Are you interested in outsourcing your web hosting services? Do you require a dedicated server? If the answer is “YES” to both of these questions, you may want to consider a managed hosting provider.
In a managed hosting environment, the hosting provider owns and is responsible for the data center, network, devices, operating system and application infrastructure components. The customer generally manages the applications infrastructure and maintains full control over the business process.
Whether you are looking for your first managed hosting provider or switching from an existing provider, making the selection can be an overwhelming task. Each organization has unique requirements and the best provider for one may not be good for another.
Once you have taken the plunge and selected a provider, it can be very difficult to back out or make yet another change. This is why it is so important to make the selection carefully. Of course, it never hurts to ask friends and colleagues for recommendations, but this should only be a starting point.
Below are some things to consider when making your decision.
Scope of Services
To start, you should determine exactly which services you need and whether each managed hosting provider can support them. Some providers may offer a variety of plans ranging from partial managed hosting to full managed hosting. It just depends on how much support you require and how much you are willing to pay.
Here are some standard services to consider:
- Management of Windows or Linux environment
- Application of security patches and upgrades
- Management of the platform: hardware, networks, operating System, storage, database, domain name system, firewall, etc.
- Clusters, redundancy and load balancers
Here are some additional services you might need:
- Application support
- Website security
- Migration from the existing site (if applicable)
Response time and problem resolution are critical to any hosting service. You will want to review the capabilities of your prospective managed hosting provider to identify whether their service level is adequate to meet your needs. This is one area where you get what you pay for. Small, less expensive providers may not have the resources to provide expert assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Below are few questions to ask:
- Are they available by phone, e-mail, chat, etc.?
- Do they provide 24 hour support?
- What is the average response time during the day, at night and on weekends?
- How long does it typically take to resolve problems? Are expert resources available in the off hours to resolve difficult problems quickly?
You may even want to call the provider in the middle of the night to see how long it takes to get a response.
You should determine the level of uptime that your business requires. Of course, everyone wants 100% uptime, but higher service levels may cost more. In particular, consider the cost of downtime to your organization. Are you a retailer who will lose thousands of dollars per hour if your site is down during the holiday season?
No managed hosting provider can provide 100% uptime and you should be skeptical of any that claim that they do. Ask the hosting provider what their average uptime is and if they guarantee an uptime service level. If they cannot meet the guaranteed service level, how will you be compensated?
Fortunately, most managed hosting providers maintain well over 99% uptime. Netcraft tracks the performance of many providers and you may find the information at their site helpful: Netcraft.
Scalability and Traffic Spikes
The ability of your site to handle spikes in activity is dependent not only on the managed host provider, but also on how well your website is programmed.
Clearly, you should provide prospective managed hosting providers not only your average traffic levels, but also your peak levels. Ask them if they can accommodate the peak levels. If traffic spikes can be anticipated, how much lead time do they require in order to prepare?
Ask the provider how many visitors per month they currently handle. How many websites are they hosting? How many visitors does the average site have? This should give you a good idea if they can handle the size of your business.
Applications & Languages
Make sure that the provider can support the applications and languages you intend to use. These might include:
- WordPress, Drupal, Joomla
- Windows Server, Linux
- PHP, .NET, Python, Ruby
It’s important to not only make sure they can accommodate the applications and languages that you use, but also the particular versions you are using. Ask if their other customers are already using these same versions.
If your developers will need full server control, be sure that the managed host provider offers it. For example, some developers need Secure Shell Support (SSH) access to customize their environments. These are all details that you want to specify upfront to avoid nasty surprises late in the process.
In the end, the provider and plan that you select will represent a compromise between the service levels that you desire and the amount you are willing to spend.
Be sure that you understand exactly how much each plan costs. Which costs are part of the standard plan and which are a la carte? How much bandwidth is included? How much storage is included? How many domains can you host without additional charges?
Most hosting problems can be avoided by conducting a thorough review BEFORE selecting the provider. If you do your homework and are clear about your requirements, you should have no problem finding a good managed host provider that meets your needs. Good Luck!