Tuesday 31 October 2017

Let’s face it - a lot of companies are offering very similar products and services, and that’s especially true in the web hosting industry. Simply do a search for ‘shared web hosting’ and up comes a seemingly endless list of companies whose offerings could meet your needs. There really is nothing in it – many companies offer an unlimited number of websites, unlimited storage, unlimited bandwidth and 24/7 support, thinking that somehow this differentiates them from the next “unlimited” company in the list.

Web Hosting, Hosting, Compare Hosting

As someone who has been in the Internet field for over 2 decades, I have met a lot of people using web hosting companies. While often people seem to be happy to have an opportunity to bitch about their web hosts, others are fascinatingly loyal to their providers. It is almost as if there is a sense of pride in the fact they have they found a web host that provides the type of service people want.

Whether that’s an indictment of the web hosting industry in general, I don’t know, but I can tell you what people who are happy with their hosts have said to me. Here then is a list of the comments they have made -  comments that perhaps you should think about if you are going to make your web hosting company different from the next. As you can see, much of it revolves around customer service.

1. They answer the phone

Possibly some of the most prolific complainers I have experienced have given expletive-laden descriptions of being told their call is important, being told “all our operators are busy – please hold”, and being stuck in a telephone queue ad infinitum. Whether they are fishermen tales, I don’t know, but people have told me they have been on hold for up to 2 hours at a time. My record is 45 minutes. Offering people 24/7 support is nothing more than a cruel joke if in fact someone is placed in a Kafkaesque maze of pressing numbers only to be brought back to the beginning of a process and having to listen to the same song indefinitely. When people answer the phone quickly, it really does make a lasting impression!

2. They answer emails

From what people say, they call a web hosting company when they haven’t been able to get what they want from an email enquiry. Almost invariably people get an immediate autoresponse which explains someone will be in contact shortly. Some of the follow up times I have experienced from web hosts are genuinely appalling, and it seems I am not alone. Without exaggeration, weeks can pass without an email response from some companies, and when one comes, there’s not even an apology for the delay. Obviously, people are happy when responses are given in a timely fashion.

3. They read emails

Ranking up there with phone and email delays is the fact that when people get email replies their queries haven’t been read properly and the only relationship replies have to the questions originally asked is that they both involve web hosting. It seems in the age of the Call Center, people are too busy (too stressed?) to even consider an appropriate answer to a query. Support staff seem to only read keywords in an email, and dump a link to a video or to a page of information in a reply that has virtually nothing to do with what you are enquiring about. When people get the answers they need they find it easier to give praise to a provider.

4. There’s continuity

Once an inappropriate email reply has been received, people write back to their web hosting companies and whereas they were originally dealing with “Mike”, they are now dealing with “Omar” who would like to know “How can I help you?” As a result, the same issue has to be explained again, and if it is not resolved, the chances are that even more people have to get involved to address an issue, raising blood pressure and making tempers boil over. Companies with the top marks appear to have allocated customers to certain staff, meaning there is at least a chance support staff can remember the original issue as it was initially raised.

5. When they don’t know the answer, they don’t just make things up

I once asked a provider why my credit card had been charged for a service that was due for repayment the following month. The answer was that payments are charged up to a month in advance. However, the provider’s Terms of Service suggested that payments were made 10 days before a due date. Once this was pointed out, rather than getting an apology, I got the same email I was sent before with “10 days” added where “one month” had previously been. Obviously this didn’t exactly address the issue I had brought up. Companies with top marks generally give “Can I look into this for you?” as a reply and then follow up in a proper fashion.

6. They speak my language

This is not a problem because their Call Center is in India – as we know, the bulk of Indians have impeccable English. The problem is that India (and the rest of the subcontinent) has the highest proportion of people with Master’s degrees and PhD’s in the world. The result is they get only the best people as technical support and a basic query might end up with an imponderable reply such as “the problem is the native client has a mongrel backend” ... Or, at least I think that’s what he said. The bulk of people I know who utilize web hosting services are NOT technical people. They need proper advice, and often would benefit from being talked through a process rather than being given a link to a tutorial they don’t understand. Top marks to people who solve problems using the common touch.

7. They appreciate my custom

The problem for web hosting customers is that when their websites are up and running, and there are no issues, that’s it - they become invisible. Some people I have known have been web hosting customers for multiple years, and except for the occasional email offering a seasonal discount on domain names, that’s all they ever hear from their web host (except when payment is due of course). The people I have known that have been happiest with their web providers have regular contact with their companies. Often they receive deals that have nothing to do with web hosting – a free cup of coffee at Starbucks for having been a customer for two years. That sort of thing. It matters. People talk about it.

8. They offer a good customer experience

Some studies show that customers with the best customer experience of a company will pay around 150% more than a customer who has received the worst customer experience with the same company. That’s a lot, and of course, bad news travels faster than good news. A good customer experience means that signup forms work, that pages load quickly, and information is easily accessible. Good customer experience means that a customer receives requests for payment in a timely fashion and the email they receive offers a one-click experience that leads directly to the page they need to pay for a service again. In short, everything is made as easy as possible for a customer, so they can do what they need to do when they need to do it and execution is effortless.

Although everything I have written seems commonsense, the fact that people complain in this fashion suggests companies find commonsense difficult. Obviously there are costs involved. But what I have written expresses what I have heard time and time again. Smaller margins? Yes, possibly. But returning customers must be where it is at for web hosting companies. And unless you and your staff collectively put your heads together and address what your customers need, the result might be losing out to companies that address their customers’ requirements better than you do.

Saturday 28 October 2017

VPS stands for virtual private server. It's very similar to a VM (virtual machine) but generally associated with server operating systems (OS) whereas VMs are more commonly referenced when running a desktop OS.

In a standard VPS hosting situation there is a physical server that is running special software called a hypervisor. This hypervisor creates "virtual" machines within the single main server that are each isolated and have their own specific resources - RAM, CPU, Disk, etc. Popular hypervisors include VMware ESX, Microsoft Hyper-V, and both Xen and KVM running on Linux.

VPS Hosting, Cloud Hosting

VPS hosting is great because for the most part it looks just like a physical server to both the administrator and the end-users. The fact that the hardware is actually shared (aka multi-tenant) though gives the added benefit of cost savings since the instance effectively costs only a fraction of the physical server.

Standard VPS hosting is not without a couple of challenges though. One challenge is that the VPS runs on the single physical server and if there is an issue with that server, every server instance running on the server goes offline.

Another challenge is that the combined resources of all of the virtual private servers combined cannot exceed the total resources of the single physical server. If the resources on the server reach a certain maximum threshold, the VPS instances running there can no longer scale up – until the server is taken offline and more physical resources are added.

Additionally, because of this single resource pool situation, if one or more VPS instances on the single server increase substantially in resource load, it can impact every other VPS running on that server.

In comes the cloud to save the day.
What a cloud VPS server solution adds are direct solutions to those three concerns. By definition – if the host is being open and honest – a “cloud” solution should not run on a single server. Instead there should be a pool of redundant physical resources that operate both independent of each other but also together as a single entity. So there might be 10 servers in the cloud and any VPS servers running on that cloud would get to leverage the processor, memory, and storage facilities of those servers.

If a physical device in a cloud environment fails, it should have minimal or no impact to anything running on the cloud. If there is any impact, it should literally be measured in seconds – like the time it takes a VPS to reboot.

Additionally, a properly configured cloud environment will allow the VPS servers to move – in real-time and live without impacting operation – between the different physical resources. This fact addresses both of the last two VPS concerns. Scaling out is no longer limited to one server, but can be done across an entire cluster of servers. And if the cluster runs low on resources, more can be added live without impact to running operations. Plus, this fact of running on a cloud of resources means that the hypervisor can be used to balance out the resources across the nodes and optimize performance. If one VPS is running excessively hard and starts to impact other customers, it can be migrated (again, live, without any user impact) to a different node that has more idle capacity.

This is really the tip of the iceberg. Cloud VPS server hosting has so many benefits over standard legacy VPS hosting that I expect everyone will be running on a cloud server in the near future. There is really no good reason not to, but there are plenty of reasons to do so.
Finding your first host can be intimidating. Although hosting will seem simple once you’ve been around awhile, at first it’s all very opaque. Part of the problem is simply that there’s a lot of misinformation out there. There are hundreds of hosting providers, and all of them are trying to convince you that they’re the right choice for you. Often, they do this by advertising features and services you don’t really need. Other times they do it by advertising features and services that aren’t really features and services at all, but simply part of hosting; like a gluten-free sticker on an apple, they’re trying to make their product seem better by highlighting a feature which intrinsic to all such products.

