Written by John Rampton
When we talk about hosting our own clients, or what we are looking for in a hosting company, there are probably hundreds of factors that go into what you want to have in your hosting company. We are going to focus on a handful of factors today. This may take a little while, guys, so buckle your seat belts and get ready for a long ride.
Hardware - Top of the line server hardware are necessary to having the best hosting company out there for the edge and core products to the server itself. A hosting company must stay up to date on this hardware as it becomes outdated after a couple years. Top hosting companies are swapping out their hardware every couple months with their old machines. If your data center a Cisco shop, or do they have all their edge, border, core, and gateway routers from whoever was selling them for cheapest on EBay? Not to suggesting that Cisco has to be the brand of choice, but I would hope you get my drift. Are they using reliable equipment that they have extensive knowledge of, and has a reputation of reliability and redundancy? Is there many failovers such as power, or processing cards, do the routers have A/B power or are there parts available should one of the redundant parts become unavailable. Are they in order in all conduit and keeping all power and network gear organized and in shape? Is everything seemingly in disarray and unorganized?
Flexibility - There are NO two hosting clients that are alike. All have different needs, and have different projects that they are hosting. While the company should have a wide array of product offerings, are they flexible enough to help you build a custom product that will fit exactly your needs? Or do they make you fit into a cookie-cutter type of design? This is one of the biggest reasons that companies get frustrated with their hosting provider, and also one of the biggest reasons that hosting companies lose clients.
CPU - More in depth, do they have the latest technology on the market available? Do they have the fastest technology available, and do they have reasonable pricing on less robust CPU packages? For shared platforms, are they running fast CPU’s to handle the load, or are they doing the bare minimum, hoping a 10$ account won’t notice? Do they tell you the model of CPU and how much of a slice of usage you get?
Ram - Ram is one of the nice things about where technology is going now, that you should be able to take advantage of at cheaper costs each day. Do they have all different types of ram depending on what is needed? Do they have the ability to put 500+ GB or more into your machine? Are they cheap with RAM when it comes to shared platforms, or do they have more than enough to go around? Is the ram up to date and is the speeds top rate?
Hard Drives - I will just come out and say it. Your hosting provider better be coming out the ears with hard drives. Far and away, the number one cause for hardware failure in machines is hard drives crashing. If I had a dime for every time I have seen a hosted machine lose a hard drive, I would put Bill Gates to shame. It ALWAYS happens, it isn’t a matter of how but when. When it does (and it will!), is your hosting provider ready to go to swap that hard drive out onsite and reduce any problems for you and your company? Will they rebuild the raid for you when they swap? Raid Cards - RAID, in my humble opinion, is a must have for anyone in a hosting platform, whether you have your own dedicated hosting platform, or a shared solution. Hard drives DO fail, and it is always a must to have redundancy. Does your hosting company provide a RAID solution, so that when your hard drives fail, you have failover? Some companies pay hundreds of thousands per year to host applications and sites, and then fail to ever use one of the most basic elements of redundancy in the playbook. Striping and duplicating is going to improve redundancy, as well as performance. Keep in mind, RAID is NOT a backup solution. There are many types of raid that help with redundancy or speed, choose the solution that is best for you and your needs.
Backup Solution/Storage - Does your hosting provider have an offsite backup solution, or a NAS or SAN that they are ready to give a piece of to you for your backup needs? Is it customizable to backup when YOU want it to, and do you have control of when the backups happen, or do you have to rely on the company and trust them that they are backing it up when they say they are? In the event of a problem, are they quick to be able to restore you to your original operations? Although some depending on the solution, some of the backup services could cost money. Keep in mind the real cost is trying to recreate or rebuild from lost data. Does your hosting company offer it or can you easily use your own solution with their hosting service? In the event of a problem, are they quick to be able to restore you to your original operations?
Intangibles - The last element here is truly the “gut’ feeling you get. If a company makes you feel like you are their only priority, then you may want to pay attention. Do you feel loved or are you comfortable with your rep. You should feel as though they have every answer that you may need for all of your technological needs. If you need to find a new programmer, could your sales rep have a few recommendations for you? Are they well tied into the community, and the technology world? Can you use them as a full technology resource? If not, then you may be limited down the road.
Cloud Hosting Options - Does the hosting provider have robust and redundant cloud hosting options? Lets go over what “Cloud” really means, in the first place. If you ask 10 people what cloud hosting means, you are likely to get ten different answers. Cloud is basically all of your applications and hosting elements being run off of different “slices” of servers all at once, to serve as a redundancy for hardware failure. Many times, a “cloud” provider is just trying to catch up to amazon and Rackspace, and is promising things that they cannot deliver. Can you quickly ramp up or ramp down ram or processor options should your server get busy. If someone is telling you that you can add any resources you would like, without any downtime whatsoever, that would raise a red flag in my mind, some are close but the best of the best do require at least a reboot. Take a little closer look at that, and find out what they can REALLY do. Too often, companies will talk a big game, but do little on the delivery side.
