by October 1, 2011 0 comments



There are plethora of hosting service solutions and providers that can cater to the business needs for an organization. Varying from email service to a data center requirement; today an organization can opt for web hosting solutions rather than doing upfront capital investment on the hardware and its maintenance. Though the benefits of opting for web hosting provider rather than going for in-house deployment are tilted towards hosting providers, there are certain things and concerns that one needs to keep in mind while choosing a web hosting service or provider.

First off, once when you have decided what type of hosting service you need, there is the important decision of going for a dedicated hosting or shared hosting service. Then you need to decide whether you will you be able to manage your hosted space on your own or you want the hosting service provider to take care of that, i.e, a managed service or unmanaged service. You can’t take these decisions in haste, because you do not want to switch between service providers if you’re not happy with your present one. Switching between different service providers will cause downtime to your business.

In this article, we describe different types of hosting solutions that cater to different functions and also discuss the aspects that one should keep in mind while opting for a particular provider.

Types of hosting solutions

Hosting solutions vary from web hosting to server hosting; depending on the requirement you can go for a particular hosting solution. For example, if you just need email service, then you can opt for that, or if you need to run a business application for which you need to have a server but can’t afford to have one in your office premise, then you can do so by opting for a server hosting provider. Here are some different types of hosting services

Web Hosting: If you are not having any presence in online environment, then you’re cutting yourself out of business revenue streams. For the purpose of having an online presence you need to have a website for your business. You need to have dedicated infrastructure setup and bandwidth for hosting your website in-house. Or better opt for web hosting companies, which will offer you package that would include domain name registration, unlimited storage space and traffic. While opting for web hosting, you’ll have to decide which type of application server is provided by the hosting provider. If your website is a portal running on Java, you’ll require application server like JBoss or Tomcat, if it’s ASP.NET than IIS would be needed. You need to find out whether the service provider offers PHP support or not and what type of database do they provide, etc. Also important is finding out the type of management console they offer as it helps you in easier management of the web server, storage and maintenance. Another thing that you need to consider is uptime that the service provider offers and what type of customer support he gives. Also, what is the traffic cap that you’re allowed to have for your website. Some service providers give you unlimited traffic usage both inbound and outgoing, while some may offer you traffic blocks, beyond which you’ll have to pay additionally. All these are important to consider before you choose a web hosting provider.

Email Hosting: Email has become the nerve center of communication for organizations. And today email is one of the applications that most of the organizations have moved to the cloud. There are many hassles and high costs involved if you want to have your email messaging server hosted in-house. With email hosting providers, you’re saved from such hassles. While opting for email hosting, you should check with the hosting provider what all services are on offer and how much you can tailor those services to meet your business needs. Apart from webmail, storage space for mailboxes and the number of mailboxes that you could have, you should also consider support for IMAP as most of your users would also be using multiple devices including tablets and smartphones apart from desktops and notebooks to access mails. You should also see how much optimized the email servers are, do they support security solutions that work specially with emails and have support for anti-spam and malware filters.



Some service providers offer additional options for email archival, backup and restore. If not then you can consider partners or third-party vendors who can integrate their solutions atop of the email service provider’s to offer you additional services like email archival.

Server Hosting: In simple terms you can have a server machine as per your configuration hosted on the service providers premise and you’ll have full access over it. It could be a bare-bone machine with your choice of operating system on which you can deploy any business application. Rather than having the machine in your own data center, your machine will be hosted on vendor’s premises and you can access it remotely. It is best suited to run your business applications and you’re saved from the hassles of setting up data center infrastructure for cooling, networking, security, etc.

All said and done, it is not just straight forward to opt for a server hosting plan that fits best to your requirements. There are decisions to be made whether to opt for dedicated or shared hosting, managed or unmanaged setup. We’ll look into these considerations in detail here.

Dedicated or Shared Hosting

This is the decision that needs to be taken first while going for server hosting. Both of them have their own advantages and disadvantages. In case of shared hosting, you’ll be sharing the server space with others, but you’ll have your own defined space and access. However, the hardware platform will be common, multiple tenants will share the compute resources of the machine. Shared hosting is cheaper to dedicated hosting where you get a dedicated machine with all its compute power and bandwidth allocated to your usage only.

