How to Choose a Web Hosting Provider
Choosing a Web Hosting Provider can be very time consuming and sometimes frustrating task. There are so many things to consider and there are hundreds of providers. So how do you got about the task. ? Lets take a look at some of the criteria on which to choose hosting providers. Most of the following are relevant to all kind of service providers but some are relevant only for dedicated server providers.
- Reviews/Reputation: First and foremost is the need to find honest and detailed reviews about the hosts. The best place for this is the popular forum webhostingtalk.com. Quite a lot of the forum users have vast experience with web hosting and can give good recommendations. Most hosting companies have representatives monitoring the forum and when complaints arise you can also hear the other part of the story from these representatives. Also,
- Uptime: For your site to be successfull it needs to be have a great uptime. Look for an uptime guarantee of 99.5% of more and be beware of the fine print. Some outages may be classified as not counting towards the uptime gurantee. [ex. Less than 5 minutes of outage at a time is not counted]. Most of the shared hosting providers won't provide you with any guarantee or refunds.
- Memory(RAM): If you are running the web server, database server and other services in one single machine, the most likely resource to get exhausted first is the memory. Do a simulation on your local machines to see how the resources like memory are being utilised and accordingly decide on the amount needed. If you are purchasing a dedicated server, have a look at how much memory upgrades cost and would the upgrade involve changing plans. Some companies offer you specific upgrades allowing you to invest more in resources you need.
- Bandwidth: Most shared hosting companies offer plans which state that you can transfer X amount of data [GB or TB] per month like 5TB per month. Again unless your site is very popular or contains lots of media you are not going to exceed this limit. So what is more important to you is the speed of the uplink. Some dedicated server providers wil give you a guaranteed speed. For example Hetzner.de (which is what I use) will provide you unlimited bandwith. The first 1TB will be through a 100MB/s link and from then on it will be through a 10MB/s uplink. If your link is only 1MB/s then having a very high data transfer cap in Terabytes will not of much use to you. Get quality bandwidth. How fast your site loads is a very important factor in user satisfaction.
- Latency: This is the amount of time taken for the network trafiic to travel between the source and the destination. A round trip latency is the time taken for the traffic to travel from source to destination and back. For ex a user in India loads a web page from a US server. Total time taken for the site to load is say 4 seconds. Out of this 1 second was for the request to go from India to US. 2 seconds for the web server to process request and give a response and 1 more second fro the response to reach India. So round trip latency is 2 seconds. You can use ping to test latency. It makes sense to buy a server closest to where the majority of your customers are.
- Processor: The processor is not as important as many think it is. Mostof the time your application is either IO bound or memory bound. So always aim for a bigger memory and better hard disks than processor speeds.
- Storage: How much storage is needed is totally application dependent. But it is ideal to have two hard disks as then you can use the second for backups which will help if the primary drive fails. If you are running a database server on the machine pay close attention to the speed of the hard disk as it can influence performance.
- Operating System Support: What operating system you need depends again on the application. But if you are choosing linux, try to choose a host which provides the popular linux distributions like Redhat, Suse, Debain, CentOS and Ubuntu.
- Administrative tools: Servers can be either managed or self managed. In the case of managed servers (which includes all shared server providers) they should at least give you a CPanel/Plesk/equivalent control panel and automatic backups.
- Price: If you are looking to host a hobby site or a development server you can go for one of the cheaper options available. But in general 'you get what you pay for'.
- Support: This is one of the things that is most often overlooked while purchasing a server. When checking out reviews look out for companies with good support. Importance of good and timely support cannot be overstated. Even the best hosting company can have a bad day. And if the support is bad it is going to cost you time,money and peace of mind. So don't be complacent. If a provider is not giving you good support, move your site from there.
- Access: If you are buying a dedicated or VPS server, root access can be very useful and at times essential.
- Personal Recommendations: This site is hosted with hetzner.de and they have been fantastic so far. They had the best value for money offer when I bought this server from them. They are a german firm but provides email support in english also. I have also had good experiences with slicehost which is a VPS provider. I can't wholeheartedly recommend any shared hosting provider. I have used Dreamhost and they were ok but they have had big outages in the last one year. If you can afford it, go for a VPS instead of shared hosting.