Dedicated Hosting Options - Can the hosting company that you’re working with have dedicated hosting options? Is you site performing just fine on the hosting platform that you’re currently using or is your service a little sluggish? Do you have any extremely secure data or scripts? A dedicated hosting option will allow you to have 100% complete control over you box. One important thing to note is if they manage the dedicated server for you or do you have to manage it. Most hosting companies don’t manage the server for you though many are moving to a managed dedicated hosting type of service. If you’re considering this option, make sure the hosting team behind your server is amazing. Make sure you factor in the software you’ll need to buy before purchasing this option. Every good hosting company should have this as an option.
Operating System Options - Do they offer any operating system that you need, and are they familiar in managing all of these operating systems? If you want the latest version of Ubuntu without any hiccups, can they provide this for you in 32 bit or 64 bit? Or are they only a windows server shop? Maybe they know CentOS but only to an extent? It is important to know where your expertise lies in your data center personnel. A good provider will be familiar with most popular Linux, Unix, Windows, or i400 platforms as well as their corresponding software such as Exchange Server, MSSql, IIs, MySql, Apache, etc. If you are looking for a hosting company, and you run strictly Redhat, maybe you don’t care that they don’t know Windows worth a dang. If they know Redhat, you are set, right? I would tend to think the same but am thrilled when the company is well rounded for any future needs. Operating systems and the software it supports can be as important as the hardware. What you need reflects this choice.
Uptime - 100% uptime is essential when finding the best hosting company. This is virtually impossible but 99.999 is possible and most data centers should at least be operating at this level! What’s most important is that your hosting provider doesn’t have unexpected outages. There are many hosting company that have unexpected outages that can cause your sites to go down for hours. These outages can occur whether it be cooling, power, of the server itself. Server issues such as, bad hard drives, switch failure, DDOS attaches or a few other things typically can cause your server to go down. Companies with premium hardware will rarely have this happen to them. Servers occasionally will need a reboot, upgrade, when this happens it’s typically scheduled in the middle of the night to have the least impact on your customers.
Scalability - Hosting your business in the cloud or in general requires the ability for your business to scale. You need to be able to scale your business up to suite your needs. Do they have everything you need as a company to grow? How effective is your hosting provider and scaling up when you have more demands? Most online businesses will have a goal of expansion, but will only want to invest as much in technology services as NEEDED at the time. Due to this, you will want your data center or hosting provider to be very efficient at moving you to more robust platforms, adding features, and more resources with as little downtime as possible. This is often overlooked, but an important part to think about. There is nothing worse than having a migration go wrong, when it should have been simple…. and now you are potentially out your data?
Online Security - Top hosting companies have the best online security there is to offer. They keep your data secure online. Data center security should be a top priority to anyone in this space. Top data centers clunk your data across multiple servers in different data centers so there is not one single point of failure. Hosting data security should be at the core of any hosting companies team. They have security review processes as well as a customized security infrastructure to keep all your data secure from hackers.
Bandwidth - Bandwidth is important as well as network redundancy. When we talk about bandwidth, we need to know how much the colocation or webhosting company is already paying for. For example, I have seen ALL too many times that a provider will sell a commit level on bandwidth to each client for, say, 2500 GB per month of data transfer. Maybe all these clients on this platform equal 500 TB of data transfer a month, and all get most of their traffic during the day. Banking on the idea that the companies will not use near all their bandwidth, and that they will not commit with their upstream carrier for more than, say…..100Mbps on the 95th percentile. While this may be fine most of the time, what happens if a large group of these sites get a significant amount of traffic all at once? This obviously creates a bottleneck, and your site speed and performance will suffer, as well as problems with packet loss, etc. Do you really want that problem? Make sure that your provider can provide as much bandwidth as could ever be needed, not just for you, but all clients on your connection.
