by October 1, 2011 0 comments

At the face of it, all web hosting providers look very appealing, because that’s how they project their services. But if you get down into the technical details, you’ll always find a catch somewhere. The trouble is that there are so many technical aspects to consider while choosing a web hosting provider that the catch could be anywhere. This makes it essential that you find this catch, lest you want to pay extra unnecessarily or get limited functionality later. In fact, you might end up paying extra to remove those limitations as well, and in some cases, you might be stuck with them because the hosting provider just doesn’t support them.

The first thing to do of course is to define your requirement on what you want to use the web hosting service for. Do you need it for setting up a simple blog or website, or do you want to host your own web applications on it? What would those applications be that you’re going to host on them? How many users are you expecting to access them? Would they need to register? And once they’ve registered, would you like to send out regular communication to them, like a newsletter, survey, poll, etc? As you can imagine, everything has to be defined very finely before you can even get to the technical specs. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to get into the technical specs.

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Choice of OS

The platform is decided based on the Application or Website you want to host over a Virtual Private Server or dedicated server. This will depend upon the expertise that you have. So if your site is made with PHP, Perl, Ruby, Python, Flash, etc you would need to go for a Linux based server and most probably the MySQL database. Here, the point to note is that hosting providers offer you a range of Linux based operating systems to choose from -RHEL (RedHat Enterprise Linux), CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, and so on. Here, distributions like RHEL are paid for, while CentOS, etc are free. Interestingly, some hosting providers like Rackspace, don’t even offer the free Linux distros (They charge $20/month for RHEL), while others like ServerBeach do.

If your application or website is made on ASP or .NET, then you need to choose Windows 2003 or 2008 based servers with MS SQL Server database.

Hardware specs

It is recommended that you select hardware that will meet your requirements for the first 12 months at least. If you don’t, then the cost of upgrading the hardware can exceed the cost of deploying the higher specification hardware in the first place. Every application is different and so the loads that it will place on a server are very difficult to estimate. Pages, hits, visitors, data transfer/month can all act as a guide. The hosting provider generally gives a pre-defined bundle of specs which should be enough for a specific type of hosting as decided by the user. However, in cases where there is a choice available, one should choose the specs based on his requirements keeping a comfortable buffer for future scalability. Since every addition or deletion incurs a change in the overall pricing, one should choose this carefully by buying optimum.

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One just has to understand his requirement and go for the specs as if selecting an on premise server for that particular application. We found that on an average, 250 GB storage space, 2 GB RAM, an Intel Atom processor, 1000GB of data transfer per month and cPanel comes in for around Rs 5,000 per month. This generally includes 1 IP address too.

One must be particularly cautious if going for the Virtual Private Server option, because here the way hardware resources like CPU are allotted here vary across different web hosting providers. For instance, when we chose a package on one of the service providers, we found that it included 1 vCPU, which is basically 1 core of a dual/quad core CPU being shared by multiple virtual machines. Another vendor like Rackspace allocates CPU by % usage of the total spec. For instance, the plan we chose allowed us 6.25% usage of 4 vCPUs. This meant 6.25% per core of a quad core 2.8 GHz CPU. Details like these should be probed and negotiated so as to avoid any hassles or problems later in the day.

Geographic location

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Hosting service providers have multiple locations where they can house your servers. This has an impact on the total amount one has to dish out as well as the quality of service. For eg, Serverbeach can host your dedicated server in US, Canada or in UK. Noticeable is the fact that for the same server being located in different places, the premium charged is different. On Serverbeach, the server located in the US had the lowest cost whereas the same service provider charged 30% extra for its servers in the UK. One would obviously question the difference that location brings to the game. Unless you are targeting a very narrow audience, or you have specific low-latency requirement (like a game server or streaming server), you shouldn’t over concern yourself with geographic location. However, if catering to a local audience, then it makes sense to go for a hosting provider who is hosting your servers in your own country. This has a major impact on the bandwidth availability and latency.

Control Panels

When it comes to server management, you need a control panel. The functionality offered by different hosting providers in their control panels can vary, so do check what all are you going to get in it. The most common control panel for Linux servers is the cPanel. Here again, we found that some web hosting providers charge you an extra monthly fee for the cPanel, while others include it as a part of the pack. Here again, we found that ServerBeach bundled cPanel along with the server, while another provider called charged a separate monthly fee for it. In case of Rackspace, we didn’t find the option of getting the cPanel at all, but rather they only offer RDP access, which is used to access your server’s desktop remotely.

Bandwidth considerations

When you buy a server you’ll have a number of bandwidth options. Some providers may list the bandwidth that comes with a server as an absolute value, such as 3TB. This value is the amount of data you can transfer per month. Others list the port speed, such as 100Mpbs. The port speed is how fast you can send data. Unless you have specific requirements, the defaults that most servers come with are typically fine. However, if you know that you’ll need more bandwidth, or that you’ll need to support high burst speeds, you will want to upgrade your port and/or bandwidth package. Another thing to consider in this regard is that different hosting providers offer different options in terms of bandwidth usage. While most providers cap the overall usage and the port speed (consistent upload/ download), there were a few who have segregated the upload and download speeds. Vendors like Rackspace for instance, do not charge you for uploads. This could be very useful for businesses looking for a heavy upload requirement like in case of FTP. Important to note that this might not be of use to people who for example upload a single photograph or video on their site to be viewed by multiple people. In this case, their single upload would be free but they would be charged for multiple downloads. Hence it all boils down to usage requirements again.

IP addresses

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Most servers come with a defined number of IP addresses. Since IPv4 addresses are in limited supply, hosting providers need to provide justification for assigning more IP addresses to a particular server. There are two common reasons to want more IP address – large scale SEO and SSL. You typically need 1 IP address per SSL certificate. This could be an important consideration if you’ll need many SSL certificates.

Support and Billing

Support is by far the most difficult component of a dedicated server package to accurately compare when choosing between hosts. It is the support services that will constitute the majority of the interaction with the hosting company after a server is provisioned. When considering dedicated hosting providers, find out exactly what level of support is included in the quoted monthly charges and what services will attract additional fees. Make sure they are documented as part of the contract. It is also important to understand your hosting providers service level agreement (SLA). You should make sure to understand how long (at maximum and typically) tickets take to get answered, and how long hardware replacement takes.

On day one you may only need a simple hosting service, but as your demands grow, make sure the hosting company has the capacity to cater to those demands. Make sure they can provide services such as Backups, Monitoring, VPN, SSL, Managed firewalls, Load balancing, etc. When you choose a web hosting provider, you’re in for the long haul because it’s not easy to keep changing hosting providers .

Another thing to look out for is the billing. From our findings from the hosting providers websites, it was clearly evident that bulk payments do attract a discount. For eg. If you pay for the same plan for 12/ 24 months rather than on a monthly basis , you generally get a discount of about 10-20 percent. This does include a one time bulk payment at the beginning of the deal and one is indeed tied up with the hosting provider for that period. But, it is important to consider that one ideally does not hop around often regarding his hosting and a deal of 1 year should not be a problem.

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