How to Choose Web Hosting Service

Web hosting is an information technology service which allows a website to be accessible on the internet.  Web hosting service nowadays comes with many additional features e.g. emails, web application support.  There are thousands of web hosting companies in the world.  It can be a daunting exercise to choose the right one.  This article aims to provide a simple guide to choose web hosting service.

First of all, you must understand how web hosting works.  In simple terms, web hosting works by storing your website on a web server.  The web server is connected to the internet 24 x 7.  When a user connects to your website with his / her browser through the internet, the web server would answer the user request and provide the relevant web page to the user.  Additional services e.g. emails are also provided by the software on the web server.

General Considerations
A web server is just a computer connected to the internet, running software which provides web hosting and other services.  It is important for this computer and its internet connection to be extremely reliable.  Therefore, you must check that the web hosting company uses top class hardware / servers.  You must also check that the servers are located in a safe location with stable internet connection.  The best choice of a safe location is a professional data centre.

A data centre is a place where hundreds or even thousands of servers are stored.  It boosts an array of support facilities to ensure the smooth running of servers and internet connection.  Such facilities include direct connection to the internet backbone, advanced networking equipment, system monitoring, air conditioning, backup electricity power, fire fighting system, security control, water leakage control etc.  You must make sure the web hosting company uses a reputable data centre.  Ideally, the data centre should possess international certification (e.g. ISO certificates) so that its management is verified by an independent third party.

You should always choose a web hosting service located in your local market.  It allows you and your target customers to receive the fastest possible service.  It is important to search engine ranking of your website as well.  A search engine would generally give a higher ranking to websites in the local market.  For example, a website for Hong Kong market should not be hosted in the United States or Europe.

The guarantees of the web hosting service are important too.  The majority of web hosting companies offer uptime guarantee and refund guarantee.  You must always read the Terms of Service in detail so that you fully understand the guarantees and any hidden costs.  For your website security, you should always use a web hosting service with RAID real time backup, daily backup, anti-virus and spam filtering.  You also want to be able to manage your web hosting account easily.  Web hosting service which provides cPanel or Plesk control panels are generally simple to use. You can also try their demos on cPanel and Plesk company websites too.

Web Hosting Needs
The next key issue you need to identity is your web hosting needs.

Most organizations only need website and email services.  In the information economy, it is necessary for businesses to run company website and use company emails.  This gives a professional corporate image to customers and is highly important to a company’s success.  You must ensure there are sufficient storage space for your website, files, emails and databases (if any).  It is important that your company website can always be accessed and you never miss any emails.  Therefore, you must also ensure that there are sufficient bandwidth for your data traffic.  Data traffic refers to the web pages, files and emails transferred in and out of your web hosting account.  It is best for you to find a web hosting service which offers unlimited bandwidth.

You must check that the web hosting service offers sufficient number of email accounts for your organization.  Even for a small private company, it would need a web hosting package which offers over 10 email addresses.  For example, you would need an email address for each of your company owners, directors and staff.  You would also need group email address for the board of directors and each of the departments.  A group email address can be configured to send emails to all the members in the group e.g. all staff in a department.  Of course, you would need a number of email addresses for external communications and customer contact.

If you need to run web applications, please make sure that the web hosting service supports the programming language and software you use.

If you are using PHP, please make sure that your application is written in the latest PHP version (PHP5 at the time of writing).  Using an old PHP version e.g. PHP4 poses a security risk.  It is because old PHP version is not supported by PHP developers anymore.  Even if a security problem is found, it will not be fixed and hence allows malicious users to abuse your website or application.

Almost all common web applications use the MySQL database, you must check if the web hosting service supports MySQL so that you can run your applications.  You should find a web hosting service which gives you at least 2 MySQL databases, one for normal live operation and the other for development and testing.  It is always risky to perform updates on live systems without proper testing.

Unless you need to run ASP / ASP.NET, you should always choose web hosting service which uses the Linux operating system for better stability.

If you are running a website which collects personal information, conducts e-commerce or operating an online shop, you must make sure that the web hosting service supports SSL Certificate.  The main function of a SSL certificate is to encrypt the data transferred between the users’ browsers and the website.  SSL certificate encryption helps to protect users’ private information during data transfer.  Failure to provide sufficient protection to your website users data may also violate privacy laws in your region.

Summary
In summary, you should consider the following points when choosing a web hosting service:

  • Reliable hardware, servers and reputable data centre
  • Choose a web hosting service located at your local market
  • Understand the details of the guarantees
  • Always read the Terms of Service in detail
  • Use a web hosting service with RAID real time backup, daily backup, anti-virus and spam filtering
  • Choose a web hosting service which offers cPanel or Plesk
  • Understand your specific needs
  • Sufficient storage space for website, files, emails and databases
  • Sufficient bandwidth, ideally unlimited bandwidth
  • Sufficient number of email accounts
  • Offers the programming language and software to support your web applications
  • Supports SSL certificate for website which handles personal, payment and other private / confidential information

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