10 Questions for Hosts: 2

Bob Roth
Here's five more questions to ask your web host:

6. What levels of redundancy do you provide?

Failures that cause your site to lose connection can happen. Therefore, it's crucial to find a provider whose hosting architecture provides the least risk of failure. Redundancy is necessary. Single points of failure are very bad, but many hosts attempt to cut costs by risking single points of failure. Ask your web host about their redundancy in server architecture (web, email, and DNS servers), load-balancing and file storage.

A web server is the hardware and software combination that serves requested web pages, files, or other information. Servers answer requests from web browsers to provide information from websites, email, and databases. They then send that information to the requesting browser.

Load balancing divides the amount of work a server has to do between multiple servers, which also adds redundancy, so that more work gets done in the same amount of time and, in general, all website requests within the network get served faster. The load balancers stay in constant contact with the servers to determine how busy they are and/or if one of them has failed. It may sound like a no-brainer, but having your site connected to the Internet is the whole reason for having a website and a load-balanced, redundant network is vital to that endeavor.

Has your email server ever been down? Redundancy also is vital for email and DNS servers. A Domain Name System (DNS) server translates requests to locate a website. As you can imagine, keeping email and DNS servers online is a mission-critical task for a web host. For file storage, seek a host that uses a reliable storage solution with multiple auto-fail over and hot-swappable drives to ensure continuous delivery of your website.

7. Do you automatically backup customer websites in case of data loss? How often?

Backing up websites should be a routine part of your web host's operation. Backup is the activity of copying files or databases so that they will be preserved in case of equipment failure or any other catastrophe.

8. What is your billing policy?

Look for a web host that provides a money-back guarantee. This will allow you to try out the host's service. Should you find that the service is sub-par in site performance, reliability, or lacking the features that you seek, the ability to request your money back, within the parameters of the guarantee, is priceless and liable to save you from later trouble.

It is always a good to idea to inquire about the web host's cancellation procedures. There are many out there who require you to send them an email or make a phone call to cancel, which can extend the time frame to cancellation. A host who is confident in their service will have a cancellation form or online avenue within their control panel. They also will likely have a retention program, so don't be surprised when they call or email you to ask why you are leaving. After all, your feedback helps them to evaluate their service.

9. Do you provide the features I need for my website?

Sometimes people choose a host because it has the exact feature set that they need, but later find that feature set means nothing when access to those features is unreliable. Make sure that a host has your desired features and is also reliable. To make sure that the host you are evaluating has everything you need, use the following list:

  • A domain name, but be sure to look for hidden registration fees or renewal fees
  • An ample amount of versatile email accounts including web-based, POP3 and IMAP
  • Email spam filtering and virus protection are a must these days, unless you are providing this on your own
  • Enough disk space to meet your site's needs
  • Monthly bandwidth allotments that will cover your traffic and the ability to increase that allotment based on your site's success
  • Site building tools such as extensions for FrontPage or other online/downloadable site building programs
  • Ease of upload to your site via FTP or other means
  • Access to a robust traffic analysis program or the raw logs for you to process yourself
  • Programming languages, including CGI, PHP and MIVA (if needed)
  • E-commerce shopping cart alternatives
  • Database capability, dependant upon your application preference

10. Does the web host have the products and services to handle your growth?

You might be surprised how many sites that were started for fun or as a hobby have grown into some of the most popular sites on the Internet. Hence, you never know when you'll outgrow your current product or service and need to move up the ladder to the next rung. Make sure that your web host can meet your anticipated growth, not only within the product range of shared hosting, but should you ever need a dedicated server or co-location solution, your host is there to discuss and provide the best solution.

Do your homework by using the above questions as a template and you will likely save yourself some major headaches down the road. If you've gathered information about multiple hosts, you can now compare apples to apples and decide on the best host for your needs. The work you do will help you make an informed decision based on the facts rather than gut instinct. But perhaps the best piece advice that you will find in any article or forum about choosing a host is: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.