Choosing a Shared Hosting Provider - Tip #4

by demtron on Monday, November 10, 2008 10:34 AM

Upgrading to a New Plan

So, what happens when your site becomes fantastically popular and your need more storage space, bandwidth, or features?  Often, when starting out a new site, a site owner will intentionally choose a low-cost plan to save a few bucks.  When more resources are needed, you might need to upgrade to a better plan.

Each host handles this process a little differently.  Here are a few questions you might want to ask.

How do I initiate the upgrade to a new plan?  Some hosts offer an on-line form to automatically request the upgrade.  Others require a phone call.

What happens during the upgrade?  For many hosts, the upgrade is completely transparent to you and handled automatically.  For others, or if you are moving from a now-defunct plan to a new plan, the host needs to have a technician move your site to a new server.

Will your site be moved to a new server?  Some hosts will cluster sites with similar plans on the same server, so when you upgrade to a new plan, you may also be moved to a new server.  Be aware that your site’s performance will often increase (but sometimes decrease) when it’s moved to a new server.

When will the upgrade be completed?  Most hosts I work with tell me that an upgrade will take 24-48 hours to complete, while one in particular can get upgrades completed in 12 hours or less.

Is there a fee associated with upgrading?
  Usually not, but I’ve found two hosting companies recently that charge $10 and $20 for a plan upgrade.

What testing will the hosting company perform after and upgrade to ensure that the upgrade was successful and that the site, database, and e-mail plans work correctly?  When I have asked this question, I often get an uneasy silence and an answer like, “Well, we’ll check that the home page comes up.”  If your site uses database access or more sophisticated features, you’ll want to have a plan in place to check all major functions of your site.  If you use a designer, make sure your designer is on-call to put out fires.

How will you be notified when an upgrade is complete?  Surprisingly, some hosting companies I work with don’t send a notification upon completing an upgrade.  I’ve also found that these hosts are poor when it comes to sending notifications for events like planned outages, upgrades or support follow ups.  (I wish I could switch these clients to different hosts, but that’s a story for another day.)

Choosing a Shared Hosting Provider – Tip #3

by demtron on Saturday, November 08, 2008 04:14 PM

Database Features

Most hosting plans advertise database storage space.  Compared to a few years ago, the amount of space is usually ample for most applications.  Don’t be fooled by the amount of space offered – there are many considerations depending on how your site will be used.

Do you need a database?  Many sites require a database to store a blog, eCommerce elements, forum, or custom data for reports.  Even if your site doesn’t require one today, be prepared to use a database if you plan to add one of these features.

Which database do I need?  There are three main database technologies that are offered with hosting plans.  MySQL is generally offered with Linux hosting plans, whereas MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server or both are offered with ASP.Net hosting plans.  A third, Microsoft Access, is occasionally offered, although it’s falling out of favor due to the decreased costs and greater capabilities of the other two flavors.  If you’re considering a blog, forum, image gallery, or eCommerce site, there are more choices that use MySQL than the others.  In my opinion, it’s generally safe to choose a plan that offers MySQL and only consider the others if your other tools require it.

Does your host perform backups?  This is REALLY important.  All hosting companies will back up databases, but most will only use them in case a server goes down and the server’s image needs to be restored.  As the customer, you won’t have access to them.  Some hosts will offer to restore backups for a fee.  Especially if you run a blog or forum, losing a database without a backup means a complete loss of the entire site.  Which brings me to the next question…

How can you perform backup yourself?  Check with the host’s tech support or knowledgebase to find out how to perform a backup, how long it will take, where it will be stored and how you can retrieve it.  Also, if check in your blog, eCommerce, or other software to find out if there are any other considerations to back up their data.  You NEED to do backups, so figuring this out is vital.

How can more space be added to the plan?  Many plans cap database space at 50 to 200 MBs, which may be plenty for small sites.  However, if your site becomes popular and you need to grow quickly, you need an upgrade path.  Some hosting companies will charge an extra monthly amount to add more space to a plan, while others will ask that you upgrade to an all-around higher-capacity plan.  Check the costs of these options and think about how likely it will be that you need this capacity.

In a future post, I’ll discuss some of the more technical aspects of assessing databases. 

Choosing a Shared Hosting Provider – Tip #2

by demtron on Wednesday, October 08, 2008 10:37 PM

Bandwidth and Storage Capacities

Bandwidth and drive space have become inexpensive in recent years.  Back in 1999, one well-known hosting company offered 100MB of storage and 1GB of transfer bandwidth per month for $44.95 a month.  These days, that same company now offers UNLIMITED storage and UNLIMITED bandwidth for $5.95 a month.  Some even offer hosting for free.  So, how do you choose?

In my opinion and experience, the good old adage “you get what you pay for” comes into play.  Offering a massive amount of space and transfer does cost something, and this capacity might come at the expense of other facets of the hosting experience such as tech support, add-on offerings, refunds, or other facets of the plans.  Especially if you’re a novice to hosting and web site maintenance, these other elements may be pretty important to you.

One question to ask is how much space you really need.  Some sites that I maintain that have thousands of pages need only a few hundred MB of space and a few GB of transfer bandwidth per month.  One site I maintain has hundreds of files available for download by visitors – its capacity is 300 GB, but the space used is around 18 GB, so there’s still plenty of room to grow.

For most sites, even those with a few hundred pages, 50 to 60 MB of space and 2 to 3 GB of transfer per month is plenty.  You’ll likely only need the extra space if you’re hosting downloads, videos, tons of images or podcasts.

Choosing a Shared Hosting Provider – Tip #1

by demtron on Monday, October 06, 2008 02:55 PM

There are only a zillion shared hosting companies to choose from.  There are tons of features and options to consider, and some of the most important considerations require a some investigation.  I recently went through an exhaustive evaulation of over 150 hosting companies for my current and future clients and wanted to share my thoughts and process in this series of tips.

Tip #1 – Tech Support Capabilities

I've been responsible for evaluating shared hosting companies and plans for clients since 1998.  My number one most important criterion is the range of tech support capabilities.  Support generally comes in one of the following forms: telephone, e-mail, chat, and knowledgebase.  Here are some questions you want to consider asking:

During what hours is phone tech support available?  Many companies offer standard business hours for primary tech support, but will answer questions by e-mail after hours.  This is important to me as I often apply web page and programming updates after standard business hours with my clients.

If phone tech support is not available 24/7, what are the other support options?  Many companies offer support by chat after-hours, which I've found to generally be as good as phone support.  E-mail may be the other after-hours option.

What’s the turn-around time on e-mail support?  Some only offer support by e-mail.  This introduces a number of lags that may not be suitable for your needs.  If my client's site is not mission-critical or does not offer e-commerce, I like to shoot for having 2 to 4 hour e-mail support turn-around.

How good is the knowledgebase?  Many times, I don’t need to speak to someone about my support problem because I can find the answer in their knowledgebase.  A knowledgebase (KB) is a searchable database of support information, code examples, and other knowledge assembled by the support team over time.  Many times, a KB will answers to common questions and issues, so searching there first will often save you time.  A good knowledgebase should address a wide range of topics, contain a number of posts in each topic, and be easily accessible from your hosting account, i.e. you should not have to log in to see the KB.  A good host will be proud to make their KB accessible to all visitors, especially those evaluating its services.

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