Making the right decision on hosting is a challenge for many small business owners. As with any space where a few large brands are well-known irrespective of their service quality, it’s easy to default to GoDaddy if that’s all that you know. The purpose of this post is to inform you of your options and to offer some perspective on why you might consider making a more substantial investment on hosting regardless of where your current business is.
When you get in your car and begin driving, we make the assumption that our driving, the time of day, the condition of our vehicle, and the attentiveness of other drivers are the primary influencers of our safety. But the truth is that our tires comprise the bulk of our relationship with safety and predictable transportation. Not the entire tire; just the part of the tire—the contact patch—that’s making contact with the road at any given moment.
A few square inches.
Would you trust the safety of your life and the passengers of your car to a company selling tires with a history of defectiveness and quick wear? Of course not. Why do you think it it that so many businesses invest top dollar for design and consulting but put very little thought or research into a proper hosting plan?
I have a few ideas.
One of the challenges is being an advocate of quality hosting is that most hosting plans are considered good enough. And the truth is that they are…except when they’re not. It’s just like insurance plans: all of them impact your life in the exact same way except for when you need them. And it’s these moments of crisis that we begin rethinking our decisions:
“I knew I should have gone with company X instead of company Y.”
“I told myself we would upgrade out hosting after a few months but we never got around to it.”
“Why does this have to be complicated? I just want my site to work.”
Generally speaking, there are three pretty general buckets under which hosting plans fall: shared, virtual, and dedicated. Here’s a quick reference for you:
- Low cost
- Tech support readily available
- Easy to install software and setup websites
- Availability/performance of your site is (to an extent) contingent upon other users not having an active site
- Lack of control over the hosting environment
- Your hosting is only as secure as the competence of the company’s engineers
- Not many options for high traffic sites
- Fast, powerful, and flexible
- Complete control over the server
- Can handle significant traffic very easily
- Significant learning curve for novices
- No protection against wiping your site out
- Significantly increased responsibility
- Extremely powerful; capable of handling significant traffic
- Setup is typically handled for you
- Hands-off maintenance (by you) in general
- Very expensive
- Overkill for most businesses
- Costs associated with hardware failure
- Requires full-time oversight (typically included in your contract)
My site is hosted on a VPS at VPS.net and I launched a site for a client on one this weekend. It’s been my experience that VPSes—despite an initial learning curve—provide the best value in terms of speed, cost, and (for lack of a better phrase) scalability.
With that being said, I host dozens of sites on a shared hosting account with Bluehost and find them to be perfectly fine for most businesses. One of the reasons I prefer not having my personal site on a shared hosting plan however is the lack of control. I’m able to customize every aspect of my server with a VPS, whereas a shared hosting account leaves me at the mercy of management decisions made long before my site was built.
I have yet to see a situation that required a dedicated server, although the sites I typically work on and launch are low to medium traffic sites.
One of the things I value most in a hosting company is a personal connection. It would be impractical to expect them to call me weekly and ask how things are going, but there are human elements that can be included in emails and tweets that instill a sense of trust and respect in customers. These relationships often lead to long-term business relationships and referrals for web hosts. An example of this loyalty in action can be seen with the Atlanta-based company that hosts this site — A Small Orange — and how they are sponsoring this conference. Mike Schinkel (the co-organizer of this conference) has been with ASO for 5+ years. In the world of technology, that’s an eternity.
So there you have it! A quick, opinionated overview of hosting options. Hopefully this will be a primer for your hosting considerations, and I’m happy to address any specific questions you might have. I hope to see you at the conference tomorrow!