Yes, it’s another of those “how to choose your host” articles (the sighs are almost audible…) but please do read on, because we’ve approached this important question from a different angle. In the guide that follows, we’ll look less at the often discussed hardware and technology perspective, and focus instead on the questions that you really should be asking your prospective server host.
When entrusting this part of your business to a provider, there are two broad areas for consideration. First and most obviously, can the technical specification of your requirement be fulfilled? Second – and this is where due diligence really pays off – how is the service delivered?
The Basics: Meeting Your Technical Requirements
The most straightforward part of the selection process is to establish a shortlist of providers that offer the services to meet your basic requirements, so we’ll cover this first. It could be as simple as ticking boxes against the suitability of hardware to effectively support your planned activity, but it is also important to ensure that you will have the freedom and tools to work as you wish.
1. Meeting your requirement now…
- Key resources: can the provider offer servers with the appropriate processor power, memory and disk space that you need to deliver a superior experience for your website visitors and online application users?
- RAID storage: which options are available to help increase the resilience of your server and protect your data? Is the RAID configuration flexible, and is it hardware or software based?
- Backups: are backups of your data included, or do you have to pay extra? Where are the backups stored (ideally at a second location) and who is responsible for managing them?
- Branded, specialised hardware: does the provider use servers and components sourced from respected brands that are developed specifically for deployment in data centres? Make sure your server isn’t simply a PC base pseudo-server or cheaply produced appliance.
- Bandwidth allowance: make sure your package includes enough traffic or bandwidth to support your activities and visitor volumes. It is now common for service providers to offer unlimited bandwidth – make sure you understand any attached Acceptable Usage Policies (AUP). Responsible commercial-standard hosting providers are likely to have an AUP in place to guard against network abuse, and to protect the service performance of legitimate customers. Be wary of offers that invite an unrestricted “free-for-all” policy – bandwidth has a significant cost to a hosting provider, and this may be an indication of a compromise in quality elsewhere.
- What kind of flexibility are you and your team given? For example, if you need to carry out extensive under-the-hood configuration, ensure that you are granted root access, and find out whether you are restricted in terms of the software and applications that you can install.
2. Meeting your requirement in the future…
- Establish your upgrade path: find out if the provider can accommodate your future growth by asking about upgrade paths and wider service options, and bear in mind that your requirements may grow and change over time. For example, can the provider go beyond the provision of basic server hosting, and help with more advanced clustering and load balancing configurations? What about virtualisation or networked storage?
In the next part, we’ll get to the real meat of the process: choosing a server provider based on the value that they add through service delivery.