“Key factor while choosing hosting partner of choice can be the willingness of partner to re-align to your business needs”

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“While customers enjoy a wide range of choices when it comes to hosting, readily available in market through various small and large service providers, a key factor while considering the partner of choice can be the willingness of the partner to re-align to your business needs. This can be translated to an expansion plan because of an explosive business growth or becoming a trusted advisor for providing a host of end-to-end IT services.

While security is still one of the top concerns, the maturity in the processes and the technology in datacenters, to some extent, has given organizations comfort on the integrity and security of their data. With this in mind, leading datacenters are operated on industry proven best practices employing best of the breed tools and technology to ensure data at no time is compromized. It takes and implements the world’s best practices to ensure that all data hosted is secure. To further strengthen this belief, datacenters are ensuring best quality with ISO 27001 certification and some are swiftly working towards SAS 70 accreditation.”

Dedicated hosting should be chosen when you’ve applications that will need large resources on CPU and RAM or when the application requires high I/O calls. Whereas in shared hosting, you’ll be sharing the compute resources with others and this could degrade the performance and result in higher response time for the users’ requests to get processed. If you’re quite sure that your application doesn’t need high resource requirements then only you should opt for a shared hosting environment.

The dedicated hosting allows the user to have full control on their machine and they also have the full responsibility of that. In a dedicated server hosting plan, an organization can configure their machine with necessary security and backup solutions to ensure information security.

For businesses that need flexibility, enhanced security and where their deployed applications would need huge compute power and large amount of traffic, for instance running ERP or CRM application, a dedicated hosting option is advisable. Whereas, shared hosting will be the best fit for deploying smaller applications and static websites and where data security is not much needed.

Therefore, an organization should choose between dedicated and shared hosting based on the applications that they will be deploying on the servers while going for a server hosting plan.

VPS Hosting

Virtual Private Server is a newer and most commonly available option today. It is somewhere in-between dedicated and shared hosting. You’re allocated dedicated virtual machines configured as per your requirements and these will have access to your own dedicated hardware and software on the host machine. For instance, if the host machine is a quad-core processor, then your VPS could have a dedicated core for its sole usage which won’t be accessed by others. Here also, you can have your own operating system and applications installed as per your requirements.

VPS hosting is ideal for those who want the benefits of dedicated hosting but are having budget closer to that of shared hosting. One opting for this type of hosting should check with the provider about the virtual CPU and its allocated usage. For instance, Rackspace uses quad-core CPUs of 2.88 GHz each, and each virtual server hosted on that machine is allocated 12.5% of CPU usage of each core.



Managed and Unmanaged Servers

When you’ve decided between VPS, dedicated or shared hosting; you’re having a server configuration that you have to control fully and its under your responsibility. The vendor provides you with necessary network bandwidth, power and cooling solution, and would also in some instances configure the OS for you. After that, running and installing the applications atop that server is your headache. This requires you to have a team which is proficient in handling the server to configure it to deploying your business applications, managing the security of the data and also doing the backup of the data. In some instances when the server crashes, the person should be able to reconfigure and restart the server back again in minimum possible downtime.

“Do check how much burst-ability is available, as one cannot do data transfer if pipe is capped or shared with many customers”

Q> What are the most critical things that a SME should watch out for when choosing a web hosting provider?

Any SME that is hosting more than 5 servers in-house must consider outsourcing to a professional service provider. Today, SMEs can opt for enterprise grade cloud services as well. An SME should check the following before choosing a web hosting:

  • Expertise of the datacenter company — is datacenter services its core business, how long has it been operational? What are the industry recognitions it has received? How many companies where IT is mission critical host with them (e.g. e-commerce companies, broking companies etc. host with it)?
  • What are customers saying about their services?
  • Service support — what is the quality of services that they offer, is it phone support or just web?
  • Security — what security policies and measures are in place at the datacenter service providers facility?
  • Can the services provider provide managed services or other services when the company is planning to scale?
  • Does it offer disaster recovery and business continuity services through its datacenters in different geographical locations
  • How ‘Green’ is it — does it do its best is ensuring energy efficiency? Has it received any recognition in this regard?
  • If one opts for the cloud — is the cloud solution homegrown and therefore
    offers enough flexibility? Does it offer enterprise grade services? Does
    it offer 24 x 7 x 365 phone support?