Features - Every strong hosting company needs a set of features to help you run your business more effectively. Some of the flexibility that you will need will largely be dependent on the features that the data center provides. Some of these may include custom probes that can be placed on your equipment such as hard drive, motherboard, RAM, etc. Also, probes could be physical, such as temperature probes, or motion detection. If you are in a private space, there should be privacy features, such as controls to make sure flooring and cooling tiles are not disrupted, unauthorized access controls, etc. We will talk more about this in the next section. Fraud Control - Data centers' should always have a way to track down employees that may have fraudulently done something with your servers. Some of the biggest problems that I see is when a company lays off of an employee, and does not take away access to servers and very sensitive information! This happens enough that your hosting company should be able to track down when and where any fraudulent activity takes place. Also, are they PCI or SSAE16 Certified? Are you sure than not any joe shmoe can call up and say they are from "xyz" company, and gain access to your vital information? Or do they have passwords, and verification processes in place? Lastly, do they offer help to companies for online security, and ways to keep data safe, such as SSL, etc?
Support - A truly good hosting company provides 24/7 support of their product through tier 1 or even tier 2,3 techs. Companies like Rackspace brand themselves around Fanatical Support, NetHosting as "Dedicated Experts." True support is going above and beyond, making your hosting experience pleasurable. Quick and helpful hosting support is always nice as well. Most reputable hosting companies out there have a decent support team behind them. In any hosting company, it is imperative to have a tech team that can tackle any problem and work as a team, not a group of employees. The CTO and Tech management team need to have developed as much as possible in the infrastructure of the software that they are running, and have an intimate knowledge with all systems as to be able to fix anything they need to without having to rely on vendors and service providers to fix their problems (i.e. Cisco, Western Digital, Windows, etc.) They also need to be realistic in setting expectations for the rest of the company, as well as clients. There cannot be a disconnect about what the Technology guys SAY is possible, and what they can actually provide.
Customer Support - To have the best hosting company you need to have the top customer service team out there. It’s crucial that your hosting company has friendly team that loves it’s customers. It’ll show through the phone. Customer support can be one of the biggest factors in downtime. Will your hosting company be quickly available to answer technical or billing questions with a friendly attitude? On-Staff Professionals - For ANY problem you may have, do they have a professional on staff that can help you fix it? Or, do they have to get ahold of a "guy" that can do that stuff? If they have people on staff that can help you with your problems that you are having, then you know that they have EXPERTISE on your specific situation. This is a comforting thought for anyone.
Sales and Customer Retention Specialists - In a service industry such as hosting, make sure that all bases are covered in the SERVICE side of the business. ANYONE can invest some money and rent server space, but not anyone is willing to bend over backwards to make sure that their clients are eager to pay their bills, rather than dreading it. Your sales and service reps should be PEOPLE specialists, not TECHNOLOGY specialists. I truly believe that technology can be taught, but the skills required to navigate the plethora of problems a hosting client may have are skills much harder to acquire. In my opinion, if you are paying over Five Hundred dollars per month in hosting, and cannot just call your rep on his cell and get a response within 15 minutes, then you have no business being with that company.
Admin - Does your hosting company have any server admins that they can dedicate to you? Many server and hosting companies offer hosting "admin's" that that are dedicated to you and just a few other clients. For lack of a better term, they are your “datacenter system administrators.” This is a large valuable service to have, as it may save you on a lot of overhead cost for hiring another expensive personnel. Another plus to this service is to be able to have some customized experience on your vendor staff, that is intimately familiar with all of your quirks and everything that you need taken care of.
Billing - You should not have to go through a hassle to give other people your money. Nor should you have to do it without knowing exactly what you are receiving. Make sure that all billing issues are quickly resolved, and make sure that you do not have any issues that you do not feel good with the resolution. Another issue to take care of early is if you're located in a foreign country if your hosting company accepts your form of billing. Paying for your server should be easy and hassle free.
Pricing - Not only does the best hosting companies have competitive prices, but they provide you a service that rivals others at a price that you can manage. Growing an online business is hard; your hosting company should be there to help it grow and having good pricing to scale with you. Compare apples to apples, as many of the hosting providers may not always show you extra options you need to pay for. Honesty - Hosting is built on a foundation of trust and honesty. Does the hosting company have a good reputation, or are building a reputation of having a high service quality? Do they have a Quality of Service Guarantee that is included in ALL agreements? Are they willing to financially back up their service? If you are at a hosting company, it is largely to be online and secure 24/7. If this were not the reason you were there, then you may as well have your server in your basement plugged in to your DSL connection.
