Time to Find the Right Host

Find the right host, a host that will help your website! This is the minefield of all Internet minefields as far as I am concerned. This is the world of extreme gobbledygook as far as most of us mere mortals are concerned.

Some years ago when I was looking through the minefield of hosting providers trying desperately to sort the good from the bad in this complex mumbo jumbo world of hostspeak I came across a site that invited comments from users of various host services. I will always remember one of the comments warning future potential users to avoid at all cost The Host From Hell.

I do not remember the name of the host and I did not use it. The warning was sufficient along with my limited knowledge to by-pass that host goes to show how easily any reputation can be destroyed by poor service on the Internet.

This statement in a way describes the host providing industry. It is very difficult to decide who to use and why. There are so many hosts, so many programs offered by each host, so many systems in use, so many options within each program that it is inevitable that many users will get burned.

The best way to select a host?

Simple take a recommendation from someone you trust who has experience with numerous different hosts.

WARNING STORY

Let me tell you of my one big problem which I was able to resolve within 2 days of discovering the problem but only because I had separated my domain registration from the hosting account. From checking my logs later I actually caught the problem on the day it happened but if I had not checked that day then I could have lost all my listing at the search engines apart from the traffic from other sources until I did a routine log check (done monthly under normal circumstances).

Sometime in November 2002 I visited one of my most important web pages to see the message Service suspended please contact the billing department.

There was no sign of any of my web pages. Once the panic had subsided I tried to find contact details (i.e. telephone number) of the host and could not find it anywhere.

This should have been a warning very early on as I now know of course. I was left with having to e-mail support and sales at the host (the name was mermweb.com) and to this day I am still waiting for a reply.

I presume this host had decided to close down, skip the country or do whatever else failed hosts do.

Now if I had allowed this host to register my domain and if I had not kept full back ups of my websites then I think I would have been faced with a minor disaster.

Luckily (no it was not luck, I had read somewhere that this kind of thing did happen) I was able to contact my registrar and with the help of a new host transfer name server details (DNS) within hours and get my site back onto the web after only 48 hours.

The only other problems I have had with any of my hosts and I use about 15 different ones is the very first one I ever had and on which I shared ip addresses (another bad thing) because I did not know any better almost 5 years ago. The problem here was inadequate publishing support and poor response to queries as well as poor log systems. All these problems were compounded by the fact that the service was expensive.

ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS OF A HOST SERVICE

By the time you have reviewed 3 different potential hosts I can almost guarantee you will be more confused than before you started. Now if you have never been involved in host matters before (you left everything to your designer or webmaster or IT department) you will also become very frustrated because the more you look the less matters become clear. My list coming later is based totally upon my own experiences.

Before I come to the list it is imperative that we discuss ip addresses and shared hosting and dedicated ip addresses. Even in this area different hosts use different terms, names and descriptions all meant to confuse I sometimes think.

IP ADDRESSES

By the way this is a good way to find out who is visiting your site. Get the ip address from your logs or site stats and then do the look up. Some good stats packages do the look up for you automatically.

You preferably need an unique ip address and unless you deliberately go and seek this you will not get one. If you do not have an unique ip address you will share the ip address with many others and as such your websites future is unarguably tied to the fortunes of the other components of your shared ip address.

Lets assume for a moment that one of the shared components (another website you do not even know exists) spams Google and Google bans that ip address then you will by default be banned also and you will not even know it.

lion.intekom.co.za belongs to Telkom (Intekom is Internet arm of Telkom) in South Africa.

What this all means is that three of my South African websites are being hosted on this shared server with countless others no doubt. When I first applied for hosting these sites I did not know what I do now. Nowadays I have the confidence and knowledge to use shared ip addresses except for good and sensible reasons.

It is suspected that unique ip addresses get favorable treatment from search engines but this could be total nonsense. However it does make some sense in so much that links from independent ip addresses are probably more valuable than links from the same ip address same ip address could suggest rigged linking or a form of spamming.

WHAT YOU MUST CHECK WITH YOUR HOST

This list is not exhaustive at all. These are important points. Few of these are strictly technical hosting questions but they are designed to assist you get a feeling about the company and its staff.

> Know how to contact the host at all times including real telephone numbers and not just free 0800 numbers.

> Which country is the host operating from you might be surprised

> Check speed of response by sending list of questions

> Confirm you will get your very own ip address as shown above by being able to search for it. You will share a server of course but not an ip address.

> If you use Front Page that the host server has the latest Front Page extensions installed (the host will know what you mean you dont need to worry too much about the detail). Some aspects of Front page need NT servers to be used if your host uses UNIX servers this may be a problem. Check with the host. It is accepted that more stable servers are UNIX based.

> Do not buy domains through the host although by all means take advantage for a less important website throw away site if the host offers a free web domain. However even here be careful to check what the future renewal fees will be and what will happen if you decide to change hosts.

> Even though you do not intend to register a domain through the host ask the question what will happen if you decide to switch hosts. The answer can tell you a lot about the company.

> Find out if the host has his own servers or leases space from other large companies many do this especially in South Africa. If they have their own ask if it would be ok to visit (in a nice way). Confirm actual machines are in South Africa if you think youre hosting in this country.

> Confirm the name and details for any stats package and whether the control panel is available to you. If the host does not have a good stats package or control panel then go elsewhere all good hosts provide these. Awstats is best of free stats packages.

> Find out what happens if you use more space and download time on their servers than anticipated including if there is any limit on a specific single file in terms of downloading.

> Some hosts tell you that you have say 250 Mbytes of data transfer. What they dont tell you is that it is split 50/50 between email and http services. And junk email can consume massive bandwidth without your knowing about it. This happened to me this year 2005.

> Ask the host how you find out the hosts servers on-line times and what their attitude is to down time. Some hosts will refund payments in part which does not really help if you have been skipped by Google. Remember 99% on line means total down time per month is still 7.2 hours downtime.

> Confirm all fees are included in quote especially if there are any set-up fees.

> Do not even think of using free hosting services.

> Check 7/24 support

> Check availability of POP e-mail accounts and auto responders.

> Check if auto responders can attach files not critical but good to have.

There are many technical aspects that will relate to your own situation. When selecting your host do take considerable care. The availability of your host to offer very good e-mail capability in terms of POP accounts and a large number of auto responders is important bearing in mind a major objective of commercial websites is to collect e-mail addresses.

Do not use your host for the critical parts of your website such as e-commerce, storage of e-mail information and so on. If you change hosts or the host has problems then you have problems which may be very difficult to resolve.

A final word. Beware the host from hell. If you allow 3rd parties to do hosting for you make sure that you get involved.

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