Host, Hosting Review, Hosting Guides, Domain Name

Despite this, it’s not too awfully hard to differentiate the good from the bad in this regard. It’s more just about deciding what you really need.

The Big Players

The big players, like GoDaddy or WordPress.com, tend to be a bit pricier, and what they give you in return is great customer support, extensive documentation, 24/7 handholding, and infinite attempts to upsell you on services you don’t need.

As long as you make the conscious choice to just say, “No!” to GoDaddy help/sales reps (they’re essentially one in the same) you’re going to be fine. This is also true of other major hosting providers.

The Cheap Players

On the other of the spectrum are hosting providers like NearlyFreeSpeech, who offer low end, pay-for-play, services. There’s not much in the way of help, but if you’re comfortable in your ability to figure out the nitty gritty, or have friends who can help you out, they make a great option for those operating on limited budgets. Once your traffic picks up, though, you might actually save money going with a larger service.

The Ones Who Let You Do Stuff

The most important thing when choosing a hosting service is finding one who will allow you enough control over your site to get things done. Whatever option you choose, you’re going to want to make sure your hosting provider has a few things going for them.

FTP Access and SSH Access

If you don’t know what FTP and SSH are, suffice to say they’re the go-between services by which your computer can talk directly to your server (and thereby your website) without going through the public-facing side of the site.

This is going to be very important to either you or the person helping you with your website at some point. For many sites, this access is the only way to fix a major goof on the backend of the site, and not having this access means you’ll have to wait for the customer service team of the hosting provider to fix it. Not ideal.


You’ll want to check and make sure that your hosting provider has a reputation for keeping their servers up and online practically 24/7. With all the options out there, there’s essentially no reason to accept a service with an uptime less than 99%.

Good Reviews

Once you’ve put together your top 3-5 choices, take a little time to research them, and find out what other customers are saying about their experience with the company.

The Good News is You Can Change Your Mind
It’s not impossible to switch away from a host who’s not being helpful, but it’s not a trivial task for someone new to this end of technology, and it’s better to just not need to.

If it does become necessary, don’t stress out. The really good news is that your hosting provider knows this, too, and it gives them an incentive to provide decent help and service. 

Thursday 26 October 2017

If you want to take part in the internet as a business, information resource, directory, or as a hobbyist wanting to share data, information and knowledge with the many people and communities on the internet, you have to contain this in a central spot on the internet. You have to own a piece of space in cyberspace.

Web Hosting, Hosting Guides, Hosting Materials

Web hosting empowers you and anyone with a computer and internet connection to own a piece of cyberspace. In your space, you can have news, bulletins, documents, data, files (your web site) and your own post office (mail server) to accept mail, all in the context of you or your business. This is your space and to get this space you either have to own a piece of the physical internet with a network connection to the internet backbone and computer(s) operating as server(s) offering access to your files and post office, for people on the internet to view your web site or send and receive email with you.

The cost of owning a direct connection to the backbone and a server dedicated to a web site and email is out of reach for the average business and especially general members of the internet. Even running a web site and mail server on your own computer when it is connected to the internet requires a lot of technical ability and knowledge. The internet itself has to be your business for either of these options to be viable.

Web Hosting, Hosting Guides, Hosting Materials

In our modern society, for every person in business or with a career in most industries today, it is imperative to have a place in cyberspace, not just to be competitive but to survive. Web hosting companies were born out of this great need to provide an environment for the masses to own a piece of cyberspace, to offer an environment where people could have their piece of cyberspace on the internet 24/7 without the great cost. Web hosting companies developed a model where they could split up areas on the servers connected to the backbone and ?rent? this space, cutting the costs across many people sharing the server and backbone connection to the internet.

In a web-hosting environment, you are offered a web site to place your files, data, documents, and bulletins for people to access with their web browser and an email server for you to send and receive email messages. The web host will also provide you a means to get an address for people to get to your web site with a web browser and post email to you.

To obtain space in a web hosting environment you become a member and agree to terms and conditions of renting the space ? just as if you were to rent a house or commercial premises for your business. Once you agree and become a member, you are given an access code, a key, to your piece of cyberspace. This key, in the form of a login and password, allows you to connect to the web hosting server and up-load (transfer to) your web site so it can be accessed on the internet. Your login and password is also used to connect to a mail server to create and administer mailboxes to send and receive email for you, your staff, or family members.

Just like when you rent a house or commercial premises for your business, you have so many rooms, bathrooms, and floor space to use. In a web-hosting environment, your area is defined as disk space and network transfer.

Disk space is measured in Megabytes (MB) or Gigabytes (GB). Megabyte roughly means 1,024,000 characters and Gigabyte roughly means 1,024 Million characters. Imagine a character as one key on your key board. These amounts determine how many files, documents, or data you can have on your web site.

Network Transfer is also measured in Megabytes or gigabytes which determines how much data (how many of your files, documents or data) can be downloaded (transferred to) people accessing your web site. The more people, or the more data each person accesses on your web site the more data is transferred on the network.

The more disk space and network transfer you use the greater percentage of the web-hosting environment you are using ? therefore the higher the rent.

Just as no office building and home is the same, neither is every web-hosting environment. Some offices have stairs, others have lifts, some houses have ensuites, swimming pools, and gardens, ? and others do not. Web-hosting environments are much the same, some offer bare structures to do just the basics and others offer an array of features and facilities to help you do just about everything you could ever need or want. Some of the features and facilities likely to be offered are ranges of software to use, components, databases, and server side script processing.

The similarity of renting an office or home to renting space in a web-hosting environment is even more similar. With some buildings a gardener and/or a guard is available to look after the gardening or provide security. In a web-hosting environment, you have support people to help you do what you need to do on your web site to make it grow and there are server administrators to protect and secure your web-hosting space.

When you rent a building there are key parts needed to work or live in the space, like rooms, offices, kitchens, toilets, and bathrooms. In your web-hosting environment, you will find equally important components that are required to make the space workable. The core components in a web-hosting environment are:

Web Server

The web server is a relatively simple piece of software that accepts requests over HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and delivers HTML pages and Image files.

FTP Server

FTP is the means of which a web master can transfer files to and from the server. To put your HTML and image files on a server you will generally use FTP to upload (transfer to) your files to the server running the web server.

Mail Server

The mail server consists of two parts POP (Post Office Protocol) and SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). POP is where email is received into your mailbox and SMTP is what is used to send and receive email between mail servers.

Database Server

If you are using server side scripting on your web server (you use something like Microsoft Internet Information Server) then instead of providing ?static? data only on web pages you can provide data from a database allowing your users to search and view the data in different and dynamic way. Also, a Database server is used to gather data from visitors to your site; orders, feedback, discussions and the like.

Each one of the above components are software programs running on servers in the web-hosting environment. You can interact with each of these with special software programs you use on your computer. The main ones being:

Web Browser

When viewing the web you use a web browser like Internet Explorer. Many web hosting companies provide a ?Control Panel? to administer your web host account, which you use with your web browser. Most allow you to configure most aspects of your account using a simple web browser.

Web site/page editor

Today many web servers allow editing of WebPages over HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) based on Microsoft FrontPage technology. These special editors allow you to essentially look at your web site as if you were using a web browser and edit the pages directly as you see them using WYSWIG (What you see if what you get) technology. Most web hosting environments support this, and if you are starting out, make sure it is available. One tip: make sure the web host providing this really does understand this technology ? it is the main area of which many hacks and security intrusions occur.

FTP Client

This is a very simple piece of software that allows you to view the server folders and files in your web host account as if they were files and folders on your own computer. You can then drag and drop files between you computer and your web host account.

Email Client

If you are on the internet you would already be using an email client to send and receive your email. The most common are Outlook Express, Eudora and Web based mail clients like Hotmail.

Database Administration Client

The most common databases used with web servers are Microsoft SQL Server (available only on Windows) and MySQL (commonly found on Linux and UNIX but also available on Windows). SQL Server comes with it's own administration client where you can view your databases, edit them, backup data and do all the administration functions you need. MySQL has an active online community where there is a range of administration clients available.

Choosing a web host is, again, similar to choosing a house to live in or commercial premises to do business. You need to define what it is you require: how much space you need and what features and facilities you need.

