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A simple guide to hosting

When it comes to creating your web site one of the more important decisions you will make will be about who and what type of hosting you purchase. Let's have a look at some terms used when purchasing, and we will go into greater depth on some of the terms later.

 

A brief description of the most common terms:

Domain name

This is usually paid every two years, and prices can vary enormously.

The domain name is your ‘[yourname].co.uk’ or ‘[yourname].com’, and there are lots of permutations for your name, .uk.com or .biz etc. Always double check the price of your domain name. Some are incredibly expensive for little real value.

Hosting space

This is usually paid for on an annual basis and refers to the amount of web space you can use to hold your files and images. It works in exactly the same way as a hard disk so 50Mb allows more space than 25Mb. There is no point in paying vast amounts of money to have large hosting space for a three page catalogue!

A note of caution here. Many developers will offer you space through ‘their own’ servers. Although this may seem an attractive option, all your eggs are being firmly placed in one basket. If your host goes out of business and your web space and domain name are hosted through them, this means that your entire web site could (not would...) disappear overnight as the bill from the main host will not get paid.

WeI always recommend strongly that our clients, with our assistance, purchase their own web space and domain name. This way they are in control.

Bandwidth

This is usually a monthly allowance.

Bandwidth is the amount of traffic allowed from your server to the Internet. This is rarely discussed but can have an impact on your costs for running a site. If you have a logo that is 60kb in size, every time that logo is downloaded you will add 60 to the amount of bandwidth used. If you are likely to be using large files for the reader to download and these change regularly, watch this area carefully. Emails are also part of bandwidth, so the difference between HTML and text emails can be quite an issue!

Operating system

This is a key area for choosing your web space. There are two main choices for most users. Windows or Linux.

So what is the choice?

For general everyday hosting there is really not that much of a problem if, for example, you are looking at a web site that displays a few pages and some images to reflect you current product catalogue either will do, though often Linux is cheaper.

However, as soon as you get into the area of databases and dynamic data there are important differences. PHP/MySQL the two dominant free software packages used on the internet are available to run on both servers, but sometimes at an extra cost. It is important to know what you intend to do in the future when you select your web host.

Email

Usually comes with the hosting package.

You will get email accounts with your hosting package. This can be from 1 – 100 depending on how much you pay. Email accounts allow you to send and receive mail as xx@[yourname].co.uk rather than using your ISP account, and adds that professional look. It can easily be set-up on your home or work PC so that you can send and receive messages. Check to ensure how many addresses you can have, can you have a catchall or email forwarding.

Dedicated servers

Expensive option for a start-up. This gives you your own box to run, you can have managed servers ( even more expense) or unmanaged. On unmanaged servers you have to do all the installation and support work yourself.

Virtual dedicated servers

You think it is a dedicated server and have lots of control over it, but is actually a shared server.

Shared hosting

You share a hard disk with several other web sites. This is a cheaper option, but all the sites served on one 'box' run shared resources. You can find that there are some occasions when your site could run slowly if the resources are being consumed elsewhere. Databases will usually be loaded onto other machines dedicated to that particular DB format, and you will connect from server to server when extracting data for your site.

Cloud computing

A hybrid of both really, it is like a virtual server in that you are among thousands of other users on huge servers. The main difference is that you pay for services you consume. If your site gets really big, just upgrade to a larger capacity, no need to change servers, just upgrade. Same with add-on services, you buy in the services you need, networking, security, storage, backups etc..

And finally.....

When selecting your host you should ensure that you can get statistics of visitors to your site. All hosting companies now supply visual statistics showing how many visitors you have had, when the looked at your site, the actual pages they looked at, what time of day, country of origin etc. These are important, as the information they contain may be very useful in allowing you to make decisions on how your site should grow.