Consider this scenario. You have been running one or more blogs/sites on free hosting providers such as blogspot. One day you decide to move your sites to a professional Web hosting provider. But the problem is which one to use?
Web hosting is a very competitive business and hence choosing one is not easy. Hosting providers do all kinds of gimmicks to lure you in. They have even gone to the extend of promoting sites which write negative reviews of other service providers! In this post, I will look at the key factors you should consider before purchasing your Web hosting.
Note that Web hosting is different from domain registration. It is possible to register domain somewhere else than the hosting provider. In certain cases it is better and cheaper to register your site with a different company.
1. What is your traffic requirements? – This is something which you must evaluate carefully. Some Web hosts offer terabytes of data transfer per month, while some others offer only a few gigabytes. If your intention is to host a personal blog and you don’t plan to be an A-list blogger, few gigabytes per month is ok. But if you think you may have more than 1000 visitors per day, go with a service which gives you atleast 1 terabyte transfer per month. Another important factor to keep in mind is that this limit includes your uploads, downloads and user access to the site.
2. Do you need shell access? – Not all Web hosts provide shell access. In fact, very few provide shell access. But for certain things, shell access is a must. For example, consider a case where you want to configure your cron settings or sometimes you may want to install custom software on your server. But even when you have shell access, you may not be able to run all the applications. This is because there could be resource usage limits on CPU, memory etc. For example, Dreamhost provides shell access, but Godaddy doesn’t.
3. Dedicated virtual server or shared hosting? – Web hosting comes in different varieties. You can have shared hosting, dedicated virtual server or dedicated physical server. Dedicated physical server means you have a dedicated machine for your site. This gives maximum flexibility, but is very costly as well. Dedicated physical servers are needed when you have large Web applications which are resource intensive. Dedicated virtual server hosting provides a virtual machine which for all practical purposes behaves like a separate machine. This service used to be costly, but these days it is becoming comparable to shared hosting. Dedicated virtual server protects your site from other sites that are running on the hosting providers network. In shared hosting, resources such as memory and CPU are shared with other customers. Hence depending on the behavior of your neighbors, your site may go down!
4. Unlimited Emails, Unlimited Databases, Unlimited Domains? – These days a lot of Web hosts provide unlimited email accounts, databases and domains. For most us, unlimited doesn’t mean much since we probably need a few databases and domains. But before you purchase hosting, do check these. This is important since some of the providers charge you for additional domain hosting!
5. Server uptime requirements? – It is rare that you have 100% uptime for shared hosting. But some providers do achieve over 99.99% of uptime. If your site is critical enought that you can’t have even a minute of downtime, go with a provider who offers 100% uptime. But that is rare and in my opinion, go with a provider who is honest when something goes wrong (for example – dreamhost).
6. Server software requirements? – Some hosts don’t allow custom software installation. In that case ensure that the software they have on their server is what you need! For example, not all hosts provide Ruby on Rails support. It may not be easy to find out the server software versions from the hosting providers site, but take that extra effort to find it out!
7. Stick with direct hosting providers – A lot of Web hosting providers out there are resellers. This means that you get really cheap hosting service at the cost of reduced price. But I don’t recommend it. For example, I have seen 100MB bandwidth per month offered for $3/month. This is not worth it as you soon run out of bandwidth! So my advice is to stick with well known direct Web hosting providers.
8. Server robustness – This is the ability of the hosting server to survive sudden increase in traffic. This is very common when you get noticed at slashdot, digg or reddit. Some servers go down under this traffic, while some don’t. It is not easy to find this out beforehand. Research on the Web hosting providers if you think you might get a lot of attention among social bookmarkers!
Now even after evaluating all these parameters, you might end up with a Web host which is unreliable. In such a case, switch as early as possible and you may even be able to get a refund. This is another important reason why you should register your domain separately with a well known domin registrar (like godaddy or enom).
Also after you have decided on a host, look for deals. Sometimes deals can be found on the homepage, sometimes you will have to hunt for the coupon codes on internet.
Here are some of the good web hosts I am aware of,
Happy Web Hosting!