Hari's Corner

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Choosing a web hosting solution

Filed under: Tutorials and HOWTOs by Hari
Posted on Fri, Jul 15, 2005 at 17:04 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 21:00 IST)

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Any member of any online technical community will tell you that the one question that gets asked on a fairly regular basis is the question: help me choose a web host or where can I find cheap/free web hosting?

Both these questions come up fairly often and the answer often is a brusque "google it!" Well, out of personal experience I can assure you that finding a good, reliable shared web hosting service on the web can be a fairly nerve-wracking experience and finding one that suits your pocket as well as your requirements can take quite a while, especially when you see so many sites that offer "cheap" or "absolutely FREE" web hosting.

This is where it gets really challenging to sort out the chaff from the wheat. Inevitably most of these web hosting providers do not display a full listing of features available on their hosting package and they allow the customer to "assume" quite a bit which might turn out to be false in the end. Consider the fact that one web hosting service that I found on the web offered a whopping 1000 MB of space for as low as $10 per month, but the moment you click on their feature listing, it strikes you that all is not as sweet as it seems. In a quiet corner, you find the words:
MySQL databases: 1 MySQL database storage: 15 MB

In essence, what this means is that if your website is a dynamically driven database size (which typically require a lot more space than normal, static HTML driven sites) you get only 15 MB of space to work with. Too bad about the remaining space: you can upload all the pictures and photos you want, but none of that space is "smart" space: space that counts towards making your site what it is: a dynamic content-driven website.

Paradoxically, it is the content-driven, dynamic sites that require a hell of a lot more disk space than the static ones for fairly obvious reasons. Databases aren't static entities. You can work with them: add, remove, delete, update content and this is what this generation of websites are all about. Dynamic rather than static. The web hosting provider essentially says: "you can take all the disk space you want, provided they're not used as database storage space. Have fun!" But since you don't need all that space but you need the extra database space which comes with a more expensive package, you end up paying the full amount for a fraction of the usage. In short, "you're screwed."

And what's worse, many of these hosting providers don't provide an iota of information about their true connectivity speeds, their server capacity or their uptime to maintenance ratios. Most of the genuine information is usually buried beneath heaps of unimportant details or even simply absent. Of course you should use their "contact form" and clarify all this, but then how many of us do it? It's just too much hassle to send an e-mail and then wait for a response for a few hours or in some cases, days. Many people just go ahead.

While one might argue that new or basic customers would not require the dynamic database-driven features, it is a wrong assumption. While an inexperienced user would not know what a MySQL database is or what server-side scripting implies, he sure wants to start an online club or forum, a blog or a even large content-management system. All these applications require a combination of database/server side scripting. And all these users stand to lose more when they realize one day that their disk space has run out and what the hell! They've paid for 1000 MB! Of course, it's that 15 MB of database space that has run out but then they saw the space advertised on the front page and jumped on the deal.

That is why it pays to do research. Finding a good hosting service that provides you a honest deal takes a lot of time, research and questioning. If you cannot find these answers on the website at least take the time to ask some questions like:
  1. What is the total speed of your connectivity? How many servers do you provide and how do you share it?
  2. What kind of domain/subdomain limits do I have? What is the cost of registering a domain name through you? How many subdomains am I entitled to on my account?
  3. What is your server uptime normally? How frequently and how long can I expect downtimes?
  4. Do you provide database support? If so, how many databases and how much space of it can I use in my total hosting account space?
  5. What server side scripting languages support do you provide?
  6. What server do you have? Is it Apache/Linux/Unix or is it a Windows server? What kind of backups are taken (if any) and how frequently?
  7. What kind of front-end you provide for me to access my hosting account? (most professional hosting packages should come with cPanel at least and full FTP support).
  8. Please provide me with a full list of your terms and conditions of use.

It's not an exhaustive list, but I think these should do to begin with. Of course it's our duty to do our research before paying the money. Since there are a dazzling array of choices on the table it is wise to consider all the choices carefully before making a final decision.

Remember that it pays to take your time to find out. Otherwise you may find some nasty hidden thorns along the way! Happy hosting!

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1 comment(s)

  1. [...] Web hosting tips revisited Posted by hari under Technical at 3:30 pm I know that I had covered ground on a similar subject earlier (choosing a web hosting solution, but recently I had been checking out a few web hosting providers and trying to get a good comparison. On the whole, it’s rather hard to find a good review of any particular host you might be interested in, since the web is full of thousands of them. [...]

    Comment by Web hosting tips revisited (visitor) on Tue, Feb 28, 2006 @ 15:31 IST #

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