage your site, or gain access to any personal information that might be stored in it. This all takes specialist knowledge, and for this reason, the vast majority of websites use commercial hosting companies (the alternative would be to host your site on your own computer), and you should too.
The platform relates to the operating system that is running on the web server you use. There are two primary hosting platforms – Linux and Windows. Which you should choose depends on the technology that was (or will be) used to build your website. Ask your web designer what languages were used. If your website is built using ASP or .NET, you will have to use Windows hosting space. If your website is built using PHP or just HTML, you can use either Windows or Linux hosting space, though Linux is likely to be cheaper. And if your site is built using a lesser-used language (for example JSP, Ruby or Python), then the best way forward is to ask your web designer to choose your hosting for you, as hosts allowing these languages are less common.
You will run across the term “bandwidth” when looking for a host. This is simply the amount of data that may be transferred in a fixed time period (usually a month). You can work out roughly how much you might need with a simple calculation – here’s an example.
If the pages on your website each contain about 20,000 characters (bytes) of code, and each page contains images that total about 80,000 bytes, then the bandwidth required to transmit that page to someone browsing your site is 100,000 bytes (approx 100Kb). If you have 100 visitors a day, each of them viewing 4 pages, then the daily bandwidth required will be 400 x 100Kb, or 40000Kb, or approximately 40Mb. Multiply that by 30 and you have a monthly bandwidth requirement of 1200Mb, or approximately 1.2Gb.
Some hosts claim to offer “unlimited” bandwidth, but you should treat such claims with extreme caution. At the end of the day, they still have to pay their network providers for all the bandwidth they use, and by offering “unlimited” they are actually banking on the fact that most of their customers will not use a huge amount. If you go for an unlimited bandwidth host and actually find that your site grows in popularity and uses a huge amount of bandwidth, you may find that charges go up or your site slows down. Conversely, you may find that your site is sharing space with many bandwidth-hungry sites, meaning that all the sites slow down.
There are essentially 3 types of hosting company.
I use this term to refer to companies that have their own equipment racks in a datacentre (a specialist building designed purely for website hosting), and they fill their racks with web servers and related kit, which they then monitor and manage and sell space on.
These companies don’t have their own equipment but instead buy services in bulk from an independent host and sell them on to their customers with a margin. Sometimes it can be hard to work out if the company you want to host with is actually a reseller or an independent host.
Full Service Hosts
Finally, there are companies like ZigPress, who buy services from the first type of company and allocate space and facilities directly to their clients as needed for an specific fee. Full support and management of the hosting space is provided, meaning that the client does not have to get involved in managing the hosting at all. If there are problems, the full service host handles the contact with the independent hosting company that they use. This approach can be very useful for companies without much IT expertise or resource. It also means that you have a single point of contact for all matters relating to your website.
The choice of which country to host your website is a very important one.
Firstly, your website should, all other things being equal, be physically as close as possible to the majority of your intended audience. If you think that most visitors will be from Britain, you should probably host in Britain. This really can help with the speed the site loads, and also reduce downtime due to occasional international connection problems.
Secondly, unless you will be asking a company like ZigPress to manage all hosting issues for you, you should probably pick a host whose online control panel is in a language you speak, and whose support staff do as well. A similar timezone can also be very helpful when support issues arise.
And finally, your website should be hosted in a country with good IT infrastructure. This means good connectivity with the wider world as well as domestic consumers. For example, your company base may be in the Caribbean; however, internet connections to the smaller islands can be slow and congested, so in this case you should probably host in the US.
Another example is my own base of Malta – even though many sites I build are for Maltese companies, I always recommend against hosting in Malta, due to the unreliable nature of the local electricity supply. During the summer there are usually nationwide or locality-wide power cuts at least once every three weeks, sometimes for several hours. If a Maltese company’s site is hosted in the UK, then it will still be running and attracting some visitors, even when the company themselves can’t work due to loss of power. Britain is the best location in this particular case – almost all Maltese people speak excellent English, making technical support easy, and the network of internet connections between most European countries including the UK is fast and strong.
So, if you need to organise hosting for your website, firstly check with your web designer about the languages used. Then consider how busy you expect your site to be, and how willing or able you are to deal with support issues yourself. Finally: location, location, location.