If you have been reading this article because this is new to you, then it is likely at this stage you only need minimal space and basic facilities. Once you have worked with the basic facilities you will learn more and become aware of greater facilities and features and then you can simple move from one web ?hosting environment to another ? paying more or paying less. Moving in cyberspace is much easier, faster, and more seamless than physically moving house or commercial premises.

Initially you may use the web-hosting environment offered by your ISP (internet Service provider), the company you use to connect to the internet. But remember these companies main business is connecting many thousands of people to the internet ? not managing web hosting environments. You will generally find they offer less than basic facilities and minimal space.

If you are just starting out with your first web site the first major choice you will be faced with is ?Unix? or ?Windows?. For a person just starting out on the internet, both are equally capable and will offer the facilities you need to have your place in cyberspace.

If you have a web designer or technical person to help you, you only need to consider how much space you really need. With this simple idea in mind, when you are just starting out, owning your piece of cyberspace will not cost anymore than $8 per month. Many web-hosting companies will offer what you need for as little as $3 per month (usually paid yearly).

If you are going alone and doing it all yourself you may want to consider an account with a web hosting company that offers and prides itself on it's support and customer service, 24/7 support access and the experience, knowledge and skill of it's server administrators. Remember, these are the gardeners and the guards who take care of your environment.

Web hosting is very simple and straightforward an once you obtain your space in cyberspace you will never want to let it go and you can easily move it where you want as a turtle carries it's shell on it's back. Always remember you are not stuck in the first web-hoisting environment you choose.

Web hosting is your space in cyberspace and it is imperative to have a place in cyberspace in our modern society, just as it is to have an office to do business.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Setting Up a Dedicated Mail Server

In this article we will go through the general process of setting up a remote dedicated mail server to send your emails to your customer list, and we will also look at the reason you would bother doing it considering the cost. We will look briefly at some of the commonly used alternatives to send and receive email and why they end up being inadequate as a business' and web site's customer database grows.

Dedicated Mail Server, Web Hosting

Why to do it

Hosting packages are very convenient; you can easily start with the minimum requirements and upgrade when necessary. Many times, non-technical staff know little or nothing about the details or why an upgrade is needed, or take the default service for granted, which is inconvenient. Apart from that, there are certain precautions which need to be taken when using a dedicated server or some ISPs will consider that you are spamming.

First Things First: Reasons

I have a colleague who runs a non profit ezine. She currently sends 5000 emails every week to her customer base. In the true nature of start-ups she started off by sending emails from her Yahoo address to her subscribers, who numbered less than 30. Her database rapidly grew and she finally cobbled together a mini site on a shared hosting package which we put together for her.

Her database grew exponentially (via referrals only) and suddenly 5000 emails is standard (with the database growing yearly). The first problem occurred when the hosting server's IP address was flagged due to an open relay. The problem was quickly fixed, but a rash of other problems ranging from spambots to problems with our ISP's services and charges started, which stretched the support capabilities of our small staff. With irate customers breathing down our necks, we promptly shipped all our web sites to Go Daddy and later Hostgator.

When we hosted the sites we had on our own hosting servers, we had control over the Send mail transfer protocol settings and the rate at which we sent mail. Once we transferred to another companies data center, we got stuck with default settings, and were restricted to sending 200 emails per hour. Being clueless as to how things worked I sent emails to the help and support desk, and they told me that for bandwidth and spamming reasons it would be impossible to raise the cap unless I set up a dedicated mail server.

Setting Up a Dedicated Mail Server - A Solution Proffered 

A shared mail package has obvious cost benefits, and is an inexpensive way of being online with the benefits of multiple features such as help and support, as well as web-based administration and access from all over the world. When you start getting some heavy traffic as all your optimization and great content starts paying off, however, a shared server cannot handle several tens of thousands of emails. Now imagine that your database is segmented into different sections and times, some daily emails, some weekly, perhaps some monthly email (an illustration is the Developer Shed weekly newsletter, however the scripts update has a daily update). Not every one is a mega website, but I believe it's safe to say that's where many web masters would like to find themselves.

A lot of web hosts do offer dedicated mail servers on request, but generally they require a level of knowledge which is higher than that needed for a shared server. This is because some administration features will need to be enabled to optimize for security, spamming and sending; a lot of things have to be done from your end, and in some circumstances, your system administrator will have to keep an eye out for security threats and software updates himself.

Setting it up

Note that it takes the same process to set up a dedicated mail server for your web host as it does to set it up on your own machine. After getting your server machine, you buy/choose which software to go with it, either Linux or Windows. When you want to use Windows you buy both Windows Server OS (for some really high price) and then you buy Windows Exchange Server. Note that depending on your host, you either buy the software or they combine the cost in hidden charges with your hosting and support.

You can certainly buy/download Linux-based software. Enterprise editions come with support; open source is exactly the same but you get no support from the vendor whatsoever. However, if your administrator has experience with Linux- based software (and preferably is passionate about it) you can install open source versions and skip those bills altogether.

Most hosting packages that offer dedicated mail servers offer different versions of Microsoft Exchange Enterprise, which comes with Outlook as default software. Once you pick Windows as your OS of choice, the additional software comes as a must. If you pick Linux you have options ranging from SuSe, Mandrake, Red Hat and Novell. Novell however has options that make it compatible with most commonly used email software (such as Outlook) and has interconnectivity with Windows Exchange Server as well (receivers of your email will think it is powered by Microsoft Exchange software). Savvy users use Linux since it gives their site admin more control and flexibility.

Linux OS also comes with an exchange version and software by default. It will come with a range of (free) exchange software. From this point with your host you are pretty much on your own, so the same thing you would do with your physical server is what you will do for your remote server. Some common versions that come with Novell include Exim, Postfix and Courier; any of the three would be adequate. According to a survey done in late 2006 by http://www.mailchannels.com/, Postfix is the most commonly used of the three.

Setting Up a Dedicated Mail Server - Skill Over Money

Note that once you avoid using Windows you get a wider range of choice (plus you are not compelled to upgrade). Once your OS of choice is Windows, you get automatic updates foisted upon you. If you have a skilled website admin, you get open source software, so the only thing you are paying for is renting the server and the support on the server itself. Hopefully you have a 24 hour site admin once you get to the stage of having to send several thousand emails a day (you can either learn how to monetize your site by selling products or just put AdSense on it; you should at least cover your hosting bills).

The Day After

Immediately after you have installed your software of choice, you must change some default settings for the sake of security and so as to lift the email sending cap. These settings are optional but any web host will strongly advise you upgrade to these services. For Windows these services include:

◉ Upgrade to a dedicated firewall.
◉ Upgrade to automated backup and restoration services.
◉ Upgrade to Exchange-aware per-mailbox antivirus protection and advanced antispam.

The firewall will protect you from malicious users committing denial of service attacks, and will also stop malicious programs from hacking your site with ease (if a real hacker decides to penetrate your site you are pretty much done for). A firewall will prevent HTTP requests from getting answered, and will also enable your server IP not to answer pings, protecting you from the "ping of death" which can occur on the off chance that some person(s) deliberately starts pinging you millions of times.

Also you should change your default settings to unlimited, or set them to the level you want to set your email sending options (that's the whole point of this exercise). With a dedicated mail server you can send a hundred thousand emails a day without much bother and very little technical knowledge if you get the enterprise editions.

You can also set up your configuration to cancel certain operations such as the Linux "Finger" monitoring command. This is not a must but it is an added security advantage, since it will prevent third parties from seeing who is logged on and who is not. There are certain other operations which will help as you start sending your emails.

Setting Up a Dedicated Mail Server - Metering

You can meter your email sending by changing the settings on your exchange software. This is to prevent your IP address from being tagged as "spamming" by service providers such as AOL and maybe even Yahoo. It seems that AOL has a ten second per email rule of thumb (from any one IP address), so you should note that when sending to @aol.com email addresses, and even @yahoo email addresses.

Advantages of Dedicated Email Servers Over Shared

Despite the price differences (yes, dedicated mail servers are more expensive) it is definitely worth the payoff for high email sending sites. In case you are not convinced yet, check out some of these advantages most dedicated mail server services offer, courtesy of Netmagic  (also check out Rankcase; their customer service is exceptional).

