Hosting isn’t always a deliberate decision by businesses as part of the web design process. It’s often bundled in at the end or included as part of the overall project without much thought.
If it goes wrong, it can really impact your business and worst-case, be hard to recover from. This article looks to give some background to help you make more informed decisions. Have a question not covered? Drop us a comment and ask away.
What’s hosting and why do I need it?
If you want to present your business online then hosting is the go-between you and your customers. The hosting provides access to your website files, powers your database, emails and ensures that its all available to the public every minute of every day. The computers used are often stored in secure data centres, with ultra fast network connections to the internet.
Is it expensive?
The price of hosting can range hugely, from budget services (around a few pounds per month) up to owning equipment (a sizeable investment). While easy for companies to present ideal hosting environments to their customers, we appreciate businesses need to manage their budget and the points below help you position yourself while knowing the risks
Common types of hosting
Each of the following have their benefits, but you should pick carefully:
Shared hosting is the most common and affordable out there, providing an excellent platform to get personal sites, small business or startup online without much expense. It’s often a single super powerful server running multiple sites (sometimes thousands) from a single environment and operating system.
Virtual Private Server (VPS)
Virtual servers use software to make a single large machine run “virtual” servers, each with their own operating system and allocated resources. Having your own environment allows you to customise, pick your operating system, increase security and control access.
If you want to be on your own computer then a dedicated server is for you. This is a single machine run just for you and can then be setup for you alone. They are powerful computers and would often be used by large transactional sites or businesses with a high number of smaller sites.
It’s all in the details
If you don’t understand your hosting you could be putting your business at risk. It’s important to know what’s included and what’s not. Typically, businesses find out the hard way once everything has gone wrong.
It’s important to know what’s being backed up, by whom and how often. Your website will have had hours and expense invested and may contain unique content that is hard to replace. If you’re on a budget then it may not be covered.
Here’s the most important point to consider – where’s the value? If you have a static brochure site with a handful of pages then a local backup from your designer is all you need. On the other hand, with a thriving community site it’s the content (database) you can’t afford to lose.
In shared hosting packages many specify that it’s the client’s responsibility to backup their data. All reputable host companies backup their servers, but do so for their own benefit. This might be to ensure they could restore service if the server had a hard disk failure or similar event. In short, never rely on this at any time for your own files.
The expectations of a modern website by users continues to grow. The speed of your website can have a large impact in converting customers and giving a positive experience. Search engines recognise this and include it as a ranking factor (Moz.com). As you invest more in your hosting, the performance should increase, both by the hardware itself and the greater set of tools and options developers have available.
Know your hosting partner
Your web host is a partner to your business, one that you’ll want there when things go wrong and that can help you scale as you grow. You must, seriously must, check they know their stuff. In our ten years trading, we’ve taken on the hosting in full for three other web agencies, all of which had collapsed it to a point of risking customer livelihoods. In all three – it was naivety and by no means intentional.
We recommend that any company or individual that sell hosting have a “hit by a bus/lightning” plan, so that in the event of being out of action they don’t unintentionally cripple their customers sites. This might be a simple document outlining what needs to be paid and who gets placed in charge to a reciprocal agreement with another company – sounds unlikely, but we’ve had to pick up the pieces for another company and despite our persistence had huge data loss.
Slightly unrelated but ties in nicely to the thread – always, always, always ensure the domain is registered in your name. On occasions software used by agencies, can register domains through in the agency name, its not their intent to steal ownership. The domain registrant is the legal owner and if its not you and should be, it will bite you in the rear one day. While you have a current relationship with your designer, agency or company make sure you tackle it now, or perhaps tomorrow but the sooner the better.
If you have control of your domain with a company that has a disaster recovery plan then you’re in good shape to then move your services away for continued support.
Once again we come back to value – how much damage will your website being out of action cost you? Worse still, if it shows a defacement from a hacker group, will that impact a consumer from transacting from you in the future? If the answer is ‘a lot’ or even ‘quite a bit’ then shared hosting is not for you.
Without getting too techie, its largely because you share a server with other users, some that will have no worry in running a out of date WordPress install from 2010 or plugins with known vulnerabilities. Like with any attack, it’s going to target the weakest point.
Worth noting that if Sony couldn’t protect themselves on their budget, its safest to realise it can still happen, whatever amount you spend. What’s important is that you took all reasonable steps, it’s often the lack of trying that impacts your brand most negatively.
Ultimately, you only have absolute control on your response, so ask the questions now – who will fix it, will the data be easily recovered and how you will handle the any PR and make it count if needed.
If you pay a few pounds, you’re unlikely to be getting the best infrastructure for your business. Shared hosting in our opinion is a start option and once your business matures we recommend moving to a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or a plan on their own dedicated server. It’s an affordable leap and removes the impact of other users from the mix. The hosting costs should reflect the value held in your website, email and all data held within. Often when things go wrong, any budget hosting choices may come back to bite.
We’ve run our secure hosting service since its inception in 2005. Our hosting infrastructure runs across all types mentioned above, including our own equipment housed in UK data centres. We take security, backups and foremost – customer satisfaction very seriously.
If you have any questions, please drop us a comment below.