Hosting the Leading Websites:
Services in Hosting
Being Continuously Online
Uptime and downtime are about being online all the time. How long your site is online is uptime. This is usually described as 99%, 99.99%, maybe 99.999% uptime. That last figure is called “five nines” and is a common engineering aspiration. Translation: In a 30-day month, 99% up means you could still be down, offline, more than 7 hours; 99.9% means down more than 40 minutes; 99.99% means down over 4 minutes; and 99.999% means down over 24 seconds in total during the entire 30 days, which you’ll be hard-pressed to notice even if you’re eagle-eyed and sleepless all month. Decide what’s tolerable for your website. If you demand high uptime, you should set up a monitoring service that’s not tied to your host, that operates from IP addresses in your main visitors’ geography, and that often visits your websites to report uptime and maybe other characteristics. If you’re in your geographic area of interest, maybe you could set up a computer as a monitor, and also have it check competitive hosts, all on your schedule. Downtime has many causes, some beyond a Web host’s control. While a host can take steps to reduce the likelihood of downtime from any cause, some of those steps cost money, which you should expect to pay. An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to survive short outages or a diesel generator and fuel for long outages, for example, is not exactly cheap. Many hosts probably decline to guarantee an uptime percentage but some may agree to proportionate refunds for falling below a stated threshold (perhaps even offering a service level agreement (SLA)), although you’ll likely pay more for that offer of refunds.
Design services are offered by some hosts, often using templates. They may provide online tools to make your own designing easier. Some don’t, and for them you’ll have to upload all the files in the way the host tells you. But doing your own work gives you more control. Many independent designers offer their services and you can find them on the Web. Some designers offer Web hosting, often through specialized hosts who sell their services through designers, but the hosts are probably the same ones you can get on your own and you’ll likely get better service by getting hosting and design services separately, finding the best of each and dealing directly with each one.
Modifications may be imposed onto your website by your host even if you don’t want them. You might have given permission as part of agreeing to that Web host’s service. They might do it in order to improve performance, but I don’t want that kind of service unless they first ask and only if I approve each change. They might add code for advertisements, especially at free hosting providers. Some might do it for sleazier reasons, but I don’t know if any of these hosts do it for that kind of reason. An example of a bad reason was when a website host years ago put a promotional link for itself on about 14,000 customers’ websites. But even among legitimate possibilities, I may not approve. For example, I don’t like minifying unless I approve, because some of my page comments should stay in.
E-commerce, for products to sell, might be available. Ask Web hosts if they support online sales. Simply telling website visitors about your products (this is common with services and customized goods) and offering a way to contact you will not require e-commerce support, but online payments, inventory control, and order fulfillment require substantial support. You might need connections to service providers, some software to be installed for you, your own IPv4 addresses, and live phone support 24x7 for you, but not every host offers all of that. I don’t know what you will need. Before you ask about e-commerce, determine your criteria for what you will need.
If you’d like a content management system (CMS) or content delivery network (CDN), ask.
Bans on Content
Some content is prohibited by many website hosts, even if the law allows it to be hosted. That kind of restriction is usually within the host’s rights. The host’s legal terms will probably tell you what the host won’t permit. There may be an acceptable use policy (AUP) or something like it. But some hosts will let anything the law allows to be served up.
For email service with your domain, or maybe by itself, a Web host’s own website should tell you what they offer, to be connected with a domain you control. If you need more details, ask. It’ll likely cost you something. Also find out how they handle spam, if they do at all. (If you just want an email address at some other domain, or a bunch of addresses there, go to that domain and find out what they offer. Some are free and some have to be paid for, usually because they have more features.)
App Development Sites
If your website will be for users who develop new software, it may need a special kind of hosting. Figure out exactly what you need and ask hosts for that. Or look for websites similar to what you’re planning and see what support they need or get from their hosts. I don’t know how that kind of website works, so I don’t have much expertise on that subject.
If you’re a dissident in a foreign country with which the U.S. doesn’t want to do business, such as because of sanctions, a Web host might be barred but might get an exception, such as one host which said they comply with U.S. laws on point but got a government license granting an exception for one citizen journalist in Iran. If you can communicate safely from your end, it probably won’t hurt to ask a host.
Backups are a good idea. A host probably makes them, but not for you. What surprises me is that apparently few, if any, of them offer to make backups for customers. They could charge for that and let the customer set the approximate schedule (like daily, hourly, weekly, or on demand), quantity (how many old backups the host should store for you), and type (full or incremental, meaning your whole site or changes only). But they don’t offer it. For many sites, this should be important to you. If a host doesn’t offer it, make your own backups. If you can’t, such as if visitors can edit your website and you can’t access all of the folders, ask the host about doing a custom service just for you for a fee. It should be possible but it may be expensive. You don’t have to be a customer before you ask for a bid for the total service including the backups you want. Then you can compare Web hosts.
It’s not good enough that a host will make all the backups and keep them for you, although that’s a start. You also need some backups offsite, in your control and beyond the host’s reach. Hosts can make mistakes and leave you without a website and without a backup. One website manager wrote about their site’s experience that led to almost going out of business. (The URL was as accessed .)