Some Additional Features

Shared Dedicated
Individual mailbox backup No No  Yes
Customized webmail interface No  Yes  Yes 
Custom attachment sizes No  Yes  Yes
Firewall integration and management Shared Firewall Optional Dedicated Firewall Dedicated Firewall as Standard
Multi-domain support No  Yes  Yes 
Exclusive use of the mail server No  Yes  Yes 
Advanced display preferences No  Yes  Yes 
Message highlighting No  Yes  Yes 
Multi-purpose server (customers can use the server for additional purposes, such as a web server, app server, etc) No  Yes  Yes
"New mail" alert options No  Yes Yes 

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Keeping Connected to Your Web Hosting Business

A web hosting business is a 24/7 concern. How do you stay connected to your business when you're not at the office? These days, you can go way beyond cell phones and pagers to take a truly proactive approach to being accessible to your customers.

Business Hosting, Web Hosting

When you’re a web host, your clients expect you to be able to keep their websites online 24/7. Their businesses depend on it, as does yours. But, with few exceptions, you can’t actually live at your place of business. How do you stay in touch when you are away from your office and your clients need you? Fortunately, there are many solutions to this problem. Some of these even go beyond merely being available, to the point that, depending on the job you actually do, you might not need to come into the office for days at a time.

Pagers and cell phones were the first steps. Obviously, this technology is hardly new; pagers date to the 1950s, and the first cell phone call was made in 1973. Now pagers are almost obsolete, except for emergency situations in areas where cell phones can’t achieve a good signal (such as deep inside hospitals) or to contact many people all at once (such as relief workers). Many cell phones now feature the classic “beeping” pager function, and can handle text messaging (another function that got its start on pagers).

These devices do allow users to contact people and tap into their expertise, but there is a small drawback. Being away from the office often means being away from the records you might need to look up to answer questions. Also, if you do not have the answer to a question, but you know someone else who does, getting in touch with that person may be tricky using just these devices (unless you have three way calling, which is available for a growing number of cell phones). This is where the home office can come into the picture.

Home offices not only predate the Internet, they predate computers. I can remember my father having a home office set up against a wall of his bedroom when I was growing up. There are plenty of articles that cover how to set up a home office, so I will not discuss it in any great detail here. Basically, if you have copied your computer records over, a home office lets you work at home as efficiently as you would at work, on similar equipment. Broadband Internet connections available for the home help speed things along. Those who keep home offices might be able to take deductions on their federal and/or state income tax for the expenses associated with them; check with an accountant first.

Of course, the home office, like the regular office, is a static location. To really stay in touch, you might prefer to be able to conduct business anywhere: the beach, the coffee shop, the hotel you are staying in for that big conference, and so on. For that, we need slightly more advanced technologies.

Keeping Connected to Your Web Hosting Business - Welcome to Wi-Fi

Like cell phones, Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) depends on radio signals to work. Unlike cell phones, Wi-Fi uses the unlicensed spectrum to allow mobile devices such as laptop computers and personal digital assistants to make connections. Originally, Wi-Fi was intended to allow devices to connect to wireless local area networks. Now, however, it is often used for Internet access. A home or an office can be set up with Wi-Fi, allowing for a lot of portability for laptop users; a Wi-Fi router designed for home use might have a range of 150 feet indoors and 300 feet outdoors.

Some wireless providers are specifically targeting web hosts as a market for their products and services. Andrew Shoffner, a project manager for WPCS/Heinz, spoke recently about setting up a point to multi-point network for a regional host in its office park. The web host has two T-1 connections; the new arrangement allowed the company to cancel one T-1 and keep the other as back up, using the wireless connection as their primary one to the Internet. “As far as mobility is concerned,” Shoffner elaborates, “any Web host can work remotely almost anywhere and remain connected to their own network or directly to their clients’ servers with expanding Wi-Fi hotspot access, residential Wi-Fi availability, reduced cost of PDAs and laptops and remote-access software.”

Yes, as anyone who has ever visited a Starbucks knows, Wi-Fi has made it out of the home and the office and found its niche as a type of free service offered by various businesses. You almost can’t visit a café in a bookstore without seeing people using their laptops, and many (if not most) of those are connected to the Internet via the local Wi-Fi “hotspot.” These hotspots are literally ubiquitous; they can be found all over the world. The original impetus was to support traveling executives, so many hotels, airports, and restaurants feature hotspots.

Michael Simon, CEO of remote access and administration provider 3am Labs, reflected recently on the progress of Wi-Fi as a business tool. “Even five years ago, a broadband connection outside a corporate environment – like in a home or a hotel – was the exception, not the rule,” he said in an interview with Web Host Industry Review. “Public hotspots were barely on the radar screen. Today, a person sitting in a café in Paris could use a tool of ours, such as LogMeIn – our remote-access service – to access and support their corporate network using nothing more than a PDA that is Wi-Fi or 3G enabled.”

Keeping Connected to Your Web Hosting Business - Finding Hotspots, and What You Can Do With Them

Tracking down hotspots is even easier than you might think. A directory of wireless Internet access network nodes is available at http://www.wi-
fihotspotlist.com/. Enter your address information; you can choose to look for a hotspot that is within one, two, five or 10 miles of that location. Using this search, I found two hotspots within two miles of my home – not surprisingly, both are located within Starbucks coffee shops, and both are hosted by T-Mobile Wireless Broadband. Incidentally, T-Mobile also offers a subscription service for its wireless broadband Internet access, with more than 18,000 hotspots worldwide.

JiWire also offers a search for hotspots on its home page, http://www.jiwire.com. CNet mirrors the site on its Hotspot Zone located at http://cnet.jiwire.com/. Their search function offers more fine-grained control over your search than the one mentioned in the previous paragraph. It allows you to search for hotspots located within 0.2, 0.5, 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 miles of any particular address. Additionally, you can search by type of location, provider, and whether the hotspot is paid or free (it defaults to bringing you results for both).

Being able to connect to the Internet makes it easier to connect to people. Imagine being in a Starbucks and getting a phone call from a client. While you’re sipping your latte, you whip open your laptop, connect to the Internet, and fire off an IM to one of your company’s network engineers to get some questions answered. Never mind that the engineer is across the country taking a certification class.

One sales marketing director for a web hosting company spoke with delight about the kinds of things this makes possible: “I can reply to email from technical support because a data center deployment is not going smoothly. I can be at an appointment with a prospect, receive email about the customer problem and make a quick phone call to solve it. When I get back to the office, I’m already caught up and don’t have to take care of the crisis. It’s already been handled.”

Keeping Connected to Your Web Hosting Business - Security Concerns and Tools for the Future

Anyone familiar with wireless Internet access knows that there are certain security issues related to its use. Because it is wireless, other wireless equipment can tap into the signal; hackers can thus steal personal or confidential information, such as passwords, financial details, and so on. Wi-Fi users must employ some kind of protection to prevent this from happening, and make sure it is properly configured. Usually this involves some form of wireless encryption, and sometimes multiple layers of encryption.

Not surprisingly, there are companies that address this issue. “Long-range, secure wireless access points allow you to extend  your wireless range…through a store or warehouse…while preventing access or leakage of data to war drivers…” explains Mary Hwang, product line manager for SonicWALL, a wireless security systems provider.

With wireless Internet access becoming ubiquitous, we can expect to see the blossoming of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which allows users to hold conversations over the Internet as if they were talking on a telephone line. As the security for Wi-Fi improves, secure voice over Wi-Fi will attract more users.

In the meantime, you can expect to see many executives making creative use of the tools that are currently available. For example, some instant messaging systems allow multiple users to join in a group chat involving three or more people, a feature known as text conferencing. Executives can use this feature to manage a developing situation, such as a serious power outage or accident at the hosting site, and coordinate what needs to be done. Each person involved can keep everyone else informed of what they have accomplished regardless of whether they’re on the spot or working remotely from an Internet-enabled handheld device. After all, using technology to make the connections to enable people to get their jobs done is, in a sense, an important part of what web hosting itself is all about.

Sunday 15 October 2017

How to Pick a Free Web Host 

You finally decided to build your own Web site, but you don't want to spend a lot of money to have it hosted by someone else, and you don't want to host it yourself. What do you do? There are a lot of free Web hosting firms, each with their pluses and minuses. Krissi Danielson explains what to expect from a free Web host, how to choose one, and the pros and cons of using some of the better known free Web hosts.

