While many people are familiar with the Internet, some are not familiar with hosting. I would like to address some of the concerns and questions about hosting, hopefully without being too obvious for those of you who are already familiar with the concept.
So first, what is hosting?
- It is the place where you keep your website pages, settings and files.
- It is a company that provides maintenance of servers where your website lives
- It is a plan of services you pay for in case you need technical support
- It is has many different levels of quality and service
Here are a few things that technically aren’t hosting:
- The IP address that directs people on the Internet to your site.
- Your domain name.
- Your social media account.
- Most of your e-mail.
Second, what kinds of hosting are available?
Some website developers (such as myself) offer hosting through a national company and pay the overhead themselves. Other companies, including developers, have their own private servers (like the one Hillary Clinton is now famous for having had at her house). This means that the hosting is physically located somewhere in their office or on their property. This can be risky, as the protection for such equipment cannot match the larger “server farm” installations. If you have a website you need to prepare for disaster—which not surprisingly is called disaster recovery. Some of the potential disasters that these places plan for are fire, electrical outages, hackers, computer hardware failure, vandalism, theft, and loss of Internet connectivity.
There is a middle ground as well which is called “co-location”. This is where I might own a server but keep it at a server farm or other Internet service provider with the understanding that they do not touch it unless I authorize it. This means that I am responsible for hardware failures, software updates, and the rest of the things that server companies handle for you normally. Some companies use co-location as a way to reduce some of the physical risks and save money on the maintenance plan fees.
If I need a shopping cart, is the hosting plan different?
In a word, yes. Companies that offer e-commerce solutions must be able to provide secure (SSL) connectivity to the financial institutions that process payments. An e-commerce hosting solution is different because:
- It requires a certificate authority that is used to verify your identity to the credit card processor (and similar organizations). This certificate has an annual fee and can be purchased through a third party or through your hosting company in many cases. When you see a “set-up” charge for e-commerce hosting, this is one of the reasons why. Installing a certificate can be easy or time-consuming, depending on the server and the shopping cart software.
- There is a higher level of liability for the hosting company if lost sales were to occur due to any hosting failure, even short lapses in website uptime.
- In the case of a security breach, the risk is greater because of the personal data stored online.
What about bandwidth?
Most of my clients are not large enough to warrant a surcharge for bandwidth. If you shop around, you will find many companies that are quite concerned with how many visitors you might have and how much data you might be transferring (for example, are you a video-oriented site?). If you are a startup, you may have no idea how much bandwidth you need. It is a simple matter of talking to your hosting provider to get an estimate of what the limits are and what fees would be if your needs were to grow.
When you choose your hosting provider, make sure to ask the questions you might ask when you are leasing a car: When can I have it? How safe is it? What is the monthly payment? Can I trade it in? What happens if I miss a payment? Can you repair it if I get into a crash? What would that cost? Do you have a loaner vehicle? What happens if I go over my mileage limit? There are many other such questions, but you get the idea. Consider something you are familiar with, and then apply your experience in that area to the decision of where to get hosting. I am always interested in speaking with potential new clients, regardless of whether they already have hosting. Feel free to leave any interesting experiences you have had with hosting or questions in the comments section below.
Henry Lyons is the owner of Finestkind Web Design in Dresden, Maine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through his website www.fineskindwebdesign.com.