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Choosing a hosting provider

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The following questions represent the most important elements to consider when selecting a Web Hosting provider. Since your site is a direct reflection of your organization, finding a company that meets your needs and offers a superior hosting environment is critical.

1. What speed of access does the server farm have?

Having high speed access is obviously key to having a responsive Web site. The provider should offer a minimum of an OC-3 (155 Mbps) connectivity with sufficient bandwidth available for each client being hosted. This bandwidth should also preferably be connected to a high speed Internet backbone.

2. Does the server farm have redundant Internet connections?

This is essential for providing uninterrupted service. With only one connection point, if the Internet line goes down, then all Web service is interrupted.  Currently our connectivity is through Genuity & BBNPlanet, with future installations scheduled for AT&T & NetAxs, and UUNET.

3. How much control do I have over the Web site?

Can you make changes anytime you want? Do these changes need to be audited? Can you name the site with your own domain name? Can you place custom CGI scripts on the server? Your Web site is a direct reflection of your company. As such, you want to have sufficient control of the site to portray your company's image.

4. How is server security maintained?

Maintaining the integrity of your site is nearly as important as maintaining the availability of it. Having your server "hacked" into is not a trivial occurrence. Make sure that your provider has taken the necessary steps to secure your Web site. Physical security of the server, partitioning of users on shared servers, ability to encrypt user access, and the software security of the server must all be carefully set up to prevent unauthorized access.

5. How scalable is the service?

The best thing that can happen is that your Web site is tremendously popular. But if this happens, can the Web hosting provider meet the demand? Any Web hosting provider needs to be able to easily add bandwidth and processing power to meet any level of demand. They also should monitor both the servers and the Internet connections so that any traffic or congestion problems are fixed well before the client knows about it.

6. Is the server information backed up to tape regularly?

Since the information on the Web server is changing all the time, the hosting service needs to do daily backups of the information you are hosting. Preferably, they should also periodically take a dump tape off site. This is done in case some disaster precludes loading from the regular dump tape.

7. Are server support, server monitoring and server availability all covered by a 24x7 service policy?

The World Wide Web has no down time. You need your server to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In the event of problems, you need to have a real person available to take your phone call. It is also preferable that the hosting service provide for automatic monitoring of your Web site. This way, if there is a problem with the site they will know about it immediately.

8. Are high performance Web servers used?

Although it is not recommended, a Web site can be hosted on a standard desktop machine configuration. However, this machine will not be able to support very robust access. The Web servers should have fast CPUs, a lot of memory, and high speed disk drives.

9. Is there a secure transaction hosting option?

Even if you are not engaging in transactions over the Internet today, you might be tomorrow. Your provider should have an option to have either SSL or PCT encryption set up on your Web site. These encryption protocols allow you to securely get information from your Web site visitors (such as credit card information). Your provider should also make provisions for getting the sensitive information from the Web server to your office location in a secure manner.

10. How much Internet experience does the provider have?

Although this seems like an obvious question, you would be amazed at how many companies have less than 6 months of experience in Internet services. Experience does count, and is very important when selecting a Web hosting provider.

11. How knowledgeable are the sales and support staff?

Again, this may seem like an obvious question, but actually is an important point to consider. When you are talking to a potential provider, ask some Internet questions and make sure you are happy with the answers. Also, be sure to call the technical support line. Since these are the people you will be dealing with, you should feel comfortable with them. Finally, check out the Web support pages. The FAQs and other documents will most likely be your main resource for answering questions.

12. Does the provider supply monthly traffic reports?

The primary reason to put up a Web site is to attract visitors. Monthly traffic reports supply you with the feedback you need to make sure your site is doing everything it should be.

13. Does the provider have a good client base?

Look at the customer list of your provider. Are they good customers? Are their Web sites easy to get to?

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