Posted on September 5, 2016
Sadly, even the very best websites can be let down by poor hosting. The differences between hosting platforms are not always obvious or clear cut at the time you’re shopping around, and it’s all too easy to discover too late that you’ve blindly signed up to one that isn’t going to meet your website’s essential needs.
It’s vital for every website to have the right ‘fit’ of hosting to keep things running smoothly. This is particularly true for Financial Services sites thanks to the sensitive nature of your website’s content and the regularity and speed with which people need to access it. Without the right hosting, you could end up causing frustration and loss of business at best, and even loss or corruption of sensitive data at worst.
It’s not always a cause of ‘more is better’, either. Paying for more than you need could end up eating into a budget that would be far better spent on other things.
So how do you choose wisely? Weighing up cost, reliability, flexibility, scalability and speed will help you identify what’s going to help and what’s going to hinder, but here are some additional factors to consider.
The right infrastructure
‘Shared’ hosting means that your website will sit on a single server along with many other websites, all sharing hardware, software and an IP address.
This is by far the most affordable type of hosting and is offered by a large number of different companies on the market. Each usually advertises different, fixed packages of hosting that vary in terms of webspace and bandwidth.
With shared hosting, you don’t get as much control over the inner workings of the hosting environment as you would with Virtual or Dedicated services and this, unsurprisingly, does mean some limitations. However, if your website is merely a brochure site for your company and you’re on a tight budget, you’ll still likely find this type of hosting perfectly adequate for everything you need.
To make a good choice, you need to be confident that the package you choose will meet your needs over the longer term. It’s worth thinking through what will happen if your website suddenly experiences a surge in traffic or bandwidth and whether or not this is likely, as it could mean lengthy site downtimes and/or additional costs.
This sits somewhere between Shared and Dedicated hosting, in terms of the service it provides. In this scenario, a server will be split into several ‘virtual servers’ and your website will sit within its own virtual server.
You’ll gain access to the kind of control that you’d expect with a dedicated server, i.e. being able to access the root folders and changing the way that the environment operates. It’s perfect if you need something more powerful than shared hosting, have a bit more to spend, and if you want to have more control over the way your hosting is configured.
As the name suggests, this type of hosting involves running a server exclusively for you and no one else. This option gives you complete control and resources all dedicated to your website.
However, the freedom and flexibility of having your server comes with a rather higher price tag and can require in-depth expertise to setup and manage. Therefore it is only really suited to bigger companies with the technical resources and money to spare.
It is also worth noting that if you go for this option, then choose a dedicated server that meets your future requirements. Upgrading your dedicated server can be more complex and costly than upgrading a shared, virtual or cloud hosting environment.
Cloud hosting services are significantly different from our previous examples. Instead of using a single shared or dedicated server, it draws on multiple, physical servers over a huge network, promising much greater reliability and flexibility of use. Your website effectively gets allocated a small amount of resources from many servers.
Cloud hosting is frequently based on a ‘pay what you use’ arrangement with the cost directly determined by the demands of your website. This means you’ll pay for spikes in traffic and bandwidth, but save when demand is lower, much like paying for electricity or gas.
The most popular cloud platforms are Amazon and Windows Azure. Cloud hosting is becoming increasingly popular, mainly due to its flexibility and ease of upgrade. However if your website stores data, be sure that your cloud services are based exclusively within the EU to reduce any data protection issues.
The right ‘extras’
Regardless of the type of hosting you choose, many providers will offer ‘Managed’ services. Here the hosting provider manages aspects of your hosting including setup, maintenance, backups and upgrades. If you have limited technical resources, this is an option well-worth considering.
If your website will be used to access or transfer sensitive information about your products or your clients, particularly payment information, it’s highly recommended that you purchase and install an SSL certificate as part of your hosting package. This will allow you to protect information submitted to your website via encryption and give your site the authentication it needs to reassure users that their data is safe. It’s an additional cost, but not one you can afford to scrimp on.
A backup feature can be a life-saver, especially if your website is always changing and you don’t have the time or technical know-how to do manual backups. Automatic backups are a common feature of shared hosting, but if being able to reinstate an old copy of your website is important to you, then it’s definitely worth double-checking.
Many hosting providers offer load balancing services. This is ideal if you expect a high level of traffic. Your website will be copied across multiple hosting environments. Visitors to your website are then routed automatically to the environment which has the most capacity at that time. This improves website responsiveness and makes your website less vulnerable to spikes in traffic.
There is no single ‘best’ hosting solution and how well a hosting service will perform for you is entirely dependent on your website and the needs of your clients. Before you rush into any hosting contract, it’s essential to think carefully about how your site needs to perform, the demands it will have placed on it, how much flexibility and scalability you need, and the likely consequences if you hit problems with reliability.
By prioritising what’s most important, working out a sensible budget and doing your research, you should be able to find a hosting plan that’s a good fit for you. And remember, although purchasing inadequate hosting could leave your website in trouble, you also don’t gain anything but a hole in your budget if you overspend and sign up to more than you need.
Take your time, be sure what you’re getting for your money, and if you’re not sure, now’s the time to ask questions and seek some advice.