Buyers' Guide: How to Find a Web Hosting Provider

From server features to disk space and data transfer, this guide will tell you what you need to know and to consider when shopping for a hosting provider for your small business Web site.

For a small business owner, finding a provider to host your Web site can be a big task.  There is a lot more to shopping for a Web site hosting provider than just comparing prices and disk space. When looking for the right provider, you need to start with a good idea of types of services you’ll need for your own Web site. After that, you can work on finding the right hosting provider — one that can meet your needs at a price you can afford.

When you start shopping for the right vendor to provide your Web hosting services, make sure the provider offers packages for small and medium sized businesses (SMBs). You want to invest in a professional plan with professional services for your business, not a company that really only has experience with personal Web site hosting.

Getting Started: A Web-Hosting Glossary of Terms

When you first start looking for a hosting provider, it probably won’t take you long to realize there is whole new world of standards, phrases and terms to learn. The first step to finding a provider is to familiarize yourself with the common lingo, so you can understand what each vendor has to offer.  To get you started, here are eight Web-hosting terms you should know, courtesy of Webopedia.com.

· Ecommerce-Guide Tip: You can find hundreds of Web-hosting terms  in Webopedia’s Internet and Online Services category.

First Decision: Shared Vs Dedicated Hosting

One of the first decisions you will want to make is choosing between sharedand dedicated hosting. A shared Web server — sometimes called virtual hosting — basically means your Web site will share resources with other Web sites.  In this scenario, multiple Web sites are running (hosted) on the same physical server.  On a dedicated server, your Web site is the only one on the server.

The biggest differences between the two types of hosting options are price, performance and control. When you consider a shared service, the cost is considerably lower as multiple Web sites pay for the server. On a dedicated server, you are the only one paying for the server which, combined with additional start-up costs and IT requirements, makes this a more expensive option.

Another issue to consider is in-house expertise. In a shared environment your responsibility is to provide the content, and the hosting provider will take care of other details, such as the server set-up, including the operating system, bandwidth management, backups, e-mail and security.

On dedicated servers, the provider often supplies management software, but you will largely be responsible for the server management — not just the Web site management. This will require dedicated IT staff to handle Web-server installation, deciding which Web applications to run on the server, backing-up the server and security issues.

One of the biggest issues for an e-commerce Web site is choosing specific carts or payment systems. On a shared server, you are limited to what the hosting provider supports.

For the very small businesses (home-based and entrepreneurs) if you do not have the technical know-how, shared hosting will probably be the easiest and best way to get started. You can also start your business with a shared Web server, and move on to a dedicated server as your Web site grows.

For e-commerce Web sites, PCI-complianceis going to factor in to the type of server you choose. On a dedicated server you can have control to ensure you are in compliance with the standards, but again it will require dedicated IT.

Many shared hosts may not offer secure PCI-compliance.  Smaller businesses without the technical expertise can, however, use a third-party Application Service Provider (ASP)that will capture all of the order data and store it on its servers.  You will still be required to comply with PCI standards and regulations.

Since most small e-commerce shops and businesses start out with a shared server, this will be the example used most frequently in this guide.  Anyone interested in dedicated hosting should read The Great Hosting Debate: Shared vs. Dedicated guide on Small Business Computing.com.

·     Ecommerce-Guide Tip:  Hosting Plan Primer


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