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How to find a respectable web hosting company (Read 3168 times)

    When I was ready to move the running log online, I had to find a web hosting company and I didn't know what to do. When you type in "web hosting" into Google, you'll get hundreds upon hundreds of companies willing to sell you all kinds of different plans. There really isn't a good way to judge a company. I'll talk about how to pick a hosting company. Maybe this will help you find your own web hosting company if you are in search of one. There are sites that allegedly rate and rank these companies according to price, features, and customer satisfaction. They also carry banner ads from these same companies. I viewed it as a conflict of interest and did not trust the ratings, although they are useful in that they provided me with potential candidates. It is definitely a good idea to have a clear set of requirements before you look for a hosting company. It will save you time by quickly filtering out the ones that do not meet these criteria. I needed a company that supports Microsoft's ASP.NET because that's what my site is written in. Most companies offer PHP or CGI because Unix or Linux servers are cheaper to deploy than Windows servers. Most if not all of the software running on Linux can be obtained for free, or a very low price when compared to the same kind of software running on Windows. How else could they afford to charge $3 a month? They can also be highly automated, which will help them cut down their operating costs. I'll talk about the money later. As a bonus, they can optionally offer a shell account that would allow the site owners more control over their sites. You should not worry about what kind of server they're running unless you have very specific requirements. If you don't need a database, then you can skip this paragraph. Two of the most popular hosting offerings are Microsoft SQL Server and MySQL. The current view is that SQL Server gives better performance than MySQL, which is true only if you have millions of records. For a regular site, I don't think there is any noticeable difference in performance between the two. If you need a database, be sure to check the maximum allowable database size for each hosting plan. All the plans I seen during my search limit the SQL Server database size to 5 or 10mb. To me, that's completely unacceptable as they're good for nothing other than storing user account information. If you go above that, you'll have to pay extra per month. Many plans also limit the size of a MySQL database. There are a few that set the maximum size for a MySQL database to your available disk space, and these are the plans you should consider. Let's talk about money. The web hosting space is so crowded that companies are forced to cut their prices to stay competitive. You can get a plan that offers gigs of disk space and bandwidth for a few dollars. I avoided these plans and you should too, because you get what you pay for, and sooner or later, you'll regret getting a cheap plan. It doesn't mean you should or would pay $300 a month either. Companies charge so little because they don't offer much to begin with. You should look beyond the numbers. The 120 gig bandwidth a month is meaningless if there is a noticeable delay when you fetch a page from your site. Many companies do not offer backups of your site to cut cost. Even if they do, you still should do regular backups. Look for a company that allows you to control your site through a control panel or something else. Ideally, you should be able to do everything without ever contacting the company for help. All but the top tier companies are notorious for having bad customer service. Most of the dissatisfactions stem from slow responses to problems. When your site goes down for whatever reason, you expect someone to help you within a reasonable amount of time. Before I found my current hosting company, I had another in mind. I sent them several inquiries and they never got back to me. That was a sure sign that I will not receive any help when I need it. Companies often tout their "uptime". This number is very misleading because there is a server uptime and a network uptime. Their uptime often refers to the network. What's the difference? Your website resides on one of the servers in the company. The company has many servers that are connected to the Internet via its network. Even when your server is down, the network is still running, so often times the network uptime is higher than the server uptime. It is also possible that their network is down while your server is still running, but that shouldn't happen too often or the company will be out of business really fast. For the people that are numbers oriented, let's dig deeper into the uptime. We can calculate how long your site can be down for in a month. There are 43,200 minutes in a month of 30 days. If the company states that its network uptime is 99%, that means your site can be unreachable for 432 of those minutes, or 7.2 hours every month! If the uptime is 99.9%, then your site will be down for 43.2 minutes each month. In other words, do not go for anything less than 99%! Unless you get a dedicated server (which will cost you at least $100 a month), your site will be sharing a server with hundreds of other sites. If your site contains only HTML pages and no server side scripting, then the cheapest plan should do. However, if you want to do server side scripting (i.e. PHP, CGI, ASP, etc), then you should be concerned with how other sites can affect yours. After I moved my site to my current hosting company, I started noticeable strange behaviors. I get logged out unexpectedly, and can access pages without login in. I could not reproduce the problem on my home test machine and it turned out that there was nothing wrong with my site, per se. With hundreds of other sites running on the same machine, there will inevitably be at least one poorly written site that does not play well with others, and can affect how the other sites run. It's crazy, I know, but it happened to me. The solution was to pay a bit more money, and get a separate "application pool". From what I understand, it gives your site its own set of resources on the server so that it can be isolated from all of the other sites on the server. I had to learn it the hard way, and you should definitely inquire about it during your search because most companies don't even mention it. Most companies offer a money back guarantee within a certain number of days. You should definitely take full advantage of it. That means you should have your site fully developed before you sign up so that you can test every aspects of the service. Things you should consider are how responsive is your site? How easily can you upload new files? Can you do everything through a control panel, such as creating databases, importing/exporting data into/out of your database, manipulating files in your account, and managing email accounts? How good is the statistics reporting? Can you add new software such as forums? The best way to choose a web hosting company is by asking other people to recommend one. Be aware that everyone will give you a different recommendation, but at least it's a place to start. For what it's worth, my provider is www.parcom.net. I am not affiliated with this company in any way other than I pay them to host my site. Their customer service is responsive (in a matter of minutes in most dire cases) and their plans are very competitive. There are many aspects of finding a web hosting company that I haven't covered. Maybe I'll talk about it some more some other time.