How to Choose a Web Host
In this lesson we will look at the considerations that go into choosing the correct web host for our needs.
Now you understand what web hosting is, you may be wondering how to choose a web host.
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If you search for web hosting you will see there are hundreds or thousands of companies who are offering web hosting services. How do we decide which is best?
There are a number of important considerations.
Do we want their specific platform, or do we want a generic web host?
What technology do we require from our web host?
Some web hosts offer a complete package including specialised software to create websites using their platform. For example they might have created a particular blogging engine, and if we get hosting from them it must use their blogging engine. This can be very useful as it saves us the effort of creating our own blog!
However, these platforms may not be very flexible. Perhaps they can only be used in a certain way, or for a certain kind of website. Later we may be frustrated that we cannot do exactly what we want using this platform.
The alternative approach to this is a more generic web host. For example, a web host that offers simply basic Windows machines running IIS (or Apache on Linux) gives us the complete technical freedom to do whatever we want. We can put up our own HTML files for simple websites, or we can write complex websites in a server-side language such as ASP.NET or PHP or Ruby.
The downside of this generic approach is that we have to write our own software, which is difficult and time-consuming.
Of course if you want to write a website in ASP.NET then you must choose a host which provides a web server that runs ASP.NET. And the same goes for PHP or Ruby or other server-side languages.
Sometimes there is a tradeoff – perhaps we can use a web host which provides their platform, but they allow us to customise the code for our own needs, or to run other sites alongside it for additional functionality.
Technology is the most important initial consideration, as you need to ensure your web host is capable of doing everything your website requires.
Support & Reputation
Does the hosting company you are looking at have strong support systems? Do they respond to support tickets rapidly? Hopefully you will not need much support, but it is inevitable that you will encounter problems and it is useful to have support.
It is worth noting that the hosting company is not responsible for everything to do with your site. They are responsible for ensuring the physical machine your site runs on is available and accessible, and for any software on it that they agree to install (for example the web server software). However if your site has bugs or problems they are usually not your line of support!
Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether a problem is to do with your site or to do with the web host not working correctly – in this instance you want to know that your web host is responsive to support requests so you can find out and get to fixing it!
Also always check the reputation of a company you are getting your hosting from. Hosting contracts can be cancelled at any time, but you should still ensure the business you are dealing with has a good reputation amongst its customers.
Space and Bandwidth
How much storage space and bandwidth do you get with your web host?
If you are making a small site that you will access only every now and then (for example, creating a family album just for yourself… and you don’t want to use a large photo-sharing service because you like the challenge of making your own website!) then you do not need a lot of bandwidth.
However if you intend to create a website to rival Facebook then you will need thousands of web servers and a lot of bandwidth. Of course you wouldn’t begin by getting all that bandwidth in advance! And if you are getting millions of hits per day then you should probably start developing your own computing infrastructure..!
It is important to be realistic and realise you will not have massive bandwidth needs immediately.
But it is important to estimate your traffic accurately. Will you get 1 hit per day? Or 1000? Or 100,000? In each case you need to choose the right amount of bandwidth.
Which brings us to…
The more computing power and bandwidth we want the more our hosting will cost. For most sites we don’t expect a lot of traffic so we can afford to choose a lower amount of bandwidth or computing power. These days it is easy to scale up the power of a server if it starts getting more traffic than expected, so it is wise to begin with the minimum amount of power you think you will need.
You must budget wisely – can you afford the monthly cost of this host? Paying more than you need for hosting is not a good use of the money for your business or family – look carefully at the costs, compare to other hosting companies that have the same technology and choose one that appears reputable (check the reviews!), and affordable for you.
There are a number of important considerations when choosing a web hosting company. On the technical side you must consider the platform and software they offer, and how customisable it is. It is important to estimate your bandwidth requirements realistically. And choose a package you can afford from a reputable company.
Good luck with your hosting!