Hosting 101 - How to choose a hosting company for your website?
In order to be published and seen on the web, all websites must be hosted via a web server. A web server is basically a computer that delivers designated web pages and/or content to the Internet. Web servers communicate between web crawlers/web browsers, allowing for the information on websites to be viewed by someone searching for it on the web. Today, the most common way to publish your website using a web server is to go through a web hosting company like GoDaddy or Host Gator (to name just a few). While there are a number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that sometimes offer subscribers a free hosting service; these tend to be limited and made only for small-scale file hosting.
If you are looking to host a substantial or more dynamic website for either your personal or business use, it is highly recommended that you use an alternative web hosting service. Today, there are thousands of hosting companies that offer a variety of products and services to help you publish your website. With so many hosting companies to choose from, however; it seems as though the hardest part of setting up hosting for your website is deciding which company to go with.
There are a number of things to consider when choosing your hosting company. To make it easy I'm going to discuss what to consider in a hosting company according to your needs and your wants. At the bare minimum, consider: server type, disk space, bandwidth per month and reliability.
Server Type - Make sure you understand what type of server your website will need to be hosted on. The server type is based on the software that is running on the server. There are various types of servers such as Windows 2000 server, Linux, Unix, etc. If you have a basic or static website then the type of server is not that important. If you have a more complex website with dynamic components such as database functions, Adobe Flash, etc. then the server type will be more important. Not sure which server to choose? One way to figure out what type of server you will need is to ask your web developer what they coded your site in. If your site was developed in ASP or ASP.NET, you'll need a hosting account with a Windows server. If your site was developed in PHP or was developed to use a program called CGI, then you will most likely need a Linux server.
Disk Space - This is the amount of actual space that you will have available when storing your website on the web server. Most small to medium size websites that average anywhere between 5-10 pages take up approximately 1 MB of storage space. The bigger your website the more space you will need to house it.
Bandwidth -Bandwidth, simply put, refers to the amount of data that can be transferred to and from the visitors to your site within a specific time frame and is limited until upgraded to the next level (for a cost of course). The more bandwidth you have, the faster your data will transfer or load on your website.
Reliability - Once your website is live and on the web, it is essential that it stays that way. 100% up time is what most of us expect from our hosting companies, and rightfully so. However, this is not always the case. Although hosting companies will guarantee 99.9% up time, it is hard to actually prove this, until it's too late (i.e. you've fallen victim to unreliable hosting and your site has a lot of unexpected downtime which makes you and/or your company look unprofessional and unreliable). Beware of hosting companies that offer too-good-to-be-true monthly hosting fees, some as low as $1 per month. This means that these companies are overloading their servers with more websites than they should, which puts their clients at increased risk of downtime.
Some other important things to consider when choosing a hosting company...
- Dedicated vs. shared virtual hosting - When choosing your hosting setup, be sure that you understand your needs, so that you're not duped into spending more than you need on hosting and that you make a purchase that is right for you. If your hosting a small to medium size website and don't need a HUGE amount a space, it is ok to stick with shared virtual hosting. Shared virtual hosting is where there are multiple accounts stored on one website server, but these are kept entirely separate. Think of shared virtual hosting like one apartment unit within a large building.
A dedicated server, on the other hand, is one account to one website server - kind of like a house, with one home owner. Dedicated servers aren't necessary unless you think you might need a significant amount of space for a considerable amount of traffic (think enterprise corporations, universities, etc.)
- Technical Support - Who/What/Where/When - There is a lot to manage when it comes to your website. A large aspect of this must be managed via your hosting. With so much competition, hosting companies continue to offer more features and additional capabilities to streamline and upgrade their web hosting services. For example, with GoDaddy, you can purchase your domain name, create a simple website, add a blog, create an email box and beyond all using the control panel if you have a hosting account with them. With so many new features, however, there is also a great deal of information to know and understand how to navigate, use and troubleshoot. This is where tech support comes in. I say, that if the company does not provide 24/7 support via a phone number, website online chat, online tutorials, and email then move on to the next company that does.
- Control Panel - Speaking of control panels - be sure to look into a hosting company's control panel set up and offerings prior to making any solid decisions as well. The control panel should be well organized and easy to navigate from the domain section to the email section to your hosting area. Make sure you also check to see what additional features are available to you here as well.
- Email - Most hosting companies will offer you at LEAST one email account with a hosting or domain purchase, which corresponds to your purchase. Be sure to look into the number of free accounts provided at time of purchase, the cost of additional emails, the type of web mail access, web mail space, POP email availability, etc.
That's my rundown on what to look for in a hosting company at this point. Good luck to those of you still searching for just the right company to fit your needs, I hope this tutorial has helped you in your search a bit.