Q> Usually, in most web hosting deals, there’s something in the fine-print that gets ignored and causes problems later including data backup, limits on the number of emails that can be sent per hour, bandwidth, etc. What are the key things that should be checked?

Some providers commit unlimited data transfer or very high GB (storage) bundled with hosting. One needs to check how much burst-ability is available as one cannot do data transfer if the pipe is capped or shared with too many customers. Customers may get commitment on management of server but in reality it can have riders like if there is server crash it is not covered or there may not be commit on time to respond or resolve any problems logged. It is important to understand what is covered in underlying SLA for various scenarios where support is
required.

It is important to check if access to usage reports is available transparently so that usage of contracted services and resources can be tracked and if there is unusual usage due to security breach, etc it is addressed at the earliest.

To save you from such hassles, service providers offer some management services for your server space. This could range from managing the backup and security to fully managing the server and its applications. The managed services cost in addition to the server hosting plan. So, if you do not have a capable team of doing the server management, then you can outsource the service to the hosting provider who will be bound to manage the server, its security and data backup and also to provide you support whenever needed.

Unmanaged server should be opted by those organizations who have teams to handle the server management tasks but can’t afford to have server infrastructure in-house. So their team can handle the servers remotely and these unmanaged hosted servers cost much lesser to managed servers.

Colocation

Colocation is like renting a room in a hotel, where the hotel provides you all the services during the stay. In colocation hosting, you can have your server machine hosted in the datacenter of the service provider. This is ideal for small business as they do not have resources to invest on the infrastructure that is needed to deploy the server and also to save on the IT team that will take care of such setup.

Colocation allows you to place your server machine in someone else’s rack in their datacenter and share their bandwidth as your own. The colocation provider offers you static IP, bandwidth and power to your servers. You can access your co-located server remotely as you’ll be accessing any other hosted server. Such a hosting plan is costlier than many other hosting plans but is far lesser than the comparable bandwidth costs if you would have hosted the server in your own premises.

How to choose the best web hosting plan

When selecting your web hosting provider, you need to keep a few pointers in mind to see if your requirements are met or not.

Response time: This can be covered in two aspects, latency and server response time. If you have chosen for a US based hosting server then you’ll have higher latency than the hosted server in an Indian data center. If your users of the hosted application are in Indian region and your server is on US based datacenter than latency can be an issue. Also, there could be outages in under-sea cables and your server could remain inaccessible for certain amount of time. Choosing Indian datacenters for hosting will save you from such eventualities. Coming to server response time, this could happen in shared hosting environment, whereby your application could respond very late since some other application on the shared server is receiving bulk requests. Under shared hosting, you’ve no control on such situations. While in dedicated hosting you have root access to your server and you can make changes to affect the server response time if there is sudden increase of incoming requests.


Support and Feedback: When it comes to hosting your website or server on a service provider’s infrastructure, then support is a major criterion to consider. How much uptime is the provider guarantying and what all support services is he providing are the things to check for. See if your plan includes 24×7 support and that there are considerable timelines to resolve issues. Also, if your hosted datacenter provider is in same time zone, then you can expect faster resolution to the issues. You should also watch out for the feedback from the peers in your region who have used the same hosting provider. Alternately you can check online on various forums about the people complaining for their service and how well their issues were resolved.

Reliability: This is an important factor. Once you have deployed your server and applications you cannot expect to face outages regularly from the service provider’s side. Also, ensure that the service provider is a well known brand in the market and is not the one who is offering cheap service as he’s new, because you don’t know if his business model will succeed. He can shut his shop any day and your business can suffer major losses in such a scenario.