How often you need to back up depends on how important your stuff is and how often your content changes significantly, plus time and money to make backups. On average, a disaster losing your website will occur half-way between backups, but it could happen at anytime. Imagine if you had a disaster one second before you were about to make a backup and on one of the worst days. How difficult would be to reconstruct all the work since your last backup? That’s all the additions, changes, and deletions. Add to that having to explain to people what happened to their precious work. Or losing customers who find your website suddenly empty. If all that is not much to worry about, then a lower frequency is okay. Otherwise, in general, make them often enough that you won’t have to explain much. Or tell them the president’s pet squid ate your servers. They should understand.
Whether restoring from a backup will cost you depends. If you have the backup offsite and you restore it yourself by uploading the files, that’s like uploading new content and usually won’t cost anything but your time and effort. But if the host is to do the restoration at your request, you may be charged, perhaps a lot. Ask in advance and figure out how to do your own restoration from an offsite backup.
Clouds are not you what need. Sky-high marketing hooray is not exactly a necessity. Here’s what the cloud is: It’s someone else’s server, to which you connect. That’s what the cloud is. That’s all the cloud is. Some have marvelous features, but they’d have them even if they weren’t called clouds. Ignore the word and look for features, problems, and costs.
Dedicated Servers, VPSes, and Custom Platforms
If you need your own dedicated server, and maybe equipment you’ll own, some, perhaps most, Web hosts offer dedicated servers and colocation to customers willing to pay higher prices. You’d still be asking the website host to do some of the work and you’d be getting some benefits from dedicated hosting or from letting them manage your hardware and software. You should ask how a reboot would be performed, such as if you can do it yourself remotely (requiring more technology to be installed) or have to ask the website host to do it for you (which may be slower and may have to be paid for each time); both ways have security risks. The same question applies to a software upgrade or reconfiguration. If a specialized Web hosting staff would be doing some of the work at a building shared for other customers, this might be worth it to you. In that case, this list would suggest some good choices.
If you want our own software that has to be in the server and you’re not sure any host offers it now, your only choice may be to run your own server and have the Web host maintain or manage your hardware and software for you. That kind of service may be expensive, but it’s too risky for a host’s security to install software they don’t know on their servers running their other customers’ files. Don’t expect to simply tell the host that your software is trustworthy; they’ve heard that before. You should assume it will break down, so you should plan for alternative hosting, maybe at the same host but using their other hardware and software configured the way they like. At least you’ll be continuously online until you’re online the way you like.
A virtual private server (VPS) may sometimes be what you need, but asking is a problem. The central issue is that another customer’s bad website might harm yours. A virtual server is more secure than a shared server, but less secure than a separate physical server, and probably less secure than a physical server that you own and configure as you wish for security, although colocated at the host’s facility. One problem is that any Web host might claim that they offer virtual servers but not really have them, or only have a weak version of the idea, and you have no realistic way of verifying the setup you’re paying for. Microsoft Windows has offered compartmentalization for years, but Microsoft is not generally known for the quality of its security offerings. Virtualization software is available from other software vendors, and some of it probably is very good, but a website host would be unlikely to tell you its security details. Another problem is that security is largely about the quality of monitoring and technical work performed by the Web host’s people, and, because of that, perhaps a shared server can be more secure. Your best solution may be to study your results over time, compared to the amount you’re paying.
Fine-Tuning Hosting Through cPanel, Plesk, or Another UI
cPanel or Plesk may or may not have been installed. (By the way, I’ve never used either one.) cPanel, at least, is popular. If you need either one, ask hosts. cPanel or Plesk costs hosts money, and that will be reflected in the Web host’s pricing of website hosting. Even without them, you can expect that a host will have some kind of user interface (UI) so customers can get their tasks done. I use an unbranded UI at my host and it’s different and it works.
Control panels can be separate for multiple websites, if you want, but otherwise will be efficiently combined into one set of information and controls. My websites at one website host share one set of controls, but information and control are separated according to my website where that helps. If you want full separation even where information is identical, a Web host that offers reseller accounts — not all do — probably offers separate control panels. A reseller account is an account that lets you resell the host’s services to clients of yours. The pricing of a reseller account may differ from that for a single-user account. You may or may not be required to actually have a client in order to have or keep a reseller account; that’s up to the host.
Will they have enough IP addresses? If you’re technically savvy enough to worry about that, you may know that two kinds of IP addresses exist. IPv4 addresses are rationed and are nearly all gone. IPv6 addresses are designed to be plentiful and are widely implemented but are not everywhere yet, probably because conversion is technically harder than it may look at first. Determine what you need, then ask your proposed website host if it has it.
Most host probably support logging. Types of logs, and whether you can download them or only view them online, may depend on the software and the host. Ask the host. Logs can be difficult to read without special software that interpets the data and perhaps even analyzes entries for patterns, and the host may not have that software, in which case you’ll get only raw logs, but you can find that kind of software elsewhere and run it yourself, or you can read and search raw logs yourself.