Welcome to the second part of our “digging deeper” alternative guide to choosing a dedicated server provider. This week, the focus is on the way in which a hosting service is delivered — where a provider can really add value. If you missed the first part, you can catch up here.
The Differentiation: Who and How
Increasingly, technical specification and pricing carries less significance when directly comparing hosting providers, if only for the fact that technology moves quickly and the same high performance hardware is
available to any provider if they wish to offer it. The key differentiation, and one which is often overlooked, is the way in which the service is delivered. Without effective customer service and an appropriate supporting technical infrastructure in place, a highly specified server will not deliver a great experience to your visitors, customers or users.
3. Customer support
- How easy is it to contact the company and get technical support if you need to? Ensure that you can contact the company by telephone and find out where the support operation is based. For example, if you are a UK based company, a UK based support team is likely to be more efficient. Are support calls provided via standard rate lines, or is access via premium rate telephone numbers?
- What kind of support is included as standard? If you need ongoing assistance with looking after your server, is a pro-active, hands-on level of managed support available? How much will this cost and what kinds of tasks are taken care of for you? A managed service will typically address areas such as backups, server monitoring, and maintaining server security.
- Backups: are backups of your data included, or do you have to pay extra? Where are the backups stored and who is responsible for managing them?
- Find out from existing customers about the support reputation of a provider – look for testimonials and case studies to get a feel for the way in which a company works with its customers. Check for other ways in which the company communicates with its customers, such as a Twitter feed or blog.
- Put them to the test! You can get a good feel for the standard of a company’s customer service by assessing their pre-sales performance. How promptly are your enquiries dealt with? If your questions are answered quickly and courteously, it’s a good indication that a company is switched on to good customer service. If you’re left waiting for a reply before you’ve even ordered, the chances are that you’ll suffer from the same frustrating delays if you need help with a problem. Quiz them on your technical requirement and find out how they would deal with any requests that you’ve had in the past such as Apache config tweaks, PHP extension installations and so on.
4. Wider customer experience and industry
- It’s not just about technical support in the event of a problem – what additional value could the provider bring to your business beyond the basics? For example, does the company have the expertise to help your business to choose the best solutions for you now and in the future? Look for demonstrable experience across a range of industries in the form of customer case studies, and evidence of a good understanding of your industry sector and business needs. Remember that a good hosting partner is more than a hardware rental service; use their advice and expertise to improve your business and the experience of your customers.
- If you are planning on migrating from another host, how can the new provider assist? Ask about the migration process, associated costs, and how it is managed to ensure a smooth transition without downtime and disruption for your customers.
- A customer-orientated organisation will place as much emphasis on its customers as it does on the services that it provides. Look for a commitment to assured levels of service in the form of Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and measurable customer service pledges.
5. The hosting environment
- What is the nature of the physical infrastructure that is used to deliver the service? Check that the hosting operation is based in a commercial datacentre. A purpose built facility will help to ensure a high level of service reliability with features such as resilient power, high capacity, secure networks and environment conditioning for optimal server performance. Find out what measures are in place to
maximise the uptime of your server.
Continue to Part Three, where we consider the hosting “neighbourhood” and the important question of price (not forgetting value and cost).