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How do I choose a web host

Most ISP accounts give a certain amount of web space free to users, all you have to do is fill it. It may well be that is all you will need. For businesses however it can look a little tacky if you don’t have your own domain name and the prospective customer has to type in a long, convoluted url to get to your website. All is not lost as you can buy a domain name for around £5 and use the domain registrar services to direct everyone typing your domain name to the website on your ISP. If you don’t sell anything then this setup may be all you need.

There are a number of web hosts who won’t charge you and will register a free domain name for you. As with most things that are free, there are of course some caveats. Free services may well limit the monthly bandwidth to the site, which broadly means that if you add up the size in KBytes of all the pages and pictures which visitors view, you get a monthly total. If that total is exceeded then the site will probably be suspended or you will be charged for the excess. Free hosts set this limit lower than hosts you pay for, but even so, you may well find that you will have enough bandwidth allowance and therefore don’t need any more.

Maybe you tried all the above and want to expand or think that the monthly costs for a ‘proper’ web host aren’t a problem, which one do you choose. Well the choice is astounding. You will often find the cheapest deals available from US web hosts as they can make significant economies of scale. However you need to remember that if your website goes down at 9am in the UK, the Techies may well be tucked up in bed in the US with only a skeleton staff on. If they have a telephone support line, then how do you feel about calling the US and getting an answerphone saying to leave a message and they’ll get back to you? I tried it for a footy forum which got lots of traffic and kept crashing and it was not a good experience. Now I’m not saying don’t host in the US, but do check out Internet forums on hosting before you offer your credit card. It’ll save a lot of grief later.

On the matter of support, if you need quick answers to ‘Where’s my site gone?’ type questions, you may find it will save your blood pressure if your host has a telephone number. A lot of the cheaper hosts only offer email support, which can be a problem if the server providing your email is the same server you are enquiring about. May be wise to sign up for a Hotmail account or make sure the hosts web mail interface doesn’t reside on your server if you choose the cheap option.

Another thing to consider is where you see your site going. Is it likely to stay as it is at the beginning, or do you have world domination in mind. Make sure that any package you are considering doesn’t limit how big you can grow. It’s not enormously difficult to change hosts, but it’s a lot easier if you don’t have to. If you think you may sell stuff, then do they offer an ecommerce option? A lot of hosts have scripts which will install a shop for you, but you still have to get a payment portal sorted out if your hosts don’t offer such a service. Will you need a database and does it come as part of the package, you will normally get at least one MySQL database even with the cheapest hosts, even if you don’t know what to do with it at the beginning.

If you expect to bet huge amounts of traffic eventually then make sure the host has a semi-dedicated or dedicated server option, and that they are not limited by the connections at the web hosting company. There are some semi-dedicated servers being offered which have no more connection capability than your home ADSL line. It is not surprising therefore that at peak times the connection to your website can be pretty slow.

If I had to recommend anyone, I would suggest Donhost as a top quality UK host. They are not the cheapest, but if you want to make sure your site stays up, they are in my estimation, the best bar none. They use Windows 2003 servers and tightly configured FreeBSD servers for maximum security. On the odd occasion the security may stop you from configuring a shared server for some more esoteric operations, but the semi-dedicated servers can be configured how you want. They have the backing of being part of the Pipex group.

Paul Wood

Website design and maintenance

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