Free Web Hosting, Hosting Reviews

It may be true that there's "no free lunch in this world" and that "you get what you pay for," but it's still nice to get stuff for free. This is certainly true of Web hosting. While you can expect a higher quality of service and feature packages from paid Web hosts in nearly all cases, free Web hosts still serve a fun and important purpose for personal Web pages and hobby sites. In addition, they offer a great way to put up a site and build a regular readership without spending any money; you can always switch to a paid host later on.

There are a bazillion sites out there offering free Web hosting. If you type in a query on "free host" from Google, you are likely to be swamped with results that include everything from the big names like Yahoo Geocities and Tripod to obscure specialty sites. Each one has a different package offering in terms of available space, permitted traffic, allowable file types, and other features. It can be overwhelming to try to pick the right host to meet your needs. What should you be looking for?

How to Pick a Free Web Host - How sites offer hosting for free

As mentioned above, there really is no free lunch. By choosing a free Web host, you are going to have to accept some form of advertising. This is how the free hosts make their money. In most cases, the advertising comes in the form of a banner or pop-up ad on your site.

Before signing up for a free Web host, it is a good idea to check exactly what type of advertising to expect. Obviously, embedded banner ads on your site will be far less annoying to your visitors than popup ads. However, even some embedded banner ad hosts may be better than others. Check to see whether you can be allowed to control the placement of the banner, for example. If you can put the banner at the bottom of the page, that could be preferable to being forced to run the banner ad at the top.

Regardless of whether the host offers banner ads or popups, it is also a wise move to visit some other sites hosted by the particular company you are considering. Most hosts have a directory or list of featured "showcase" sites on their home pages. Looking at these lets you get an idea of the types of ads you can expect to appear on your site.

If you find a host that claims it will not require you to run ads on your site, the site may require you to click on banners in its file manager page as its alternate way of making money. However, you will want to check the fine print very carefully in the terms of agreement. Some hosts that offer ad-free free Web hosting may be collecting your email address and selling it off to marketing firms that send unsolicited commercial email. In this case, it's possible to set up a dummy email account just to get the free space, but you may be better off accepting the banner ad. If you very strongly wish to avoid banner ads, you are probably better off investigating a low-cost paid host. There are hosts out there that charge as little as $5 per month for a reasonable amount of Web space.

How to Pick a Free Web Host - Making sense of features

The most obvious feature you want to look for in selecting a free Web host is the amount of space available. Most hosts offer anywhere from 2 MB of storage space to a gigabyte or more. If you will be hosting streaming media files or large graphic files on your site, you should look for the maximum amount of space you can find. If, however, you are just looking for a place to put up a home page with a few HTML pages and simple graphics, the chances are slim that you will need more than 5-10 MB of space for your site.

Another important feature to look at is the allowable traffic. This usually is expressed in terms like "data transfer" or bandwidth. This refers to the amount of traffic your site can take. If you expect your site is going to have thousands of visitors, you will want to look for a host with unlimited traffic. For simpler Web pages, it is unlikely that you would bump up against the usual limits, such as the 3 GB data transfer limit on free Geocities Web pages.

Consider, as well, how you intend to generate your site. Do you like the idea of creating your pages and posting them on your site through a site-building interface? If so, you will want to look for site building and creation tools when choosing a free host. On the other hand, if you prefer to code your HTML by hand or use a tool such as Dreamweaver to create HTML files on your PC before posting them to the Internet, you may want to look for a Web host that allows FTP file transfer.

A less apparent but still important factor is the formatting of the URL for your free Web space. The best type of URL is probably a subdomain, which would let you have a URL like http://yourspace.freehost.com. Most of the leading free hosts do not offer subdomains, however, so it's more likely to expect a URL like http://www.freehost.com/yourspace, which is not too unwieldy. Watch out for hosts that give you convoluted URLs like http://www.freehost.com/members/subdirectory1/subdirectory2/ ~yourspace. You don't want a URL that's going to take you forever to type, not to mention that if you are using the site for anything other than a hobby, shorter URLs tend to make a better impression on your visitors.

Beyond the above items, most features within free hosts are fairly standard. Here are some other things to look for:

◉ Does the host offer CGI scripts? If so, are you limited to preformatted scripts or can you upload scripts of your choice?

◉ Do you get any free email addresses as a part of the package?

◉ Is there tech support available if you should have a problem?

◉ How often do you have to update the site? (Some hosts will expire your account if it goes a specific amount of time with no activity).

◉ Does the host offer you traffic figures, or the ability to use a hit counter?

◉ Does the site allow domain hosting?

How reliable are the servers? A free Web site does you no good if it's never up and running.

Warning signals of sites to avoid

As mentioned above, free Web hosts are a dime a dozen and the features are different among all of them, but even if you find two hosts with an equal feature set, that doesn't mean the hosts are equally good options.

The biggest risk you run when choosing a free host is that the host may go out of business, taking your site with it. This is also true of inexpensive paid hosts, to an extent. It's wise to always keep backups of your files on your own computer, but who wants to be changing URLs all the time every time a host goes out of business? For this reason, it can be a good idea to stick with a company that has a proven track record and has been around for a few years rather than a company you haven't heard of.

Friday 13 October 2017

Businesses Turn to Reseller Web Hosting for Additional Revenue 

Most of us already know that web hosting is the practice of using an Internet server to link websites stored on a hard drive to the Internet. All websites across the Internet are hosted on such Internet servers. There are countless web hosts that offer a myriad of services, from dedicated support of a single website to mass public offerings of small websites crowded onto single servers. Many companies are now looking at reselling web hosting in order to earn additional revenue during this recession.

Reseller Web Hosting, Web Hosting, Web Hosting Hub

Reseller web hosting is not much different from standard web hosting. A standard web host will rent an Internet server or own its own server on location. They will have full physical and digital access to this server to do with it as they please. This gives them a large degree of control over the services that they offer. It is also a lot of work.

Reseller web hosts rent web space from these standard web hosts. However, resellers rent the space with the intent of turning around and renting that same space out to someone else at a profit. Essentially, a reseller web host is a middle man in the Internet website hosting industry.

While the practice is ethically questionable, there are certain beneficial services that a reseller web host can offer. For instance, they might offer a level of personal service that cannot be matched by larger companies. They might also combine their web hosting offer with their other products and/or services, such as website design or business consulting. Basically, reseller web hosts thrive by offering alternate services that either complement or are complemented by the web hosting. This is the main way in which they differ from standard web hosts.

Reseller web hosts look for a lot of different things when they are initially renting out their space. Generally, they will go to a web host that specializes in offering reseller services. This first web host will give the reseller a large amount of space and bandwidth with a specially designed control panel that will allow the reseller to delegate out the space, bandwidth, and other services as they see fit.

Traditionally, reseller web hosting has been a relatively limited practice. It has only been used by those with previous experience with web hosting that are just looking to augment their services. Recently, reseller web hosting has experienced an influx of small- to medium-sized businesses looking for an additional source of profit.

Businesses Turn to Reseller Web Hosting for Additional Revenue - Effects of the Economy 

As everyone has realized by now, times are tough for the economy all over the world. People are not spending as much money and there is simply not as much work to go around. This has been particularly hard on small boutique service companies. Independent web designers, Internet business consultants, and a myriad of other small technology businesses have all experienced a large decrease in the amount of their business recently.

With fewer clients coming with new business, revenue streams are drying up for small businesses. Such businesses typically have high fixed costs and low marginal costs. In other words, the business costs do not really depend on the amount of work that they do. Therefore, with less work, these small businesses are experiencing massive decreases in profit that often result in net losses. For small business owners, this is disastrous. Their profit is what puts food on the table. Their profit is their salary.

Due to all of this, small technology businesses are frantically searching for new sources of revenue. One of the sources that they have stumbled upon is reseller web hosting. While web hosting has been affected by the economy just like everything else, there are numerous factors that make it an easy industry for a technology company to expand into. These businesses figure that their offerings are similar enough to web hosting that they can offer a new service to existing clients as well as open the opportunity for a fair amount of new clients.

With technological know-how and a good host, reseller web hosting is very easy to pick up. All associated costs—other than learning time—are almost negligible. With this basic knowledge, entrepreneurs that are already proficient with online technology quickly develop a new profit strategy that begins to rely upon the previously unknown reseller web hosting.

The result has been a marked increase in the number of reseller web hosts recently. Everyone is attempting to set up shop in their small corner of the market. Fortunately, most of the companies that are entering the market are small enough that they have not had a significant negative impact on the existing players in the web hosting field.