Training - What is the training process like for employees of the company? Do they just hire whatever they need for qualifications, and set them loose? Or does the company have stringent requirements and ONGOING education for on-staff employees? As we know, the technology world is changing and changing, and not only do your tech support employees need to be on the up-and-up, but also the sales reps and account managers. If you have someone managing your account, and dedicating their time and effort to making sure you have a seamless technology solution, do you want someone that is behind a year in the latest technological advances, or do you still want to be fighting for IPV5 blocks when IPV6 has been out for two years? Also, do they have the knowledge to help you GROW! That is what we are all after. Do they have the experience to help you scale your services as seamless as possible? I would say this is a very important piece of the pie, so to speak. Lastly, do they take the time to sit down with your tech support team and anyone involved, and train THEM on the products that they deliver? For example, do they set you up with a login and password for a backup solution and just let you figure it out, or do they sit down with you are show you all of the features and how to use the product correctly? This is applicable with both hardware and software purchases.
Physical Location - In an era when you can have your server hundreds or thousands of miles away, and it may as well be right next-door, it is sometimes easy to overlook the physical location aspects of where you are located. Physical location plays a huge roll in power, network, and other kinds of redundancy that we can talk about later on in the article. In this particular point, I would like to concentrate more on issues like time zones, as well as vulnerability to natural disasters, lightening, etc. One may not consider it wise to be in a data center that is over a seismically highly active area, or an area vulnerable to hurricanes, floods, or other problems that may put you offline. Where your hosting company should be important to you as an online business as well. Hosting companies in different locations around the world can host your website but may lag a little with load times. This may affect your SEO efforts and cause your site not to be ranked as high. It’s important to host your website in the Country or near the Country that you reside in.
Physical Security - One of the biggest problems with the data center and hosting industry is physical security being an expensive show rather than an effective, and cost efficient way to meet your needs. Data centers that are built as bomb shelters with armed guards, mantraps in the parking lots, etc., may FEEL safer, but we are not concerned with SAFETY. This is not an international airport. The expensive construction, salary of armed guards, and expensive construction is ultimately being paid on a monthly basis, by YOU. More importantly, sometimes the most basic controls are ignored. What is the access control policy? What is the situation with HD cameras at all security and access point areas? Are they PCI and SAS70/SSAE16 Soc1/2 Type I or II certified? Or do they just claim “compliance?” Will they show you these credentials upon request? These are important things to consider. Also, physical spaces should not indicate any client names, and clients should never have access to secure areas. Are biometrics and key fobs in place, to track all access to secure areas?
Seismic Protection - There are a few ways for hosting centers to accomplish this. A- They are in a seismically inactive area. Ideally, this would be great, but most of the major fiber highways just so happen to be in seismically active areas(California, anyone?) Do they have base isolation under the building? Do they have building technology that can withstand earthquakes not only in a physical sense, but have all network and power stay up and running? I would recommend at a minimum a Zone 4 rated building, unless it is in an area that has no risk of earthquake. The building and the rack with your servers should be able to support this standard.
Flood Protection - Flood protection may seem a bit corny……until you remember New Orleans a few years ago. It can rain ANYWHERE. Data centers in UTAH(2nd driest state in the union) are concerned with making sure there is flood protection. There are two different worries to concern ourselves with when it comes to flood protection. The first is natural disaster-type flooding. A Dam breaks up the road, it rains a bunch, heavy snowmelt, hurricanes, etc. If at all possible, please ensure that your hosting company sits above the flood level, or at the highest possible place in its’ surrounding area. If it has any additional protection in high risk areas, this would be optimal. The second flood area to be concerned with is flood protection in the case of fire suppression going off, as well as making sure all plumbing is segregated from all data center areas(bathrooms, etc.). In the event of a fire on the third floor of a building, if your server is on the first floor, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about data loss from water 2 floors away? Make sure that each level is self-contained, and has a water system that will keep the water to the outside of the building and run off of the sides, rather than just flood right through every level. This may seem like overkill, but you should be getting the best level of redundancy for your buck, and this is not an exception.
Tornado Protection - Some areas of the world simply do not need to worry about this. On the other hand, I have seen tornados in places that NO expert could predict. If you have a data center in the Midwest, please keep in mind that if you have a tornado in an area where you are, and they don’t have tornado protection built into their building, not only could you have downtime, but you may have catastrophic data loss. One of the biggest financial losses in New Orleans with natural disasters as of late was DATA loss, not physical property damage. Shocking, eh?
Secondary Location - In my opinion, you should always have a secondary location, off-site and off-net, so that if, say, Level3 going down in a large area, then you have another data center tied into Verizon or AT&T that will keep you up and minimize downtime. There are a lot of fantastic data centers that do not have more than one location, but I
Physical Redundancy - This is very similar to physical location, but I believe it deserves its own attention. In the event that one data center goes out of commission, do they have the option for you to establish redundancy in another area? Are they flexible enough to allow backups to both locations, and do they provide an inexpensive on-net ability to do this? This may be out of the scope of what a startup company needs, but ideally we would all like to grow to the size that this becomes a necessity. Why cut yourself short right from the start? Personnel Redundancy - Do you have a service provider that has more than one solution to every problem? I have seen so often companies that have a genius for every problem, but they are the only key to the locks that may need to get opened. If you have a DDOS attack that needs to be resolved NOW, are you going to have to wait for the "guy" to wake up and drive to the NOC? Or are they going to have guys on hand all the time to fix your problems? This is important, as it could mean the difference between losing 1 hour of uptime, or 4.
