Guest post by Chris Kelly, founder and owner of iThought, a small web hosting company in Atlanta, GA. Chris has over a decade of experience running websites and infrastructure for small businesses, tech startups, and Fortune 100 companies. Currently, he is a full time Software Developer specializing in Ruby on Rails web development, and continues to run iThought.
If you’re running a website, you’ll need a web hosting provider to “host” your website, keeping it on their computers and sharing it with the internet at your web site address. All web hosting providers are not created equal, and it’s your responsibilty to do some homework before you pick where your website will live. The perfect host for one business may be the worst choice for another, so you should ask yourself some questions and investigate your options before going with the coolest/cheapest option.
First up, you’ll need to know some things about your site:
1. How much disk space will you need? An exact number is not important. If your site is a small HTML website or a WordPress Blog, you won’t need very much, but if you need to host lots of images or videos it can quickly add up. If a hosting company offers you cheap “unlimited” storage, the speed and quality of that storage is probably what you pay for, and things may seem slow or go down frequently as a result.
2. How much network bandwidth will you need? Again, an exact number is not important, but the difference between a small personal site and a media blog about a major local event could be significant. Unlimited bandwidth is a little easier for a service provider to provide than unlimited storage, but realistically most sites will never use up the bandwidth allotted to them regardless of your hosting plan. If you have lots of video or media files, you may be better of hosting them separately from your website on services like Vimeo and Flickr.
3. How taxing will you be to the system? If your site is just basic HTML files or some simple PHP, your system needs should be pretty minimal, but if you’re doing complex calculations or analysis and reporting on big data sets, you may need to be on better hardware. If your site needs to be super-quick and responsive, it may be worth paying for a dedicated virtual server to guarantee resources. “Shared” hosting will often be fast, but the performance of your site depends on the 10s to 100s of other sites on the same system as yours.
4. How much support do you need? Some hosts offer quick turnaround to emails or phone calls from a single person that knows you or a small team, while others put you into a massive support queue or call center.
5. How important is it that your site is up? Your blog probably isn’t mission critical, but an online store for your business might be more important. Be suspicious of “100% uptime guarantees” as this isn’t possible, but look for an explanation of the uptime a provider guarantees and how they support that guarantee.
6. What framework is your website being built in? A WordPress Blog will need a host that supports PHP and MySQL, while an e-commerce site might require ASP.NET, Microsoft SQL Server, and a Windows based server. A company that offers many platforms will typically not be a master of any one of them, so pick a company that only offers the platform you need.
With that information in hand, it’s time to research your hosting options. Use search engines, look around sites like Web Hosting Talk. However, the most valuable reference is referrals from people you know with sites like yours that are happy with their hosting. As your friends and co-workers who they use and love, check thost providers with the questions above, and hopefully you’ll have a few great options at your disposal!
- Chris Kelly
iThought – Hosting and Consulting