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Hosting

       
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Choosing a Web Site Hosting Company

The most important thing when designing a website is the choice of hosting package which you use. You need to think about your overall internet strategy before you consider who should host your web site.  This review of the hosting packages which we ourselves use should provide an indication of what to look for when choosing a webspace provider.

Ideally, you need a fast and reliable internet server, but you also need to consider whether you need the ability to run programs (or scripts) on your server (such as Perl, ASP, .Net, PHP, CGI-BIN scripts). Programs can be required to check forms which you have on your website, or to generate up to date pages from a database (for example a shop front).

You may also want to allow users to upload and download files from your site using FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and may even need to consider the use of sub-domains to provide distinct areas to your website.

You also need to consider whether you need Microsoft FrontPage and Microsoft Access extensions to provide extra functionality to your site; and whether you need to be able to access a database on your server. 

The more features a hosting package offers you the better, as it provides the maximum flexibility for improving your website at a later stage. 

Another factor to consider is the estimated amount of traffic that your website will receive.  The more traffic (visitors) that a website attracts, the greater your bandwidth requirements.  Bandwidth is a limit on the amount of information that can be downloaded from your website and is typically limited to a set amount of GB (GigaBytes) per month (although some servers also put a daily limit on this).  This is different to the download limits imposed by some internet service providers (such as BT) who restrict how much people accessing the internet through their service can download in each month.

Why Not Use Free Web Space?

Plenty of people provide free space for web sites (AOL, MSN and Yahoo are just a couple).  However, they do not generally allow you to run programs on the server (essential for form handling) and often add advertising.  You are also generally unable to get much detail about your visitors.

Other common problems with free web space can seriously hinder your rankings in search engines.

In particular a lot of free web space sites place your own webpage into a frame and then generate a page around it containing extra or repeated information.  This can prevent some people and search engine robots from seeing your actual webpage. Even worse are some providers who do not allow search engines to access your real web-pages without a username and password !! Repeated information may be treated as spam by the search engines and so should be avoided.

Probably the worst instances of using free web site hosting that we have seen are:

1) A free web page advertising a computer show - although this appeared fine within Microsoft's Internet Explorer and some other internet browsers, in the popular Opera browser, it can cause problems, with the advertising frame flashing repeatedly over the left hand side of the actual page, or advertising blocking some of the sites logo and navigation links.

2) Another well known free web-hosting provider has also been utilised to host someone's adult website, which downloads a piece of spyware onto your computer without warning you.  As a result, when you find any sites hosted with this provider through the Google search engine, a warning comes up to state that the website is not safe and should not be visited unless you are certain of the authenticity and willing to take the risk that it may harm your computer.

In general, the addition of any advertising to your website by the hosting company is unattractive and you have no control over what advertising is displayed. If you adopt the right strategy, you can add advertising to your website which will be of specific interest to your visitors and generate an additional stream of income for yourself.  You can also use a similar approach to promote your own website through advertising.

Finally, the fact that most free web site hosting prevents access to the root directory, prevents you from giving any instructions to robots over which parts of your website they should index.  This can prevent you from adopting a proper search engine optimisation strategy.

With unreliable access, low bandwidth and slow servers, free web space is only really useful for small personal sites and certainly not for commercial websites or forums.

What If I Need to Offer Large Downloads?

If you offer your users various downloads (for example, software, music or video), then you need to carefully consider how much bandwidth you need to provide.  Hosting accounts offering 250GB of space may seem sufficient, but if your files are typically 12-15MB (or even 100MB+ for videos), it is easy to see how, with a few thousand visitors per month, your bandwidth can soon be used up.  Hosting companies do not normally prevent people downloading or accessing your website once the bandwidth limit is reached, but you may be charged additional fees to cover the excess.

