We have found that a lot of people we deal with do not understand what they are buying when it comes to web hosting, what things matter, or sometimes why they even need it. In this post we will explain what hosting is, why it matters, and why you shouldn't just go for the cheapest hosting with the most bandwidth / disk space.
What is web hosting?
Web hosting is a really important part of the web development process. In the most simplest of terms: when you buy web hosting you are buying all of or part of a computer sat in a server farm somewhere and this computer supplies the pages viewed when someone visits your website. So if someone visits www.website.com, there is a computer out there somewhere doing some processing to decide what should be displayed on your computer screen.
When you search to buy web hosting you will often find most providers will advertise that you are getting XX MB of space and XX GB of bandwidth, sometimes these will be quoted as unlimited. They are marketed heavily on this because these figures are what people may evaluate when buying broadband deals / computers so it's easy for people to relate to. In fact, these are actually the the least important metrics when it comes to evaluating what is / isn't a good hosting plan. On top of this a lot of providers will advertise you get X SQL databases or X parked domains allowed when in actual fact these are kind-of anti features that don't really put much strain on the hosting server itself but that you will have to pay to upgrade to.
Confused? We wouldn't be surprised! The reality of the matter is that these surrounding factors are in place to enable up-selling and to losely guess at how much power a site will need by restricting some things that hungry sites often need (i.e. lots of disk space or lots of databases).
What matters with hosting?
To set things straight, let us explain what to look for and how much these matter:
Disk space / web space
OK so disk does matter, but not as much as you may think. Most websites we have created end up consuming between 50 and 200MB of disk space for the website itself. If we ignore needing email facilities for the moment this isn't much at all! So for your average website having unlimited space actually adds no value (as you won't use it). Server companies know this and are able to offer 'unlimited' because they know most people won't use it. Don't forget to check the fair use policies too as there are limits in place really!
If you need a lot of web space then great, just be weary of evaluating hosting based upon it. Web space can be important when considering a backup process, but there is more to it than that which I will cover in a moment.
This is a measure of how much data/information your hosting plan is allowed to send/recieve. Bandwidth allowance is an important consideration for large websites or websites that host a lot of digital media. For your average business website however the bandwidth requirements will be very low. Crudely 1000 visitors per month can use as little as 500MB - 1GB (1000MB) of bandwidth for your average site. Worth thinking about, but still not the really important bit.
CPU / Processor Performance / Server Speed
This is a very important measure (and probably most overlooked) of a server and is all to often conveniently neglected when advertising hosting plans. It's neglected because it is complex to explain in the context of the shared / cheaper hosting plans that are the best solution for most websites.
The speed of your hosting server will contribute heavily to how fast pages load and how many visitors can access your website at one time. By speed I mean the processor speed, disk read speed and network infrastructure. This is a complicated topic as with most hosting plans you will be sat on a server that lots of other websites are also sat on, so in this case a seeminly fast server would feel slow if overloaded.
Generally when you pay less for hosting you are put on a server that has lots of people on it relative to the performance of that server. When you pay more for hosting you are normally on a less contested server or a server where the administrators are making some effort to ensure there is enough power applied to the server to ensure it can support the sites that sit on it. At Scorchsoft we fall into the second of these categories as we believe a quality website needs quality hosting.
Aside server speed is also an important metric in how google measures and ranks websites in its search results.
Now this is probably one of the most overlooked parts of most web hosting plans. Most cheap backup plans don't have a mature backup process out of the box to allow for regular incremental (i.e. daily copies) backups to be taken and for these to be able to be recovered quickly. This is a big problem. E.g. What if you were to get hacked and need to recover some data from a yesterdays backup? Or what if your site were to be deleted completely?
At Scorchsoft we offer daily and monthly incremental backups as an option on our hosting packages. Backups are stored on the same server your hosting is on (for faster recovery) as well as being duplicated securely onto an additional server that is situated in a different location (for resilience). This way, if your whole server dies, you still have your data. This could even be used to migrate your website to a different hosting plan in the future.
The reason web space comes into this is that let's say you have a website that consumed 1000MB of web space. If we are storing say 4 daily incremental backups and 3 monthly incremental backups then this accounts for 7 backups. Then if we take into account that your backups are also stored on our backup environment this means that we need to store 15 copies of your website (the backups plus the site itself), which would equate to 15,000MB in this example. This is catered for in our backup options, it's just worth knowing that in buying a solid backup process, you are increasing the resource requirements of your hosting 15 fold which is why it costs more. It is also why it is not included in most cheap hosting plans.
You know how your computer has all of the software that you use on a day to day basis installed on it, and this makes your life easier/more productive? This is the same for your web server. When we develop websites or web applications sometimes a server needs something installed on it in order for it to be able to work efficiently or do something clever. Most cheaper hosts lock down their web hosting packages, they have so many different and varied clients on their servers (all with different development teams) that they have to from a security perspective.
The hosting that we provide for example is different because we have full control of the server itself. We can install new software onto it, configure clever processes, upgrade it etc. This may seem intangible but it allows us to be much more flexible and responsive in terms of the solution support we are able to provide. For example our backup process above is possible due to this setup.
This is by no means a definitive list (though this post has become quite long) but I hope it helps you to understand the tradeoffs a little bit better. If you need hosting or hosting support the please don't hesitate to contact us .