Network Redundancy - What is the network like? Have you conducted TraceRoute and PING tests to see what your Hops and Ping times are? More importantly, what are Internet connections into the data center? Are they multi-routed? Are they upgradable to Gigabit or faster ports? Do they have multiple carriers in the building? Are there multiple fiber paths physically into the building? Probably just as important, who does the BGP routing? Are they in charge of that too, or do they rely on the carriers and hope that there is not any traffic shaping or throttling, to decrease cost? Possibly the most important question of all, what is the uptime that they are running at? I advise that if your hosting companies data center has not been operating at 3’9’s for at least 2 years, you need to look elsewhere. Besides downtime, page load time is weighed heavily into Google’s search engine algorithms. This is a very important factor. Keep in mind, having a few OC-3’s built out to different carriers is different than having termination equipment and the carrier ON SITE in the building, for carrier neutral options.
Power Redundancy - What is the power situation like? Are there UPS systems in place? Are there backup generators in place, do they test them regularly? I have known some data centers unwilling to spend on regularly testing their generators. In the winter will the fuel gel, it has happened before. What is the strength of the power grid they are on, and are they receiving power from one or multiple power grids? One of the biggest sources of power loss is when breakers pop. Are they providing power readings for you, if you are collocating servers? Are they running at less than 40% capacity on all backup systems in the event of a catastrophe? What is the service protocol on their equipment? Also, do they provide true A/B Power? Keep in mind, A/B power is not just two power feeds, it is true redundancy in the circuits. It should be A/B back to at least the power panels, if not to the UPS systems.
Cooling Redundancy - What is the cooling situation like? If you are standing in the server area, are hot and cold areas segregated properly? More than adding cold air, are they efficient at taking away the hot air? What are they doing for cooling redundancy? Are they controlling air temperature, humidity, air pressure, and all the things that go along with that? Is it a raised pressurized floor or just an air-conditioned room? Are they using quality equipment from reputable manufacturers, such as Leibert or York? A data center or hosting company should be able to provide you graphing systems for monitoring cooling temperature along with your servers probes.
Fire Suppression - In the event of a fire, are they prepared to both contain it, and also to not have any accidental discharges of the fire suppression system? While in the Hosting industry, TWICE in five years, the same company that had a high tech Halon/FM200 system had the system deploy when there was NO fire. Besides the obvious safety reasons this is bad, this also ruined countless servers and caused millions and millions of dollars of equipment loss, as well as clients lost. My advice would be to look for a center with a dual activation system, as to have more than one point to check to activate the system. Also, I would look for a system that is segmented into different areas of the hosting center. These systems are called Dual Interlocked Dry Pipe System. What happens is if there is Carbon Monoxide or other air contaminants in the air, the system will charge the lines and rely on the head above the fire area, thus keeping it localized to the problematic area. If there is a small electrical fire on one corner of the building, there is no need for water hosing down 100 yards away. Some cities require sprinkler systems in addition to or in place of which system the hosting provider would choose.
Access - For you Colocation guys, can you get unattended access to your servers 24/7 any time you want? Or do you need to wait for accompanied access from an employee during employee hours, or pay astronomical after-hours prices? This is important to consider, as if you have an emergency, you want access NOW, not later.
Physical Access - Besides the ability to access your equipment, what does your hosting company provide as far as methods to get to it? Are you in a shared cabinet with 20 other companies, that all have the same key to the rack as you do? Also, are there biometric controls to access the secure area that you would like, or is it simply just a keyfob? Wouldn’t it be nice if your hosting company was keeping track of EVERY fingerprint that was getting into your area of the hosting center?
Digital Access - How does your hosting company secure digital access? Are they on top of the background of each individual, or is all it takes a small email and all of your information is available to your entire company? Is the amount of access granted a limited number, or could you have thirty people gain access to vital company information, web site, etc?
Private Areas - Does the company have areas specifically designed for individual clients? Hosting rooms that you can grow into privately, if you have any sensitive information? I am not simply talking about “caged” colocation space, but your own private area such as suites, where you can customize network, security, power, etc. Online Portal - You should be able to login to your account at any time and see what is going on, what you’re are being billed for, your usage, etc. Depending on the hosting company, there should be a wealth of useful information.
