Budget Web Hosting – What to Look For
Design and development professionals who are looking to reduce costs in these transitional economic times have increasingly turned to budget web hosting products to help them lower monthly costs and increase profits. So how do professionals assess and purchase discount hosting products? Here are a few thoughts.
The Budget Web Hosting Landscape
When considering budget web hosting products, a buyer will generally break these products into one of several basic categories according to account type. Below are listed the traditional account breakdowns with a brief description of each.
Ad Supported or Free Hosting
This category of hosting is generally for non-business use and consists of those accounts that offer an extremely limited amount of disk space and bandwidth in exchange for displaying 3rd party advertising such as banner ads or Google AdWords. In addition to being limited in size and scope, these types of accounts can also be subject to frequent slowdowns or outages as the transitory nature of the customer base attracts potentially unsavory co-tenants on your shared server.
Discounted Shared Hosting
A cut above free hosting accounts are deeply discounted shared accounts which typically charge just a few dollars or less per month. The fact that discounted shared hosting accounts require payment strongly discourages the same types of abuses that can occur with free web hosting accounts – a definite plus. One potential pitfall is the fact that to keep the operating costs as low as possible, deeply discounted shared hosting operators may attempt to stuff as many accounts as possible onto a single server as possible. This is where getting a current customer referral or conducting proper market research becomes critical to your success.
For those customers needing use Microsoft’s .NET platform, an ASP.NET hosting provider is a must. This account is pre-configured on an ASP.NET server which the hosting provider maintains. This maintenance activity includes not only the usual monitoring of server performance and uptime, but also installing the sometimes frequently needed patches from Microsoft to address software updates. An additional bit of credibility is the Microsoft Gold Certified credentials coupled with Microsoft certified engineers.
Virtual Servers or VPS Hosting
A bridge between shared server hosting accounts and dedicated servers is a virtual server – also known as VPS hosting (that’s an acronym for Virtual Private Server hosting). Virtual servers have dramatically increased in popularity along with the growth of better virtualization software. This is software that emulates a dedicated server by using a fraction of the server’s total resources to execute programs like a complete and stand-alone dedicated server. There are various virtualization platforms, but generally speaking you can get a virtual server in either a Linux OS or a .NET OS powered by Microsoft’s hypervisor. The advent of less expensive hardware and software for virtualization has created a discount virtualization hosting product that is quite viable.
Cloud Computing or Cloud Hosting
As there are often contradictory descriptions of exactly what constitutes ”cloud computing” we present the Wikipedia definition here. ”Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, like the electricity grid. Cloud computing is a paradigm shift following the shift from mainframe to client–server in the early 1980s. Details are abstracted from the users, who no longer have need for expertise in, or control over, the technology infrastructure “in the cloud” that supports them. Cloud computing describes a new supplement, consumption, and delivery model for IT services based on the Internet, and it typically involves over-the-Internet provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources. It is a byproduct and consequence of the ease-of-access to remote computing sites provided by the Internet. This frequently takes the form of web-based tools or applications that users can access and use through a web browser as if it were a program installed locally on their own computer.”
While one may not think of dedicated servers falling under the auspices of ”budget hosting” – there are a number of discounted dedicated server hosting products which bear mentioning here. A dedicated server is a server whose use is restricted to just one customer or website. This means that the resources are allocated directly by the owner to their own sites. A key feature of dedicated servers (and also virtual servers) is root level access. Root level access is a special user account used for system administration. A key consideration in discounted dedicated servers is whether the server is considered ”managed” or ”unmanaged”. A managed server generally means that the hosting provider will look after any problems with the server, the connectivity to the network, any software patches that are required, or correcting any malicious activity that may occur on the server. An unmanaged server places the responsibility for the aforementioned items on the server administrator designated by the buyer (dedicated server hosting customer).
Things to Consider When Purchasing Budget Hosting
Value versus Price – With any of the budget hosting products listed above the cheapest price doesn’t necessarily mean the best deal. That is because one needs to look carefully at the brand, the account specifications, the guarantees, and the service component of the offering. Therefore, the lowest cost product may simply be the most stripped down product or the product that offers the lowest level of service. What you really want is the best value for the money. That means selecting a budget hosting plan that combines the lowest price with the highest service component and specifications.
Security – As mentioned previously, in an effort to wring the most cost out of the hosting and to generate sufficient profits it is possible that a deeply discounted shared hosting offering will attract unsavory neighbors on your shared server. At the very least you should ask questions about how secure the server is, and what provisions are made for backing up your valuable website data.
Reputation – One of the best ways to get a great budget hosting deal is to stick with a known quantity in the hosting business: a company with a good brand. You don’t have to look hard to find a reputable hosting provider. There are many out there and they can be identified by the way that current customers refer to them online. They use accolades like ”great” and ”fantastic”. You can also always check out great hosting resource sites like The Hosting News and Web Hosting Talk. If you see a company mentioned prominently and advertising, then they most likely have a strong hosting brand.
Uptime – If you truly need 100 percent uptime you’ll have to pay for it. Budget web hosts offer the best compromise between reasonable uptime and a great price. That being said, most websites can survive very modest amounts of downtime for emergency patches, or other preventative maintenance. If you need to have guarantees regarding uptime, check to see if the hosting provider offers a Service Level Agreement (SLA).
SLA’s – Service level agreements or SLA’s are the promise that a hosting provider gives you regarding the uptime of your website or server. Most of the higher end hosting products (typically VPS hosting, Cloud computing and dedicated servers) will come with an SLA. If you need assurance on your website’s uptime, ask about the SLA. While an SLA won’t prevent outages, it will compensate you for any outages by paying you back some of your hosting fees – proportional to the outage. Also, the SLA is an indication that the hosting provider is serious about ensuring that your budget hosting plan is as stable and reliable as it can be.