A common question that arises among webmasters and small businesses with a web presence is: ”My website and traffic are growing, how do I know when it is time to move up to a bigger hosting account?”. In order to answer this question there are several factors that need to be carefully considered. Presuming that the average small business launches their website on a smaller, shared web hosting account, here are a few points to consider when contemplating the move to a larger (potentially more expensive) hosting account.
Size – The sheer size of a website often determines the most appropriate web hosting plan that will suffice for proper operation. Besides the obvious specifications listed by the hosting provider, there are two main measures of website size which relate to the hosting account – disk space and bandwidth.
Remember an important caveat – any video files or extremely large graphics can increase these numbers by 100 times. So the type of content you display on your website will dramatically impact the disk space required.
Bandwidth – A second measure of website size is the amount of bandwidth (sometime referred to as ‘transfer rate’ or simply ‘transfer’) required. This is usually a reflection of the number of visitors your website is serving – and also the size of the files being delivered by your site. The more visitors you have to your website – the more bandwidth required to serve them. As noted above, streaming files, large video or music downloads are also bandwidth intensive. While there is no really easy formula to calculate bandwidth requirements, your current web hosting provider should be keeping a record of how much bandwidth your website consumes each month. Alternatively there are online tools to let you calculate bandwidth usage.
Clearly if your website is growing fast in terms of disk space and/or bandwidth you should consider your options for a larger web hosting account type.
Security – In order to make your website hosting affordable on the lower end of the spectrum, hosting providers will place multiple websites together on one web server. This practice is referred to as ”shared hosting”. Literally, you are sharing the server with other websites. The benefits of this arrangement are the lower costs – since the server costs are also shared between many websites. The vast majority of beginning websites are hosted on shared servers. For many purposes this hosting configuration is quite adequate. There are reasons, however, that one may choose to migrate their website services to a server with lower contention rates (that means fewer websites per server).
The most pressing of these triggers to migrate is security. While the vast majority of web hosting providers are hyper-vigilant regarding site security, a shared environment poses an additional loophole for problems to occur. Due to the fact that there may be over 100 websites on the server, each with its own user name and password, that means there are 100 opportunities for a weak user name / password combination. Believe it or not, every hosting provider has customers who use ‘password’ as their password. Not smart. What this means for your website, if you are on a shared server, is that the security of your server (and therefore your website) is only as strong as the weakest user name / password combination of all the shared accounts. Further, while not as common, there are unscrupulous characters out there that will purchase a shared hosting account for spamming or other malicious activity. If such a user is on your server then your website is at risk. A further drawback of this situation may be getting ”blacklisted” (blocked) by large ISP’s. The end result is often that emails are not sent and received properly. The best way to protect your website from undue influence by others on a shared server is to move to a server with fewer (or no other) websites on it.
Reliability – Reliability (also referred to as ”uptime”) is a key consideration in migrating upward in the web hosting hierarchy. At its most basic reliability boils down to this: Does your website ever fail to load when called for in a browser? You are paying your good money to a hosting provider to ensure that your website is always available. Every reputable web hosting company will have multiple connections to the Internet, a solid data center with lots of backup power and uninterruptible power supplies, and physical security to prevent downtime. These elaborate precautions are for naught if one of the websites on a shared server goes haywire. The most common cause of server downtime on a shared server is simple human error caused by webmasters on a shared server creating a script which is malformed and then proceeds to absorb all the resources of that server (usually RAM). The only way to completely eliminate this potential issue is to house your website on a server that is dedicated to only your site (virtual or dedicated server). If you are wondering exactly how reliable your web hosting is, there are many monitoring tools available to measure uptime. One popular free tool is Alertra. Simply type your website URL into the box in the upper right and you can see if your website is currently up. For a modest monthly fee you can have Alertra check your website every few minutes to determine reliability.
Remember to consider the growth of your databases and files when considering moving up to a new hosting account. Also, if you are on a shared web server and everything is working well with great uptime and good security, then you may want to stay where you are until you hit the next level of growth. When you do get ready to move up to a higher level web hosting account, be sure to work with your hosting provider to get tips on migrating your files and transitioning smoothly.