10 Questions for Hosts: 1

Bob Roth
So, you're looking to build a website, or you’re so fed up with your current web host that you are desperate to transfer your site elsewhere? You may not even be aware of your current host's vulnerabilities in an industry where each week there is news about a host going down for one reason or another.

Your first problem is narrowing down the thousands of choices to a few that you can research further. Seek friends or associates that have websites and ask for their advice. Visit one of the many forums about web hosting and ask the members for advice or search threads from those that have asked before you.

Once you've located a few hosts to research, the ten questions below will take you a long way toward making an informed decision. You may be able to find many of the answers to these questions on the hosts' websites, but always feel free to call the host and quiz them about their operations. The quality of the answers and degree of professionalism you get from a potential host often provides insight to the type of support you'll receive once you become a customer. Without further ado, the ten question to ask your web are host:

1. How long have you been in business?

The length of time that a host has been in business reflects their ability to provide a quality, reliable product. If your host can satisfy its customers, then those customers are likely to stick with the host's service and keep them in business.

There are, of course, situations where this is not applicable or becomes a bit hazy. Be sure to also inquire about whether a host has recently been involved in a merger, acquired what was once a well-known brand name, or launched a new brand. If any of these apply, then delve deeper into the story behind what has happened and determine whether quality resources are still with the company.

Complete a domain name "WHOIS" lookup on the web host. Type in the web host's domain name and determine what year the domain was registered. If the domain name was recently registered, this is not necessarily a red flag, but you should inquire with the host about it. They may have recently launched an affinity-based brand to cater to your market.

Type the host's name into a search engine and check out the results you get, other than those from the host itself. You may run across reviews, interviews, or industry articles about the host.

2. Do you own your data center?

A data center is the foundation upon which all products and services are built. If your host owns its own data center, they are likely entrenched in the hosting business. They also have an experienced staff and knowledge base from which to draw when supporting your website and building new products. In other words, if a host owns its own facility, it controls more of the variables that can make or break your web presence.

3. How many upstream Internet providers do you have?

Your website performance is not just a measure of your web server's speed. The ability of your web host to route traffic through the cleanest Internet connections also is of great importance. It is crucial that your provider have multiple connections to the Internet.

Accidental fiber cuts in construction or telecom work and data center equipment failure can cause your site to go offline for an extended amount of time. This can be avoided if your web host has other connections to the Internet that will reroute traffic that would have normally been carried on the failed circuit. Yes, this means your host must also have extra capacity on hand to handle normal traffic levels when one connection is lost, which is another area where a host can attempt to cut costs.

Much like when driving your car, there are several streets that you can take to get to your desired destination. Sometimes you will encounter construction or an accident that will require you to take an alternative street. Well, the Internet works the same way. There are several routes that traffic can take to a destination. Your host should be able to choose the cleanest, or most efficient, route to your website visitor.

In fact, your host should be able to continually tune these routes to find the best path to your visitors. Another way to achieve this is by minimizing the number of different networks traffic will pass through before reaching its destination. It is extremely important for your host to have direct connections to networks that have lots of eyeballs. In other words, your website will be served better if your web host is using connections with networks that facilitate Internet access to large volumes of subscribers.

4. Do you monitor customers' sites twenty-four hours a day? How?

There are a couple of factors that can influence the answer to these questions. Does the host own its own data center? If not, then they are physically removed from their servers and likely paying a co-location company to provide monitoring for them.

When another company controls the environmental systems that provide the home for the host, one can argue that it createds another potential point of failure -- namely, the communication of an issue from the data center to the web host. That point of failure can increase the latency between an issue and its resolution, resulting in increased downtime for your website.

Second, if your web host has an issue with its own infrastructure, then there may be travel time associated with their engineers getting to the data center to resolve it or, once again, increased latency by trying to remotely resolve an issue.

5. Do you provide 24/7/365 toll-free phone and email support?

You might be surprised at how many web hosts don't provide 24/7/365 support. The industry's hosts run the gamut from only email support to providing phone and email support 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. The best way to eliminate not having support when you need it is to choose a host that can assist you around the clock.

When an idea wakes you from a slumber at 3 a.m., it's nice to have your host on the other end of the phone to discuss it. When your site malfunctions due to a programming glitch the night before your store is to open, it's wonderful to have your web host on the phone to decipher the issue with you. When your cat accidentally deletes some important files, knowing that your host is there to help recover them is reassuring.

Also make sure that your host provides support over major holidays. Many web hosts will close their support center, decrease their support to only email, or send their support team home with a pager to be called in case of emergencies. All of these measures can create latency if your website goes offline. And, holidays are often high-traffic days. As a matter of fact, word-of-mouth during holiday social gatherings is one of the most effective means to customer acquisition. When people get together, they exchange ideas.

In part two we'll look at more questions to ask your web host.