After your website has been developed, you will have to decide where to host it. Your files must reside on a web server connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In theory, the server can be a computer located in your home or office, but in practice, a web hosting service is the norm. A web hosting service handles all the technical details for you, allowing you to concentrate on publishing, updating, managing, and optimizing the site. Either way though, consider the pros and cons.
In-House vs. Out-of-House
Web servers are relatively easy to configure and run, but require considerable time and technical know-how to manage, not to mention the cost of the equipment itself. If you're just starting out or you have a small site, a hosting service is the best way to go. It definitely will save you time and money and provide a better experience for your website's visitors.
With a hosting service you won't incurr the expense of hardware or software which can run anywhere from $500 USD to $10,000 USD or more, depending on the type of equipment. You also won't have to hire someone to administer the site, although you might want to retain a part-time consultant to help with ongoing maintenance.
If you don't own your own hardware or have dedicated staff, the cost difference for your first year can be dramatic. With equipment and personnel, running your own server could cost you $50,000 USD or more; going out-of-house will cost you much less, perhaps under $500 USD. Keep in mind that regardless of whether you do it yourself or go out-of-house, you are still responsible for the cost of generating your own content and maintaining the site.
Costs vary significantly depending on the kind of services you require, for instance e-commerce, and whether you want a dedicated web server or a shared server. Development and maintenance costs also rise dramatically as the size and complexity of your site increases. The more traffic your site generates, the more expensive it may become to use an out-of-house provider if you have to pay for bandwidth. If your company already has a robust computer system and an in-house system administrator who has the time to administer the site, running your own server might be a less costly option.
Another option is co-location. With co-location, a hosting service physically maintains your web server at their facility. This is a good option if you can afford to buy your own equipment, but don't want the hassle of maintaining a 24-hour per day, uninterrupted network connection.
Some web hosting services offer “turnkey” packages, everything from planning and designing the site to programming and physically maintaining it. If you go with a package deal, evaluate each option carefully. Be sure to get a written estimate with hourly rates and a cap on costs for each phase of the project.
Choosing a Hosting Service
Learn how web servers work.
If you decide to go with a hosting service, find a reliable, cost-effective, customer-friendly provider. Here are some questions to guide your decision:
- How fast and reliable is the connection to the Internet?
- Do they guarantee 24-hour a day service and support?
- Do they have uninterrupted power supplies and robust backup systems?
- What is the companies reputation? Spend a little time looking for customer reviews online.
Nothing is worse than spending thousands of dollars to develop a site, then hearing complaints from customers about slowness or server outages.
How long have they been in business? How many employees do they have?
Avoid one-man start-up operations. They are fine if you are looking for a deal for your personal site. But when it comes to your business, you need an operation that has professional technicians, network specialists and offers responsive customer support.
How much data storage are you allowed? Are there extra charges for a high volume of traffic to your site?
Look for a provider that offers a generous allocation of storage space. Larger sites require a lot of storage, especially if your site has multimedia content. Most providers charge extra for bandwidth that exceeds a certain threshold of data transfer each month. Find out how much data transfer your plan allows and what it will cost if you exceed the limit.
What kind of traffic reports does the hosting service provide?
You should have online access to detailed traffic reports about visits to the site. There is a wealth of data in those files that can help you fine tune your site to the needs of your customers.
What types of languages does the hosting service support?
If you know that you'll be using an application written in Ruby to power your website, make sure your hosting provider supports Ruby deployments and includes the libraries you will need access to. The same goes for any other language or technology you know you need access to such as PHP, SSI, CGI, or ASP.NET.
It's always a good idea to get your web developer or designer involved in the process of selecting a web host to ensure you don't end up paying for a service that you can't use.
What are the provisions for security and keeping hackers at bay?
First, keep in mind that your provider is just as concerned about security as you are. Their entire business depends on happy customers who will most assuredly not be happy if their data is not secure. Perfect, absolute, and unbreakable security does not exist on the Internet. Even sensitive U.S. government sites get hacked. However, you can minimize your risks if you know what to look for in a hosting service.
The first question to ask is whether it employs a security expert. If you have special security concerns, ask to speak with this person. If they don't employ one and this is a key requirement for you, find another provider.
What you want to hear is that they monitor activity on the server 24/7 to spot suspicious activity before it can cause damage. The hosting service should also employ state of the art firewalls and other methods to address known security problems. In addition, they should perform regular backups to get your site up and running as quickly as possible in the event that a server is compromised.