Businesses Turn to Reseller Web Hosting for Additional Revenue - Profit Strategy

Reseller web hosting is playing a larger role in many companies’ profit and revenue strategies because it can be operated at such a high margin. Reseller web hosting can be rented for literally less than $10 a month. The only other cost that a business experiences with reseller web hosting is the amount of time that it invests in developing its reseller web hosting program.

Fortunately for the businesses trying out reseller web hosting, the one resource that they have plenty of now is time. Because the economy has reduced the amount of work for these small firms, they find that they do not have enough business to fill up a full work day. By putting more attention and time into a reseller web hosting program, they can essentially convert their free time into additional revenue—and therefore profit.

Because reseller web hosting takes little work in and of itself, the time invested into making it a success goes more toward the marketing and sales aspects. Many technology companies can draw upon their current customers as a solid base to launch their reseller web hosting offerings. Since they offer one technology service, it is not a stretch for the clients to trust that an additional technology service will be of equal quality.

Unfortunately, the bad economy also decreases the amount of additional revenue that can be gained from additional clients. What reseller web hosting is really helping these small businesses with is getting more people in the door. When a firm is attempting to sell its services to a client, the reseller web hosting is simply another offering that they can boast of in their services. It makes it that much more likely that the firm will be able to get new clients in the door.

Once reseller web hosting has brought a new client to the business, the possibilities for further revenues are much higher. While a client might not have been tempted by the standard offerings of a company (graphic design, for instance), once it has bought into the reseller web hosting program, it might be more willing to also agree to additional services from the same provider.

Businesses Turn to Reseller Web Hosting for Additional Revenue - Reseller Success

Sadly, reseller web hosting is not the miracle money maker that many companies had hoped it would be. While it is easy to set up and manage, costs little money, and has a high margin, it is also a poor investment of time. The only truly successful web hosts are the ones that offer streamlined services to large quantities of customers. The “soft” factors that a small company can offer with reseller web hosting are not attractive enough to overcome the low prices offered by the larger firms.

What reseller web hosting ends up doing is draining the time of small technology companies. While the bad economy and slow business have increased the amount of down time for many businesses, it has also opened the opportunity for valuable usage of that time. A small company can use that time to reevaluate its business model, service offerings, or current capabilities.

Necessary free time can be used for training or infrastructure development. While these usages of time do not contribute to the short term profit margin, they ensure that when business returns with the upswing of the economy, the small company will be able to ride the upswing and grow to levels much higher than when they started.

While the short term may seem more important to many small companies now, the reality is that nearsightedness is what causes the failure of many small businesses. The credit market is beginning to thaw and loans are becoming available to keep businesses afloat during these hard times. Small businesses should recognize this and take advantage of it to position themselves best for the revival of the economy.

Reseller web hosting also has a damaging effect on the web hosting market as a whole. Potential customers who sign on first with a reseller web host are in danger of having a bad experience. Some resellers are unprofessional and inexperienced. The result is that they are simply incapable of offering good services to their clients. These clients will become jaded and may avoid working with web hosts (at least small ones) in the future. Although this effect is minimal, it is a potential hazard of the rapid influx of inexperienced web hosting resellers.

Overall, reseller web hosting is an option for a business floundering in the bad economy. However, it may prove more effective to develop a longer term strategy that will help the business thrive five years from now, rather than five months.

Choosing a Web Host if You`re a Reseller

If you're a website owner, choosing a web host is one of the most important decisions you will make for your business. If you're a reseller web host, that's even more true. The services you can deliver will directly depend on the service your web host delivers. In effect, you're going to be the middleman, so you'd better have someone backing you who will help you stay in business.
So what should you, as a reseller web host, be looking for in a web host? In many cases, you should be looking for some of the same things your clients will be looking for. But you will find that you actually have less flexibility than they do, because you have a lot more riding on your web host.

Reseller Hosting, Web Hosting, Hosting Review

For example, let's say that you host a lot of little hobbyist websites, a few not-for-profit informational sites, a smattering of artist/artisan sites that sell their wares online, maybe even some sites for the local garage bands. They may or may not be upset if visitors to their websites experience slow loading times every so often, or even can't reach the site for a certain (brief) amount of time every month. How upset they get is going to depend on how seriously they take their website, and whether they treat it as a business.

You don't have that option. As a reseller web host, your website and your ability to provide uptime is your business, period. And your potential customers will figure, by extension, if they have any problems getting through to your website, that you cannot provide good web hosting services. It really doesn't matter if it's your web host's fault rather than your own. Do you really think your customers will accept that as an excuse when they're calling you up to complain because their website is down?

Choosing a Web Host if You`re a Reseller - Make Sure Your Host is Reliable 

I know that when you're starting out with a new business, money is tight. You will no doubt be looking for every bargain you can find. Trust me on this, your web host is not the place to go with the lowest bidder.

Oh, issues probably won't crop up right away. But after a while, you will start having slowdowns and down time. At this point your customers will start complaining to you about their websites not working properly. And you, in turn, need to contact your web host.

If you didn't do your research fully when you signed up with this web host, this is when you might get a few unpleasant surprises. You see, you might not be the only one operating on a thin financial margin. Your web host might be using IDE instead of SCSI drives, or overloading its servers with too many accounts. (To be fair, reseller web hosts are often guilty of not allowing for enough of a margin as well).

So how can you find out whether your prospective web host is reliable before this happens? One way to judge is by whether they offer a guarantee. Some hosts will guarantee 99 percent uptime, and they back that up by refunding all or part of your monthly fee if they fall below that. That gives them a real incentive to keep things running smoothly.

Another way to tell whether your prospective web host is reliable is to visit its support forums. Browse around for a while and get a feel for what kinds of complaints the company receives.

As you will see from the thread topics, customers can and will be very blunt about whether or not you should use a particular web host! That's okay, though; you want that kind of information. Remember, that could very easily be your company that's getting flamed...and if you go with the same web hosting company that people are putting to the torch, your company might be getting raked over the coals a few months from now. If you read about the kinds of problems others have been having with the web host you're thinking about using, you can hopefully avoid them. If they're bad enough, you will know that you need to avoid that web host entirely.

Choosing a Web Host if You`re a Reseller - Fun with Features

Let's start with the most obvious features: web space and bandwidth. How much of that are you getting, and for what price? That affects what kinds of packages you can create for people, and what you can charge. Keep in mind what I said in the previous section: biggest and cheapest isn't necessarily best. Consider what kinds of customers you plan to serve. Are they likely to need lots of space and huge amounts of bandwidth? Don't assume that just because they're hobbyists doesn't mean they won't have some pretty big needs in this department. Most podcasters are hobbyists, and they are notorious for eating bandwidth for breakfast.

Check out what other features your prospective web host provides. Remember, if your web host doesn't provide it, you can't provide it to your customers. Most of them will want to be able to have email addresses for their own domain--ones that don't include your domain or your host's domain. Other features you should look for are autoresponders and FTP access. If you're going to have clients that sell anything through their websites, ask your prospective web host about servers with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), MySQL, and shopping carts.

You will also want to know what kind of server the host is using (Microsoft, Unix, or open source operating system such as Linux). You or some of your clients might want to use server side scripts, and if you do not have this information you will not know what you can support. Remember, one way that many companies differentiate themselves is by how much they can offer their clients in the way of services; if this is the route you want to go with your reseller web hosting business, you need a web host who can help you with it.

Choosing a Web Host if You`re a Reseller - Customer Support is Key 

Remember the scenario I mentioned a couple of sections ago when I discussed the importance of a web host's reliability? I don't know of any web host that has never experienced down time--and if there ever was one, it would have made the news. (In fact, one web host did make the news for being located in downtown New Orleans and managing to stay up throughout the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina). When your customers experience down time, for whatever reason, you have to call your web host. This is when you will find out whether its customer and technical support is at the level you expect.

Fortunately, you can do a little quality testing yourself before push comes to shove--before you even sign up with them, in fact. They should have their email and phone information easily available. Use this information. Send them an inquiry and see how quickly you get a response. If you really want to test them, send a sales-related question to their technical support department and see how fast they get back to you. They will probably have to reroute it to sales first, which will give you a chance to see whether they're on the ball.

Don't judge it solely on speed, though; how well did they answer your question? Call the phone number, too. Do you connect to a person or a phone tree? How long do you have to wait on hold? Did the person you spoke with seem knowledgeable? Did they have to route you to several other people before you got an answer to your question (one of my personal pet peeves)?

