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If you’re not satisfied with your current level of service or are considering a move to a new web host, ensure you have answers to these critical questions before you sign on the dotted line…
1. Does Your Host Have an Adequate Infrastructure?
This raises several sub-questions…
- How long has the company been trading?
- How many customers do they have?
- Where are the servers located?
- Do they offer adequate space and bandwidth?
- Is a solid back-up policy in-place?
- Can the hosting cope with peaks in demand?
- Can the network cope with Distributed Denial of Service, spamming or similar attacks?
- Could another companies issues affect your service (attacks, viruses, etc.)?
- Are servers monitored? How quickly are you alerted when a problem occurs?
2. Does Your Host Provide Fast Support Times?
All hosts react quickly to sales enquiries. Are they just as fast once you’ve paid your money and need support?
A good support team can distinguish between urgent and non-urgent support enquiries. Most people have reasonable expectations: you may be happy to wait a few hours for a reply to a technical query — presuming you know it’s being dealt with. Ideally, your host should respond immediately and provide an indication of how long it will take to answer your question. A decent ticketing system will show the progress of your query.
Be aware that hosting is a global service and your time zone can affect the speed of response. For example, I often use US hosts despite being a UK resident. If I encounter a problem an 8:00 UK time, it would be received by a San Francisco-based host at midnight. Would they reply quickly?
3. Does Your Host Support the Technologies You Need Today?
The most basic plans are likely to provide PHP, MySQL and email accounts.
Perhaps that’s all you require but does your host enable the essential features and extensions your application needs? Shared hosting plans often disable dangerous or problematic facilities such as MySQL stored procedures or PHP image processing and emailing extensions.
It’s also important the host provides suitable language and database versions. Your PHP 7.1 application is unlikely to run on a server with PHP 5.3.
4. Can Technologies be Enabled and Configured Easily?
Are you happy to configure the server yourself or would you prefer a system such as cPanel? This allows you to perform common tasks such as creating a MySQL database for WordPress via a simple user interface.
5. Can You Scale to the Technologies You Need Tomorrow?
Does your host permit other technologies as you need them? You’ll almost certainly want SSH, HTTP/2, SSL, and Git as your requirements grow. Perhaps you’ll also require further languages, databases and other systems such as Node.js, Ruby, Python, Java, .NET, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, Elasticsearch, etc. etc.
Web development is becoming increasingly complex. For example, you may want to run Gulp.js on your server to build PHP application assets. If Node.js or another technology is not available in your current plan, does your host offer simple migration to more advanced options such as a dedicated or cloud-based servers?
6. Is Your Host Reliable?
Many hosts guarantee uptime and most quote figures of 99.999%+ availability. None of that matters if your site goes down during an important client presentation! You won’t care whether there was a 0.001% chance or not. Seek out the opinions of other customers on social media and public forums to assess uptime before you commit to any service.
Servers and software require updates and maintenance. Your host should try to minimize the impact but again, be aware of time zone issues. That 10 minute PHP upgrade at 1am could be 2pm for you!
7. Is Your Host’s Pricing Simple and Reasonable?
You should budget for appropriate hosting and be prepared to reassess costs as your user traffic rises (or falls).
The industry has recently moved toward utility-like pricing especially for cloud-based services. The cost is dependent on what services, disk space, processing capabilities, RAM, and bandwidth your site or application requires. Unfortunately, this can result in pricing calculation complexities which bamboozle the best mathematicians.
Those on stricter budgets should consider a fixed price plan.
Our partner, SiteGround, provides hosting plans suited to small, mediuym and high-traffic enterprise projects, and SitePoint readers receive up to 65% off.
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.
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