Wordpress - Nearly 62 million websites around the world are powered by Wordpress as of 2013. That equates to 4.1 billion page views each month. Wordpress is one of the biggest and most widely used blogging platforms on the planet. A good hosting company should have easy Wordpress integration and 1-click install action!
Joomla - There are approximately 36 million sites powered by Joomla. It’s the second most popular CMS on the market. Joomla is a free open source content management platform that is written in PHP. There are over 12,000 free extensions that you can use with Joomla. Every hosting company should have an easy install of Joomla for all your CMS needs.
Tumblr - Tumblr started in 2006. As of March 2, 2013 Tumblr had over 96.1 million blogs and more than 44.3 billion total posts. There are 70+ billion posts created daily. Majority of it’s users are under 25. Every hosting company should have an easy integration with Tumblr as it’s a growing site that looks amazing and is home to sites like Addidas soccer blog and many other sites.
Blogger - In 1999 Blogger was started as part of Pyra Labs by Evan Williams. It was acquired in 2004 for Google. In 2006 it finally left beta. It's available in pretty much every language out there. Blogger powers millions of blogs across the World.. It's one of the top 5 blogging platforms out there. Each and every hosting company out there should integrate and easily host blogger.
Drupal - Started in 2000 as a the worlds first free open source content management platform. Many developers and coders that speak PHP are big fans of the back end. There are nearly 1 Million sites out there that are using Drupal including whitehouse.gov and the UKGov.
Typepad - Launched in 2003 is a pretty cool blogging service that every hosting company should integrate and host easily. Many popular sites out there including ABC, MSNBC, CBC, BCC and many more use it as a platform.
Java - The Java software platform is technology developed by Sun Microsystems for machine-independent software. This eliminates the need to write customized modifications for operating system version when you want to run programs written in the Java programming language. You can build an application in Java and be confident that it will work on all web browsers and operating systems.
C - C is one of the most widely used programming languages of all time and has been a major influence on the structure of many more modern languages. It is a compiled language so C program must be processed before it can be run, and it must be written and processed specifically for each operating system where it will be run. The benefit is that the program will run more efficiently since it has less processing overhead than an interpreted language.
C++ - C++ is one of the most popular and widely implemented programming languages today and was developed as an enhancement to the C programming language. C++ is also a compiled language that provides greater efficiency over interpreted languages and is often used for mission critical operating system and application software.
PHP - PHP is a free, open-source server-side scripting language widely used to produce dynamic, database-driven web pages. PHP code can be embedded within HTML code and is interpreted by the server to perform complex logic, to read from and write to a database, and to dispaly the results on the web page. Common uses for PHP include ecommerce shopping carts and blogs.
C# - The C# ("c sharp") programming language was developed by Microsoft as part of their closed-source .Net (“dot net”) infrastructure and it is used for developing Microsoft applications. C# provides sophisticated programming structure, it is integrated with the Windows environment, and the compiled code runs at high efficiency
Visual Basic - Visual Basic is a high level, simple programming language developed in the early days of Microsoft operating systems. It ties in directly with the Windows graphical user interface and was designed to be easily learned and to enable rapid software development. It is used for applications in the Microsoft Windows environment, though not for hosted web applications.
Python - Python is a free, open source, high-level programming language that emphasizes human readability and expressing concepts in fewer lines of code. Phython is commonly used in dynamic web applications as well as for standalone executable applications and command- line server scripting, so it is very popular and versatile. The Django web framework uses Python to build dynamic, database-driven web applications such as news feeds and blogs.
MySQL - MySQL should be something that every hosting company should know like the back of their hand. A free version of a Microsoft product? DEAL! Or, on the other hand, do they only “work” with SQL Server(because they make money off the license)? You should be able to get someone at your hosting company that knows the ins’ and outs’ of this product quite well.
Cpanel - Cpanel is in the same boat as MySQL. If you don’t have anyone that can install this and get it going at your hosting company, then turn and run right now. This should be standard operating procedure will all hosting companies.
Exchange Server - Exchange server is kind of a big deal, guys. When your email needs outgrow a simple software solution, then this is your only option, really. The biggest problem I see with companies in the need of Exchange, is that they do not have anyone that knows how to MANAGE the Exchange Server! This can be potentially a tough one, as no one wants to have to hire an expensive employee, just because you have to change your email solution. Does your data center have people there that can help administer and teach you how to use this server for email? Something to think about before choosing the right hosting company.