A number of web hosts have other forms of contact as well. I had a pleasant experience recently when I was doing a little research on web hosts. After poking around for a while on RackSpace's website, a window popped up offering me the opportunity to do a live IM chat with one of their people. I did; he asked me a few questions as to what I was looking for, and answered mine. I appreciated the opportunity to get some quick answers without having to send an email or get on the phone.

You will probably want a web host that offers 24/7 customer support. People expect that these days. If your customers expect it from you (and they probably will, no matter what you say), you'd better be able to get it from your web host.

Of course, this is another area where visiting web hosting forums and doing your research will serve you well. When people complain about web hosts, it's usually because of reliability and customer support issues. Those tend to be the sorts of things that get remembered, good or bad. So you want to know how your prospective web host is remembered...because that is probably how you will be remembered as well.

You'll notice I've barely mentioned price in this article. There is a reason for that. I'm not saying that price doesn't matter, especially since reseller web hosting plans vary wildly in both price and the amount of space/bandwidth you get for a particular price. But all of the other factors I've mentioned are far more important. Once you narrow down the web hosts you would be willing to use based on reliability, features, and customer support, then you can think about price.

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Virtual Hosting versus Dedicated Hosting: Which is Right for You 

So you’re starting a website, and one of the first things you’ll need to do is to find a web host. After searching all of the hosting possibilities, you find there is more than just one type of hosting. So what do you do?

Virtual Hosting, Dedicated Hosting, Web Hosting, Hosting Review

A successful web site depends on a good web host, but it's just as important to select the right kind of hosting account.  Most web hosting companies offer a choice between virtual shared hosting and dedicated hosting.  The basic difference between the two types of accounts is whether a site has its own server or shares one with other web sites, which determines whether that site has its own IP address or shares one with other sites.  With a virtual host, many websites are sharing a single machine with a single IP address.  In a dedicated hosting situation, a single machine is “dedicated” to a single customer.

In this article, I wanted to show you the major differences in the two types of hosting: virtual versus dedicated, and when you can determine it’s right to choose a dedicated server, time to move to a dedicated server from a virtual server, or stay with the shared hosting.

The Virtual Hosting Benefits and Risks

Virtual hosting has both its benefits and its risks.  The most obvious benefit of a virtual hosting account is price: it is low.  You can pay anywhere between $2.00 and $20.00 per month for shared hosting, depending upon the features of the host.  If you are just starting a website or don’t get a lot of traffic, or are concerned with price, then you’ll probably start with virtual hosting.  There are even free virtual host accounts available, although you’ll most likely have to put up with the advertising on the site from the host.  (Hey, they have to pay for the servers and your bandwidth somehow.)

One of the disadvantages of having your website hosted on a shared server is going to be server response time, or server load.  A server receives requests for files and serves up those files in the order the requests are received. It's like waiting on hold with your computer customer support company: if you're second in the queue, then you get served pretty quickly; but if you're the 20th customer on hold in the queue, you'll have to wait a lot longer.

How many sites reside on each server and how much traffic those sites get will also determine a server’s response time. While it isn’t necessarily due to the number of sites on a server, it will also depend upon those sites’ traffic. Response time may be slower if you share a server with 50 busy sites than if you share a server with 100 sites that only get a few hits per day.  A good idea is to ask the web host how many sites they allow on a shared server, and what the maximum traffic and transfer allowed for each site.

Virtual Hosting versus Dedicated Hosting: Which is Right for You - Virtual Hosting IP Risks

Finding out the IP address of a shared server ahead of time can allow you to use tools to find out the server response time of the virtual host.  It doesn’t do you any good to have a great website if your site visitors can’t access it due to slow server response time.  They’ll either get frustrated or go elsewhere.  You may also find that you are getting quite a bit of downtime based on server load.  NetMechanics.com has a good tool you can use to test this out, as long as you don’t try to use it during peak hours.

Another drawback to virtual hosting is having to share your IP address with bad neighbors.  A web host is not going to tell you what other sites share your IP address; you take the risk of sharing your address with an adult site, a spam site, or other site you wouldn’t want to otherwise associate with.  Some search engines see red flags with some spam or adult sites, and other search engines have been known to ban IP addresses altogether, like AltaVista and it is rumored that even Google crawls by IP for efficiency, skipping those that it doesn’t like.  Make sure you know what kind of sites your web host allows in order for you to make an informed decision before you sign up.  You can usually find this information in their terms of service.

Another risk you run with sharing an IP address with other sites on a virtual server is the likelihood of more server crashes.  Most web hosts don’t allow certain kinds of scripts that may crash the servers, while others don’t monitor this type of behavior.  Scripts that are written poorly, with built-in loops, for example, can overload a server’s resources.  This can slow the server as well as it could cause the server to crash. Some web hosts allow unfettered shell access, whereas other require you to have some kind of identification on file in their office, and monitor all shell access behaviors.  You want to make sure that your web host at least has some sort of shell access guidelines in place, and that it is well protected.

I know it seems that these disadvantages far outweigh the advantages of virtual hosting; however, while I wanted you to be aware of the issues, for most sites out there though, virtual hosting does just fine.  Millions of websites use shared hosting options and most don’t have problems.

Virtual Hosting versus Dedicated Hosting: Which is Right for You - Dedicated Hosting Advantages and Disadvantages 

Dedicated Hosting Advantages and Disadvantages

One of the best features of having a dedicated server at your disposal is not having to worry what other sites out there are doing to increase your risk.  There are no other sites on your server to deal with, and you don’t have to think about cgi scripts gone awry thanks to someone else.

Dedicated servers can be built to handle higher traffic loads, and you only have to be concerned with the traffic from your own site, instead of everyone else’s too.  Because of this, there are usually no bandwidth limitations on dedicated servers.

The major disadvantage to going with a dedicated server for your hosting needs is going to be the cost involved.  Many of these start at about $70 per month for the bare minimums, and after that, the sky’s the limit on price, depending upon features the web host offers.  Many small to medium companies simply cannot justify the expense, especially if they are startup companies, not making money with their site, or not having been online very long.

While it may seem that the advantages to having a dedicated server may be worth the price, it really can be a waste of your monetary resources to have one when you really don’t need a dedicated server.

There are a few guidelines you can follow to determine whether you really need a dedicated server over using a virtual host.  If your traffic is so much so that it is overwhelming the server for others, then it’ll be a good indication that it’s time to make the jump.  A slow server isn’t pretty for the website owner or for visitors, and it is a nightmare for web hosts.

Virtual Hosting versus Dedicated Hosting: Which is Right for You - Do You Really Need Dedicated Hosting?

If you are exceeding your monthly bandwidth limits on a continual basis, you may actually not have to decide at all how much traffic is too much.  You may get a nice email from your web host telling you that you need to stay under your limitations, or there will be consequences:  added cost most likely, but there are even more extreme measures the web host may take on repeated offenses.  It is in your web host’s (and their customers’) best interest to determine which sites are bogging down their servers, and take appropriate action.  This may mean additional cost, moving the “offending” site to its own server, or booting it altogether.  While this kind of action may not be seen favorably by a web site owner who is the target of such action, a host has to weigh the cost of losing dozens of other customers due to overwhelmed server resources, or the cost of upgrading versus keeping the business of a single customer.  Bandwidth is expensive; not just for you, but also for your web host.  Even they have allocations provided by their ISP, and they need to make sure the expense of bandwidth is going to outweigh the revenues that are coming in.

Regardless, you should already be aware of the symptoms of the need for your site to have its own machine.  So how much traffic is too much traffic?  Well, normally if you ask me this question, I would say this: there is no such thing.  But in this case, it really is up to your web host to determine what too much traffic and transfer is.  Just ask them.  I’m sure they’ll tell you.

Another guideline to use to determine your need for a dedicated server is the purpose for which it will be used.  If you are simply moving your site to a dedicated server to “escape” the risks of virtual hosting, then this may not be a good enough reason.  Don’t misunderstand me, there is nothing “wrong” with going with a dedicated server for this reason, but it may just be a waste.  But if your purpose for having your site on a dedicated server is for functionality of the site, then there is good reason to assume that this is a good reason.