You may wish to investigate the use of Streamload's MediaMax which provides unlimited file storage for MP3, Divx, Anime, Movies, Images, and Music.  They also add the ability to charge your customers for downloads, make them searchable, mark them as Adult Only and even include them in emails.  Charges are based on the download width and amount of storage, although for Home and Small Business users, charges are a lot less.

How do I use a Database with my Site?

The most usual form of using a database (for example a stock and prices database for a shop-front) is a SQL database. 

SQL (Simplified Query Language) has become an industry standard means of formulating queries to retrieve data from a database whether it is stored on your own computer, or on a server.  The database itself can be generated using a multitude of database programs (such as MS-Access) and uploaded to your server after any changes (or even accessed directly, depending on the permissions that are set).

Most programming languages which are used to create pages for a web site (or used to parse forms and add information to a database) will have libraries to allow you to link them to the database using SQL.  When choosing a hosting company, it is recommended that you check that SQL support is provided, or at least available as an add-on at a later stage if you find it necessary.

What is the Best Value Hosting Service?

It all depends who you talk to, as there is a wide difference in hosting packages available.  The cheapest plans which we could find offered directly in the UK, tended to offer only very limited bandwidth (of around 1GB per month) or only a low amount of storage space on the server, unless you were willing to pay over £15 per month.  Some hosting companies also offer hosting for life after payment of a one-off fee, whereas others offer hosting packages from as little as £1 per month.

Really you need to go on personal recommendation and experience.  We find it hard to see these very cheap hosting providers can have an effective long term business plan or afford to offer the level of support of the more expensive providers and the feedback on forums tends to underline this.  We would therefore put these in a similar category as the free website providers.

The main factors (apart from experience with support) have to be bandwidth and space provided for your files.

It is difficult to judge how much bandwidth is required, but our own RWAP Adventures site, which is only fairly small and is also quite limited in its appeal, uses 1.6Mb of bandwidth per day on average !! 

Taking all of the above factors into account, we eventually settled on two hosting providers for our needs.

We would however, recommend that you look at these one of these three low cost hosting solutions (which although based in America, are available worldwide): iPower and Globat (all of which we are affiliates for).  These all offer the same reliability and access speed as any other web hosting company, but pack a lot of features into a low price.  We have used these for a number of years without any issues and in particular have found their free technical support excellent (and always quick to respond), with a willingness to assist with scripts that do not work for whatever reason as well as server related queries. Globat is especially useful for hosting websites which rely heavily on scripting, or require cloud based virtual hosting (VPS), such as ASP.Net and PHP based websites and ones which require full MS SQL access.

Common Features

 
  • Unlimited web-space
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • No additional advertising or controls added to your webpages
  • Fast reliable hosting services.
  • CGI-BIN, ASP, Perl, and PHP languages, together with server side includes
  • $50 advertising credit with Overture (open a US account with Overture to receive this)
  • Front Page Extensions
  • MySQL database support
  • Online Page Design Tools
  • An SSL Secure Server
  • Support for RealMedia Audio and Video, Streaming audio, macromedia shockwave and Flash (subject to bandwidth limits)
 

iPower Features

 

Globat Features


  • 2500 POP Email accounts, together with an unlimited number of forwarding email accounts, autoresponders and filtering
  • Shopping Cart, guestbook, visitor counters, chat and bulletin boards already setup
  • $30 advertising credit with Google AdWords
  • Online logo designer and GIF optimiser.
  • MIDI file support
  • Range of user guides on website design, advertising, creating profits from your website and search engine optimisation
  • Anonymous FTP accounts(if required)
  • PHPNuke to provide an automated news system

Cost: $3.95pm for 24 month package

Visit iPower website hosting [sponsored link]

 

  • Host 10 domains on one account.
  • Unlimited POP Email accounts.
  • Shopping Cart
  • Online photo gallery included
  • Merchant account to accept credit card payments (subject to a 2.9% fee on transactions, but no setup fees or annual fees).

Cost: $6.95pm for 36 month package

Visit Globat website hosting [sponsored link]

 


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