Apache – Commonly known as Apache HTTP Server. Was the first viable alternative to Netscape. Since 96 it’s been the most popular HTTP service in use, it serves 64% of all active websites.
IIS - Internet Information Services is Microsoft’s web server software and is among the most widely utilized platforms. As of late 2011 IIS was serving up 12% of all web requests. IIS is highly integrated with Windows Server and Desktop functions so in many cases it is a preferred component for native Windows infrastructure.
MSSQL - MSSQL will fall under the same rules as Windows server. Firstly, do they have the version that you are looking for, and second, for crying out loud, do not pay and arm and a leg for the product when all Microsoft wants is a leg!!! These licensed products are notoriously overpriced, so make sure you are getting a fair shake! And if you are at a “linux” shop, make sure they still know their Microsoft stuff. This is a given.
Custom Site Builder - Something nice to have with each and every hosting company is the easy integration with you site. Many of the top hosting companies have custom site builders to help you design your site in an easy and effective manner. This is done automatically and shouldn’t require a ton of time or effort behind it.
One Click Install - You should be able to click and install a service like Wordpress very easily with your hosting company. You have more things to worry about and installing and working with your site shouldn’t be one of the things you’re worried about. Make sure that the hosting company you work with has the technology to one click install on your server. This will make your life 10x easier in the future.
Advertising Credits - This should be very easy for the hosting provider as they get paid to give these to you. You should be able to get a free $100 from Google Adwords, Bing Ads, Linkedin Ads, Facebook Ads and a variety of other companies out there that offer a trial on their services in hopes of getting you to use them long term. You can get $1000’s of dollars in free services to help launch your business to greater heights.
Email/AutoResponders – Email is something every business needs. Your hosting provider should provide you with an easy to use email system so that you can connect with everyone out there on the Internet. You should be able to set this up very easily. It should have spam protection, easy interface as well as POP or IMAP ability.
Multiple Domain Hosting - It's essential that you have the ability to host multiple domains. Does your hosting provider allow you to have multiple websites running from the same account?
Subdomains - A subdomain is a domain that is part of a larger domain. For example mail.domain.com, the mail is on a subdomain. This makes it very easy to host blogs and other things to be hosted. Some websites allow different subdomains to be pointed to different server clusters.
Video Tutorials - In addition to all support functions, for any products that are custom for the company that you are hosting with, are you able to see any video tutorials on how to actually use everything that you are paying for? One of the biggest wastes of "spend" usually is because the clients do not know how to use all of the features of their account. Video Tutorials fix this, on your time, whenever you can get to it.
eCommerce Options – Does your hosting company allow for an easy eCommerce solution to allow you to sell on your website? Is there an easy integration with their site and the eCommerce solution you work with? Selling products online should be very easy for every business online and your hosting company should help you every step of the way.
Windows Server - Nearly all hosting companies are now offering windows server options. One thing I would make sure of, is that they have the exact option of windows that you want(2003,2008, ent, standard, web, 32, 64 bit, etc). The other thing I would advise it to make sure they are not charging double or triple what the dang thing costs. Early in my hosting days, I worked for a company that was charging some $220 bucks for a windows license, and did not have any idea that their costs had cut by a fourth. Please make sure you are not paying exorbitant prices for this service.
Linux - If you are in a predominantly windows-based hosting company, I would recommend that even then, they know linux back and forth like the back of their hand. It is far more often the base of the OS of choice, based on the "free" factor, as well as ease of use and much more resources to support (for free, again). Please make sure that your hosting company is VERY familiar with ALL linux products.
RedHat - Red Hat Enterprise Linux is the leader in open source, enterprise- level operating systems and is rock-solid with a long life cycle in mission critical, production environments. With robust support network and active community Red Hat provides security and support updates over a 5 year span and run highly stable system and application software. The enterprise version of Red Hat is only available through a paid subscription service and paid support is available through profession... when you need it.
CentOS - CentOS is a open-source community edition of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It is binary compatible with the Red Hat trademarks removed. CentOS has the same benefits of Red Hat Enterprise linux. Stable software, software and security updates for 5 yrs. The big difference between RHEL and CentOS you do not get the paid for professional support.
Ubuntu – Ubuntu is a computer operating system based on Debian Linux distribution, a free and open source software. It’s the World’s most popular Linux distribution on desktop as well as very popular on servers and for cloud computing. Currently doesn’t have a graphical interface. Newer editions of Ubuntu have virtualization capability and make it easy to deploy a cloud hosting solution.
Debian - Debian is an open source project. Debian follows a strict adherence to free and open source software. Debian uses a collaborative process for software development and testing. It is the result of many software engineers and programmers donating their time. Debian focuses on stability and security. It has very rigorous testing and development phase before release. As a result Debian uses very stable and often older versions of software. Many other Linux distributions use Debian base.
