Hosting Buyers Guide
When you take your business online, be it in the form of full website, or simply a more professional email address, you need to source a hosting provider.
Choosing your hosting provider may seem to be a daunting task, however it does not have to be that way.
In this article we will go over some of the key points you should consider and clarify some of the terms.
What is hosting?
In simple terms hosting companies provide the storage space and services that you need if you wish to serve files from a site or send and receive emails.
Let’s look at the process in logical steps.
- Do you already have a domain name?
- If you do not, do you wish to register a .ie, .eu, co.uk or the .com/.biz ?
If you opt for an IE domain you are identifying your “Irishness”, while the .com or .biz is more international.
One of the other advantages of choosing an IE domain is that you are more likely to find your domain of choice is still available. While the last “3 letter” .com was registered years ago this is not the case with IE domains. The only downside to registering an IE domain may be the small bit of bureaucracy involved, however most Irish providers can guide you through the process. IE domains with Blacknight are available for as little as €20.00 upwards, depending on the reseller, while .com domains are available for €7.00.
When registering a domain ensure that the administrative contact is you and not the hosting company or web designer. This will help avoiding any problems or conflicts should you decide to change your hosting supplier or web designer at a later stage.
Now that you have a domain name you will need somewhere to put it.
Most hosting companies offer domain registration services also, so it may be easier to get everything in one place.
If you are buying hosting services for the first time you may be overwhelmed by both the wide choice of offerings and the terminology.
Hosting is like any other service and is not a big mystery.
The same kinds of criteria apply to choosing a hosting provider as they would to choosing another business service. Although you may find “cheap” providers do not forget that “cheap” is all to often associated with “nasty”. We are all too aware of costs in running our business, however there are plenty of good hosting services available that do not cost a fortune. Before you sign up make sure that the company is reputable and that they offer a proper level of support. The key word is still “service”.
So, how do you find a host?
You could try using Google or one of the other search engines. If you are an IIA member a search through the members’ directory should turn up a number of “candidates”. However, like any other service shop around before buying.
Try to compare a few potential suppliers and see what other people are saying about them.
When looking at a hosting supplier’s website do not be put off by the plethora of “techno-babble”.
A lot of the terms are intentionally confusing, or simply superfluous.
For example “FTP access 24/7” is meaningless. If you do not have access 24/7 there is something essentially wrong!
Other hosts may provide a very long list of supported technologies, although this may be of use to you for a complex project you do not need it for a simple website.
Some of the terms you will come across are listed below:
- FTP: File transfer protocol. You will need this to upload content to your site
- Disk space: The amount of space allocated to your account.
- Bandwidth: The amount of data you are allowed to transfer per month. A busy site with lots of images will need more bandwidth than a small site with lots of text.
- POP/SMTP: Email. POP (or POP3) usually refers to your mailbox, while SMTP is used for sending mail. Check how many are offered with the hosting plans. Most hosts will allow you to add more or upgrade as your business grows.
- Webmail: Most people are familiar with Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail. If your host offers a webmail facility you will be able to access your email while “on the move”.
- Windows & Linux: Operating systems. Unless you are doing something very complicated, or need a particular scripting language, there is no difference between them from a hosting perspective. One or two technologies are Windows (Microsoft) specific, such as ASP and ASP.net.
To further simplify this let’s look at the requirements for a number of different scenarios
For a simple website, with a few pages of static HTML and an online feedback form you will not need anything special. A website of this size should weigh in at under 10MB of disk space In order to handle the feedback form you will need a “server-side scripting language”. The common ones to choose from are:
Php, Perl, ASP, ASP.net, Cold Fusion and JSP. ASP and ASP.net are only available on Windows. If your chosen host does not offer or recommend a form to mail script you can pick one up on http://www.hotscripts.com
If, however, you need to put together a more complex site with an online shop you will probably need more disk space and database support. Databases commonly available include: MySQL, MS SQL, PostGres and Access. Should you wish to gather sensitive information, such as credit card details, you will need an SSL or “secure” certificate and a fixed IP address. A 128 bit SSL cert can cost from €200.00 per annum upwards. If you are confused by the choices there is a clear guide available at: http://www.whichssl.com/
If you are not sure about something do not be afraid to ask your host to explain it. If they cannot explain it, then maybe it is time to move on.
by Michele Neylon, Managing Director, Blacknight Internet Solutions Ltd
This article originally appeared in the IIA magazine "Net Gain".