by Paul Rudo on 15/11/10 at 6:23 am
Managed hosting can be a significant investment. (Especially for smaller businesses)
Although the monthly costs might not be that high, the potential opportunity costs, liability and ownership costs can vary a lot depending on the quality of provider that you’ve selected. (And you should also take your own time and potential frustration into consideration.)
That’s why you’ve got to do your homework beforehand, and make sure that you pick the right web hosting provider the first time. Here are a few tips that will help you avoid many of the pitfalls associated with picking a poorly-suited managed hosting provider.
- Don’t get locked in. Before you enter into any agreement, make a plan that will allow you to get out if you aren’t happy. This not only means checking the fine print of the contract for an exit clause, but it also means having a detailed technical plan to make the switching process fast and painless.
- Know what services you need. “Managed services” means different things for different people, and each company has its own needs. Make a list of what aspects of your hosting you’d like the provider to handle on your behalf. This can include error notifications, server patches, traffic reporting, repairs, intrusion prevention and security, load monitoring and balancing, etc…
- Make multiple checklists. When you’ve decided which services you’d like your host to provide, you’ll notice that some of them are very frequent (like backup), while others are only occasional (like hardware upgrades or reboots). Instead of paying for everything at once, see if you can save money by requesting a minimum package, and purchasing the other services on an “as-needed” basis.
- Don’t run out of bits. What happens when you run out of bandwidth? Some web hosts will take your server off-line, causing a lot of public embarrassment during a busy time.
- Know your traffic. Make sure that you understand your past, present and future bandwidth requirements in order to ensure that you can buy more than you need to handle unexpected periodic spikes. Otherwise, you might get stuck paying exorbitant overage fees. And ensure that your contract is flexible enough to be modified around changing future needs.
- Don’t rock the boat. When it comes to web hosting, I’d strongly recommend working with Linux over Windows. (Unless there’s a special reason you need to use Windows) Not only is it free, but there are also more free scripts and applications available for Linux web servers. And the hosting company’s staff will have more training and experience in dealing with issues relating to Linux web servers.
- Hold someone accountable. Nothing is worse than swimming through red-tape, and getting bounced around between 15 different departments without ever getting your problem solved. Bureaucracy is an internal business problem that you – as the customer – should never have to deal with. Instead, you should ask about having a dedicated rep assigned to you, who can get all of your requests fulfilled quickly, easily, and from a single source. (And if anything goes wrong, you have someone to blame.)
- Get the support schedule. Different companies offer different hours for support. Some offer overnight email support, some offer 24/7 chat support, and others offer 24 hour live phone support. This is a small detail that often gets overlooked, but becomes incredibly important in an emergency. Also, multilingual providers might only offer support in your native language during certain hours, even though they offer 24/7 support in English. Make sure you ask.
- Ask about support levels. When talking about support, you need to understand that there are tiers of expertise. The front-line support staff might be poorly-trained, high-turnover, low salary employees who can do little more than answer common questions from a list. These are the ones you will typically find available on a 24/7 schedule. But if you need to have a case escalated to a more senior expert, they might have to wait 24 hours or more before being served.
- What’s their backup plan? Some companies will continuously replicate servers to another building for rapid failover if the primary systems fail, but others simply do a weekly backup so that they can restore. The difference in recovery time and data loss offered by these 2 approaches needs to be considered before signing up. Also, disaster recovery is more than just data protection. You need to ensure that the hosting facility has proper physical security, fire protection, electric generators and redundant network connectivity in place.