Fedora - Like RHEL Fedora is maintained by Red Hat. Fedora is a bleeding edge distribution. Fedora focuses on rapid innovation. This means that it will have the latest software versions. Fedora will have many newer software programs available than RHEL or CentOS. Fedora will work with newer hardware. Red Hat uses Fedora as a test bed for new software and versions which will often be integrated into future version of RHEL. A new version of Fedora is released about every 6 months. Fedora versions are supported with updates for 2yrs. Unix
FreeBSD – A free UNIX-based operating system but can’t use the word UNIX for legal reasons, but it’s pretty much the same thing. FreeBSD is a large part of Apple’s OSX. FreeBSD i s the largest BSD software in the world.
OpenBSD - OpenBSD is a operating system from Berkeley. The OpenBSD kernel and userland programs like shell and tools like cat and ps are all developed together in once source code repository. PF, Open SSH and OpenNTPD are all packages are all part of the OpenBSD project.
OS X Server - Was a server version of the MAC operating system. It is no longer supported. A separate server app can be purchased for MAC OSX which will add programs and services to the standard OSX operating system. Because it is no longer supported we do not recommend using it. It would still be possible to use in colocation for legacy purposes.
Support What is the support like on the sales side of things? There is always technical support available, but what is it like when it comes to customizing product layouts, finding the best bang for your buck, and also availability? You should be able to feel very confident in the support that you get. If you are working on something at 3 AM with a deadline, could you call support and get someone immediately? Or better yet, could you call your rep directly?
Customer Service The team that’s keeping your site up and servicing you as a client should be amazing. The retention of a good hosting company should be low due to having a great customer support team. They are who is going to help you out and keep you happy as a client. The values of your hosting company will be reflected in the way your customer service treats you. Plus, let’s be honest… do you want to work with a hosting company with a crappy hosting customer service team behind it. The answer should be NO.
Affiliate Program Affiliate marketers will most likely be the only one that reads this, but it is important. Lets say that your data center company is a great paying company to its affiliates, and you send them a medium size business. Medium sized businesses may be spending as much as five thousand dollars a month on hosting services. Wouldn’t it make your life much easier if you got paid, say…..$7,500 bucks for that reference? As I state below, this reflects greatly on how stable your hosting company is, and how much they value you as both a customer and affiliate.
Referral Program We all know people in the Internet world that need service. Is this company willing to shell out a few bucks for anyone that you refer to them? This may not be a make it or break it thing to consider, but if you are making people money, you should be compensated for it. Please take a moment and consider this, before making your move. If a company is willing to sweeten your life up after you send them business, that reflects greatly on how much they value you and your business in the first place.
Speed The speed of your hosting company. I’m not just talking about the server speed, connection speed, or how fast your website is running. I’m talking about the speed behind the team that’s hosting your site. You need a hosting company that has an amazing team behind them. You need a team that is fast fixing problems, getting your site up when there is a problem and getting things working after you’ve been hacked. The team that keeps your site at should be quick at everything.
What makes a good hosting company? The Support and Infrastructure backing that team. Hosting clients have 90% of their dealing with your company at the Technical Support level. Your support personnel should be able to handle, CS issues, Billing issues, Technical Issues. All at a low to medium scale with teams to escalate to. As well as, a low to High Technical Skills with a team to escalate to. Training is imperative when building a support team, Initial Training and consistent ongoing training. To keep your team up to speed on all the dealings of the company.
Communication This comes with proper training and effort from the teams that “support” the support team. Making sure that the people who communicate with your clients have all of the appropriate information is the Key to top level customer service. That coupled with attitude.
Attributes of a good hosting company? Pays and spoils staff, builds reliable and secure systems. Takes risks and rewards efforts, focuses on stability and client relationships, Maintains facilities, break rooms that show reward and effort from the company, hires good employees, Fires poor employees.
The Periodic Table of Hosting
Everyone out there needs hosting to keep their website up. But most people don’t realize that there is a science to hosting. Most people don’t realize all the factors that make up a good hosting company, so we break down every aspect of a hosting company so that you can evaluate for yourself who is the top hosting company for your website.
Symbol - A one, two or three-letter abbreviation derived from the hosting element’s English or Latin name.
Name - Hosting common name.
Hosting Mass - All are weighted on their importance to the consumer from +1 (weakest) to +5 (strongest).
Mass Number - The sum of how much the customer values + importance to keeping website up. Hosting requires all things to work together. No single factor can function without everything else in it’s core working together.