5 questions to ask your web hosting provider

November 18, 2011 Posted by Colin in Tip-sheets, Web Design, Workingfolio

We’ve launched a lot of websites for our clients on a lot of different web-hosting services over the years. And we’ve often found that clients choose providers that make things unnecessarily difficult, and much more time consuming than they should be. How should you choose a host? What should you be looking for in order to get the best service?

Here are five questions you should ask your potential hosting provider in order to make sure you are choosing one that will be problem free, and easy to work with.

1. Is web-hosting the company’s primary business?

To provide web hosting is not a difficult task. Any company with access to a server room and a fast Internet connection can do it. As a result, just about every telephone company, Internet service provider, and communications firm offers hosting.

Unfortunately, while it may be easy to offer hosting, it is very difficult to offer good hosting. When a company’s main focus is something other than their web hosting, you will usually find that they are slow to respond to your support requests and they don’t keep their service up to date. They often have downtime and take a long time to restore service.

2. Does the hosting company offer the LAMP stack?

Yes, Windows has come a long way and definitely sucks less than it did in the 90s. But it still makes for a poor web-hosting platform for anything meant to run on a LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP) stack.

When you are running WordPress, Drupal, or any of the other PHP-based (PHP) CMS (Content Management System) platforms, you should always choose to run them on the platform for which they are developed. This will help prevent unexpected incompatibilities such as the Windows file-path problem, and non-standard URL rewriting systems.

3. Is an easy to use control panel provided?

Just about every hosting company offers a control panel these days. What makes a big difference is if the control panel offered is easy to use. There are several third party control panel products available these days. If you are comfortable using one of them, make sure your hosting company uses it, and make sure it is kept up to date. A 2 year old version of CPanel is a sign of a stagnating web-hosting company.

Also, look for a custom built control panel. If a hosting company has developed their own control panel system, it’s likely that it is going to be simpler to use. Just make sure you get a chance to take it for a test drive before you commit.

4. Do they make it easy to get SSH access to the web-server?

This is perhaps the most telling question you can ask your provider. If SSH access to the server is not provided, it usually means the company is not confident about their system’s security.

Going without SSH access will also mean many of the tasks involved in uploading, launching, and maintaining your website will take much more time than is necessary. This could lead to high system administration bills if you’re paying someone to take care of these tasks for you.

5. Can you seamlessly upgrade you service?

It’s a great problem to have. You launch your website on an inexpensive shared hosting environment, and it becomes so popular that you need to move it to a private virtual server to get the kind of performance your visitors demand.

But there’s often a catch. Lesser hosting companies will stop supporting you once you’ve moved onto a private server. You may even find that you are required to take care of all of the system administration of your new private server.

Make sure when you upgrade your service your hosting company will continue to support you and will provide you with a complete turn-key web-server, and will continue to provide system administration services such as data backups, and system upgrades.