Outsourcing

Don't cut corners when choosing a Web host

We asked two Web-hosting experts what your clients couldn't afford to overlook. Read about the three issues they targeted and what can happen if you choose a host that doesn't fulfill your client's needs.

You’ve been hired to find the best Web host for the least money for a major client. Where do you start? And, what happens if you cut corners in order to meet the client’s deadline?

We asked two hosting experts, Noel Henson and Ted Chamberlin, about the ramifications of being shortsighted when choosing a Web host and the consequences of cutting corners. Henson is president of Cowboyz.com, Inc., a company he formed four-and-a-half years ago “to fill a niche in Internet communications and Web site design and implementation in which off-the-shelf solutions were unavailable or unsatisfactory.” Chamberlin is a networking analyst with Gartner. Here’s what they had to say.

Don’t cut these corners
According to the experts, to find the right Web host for your client, you should start with the needs and functions of your client’s site, as well as your client’s goals for future growth. But equally important, Henson said, you should never underestimate the importance of these three areas:

1. Automated site monitoring
“A hosting provider should have automated tools to make sure stuff is working,” Henson said. “They should know a client's site is down before the client notices.”

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IBM Corporation is the exclusive sponsor of TechRepublic's special series on Web Hosting. IBM's e-business Hosting gives you the freedom to customize an array of services into a solution that is shaped by your business, not ours. For more information, check out TechRepublic's Web Hosting Center, or visit IBM's e-business Hosting site

Chamberlin warns that you get what you pay for when it comes to site monitoring. He recommends that buyers take that matter into their own hands, especially when spending less on the vendor.

“The better hosters will give you online access to the portal to look into the network and see what’s going on,” Chamberlin said. “Some will send you a report once a month. You’re paying them $30,000 to $100,000 a month, so you expect that. When you’re paying a little bit less for hosting, that’s when it becomes a little bit fuzzy. I think you really have to take the job of monitoring your [own] site.”

2. Rapid vendor responsiveness and support
“Let's face it: Stuff fails,” Henson said. “People make mistakes. Responsive vendors can dramatically minimize the impact of almost any failure or error, so 24/7 technical support is a must.

“If a site is down—partially or completely—a vendor that is slow to respond can greatly magnify the problem facing the client,” he continued. “Usually a client is using their Web site, either directly or indirectly, to sell more. If a 10-minute fix takes two days to get to, the client and their customers suffer.”

3. Expansive vendor capabilities
“One should choose a vendor that can offer more than is needed,” Henson said. “That way, if the hosting requirements are underestimated, there is an easy upgrade path. Switching vendors after a site is deployed can be difficult and frustrating. Vendors are rarely helpful when they lose a client.”

What happens if you’re shortsighted in choosing a host?
When all is said and done, the most damaging effect of choosing a Web host that doesn’t fulfill your needs is downtime—and the repercussions of downtime. How much downtime can you expect normally? Chamberlin said about 14 minutes of downtime per month is normal for the “best of breed” hosters.

“That’s what we really tell our clients to negotiate for, and it’s definitely attainable,” Chamberlin said. “It may take a certain hardware configuration. It may take a little redundancy and a little load balancing, but that’s the best of breed.”

So what are the ramifications of being shortsighted? Henson provided a list of scenarios:
  • Your Web site fails. “The site, or parts of it, just doesn’t work. This makes the client look bad to their current and potential customers.”
  • You lose data from the site. “On a dynamic site, one taking customer orders for example, data loss can cost money, loss of sales, and loss of customers.”
  • You are forced to switch to another vendor. “Vendors hate that and are rarely helpful with the move. They can, in some cases, force the move to take weeks or months instead of a day or two. If the vendor is helpful, the site should never go down during the move, and it should only take a day or two. Then again, with a helpful vendor, you'd probably not be in this predicament.”
  • You have to pay for more bandwidth. When the vendor underestimates your site’s bandwidth requirements, it “can yield poor site performance and unexpected bills for additional capacity.”
  • You have to pay for upgrades. When the vendor underestimates the power requirements for the site server, it causes “poor performance and can lead to large, unexpected costs for a new or upgraded server.”

Where can your client afford to cut corners?
According to Chamberlin, your clients may be able to cut costs when it comes to bandwidth and storage.

“A lot of these small Web sites really aren’t going to be getting traffic spikes at certain times of the month,” Chamberlin said. “It’s probably better to get fixed bandwidth instead of burstable. That’s a pretty decent cost savings. [Burstable bandwidth is] great for Amazon.com or toys.com. They know from September to January they’re going to be getting crazy traffic. But [as a smaller company] I think you can be a little cautious on your bandwidth.

“You can also scale back on your storage,” he continued. “You really don’t want too much. Unless you have a site that has really high availability, don’t go for all these extra enhanced sale-over or geographic load balancing. That’s where the hoster will put your date in one or two data centers. That’s not really needed for non-mission-critical applications.”
TechRepublic is featuring a series of articles on this topic in every republic this month. If you’d like to see what your IT colleagues are doing with Web hosting, click here.
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