Wednesday, 25 October 2017

What is Managed Hosting? 


When I first heard about managed hosting, I thought it was more or less the same thing as dedicated hosting. In both forms of hosting, you have a server with your web host that is completely dedicated to your web site. Keep reading to find out why that’s almost the only thing they have in common.
Dedicated hosting has long been an option for companies whose web presence is such that they can’t put their web site on a shared hosting plan without someone taking a big hit. Maybe their web site is really huge, with lots of interactive elements; or perhaps they get a lot of traffic, especially ecommerce. There might be any number of reasons a company needs a dedicated server.

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While a dedicated server can provide a growing company with the space, bandwidth, and reliability it needs, there is a potential downside (other than cost). With most dedicated hosting plans, the server is effectively yours – which means you handle most of the server administration tasks. For those who are technically knowledgeable (or willing and able to become so), this might not seem like a large hurdle. But the fact of the matter is that the skills required to create and run a successful online business are not the same as those required to be a decent server administrator.

Managed hosting sprang up as an additional option for companies with a strong enough online presence to require a dedicated server. With managed hosting, most of the server administration is handled by the web host rather than the company that owns the dedicated server. The service has been described as “a glorified dedicated server armed with extended features and support.” As with a dedicated server, you get your choice of operating system, routing equipment, network connectivity and complete administrative control. But a web host that offers the option of managed hosting also takes care of much more than that for its customers.


What is Managed Hosting? - Taking Care of the Details


So what kinds of administrative tasks do web hosts that offer managed hosting take care of for their customers? The list is almost endless. Reporting and monitoring is one obvious item. Load balancing is another, and is very important for any business with enough traffic to require a dedicated server in the first place. The web host may also offer to manage your server’s security, storage, and databases. Application management may be another useful service offered by the web host.

This might not sound like a lot, but think about what’s involved. Looking just at security and application management, a good web host who offers this service will handle the provisioning, testing, and deployment of security patches and upgrades, among other tasks. Managing the storage means more than just keeping up with the backups; it also means making sure your site’s content is stored in such a way that its performance meets your (and your visitors’) expectations.

A web host offering managed web hosting won’t necessarily handle everything, however. Some companies that offer this service will let you pick and choose which tasks you want the web host to manage, and which ones you will handle yourself. Working out an a la carte managed hosting situation can be a good compromise between the complete server control you would have with barebones dedicated hosting and handing over full control to the web host.

Depending on the host, you may also have the option of choosing a pre-configured managed hosting plan. You might find that this option works out better for your budget. A web host might offer several managed hosting plans with different levels of services. Either way, a web host that offers managed hosting should be willing to go well out of its way to make sure the configuration and service meets all your needs.

After all, you may have needs of which you’re not fully aware – or, if you’re doing business in certain industries, you may be far too aware of these needs. I’m talking about new government regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. If you’re a corporation or a healthcare provider subject to these regulations, then you already know how much of a struggle it can be to keep up with the strict standards they call for in the areas of record keeping, financial reporting, and privacy. A web host that offers a managed hosting service may be able to help you with this challenge.


What is Managed Hosting? - What to Look For


Obviously, if you have the kinds of concerns I discussed in the last paragraph of the previous section, you will want to make sure that any web host that handles your managed hosting is familiar with the relevant regulations. But let’s put that issue aside for the moment. Regardless of your specific situation, if you need managed web hosting, there are certain things you should look for in a web host. Use these points to compare web hosts, and help you decide which company has earned your business.

The first point to consider is the speed and reliability of the web host’s customer support. As a preliminary test, try sending an email to the web host before you sign up. If you get a fast, helpful response, that’s a good sign. Most web hosts who offer managed hosting will assign you to a specific representative to take care of all your needs; he or she should be responsible for only a handful of clients, so that each one receives a high level of service. Ideally, this person will be your contact during all normal business hours for both sales-related requests and technical support; with a really top-notch web host, you’ll also have a second contact person for all other times.

The second thing you should find out is the web host’s flexibility. Remember, you’re not there for the web host’s convenience; quite the opposite. Therefore, if you want to open a managed hosting account with a web host, the host should be willing to let you pick and choose from a wide range of services, and not force anything on you that you do not want or need. That flexibility should also cover how you pay for your web hosting; you might find it much more affordable to pay on a monthly plan rather than be tied into a yearly contract. A good managed web host should offer this option.

The third point almost goes without saying, since it’s the whole reason you’re looking for a web host: connection to the Internet. Your web host’s connection should be fast and reliable, and should ideally be backed up with an alternative connection in case the first one fails. You should be able to get information about your prospective web host’s Internet connection on the company’s web site, or if not, ask directly. It’s also a good idea to find out where the web host’s network operations center (NOC) is located. The United States is known for having the fastest and most reliable Internet connections in the world, so having a NOC in the US is a definite plus.


What is Managed Hosting? - Accept No Substitutes


Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts here; nothing will substitute for actually doing the research on web hosts and the managed hosting options they offer. There really isn’t an “industry standard” package, price, or service level as far as managed hosting accounts; this makes a certain amount of sense, since many businesses require a custom configuration to fit their needs.

Likewise, there are certain things a really good managed web host will offer that simply can’t be substituted. Perhaps the key word here is “quality.” For example, a good managed host’s hardware will be top of the line, and backed by warranties and on-site service contracts. The software should also be the best in the field, and actively maintained.

The technical resources tell only half the story, though. A good managed web host’s greatest asset is its human resources. Remember, these people will be dealing with your equipment, and the lifeblood of your business (your web presence), much more often than they would be if you held a shared hosting account with the same company. For the technical people, find out whether they are certified, and if so, on what operating systems, applications, and hardware. For sales and customer support personnel, ask how many years of experience they have in the field and specifically in the web hosting industry.

Keep in mind that you’re putting a huge chunk of your business in the hands of this company. You need to be comfortable with the quality of hardware, software, and above all, people, who will be handling this trust. Can they provide you with the high level of efficiency you have every right to expect from them? If you can answer that question affirmatively, you have found the managed web host you need.

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