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Webmaster Series Part 2 – Web Hosting

Now that you have your domain picked out you need a place to host your website. If you thought there were a lot of domain registrars wait till you start looking for a web host. There are a lot of them. There are several ways to host your site.

At your Home: You would only do this for a very personal website when you know who is coming to your site and when. Your website could only handle a few visitors at a time and only works when your computer and/or Internet connection is up.

At your Office: If you have a business quality Internet connection like a T1 or better you can host this at your office. You can do it on a slower connection and get away with it if you don’t expect much traffic. This requires you to get a web server and know how to set it up. I have set up web servers this way in the past on a T1 and had no problems. Most websites are not going to have much traffic. If your site gets a surge of traffic from one of the social networks like digg or slashdot it will go down.

Shared Hosting: This is when you pay a company to put your website on one of their servers. The server you are on is shared with hundreds of other people. Most websites will work just fine in this setting. The majority of websites out there are hosted this way. Obviously the top websites are not but they are a minority when you consider how many small websites are out there. There is no way I could list all the shared hosting providers or even a list of the ones I think are good. There are just too many of them.

Dedicated Server: It is very seldom that you would need the option. If you are wondering if you need a dedicated server you don’t. The only people who need one of these are people who know for sure they need one. A dedicated server will cost a lot more per month than any other option.

What you need to look for is a company that has been around for a while. Don’t just choose the cheapest one you can find. I have done that in the past and they went out of business and shut down all their servers. You want reliability. Ask friends or colleagues what they use or have heard of. Hosting providers provide different levels of service depending on the services you need.

Here are some of the features explained:

Server: This is very important. Normally the choice is Linux or Windows. This all depends on what you know and what your web applications need. Most web applications can run on either. The big difference is ASP. If your web application requires ASP you have to get a windows system or a Linux system that supports ASP. I personally stay away from Windows servers if at all possible. They cost more and don’t work the way I am used to things working. A lot of articles you will find on the Internet explain things in terms of Linux boxes.

Web page creation This is for people who have no idea how to create a website. They provide a web page that works just like Microsoft Word and might have some easy forms to fill out. You just fill out the form and push a create button. This might be a good idea to just get something up the first day while you are working on a new site.

Hard drive space: A web server has a hard drive just like your computer. The more stuff you need to put on it the more space you need. If you have a lot of pictures or videos this will be very important to you.

Bandwidth: This is the amount of data that flows to and from your web server. This is something you are going to have to play around with. You may even have to switch providers at some point in case you need more bandwidth for a cheaper price. If you don’t go over the bandwidth they give you for free it does not matter. You only need to worry about how much the bandwidth cost if you are going over the amount that comes with your service. This is not an issue for most people. The web host will provide you with statistics on how much you are using in your control panel. Just keep an eye on it. If you do go over your allotted bandwidth they will start charging you extra. This can get very expensive if you don’t pay attention to it.

The two things that affect bandwidth are number of users and size of files. If you have only text and some small images on your site you will use a lot less bandwidth than if you have large images and/or videos or any file that is large. You won’t use much bandwidth if you have tons of images and video on your site but only a few people look at them.

Database: You may need a database if you are hosting a WordPress blog, phpbb forum, or some other database driven websites. Hosts will have different plans with how many databases you can have. You don’t have to have more than one database even if you have more than one site on your hosting plan. I used to think I needed one database per site or application. You don’t have to. If you do consolidate your stuff on one database it will be a lot harder in the future to separate stuff. All you have to do is make sure that each database uses unique prefixes to its tables. Like if you want several blogs on one site or several blogs on several sites you would have wp_site1_ wp_site2. I would only do this if you don’t plan to grow much. If your site really takes off you may have to get a dedicated server for each database.

Cron Jobs: This gives you the ability to schedule programs to run on the server automatically. Some applications need to be updated at some interval and this is a good way to do it.

SSH or Telnet: This lets you access your server from a command line. Very few hosts will allow you to do this. I personally cannot live without it. Most people don’t need it. One of the things that I use it for is to unzip files. Some things have lots of small files and that takes forever to upload. I just upload the zip and unzip it from the command line. Some hosts provide the ability to unzip files in the control panel. If all you need to do is unzip files then make sure they have the ability to unzip files in the control panel. The ability to unzip files in the control panel is not something they advertise so you may have to ask. You may even have to open the account to test it because this is something sales people may not know.

This is very important. You need to be able to call them on the phone. You need to be able to get something fixed 24/7. Some only have email support and take a while to get back with you.

Programming languages: I make sure they support the languages I use. (ex. PHP, Perl, ) Find out if the web applications you are going to use is supported.

Mailboxes: This is important if you want to provide email to a lot of people.

FTP logins: This is the number of different users that will use FTP to transfer files back and fourth to your server.

SSL: This stands for Secure Sockets Layer. You will need this if you take credit cards or if you want to have people connecting to a secure section of your website.

Try to find hosts that let you sign up for a free trial or have a money back guarantee. This way you can sign up and try it out and get your money back if it is not what you need. If you do this log into the control panel and try to do some things. Look at all the features and make sure it does what you need.

I am currently using pair Networks for my hosting. I chose them because I had asked around to a lot of webmasters and this one seemed to be mentioned a lot. I like the way they do business. They provide all the things I need to host my 30 or so websites. They have very high security. One of the drawbacks of high security is that a lot of things don’t work like they should. I used to be very annoyed by this but I learned that they did it for security reasons. I feel very secure with my setup with them. They are very on top of things. The support is great. You can email them or call them on the phone at any time.

[tags]web hosting, webhosting, pair, SSH, SSL, cron job, Dedicated Server, Shared Hosting, T1, Bandwidth, Database, FTP[/tags]

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Isis January 25, 2007, 5:47 pm

    This is the way a tutorial should be written. Always assume the reader knows nothing and everything will be covered.
    Keep up the good work.