Mar 03, 2011

The Right Fit – Web Hosting Options

No matter your technical aptitude, getting your hands around all the host management options available can be a daunting task.  The process is downright difficult, so finding a web services partner you trust that can hold your hand every step of the way is critical.

Complicated

At Five Technology, over 300 clients rely on us to help make this important decision for them.  The more complex your site, the more investment you’ll be required to make in your web hosting solution.  If you are fortunate enough to require hosting beyond the basic shared environment, the information below will give you an overview of what you may be in for.

Based on the answers to a few basic questions (Bandwidth, Memory, Processing, Disk Space, Server Administration, Dedicated, Hardware or Virtual, Redundancy, Failover, etc.), the following list of “packaged” hosting solutions is where we like to start with our clients.  You’ll notice that the further you get down the list, the more complex the solution.

Shared Basic. The Shared Basic hosting option will put your site on a server whose resources are shared by several other websites.  This hosting solution is ideal for websites that don’t see a lot of traffic, uptime is less critical, limited to basic content management, and are on a limited budget.  I would guesstimate that 95% of sites on the Internet can be found in a situation similar to this one.

Advantages:  Cost

Disadvantages:  Performance, Reliability


Shared Performance. Web sites that have increased functionality (plug-ins, ecommerce, member accounts, etc.), require more server resources, need a little more reliability, will fall into the shared performance solution.  This solution is somewhat similar to Shared Basic in structure, but with Shared Performance you will never have more than 5 sites sharing the resources of the server.

Advantages:  Performance and Reliability boost without the cost of Dedicated

Disadvantages:  Increased Cost, Not Dedicated


Dedicated.  All the resources of the server are dedicated to your web site.  Web sites that are experiencing high-volume traffic or spikes in bandwidth, need to be able to adjust resources quickly (i.e. add memory, add disk, add processor), have complex application needs (integration with 3rd party software/apps, large database apps, etc.), and/or require high availability will need to start looking at the Dedicated option.

Dedicated Virtual. The dedicated virtual server is the most scalable and cost effective of the two dedicated options.  You will have resources dedicated to your server as needed, but in a virtual environment you won’t need to commit to purchasing and managing hardware.  This is often referred to as cloud hosting, and RackSpace has great documentation on this environment if you need to learn more.

Virtual Server

Advantages:  All the positives of a dedicated server (performance, reliability, scalability,etc.), but no hardware commitments.

Disadvantages:  Tied to the shared resources virtual cluster (SAN, etc.), so if the cluster goes down, your virtual server does as well.


Dedicated Co-Located. A co-located server puts the responsibility of purchasing the hardware and rack space to house your dedicated server.  Before the advent of virtual servers and cloud computing, this was the norm for dedicated servers (see Traditional versus Virtual above).

Advantages:  Not tied to the virtual cluster, so all resources are truly dedicated to your server

Disadvantages:  Expensive to set-up and maintain, Disaster recovery is very time consuming, difficult to add resources (i.e. more memory, etc.).


Dedicated w/ Onsite Failover. When disaster strikes and the primary server fails, you’ll need a failover server to minimize downtime.  Whether a virtual or co-located server, this usually entails a second dedicated server that mirrors your primary server.  If server fails, it’s easy to reroute IPs and promote failover server and take over ther primary server’s responsibilities.

Advantages:  Minimal downtime in event of primary server failure

Disadvantages:  Not covered if entire hosting facility fails (failure outside network), Double the resources to set-up and manage, Expensive


Dedicated w/ Onsite and Offsite Failover. While there is no silver bullet in host management (even Google goes down), this is the closest configuration to ensure the least amount of downtime.  This scenario is an extension to the Onsite Failover, in that there is a failover server located at a different physical location.  In the event of total failure at the primary facility (tornado, fire, the grid fails, etc.), we can fail over to the secondary host facility and get the site back up and operational.

Advantages:  Most Redundant, Guarantees Minimal Downtime in Disaster

Disadvantages:  Very Expensive


Custom Solutions. If your web site gets to the point where you are losing thousands, millions of dollars for every minute your site is down, you’ll need to look at custom solutions that prevent downtime, period.  You start talking about multiple mirrored servers doing load balancing across multiple physical locations.  One location fails, the other Five take on the load.  If you want a silver bullet this is the closest you’ll get, but be prepared to pay handsomely for it.

Obviously I’ve just scratched the surface to the information needed to make an informed decision with your hosting solution, but hopefully this post has provided you with an idea of your options along with the progression you’ll take as your web site grows.  I like to compare the process to choosing an insurance policy, as you know what would be unwise to do without, but you also know that certain circumstances (i.e. budget) force you to take on some risk.

One thought on “The Right Fit – Web Hosting Options”

  1. Great question! Because we host over 400 web sites, the decision process is a bit different for Five than it would be for most SMBs. We try to find a provider that can offer a nice balance between the three items below. Some providers are great in one area and not so much in others, but the overall score for us is what we look at most.

    1. Network Uptime. We try to choose a provider that has close to 100% network uptime. Since our hosting solution relies heavily on the cloud, we need to make sure the infrastructure they have supporting the solution is reliable. Internet connectivity outside the network is not only unpredictable, but very hard to control as anything can happen to any provider on that front. The best of the best go down from time to time!

    2. A Proven Name. Most clients assume that their web site will never go down. They are not aware of the time and money companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc. spend on their host infrastructure. If you use a familiar name, it’s often easier to say “IBM is having trouble with their cloud”, versus “Local Provider A is having issues with their cloud”. Who?

    3. Access to Support. Five has several clients that require custom configurations on their web servers, and we have a talented team of Linux gurus to support those configurations. We need easy access to the support staff that are going to be able to assist our high-lever host management team. Very large providers are great for network uptime and name recognition above, but having to work your way through the multiple levels of support each time you need something can be painful.

    Other items to look at: Cost, Level of access to the server, Support, Performance, Software Included.

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