Flexibility: Though you would have done the calculations earlier while choosing the hosting plan, there can be situation when you need further upgradations. For scenarios where your user base has increased and you need more storage space, what would you do? You need to check with your web hosting provider what all the upgradation features are they offering and is there possibility to migrate from one plan to another with no downtime. Also with time, the hardware may get obsolete. Check in case if your service provider is offering higher configuration specs at same price as your existing plan.

“3 Big cost components in a datacenter business model are Reality, Power and Internet Bandwidth; in India power and Internet are expensive as compared to US”

Desi S Valli,
COO, Net4India

Q> A lot of Indian SMEs tend to host their sites/apps in US based datacenters, even though there are many datacenter players in India as well. Also, why should companies prefer Indian web hosting providers over their US counterparts?

Most of the hosting that happen in US is primarily due to the cost factor. Irrespective of the fact that the difference is decreasing still there is a large saving for large customers. In a datacenter business model, there are 3 big cost components, Reality, Power, and Internet Bandwidth.

Besides, we have network components, people, etc., But the primary components –power & Internet are expensive in India. The cost per customer can be brought down only on the basis of economics of scale. US has more customers as well as less cost on these two components. Eventually we may expect this scenario getting changed as more and more customers start to host in India. India hosting has other advantages in terms of experience to the clients in this part of the world. This will lead the need to keep the content in India, as more Internet clients are getting added
in India.

Q> Data Privacy and Security is the concern for most organizations when they go for server hosting. What type of applications shall they keep in-house and what apps to host on the shared environment?

As a service provider, we have implemented many more virtualization on the cloud for captive requirements. We haven’t faced any data security threat in such an implementation. We have implemented even critical applications like our ERP & E-Commerce in such platforms. This denotes that the concern over data security on cloud is more of a perception rather than reality. The more the spread of cloud, better this will be clarified. One of the oldest cloud application in the world is email & messaging services. We send the most critical data through email to most of our clients/partners. However, this apprehension is not expressed in email services. That’s because there is already an universal acceptance of using email services from third party. Such acceptance will be visible when more & more customers move on to cloud. It’s a lot to do with the “who first” psychology.

Bandwidth: This is a tricky aspect as most of the web hosting providers define it on different parameters. ServerBeach offers bandwidth block of 1000GB while Rackspace calculates your out bound traffic only and all incoming traffic/requests are unmetered. This means that you can upload data on your Rackspace server for free as uploading would be inbound traffic, while accessing and downloading that data will be billed.

In addition to that, some service providers give dedicated bandwidth ports ranging from 10Mbps to 30Mbps for the traffic. This aspect is important to know, for you could end up getting very slow transfer speed. Bandwidth ports or burst speed ensures the minimum amount of transfer speed that you’ll be getting for the hosted server.

Customization: You could have a certain server requirement, while the hosting provider doesn’t provide such configuration. While choosing one, you should go for one that provides you customization features as well. For instance, in Rackspace if you need your virtual dedicated server to have CentOS, you cannot opt for that, as Rackspace provides pre-configured virtual machines with either Windows Server 2008 or RHEL5. Whereas sites like Go4Hosting.com provides various options to configure the machine as per your requirement.

Click on the image to enlarge

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Comparing Plans

We had taken some hosted server space from ServerBeach about a year ago. We took a dedicated unmanaged server with Intel Celeron 1.7 GHz processor, 80 GB HDD, 1GB RAM and 1000 GB bandwidth block along with CentOS 5, costing us USD 100 per month. Just to see what has changed over the year and whether there are any better deals available, we hunted around for similar or better specs in the market. The results can be seen in the table, and it’s fairly interesting. You’ll notice that our existing web host, ServerBeach itself has upgraded their plans and are offering better specs at same price. This shows that you should negotiate with your provider to give you the upgraded configurations or else slash the prices of the plan. Likewise, for us, we can use RackSpace’s virtual dedicated server plan and have a FTP server configured as Rackspace do not charge for uploads. Meanwhile looking at GoDaddy’s dedicated server plan, though it will be slightly more than what we currently pay, we’ll get many additional features and one is that GoDaddy provides 3 Static IP, which means we can have 3 separate domain websites running on the server. The bottomline is, to keep reviewing the configurations available in the market, so you know where you currently stand.

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