Another good reason for you have a dedicated server is the ability to customize both the hardware and the software.  With a virtual host, you don’t get to choose which CPU or how much RAM is in the machine; on the same token you usually don’t get to decide what software is going to be installed on it either.  If your company requires that you use Novell Networks as your email client, and you need to customize it to the needs of the company or you require a fast, customer service live support console that has to have minimal downtime, chances are good that you’ll need a dedicated server.  There are multiple examples of why a company would want a dedicated server, but ultimately they fall into three categories:  customizable hardware, customizable software, and unlimited bandwidth without server load issues on or from other sites.

So what if you decide you don’t necessarily need your own whole machine to host your website on, but don’t wish to take the risks of sharing your IP address with bad neighbors?  You may not be ready to switch from a virtual host to a dedicated server, but you may need your own IP address, especially if you are using your own SSL certificate or running an ecommerce store, or for SEO purposes.  Most virtual hosts allow you to pay for a dedicated IP address, which may serve to keep your site protected from some of the other risks associated with virtual hosting.

Drupal: Content Management Made Easy

Content management systems have made it easy for even novices to set up intricate web sites, complete with many interactive features. One of the most popular open source CMSes is Drupal. This article will take a look at why it is so popular, and what features it offers the prospective user. There was a time, not so long ago, when web sites were built from scratch by hand. But with the increasing popularity of Web 2.0, the rise of the content management system (CMS) has changed the web development landscape beyond recognition. A CMS allows anyone, regardless of their level of technical know-how, to get a complex, fully featured and interactive site up and running quickly and easily.

Drupal - Content Management, Hosting Reviews

More than this, it removes virtually all the programming from site management, allowing non-coders to maintain their own content through user interfaces that are no more difficult to learn and use than a regular word processor. A CMS also allows a novice to add complex features such as forums and chat rooms, workflow management and powerful security controls that would previously have had to be custom-built. It's easy to see why the popularity of the CMS has grown almost exponentially, to the point where around 200 open source CMS projects are listed on the CMS comparison site CMS Matrix, and that's before considering the many commercial solutions that are available.

One of the most popular of the open source systems is Drupal. Now at major version 6, Drupal - like much open source software - began life as the college project of Belgian computer science student Dries Buytaert, who back in 1998 was attempting to develop a simple LAN-based message board. Buytaert decided to port the resulting software to the web a couple of years later, after graduating. At that time the CMS was little more than a fledgling concept, but in response to an increasing number of user requests, Buytaert began adding features to the system.

By 2001 the volume of requests had grown to the point where Buytaert took the logical step of releasing the code - now named Drupal - under the GNU General Public License This was intended to encourage broader community involvement in the project's development, but even Buytaert couldn't have predicted the success that would follow. Thanks to its longevity, along with the its technical robustness, Drupal is now at the center of a flourishing online community with around 350,000 members.

But what is it about Drupal that makes it so much more popular than almost any other open source CMS? A clue is offered on the drupal.org mission page, which is headed with the words Don't Panic in friendly italic letters. This message -- a quote from Douglas Adams' The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy - is at the heart of the Drupal philosophy of flexibility, simplicity and utility. As far as it is possible to make an advanced software system straightforward to set up and use, Drupal does so. It also boasts an extensive feature list, over 5,000 community-developed modules that improve and extend the system's functionality, and powerful performance thanks to the lean code and advanced caching mechanism.

Drupal: Content Management Made Easy - Features

Drupal's core features include the following:

◉ Collaboration tools

Drupal contains a range of tools to enable and enhance group work. The most important of these is the Collaborative Book, which is a set of related pages for which multiple users may be given permission to write, edit, review or rearrange the content. Books can easily be provided with navigation menus, content from elsewhere on the site can be incorporated, and Drupal will generate print-friendly versions of books on demand. Drupal also offers Version Control, which allows changes to content to be tracked in detail and rolled back.

Collaboration is also enhanced by Drupal's role-based permissions system. This applies fine-grained security permissions to roles as well as, or instead of, to individual users, allowing permission sets to be created and applied quickly and easily.

◉ Customization tools

Every individual site's implementation of a CMS will be unique. To accommodate a wide variety of requirements, Drupal includes a powerful template-based theming tool that can be used to personalize many aspects of the look and feel of the system, such as the underlying style sheets (CSS), the JavaScript and whether certain page elements are displayed or hidden. Themes may be applied to an entire site, to certain sections of it, or even to individual pages. Obtaining the best from Drupal's theming tools ideally requires a basic knowledge of cHTML, CSS and PHP.

◉ Multiple content types

Drupal provides support for a wide range of content types, both static and interactive, including blogs, news feeds, discussion forums and threaded commenting, as well as the standard text, image and multimedia content types supported by the web server. All of this content is fully indexed and searchable with the use of the integrated search module.

◉ Platform independence

Drupal has been developed from the ground up to work on multiple platforms. On the web server side, these include both Apache and IIS running on all major operating systems. The CMS is built on a database abstraction layer, meaning that it can be run with either MySQL or PostgreSQL out of the box. It can be ported to other databases relatively easily with the development of a custom fourteen-function database back-end and matching SQL database scheme. Full instructions for this are provided in the Drupal documentation.

◉ Performance cache

When it is used to run a busy site, Drupal's performance can be enhanced by the use of the included configurable caching mechanism. By reducing the number of database queries that have to be handled, this can boost performance in the region of up to a factor of a hundred or more. With caching disabled, generating each individual page may require dozens or even hundreds of database queries. With the cache turned on, all of the information required to generate a particular page for an anonymous user is temporarily stored as a complete entity, which is then served in response to just a single query.

Drupal: Content Management Made Easy - Modules

With over 5,000 modules, Drupal attracts many users simply due to its extensibility. The majority of modules are contributed by Drupal users, and people who find modules useful are encouraged to actively participate in improving and refining them in order to further develop the system. The dedicated user community that has resulted from this process is one of Drupal's key strengths, and is probably as significant in the growth of the system as its underlying quality. A Module is available for almost any conceivable task or enhancement, making Drupal one of the most powerful and flexible content management systems available. In addition, if a module is required that doesn't exist, the size and commitment of the user base means that it can often be developed at relatively low cost.

Modules fall mainly into such categories as content handling, display and system administration, and provide functionality ranging from the simple to the highly complex. At the simpler end of the scale are modules that perform single tasks, such as removing the accents from words to improve search results or sending short system messages to users. This kind of compact and straightforward plug-in capability is welcome, but it is with the more complex modules that the system really shines. These allow the addition of sophisticated enhancements such as drop-down menus, commercial advertising, shopping cart integration and compatibility with a wide range of third-party applications.

The most popular modules tend to be those that provide commercial functions and user interactivity, although with so many modules available it's difficult to generalize. Other popular areas include theming, presentation and media handling. The most popular modules include:

◉ Drupal e-Commerce

The Drupal e-Commerce module is a fully-featured online sales solution. Its many features include a shopping cart, tax and discount handling, inventory management, invoicing, and plugins to handle payments and shipping. The e-Commerce module is so widely used that many additional modules have been developed specifically to integrate with it, including a large number of payment methods, automatic payment handling, and statistical analysis tools. Drupal E-Commerce is not the only online sales module. One widely-used alternative is Ubercart, which again has a whole system of additional modules built around it.

◉ Voting API

The Voting API module is designed to enhance interactivity by enabling content rating and other forms of voting. It provides tools that analyze, sort, tabulate and present the results of any voting exercise. Voting API isn't a user-facing module; it provides the back end functionality required to supply standardized voting data to other modules. An alternative popular voting module is Five Star.

◉ OrganicGroups

The OrganicGroups module also enhances interactivity, being designed to provide a mechanism for users to create and manage their own groups. Each group has its own home page where group members can communicate with each other and exchange information. Groups can be invitation-only, selective - where new applications for membership must be approved - or open to all.

◉ Simplenews

One of the most effective ways to keep a web site's visitors in touch with news and developments is through email newsletters. The Simplenews module publishes and distributes such newsletters, to both registered and anonymous users. Multilingual text is supported, and HTML email can also be supported through the addition of the Mime Mail Module. A number of supplementary modules are available to increase the functionality of Simplenews, including Templates, Roles, Digest and Scheduler.

◉ Case Tracker

The Case Tracker module is an issue tracking system similar to those used in many call centers and help desks. It enables support teams to track outstanding cases, report solutions and issue progress notifications. The module makes use of regular Drupal comments and can be integrated with other modules such as Views, Mailhandler, CCK and Organic Groups.


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