Level 6, 122 Walker Street, North Sydney 2060  |  (02) 9993 3300  |
Posted 22nd June 2015 by Lawrence McCrossen

We are often asked to provide a hosting solution along with the development and ongoing support of a website. There are normally two reasons why clients ask this:

  1. There are a bewildering array of options, so unless their organisation insists on specific hosting providers it is difficult to know how to choose, and what represents value for money
  2. The client wants us to be a one-stop-shop and not have to work with a website developer as well as a hosting provider

At The Bridge we work with a small number of different hosting providers depending on a number of factors:

  • Technology specialisation
  • Cost
  • Scalability
  • SLA’s available 
  • Security and Backups
  • Value-add tools available
  • Onshore or Offshore

Hosting

1   Technology Specialisation

Typically this is based on either Windows or Linux, although other software such as database products are relevant here. Of course a number of hosting providers provide many technologies, but often one or other is dominant at any given hosting provider. .NET-based websites will require Windows Server to operate, while PHP-based websites may run on either Windows or Linux (though are arguably better suited to Linux).  

2   Cost

Reasonable quality hosting services are available at very low prices these days, although there are number of things that need to be considered:

  • Does the cost include all the components of hosting eg/ servers (shared or single), data in and out, databases?
  • Is there an SLA associated with the service (see below)?
  • What kind of on-call service is provided?

One thing to remember is that the difference between two hosting provider or plans may be significant in terms of service quality, but the difference in cost, while large in percentage terms may be insignificant in the big picture. The consulting costs to fix problems or loss of business for just one outage will dwarf the hosting costs for many months or even years.

It is worth noting also that due to software licensing costs, Windows-based hosting will generally be more expensive than Linux-based offerings. Microsoft SQL Server will also generally be more expensive than MySQL-based services.

3   Shared vs Dedicated Hosting

Most average websites can be operated on shared hosting platforms, where a hosting provider will house multiple client websites on the same server infrastructure. Low-to-medium traffic websites without a lot of resource requirements or those without high security requirements are prime candidates for this type of hosting. Shared hosting offerings by respected providers are generally very reliable and offer no great drawbacks for the majority of websites. 

For more complex, high data, high-traffic or data-sensitive websites however, dedicated hosting may be a preferred option. In this case, clients will generally rent a Virtual Private Server (VPS) that is dedicated to running their website(s). This has the advantage of more environmental control and a potentially wider range of technologies able to be used. VPS hosting is often considered to be more secure than shared hosting.

Dedicated hosting will always be more expensive than a shared option, however economies of scale emerge when reaching high data and traffic volumes, as well as giving you the ability to run multiple websites from your VPS. Dedicated hosting will also require greater amounts of support and management.

4   Scalability

Scalability takes two forms – volume and location.

For global sites for which you to need to ensure high performance across multiple regions, a Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a good solution. 

For large volumes of data such as in video sharing sites, the cost of storage may be a significant factor for the client’s business, and so hosting providers with different types of storage will have an edge here. Indeed a true Cloud service such as Amazon uses the concept of a type of service rather than an individual server (either virtual or physical) – hence all you need to specify is resource you want rather than have to specify a server configuration.

It is also worth considering whether you expect a generally fixed and predictable amount of traffic per month or whether your website will be prone to high usage spikes eg. The ATO website at tax time or a sports club website during the on-season. Services such as Microsoft Azure and AWS allow easy addition of server resources during these high usage periods, paying only for what you use.

5   SLA’s Available

Not surprisingly low cost hosting providers often don’t have SLA’s. That’s not say that they are unreliable, but just that there is offer made on behalf of the hosting provider to compensate for downtime or reduced performance. 

If you need to have a tight SLA with relevant compensation clauses this is likely to cost significantly more that standard hosting, and many providers simply won’t be able to accommodate it. 

6   Security and Backups

It is sometimes thought that dedicated hosting is more secure than a shared server hosting plan. This is not necessarily so. What matters for security is that the hosting environment is configured in a secure way and that security patches for both the operating system and the CMS are kept up-to-date. Normally the hosting provider takes care of the operating system and we at The Bridge look after the CMS and related web components.

Where a dedicated server does differ in terms of security is in regards to not having other websites beyond your control operating on the same infrastructure. If the shared hosting for one particular website is breached on a shared hosting platform, the other websites on the same system may be compromised.

Not all providers offer a backup option at all, and if they do you need to understand what the backup means – file copy of the site, ‘hot’ standby etc. Some kind of file copy to an alternative location is essential as a minimum. 

Even if a hosting provider has very high levels of server redundancy there is still a possibility that the site software or data gets removed or corrupted. 

We recommend taking your own backups separate from the hosting provider’s environment, as there has been cases where hosting providers have had their backup servers compromised and customer backups deleted.

7   Value-add Tools Available

You or your web developer may need additional tools from time to time, and it’s going to be easier if you know up-front that your hosting provider approves the use of these tools, or even better supplies them. These tools can vary from management software such as WHM/CPanel or Plesk to video conversion services such as Amazon’s Elastic Transcoder.

8   Onshore or Offshore

Increasingly this is becoming less important as Cloud computing has grown in popularity and acceptance. However for some clients, particularly Government with highly sensitive data there are hosting providers that guarantee that data is physically hosted in Australia. This is of course difficult to verify in practice. 

The good news is that it’s not necessarily much more expensive than overseas hosting.

It pays to think about hosting early on....

When we speak to clients at the beginning of a website development project, the hosting solution is often left until later. To some extent this is reasonable as the hosting will depend on the final form of the site. However it is important to understand the options and costs involved, particularly for high volume, fast performance such as video sharing, with a global reach.

If you'd like to discuss your website design and development options with The Bridge at no cost or obligation, feel free to call Lawrence on 02 9993 3300 or email lawrence@thebridgedigital.com.au