Web hosts store the computer files that contain all of the information on your site and they keep that information connected to the Internet. For many businesses, hosting your site in-house isn’t an option due to the set-up costs for hardware, software development, and continuous Internet connection as well as the ongoing maintenance. In that case, in order for your website to go online, you’ll likely need to find a web hosting company. The following are important questions to ask any web host that you’re considering:
- What sort of physical connection does the web host have to the Internet? There are about a dozen private networks, often referred to as ‘backbone’ networks, that make up the core of the Internet. In many cases, a web host doesn’t send their data directly to the backbone but rather through a connection to a larger Internet Service Provider (ISP). That ISP can go through another ISP who goes through another one and so on. Unfortunately, the further you are from the backbone, or the more layers of ISPs between your host and the backbone, the more potential for problems. Ask the potential web host how far away they are from the backbone. Ideally, they should be a few steps away or even sit on the Internet backbone itself. Also try to find a provider with at least one T-3 line connection to the backbone or an ISP as the T-3 connection is about twenty-eight times faster than a T-1 connection. You should also find out the percentage of their bandwidth that is being used by existing demands on the system, which ideally should be no more than 30% of the available total for the average bandwidth utilization and no greater than 60% to 70% for the peak bandwidth. It can also be very beneficial to have a guarantee of bandwidth utilization limits written into your contract with the host.
- What server hardware and software does the web host use? Ideally, the host should use top quality hardware, with multi-processor server machines being best. Because many web hosts build their own equipment, they don’t necessarily need to be name brand. Also ask about redundancy and what happens when the computer storing your data crashes. Don’t be fooled if a web host tells you that their computer never crashes. Ideally, the host should store back-up copies of your site files on other machines that will immediately take over when the main server fails. The type of operating system your host uses is also important as software you might use is more compatible with some operating systems than with others. Windows NT and Unix are the most common operating systems. Your host should also have an uninterruptible back-up power supply onsite which is set to immediately take over in the even of a power failure.
- How much disk space does the web host guarantee? 25 MB of hard disk space is generally enough for 500 average web page with about 50KB of text and graphics each. Many hosting packages start at 25MB and, generally speaking, most people require less space than they think. You should, however, be able to easily increase your disk space allocation if needed.