Web Hosting Basics
The 101 Of Hosting & What To Look Out For!

So you just created your first website? Congratulations!

Now, in order to make your site available to the rest of the world, you will need to get it "hosted" - that is, you will need to find a "hosting company" or "web host" that will put your HTML pages on a computer that has a permanent connection to the Internet (a so-called "web server").

However, as you start to look for a company that can help you, and as you try to compare various "hosting packages" that are offered, you will likely come across many unfamiliar terms and expressions.

Web Hosting 101

A “web hosting provider,” such as ourselves, is a company that owns, operates and rents these web servers, and offers the high-speed connections necessary to quickly deliver website content to end users. The equipment is housed in a data centre, which features sophisticated environmental control and monitoring systems, fire-suppression capability, and security systems to prevent unauthorized physical and electronic intrusion.

Hosting providers maintain their web servers, adding new hardware and software as needed, monitoring the systems to ensure maximum uptime, installing security patches, and providing customers with help and support. Most of the differences between hosting providers can be found in these areas of responsibility. Cheaper web hosts usually find the money to offset their lower monthly fees by reducing their investment in maintenance and customer support — whereas “enterprise-grade” hosts like DigiServ™ spend more time and money making sure their customers' sites are always up and running.

Hosting Options

Currently, we offer the following types of web hosting:

Shared Hosting (Linux - cPanel)
Reseller Shared Hosting (Linux - WHM)
Dedicated Server Hosting (Managed and Unmanaged)





Shared Hosting

In a shared hosting environment, multiple websites and domain names share the same hardware, connectivity, server resources (CPU & Memory) as well as the software installed on the physical server. For small or very simple websites, this can be an acceptable hosting solution, but performance and security are often major issues for businesses. Shared Hosting is often also the cheapest available form of hosting for web sites and/or emails. A typical "web server" may support 500 to 750 very small websites, each sharing all resources on the physical server.

Because some sites on the server may require large amounts of memory and bandwidth, the efficient performance and delivery of other sites on that server can be negatively affected. Then there is a risk of data being compromised by malicious users and scripts.

It is therefore that shared hosting is for small-medium sites that do not require a lot of server resources and/or custom modifications.

Dedicated Server Hosting

Traditional “dedicated server” hosting is where only a single customer is housed on a webserver, i.e., that server is “dedicated” solely to that client. It's possible to have multiple websites on a dedicated server, but they are all assigned to and/or under the control of that individual customer.

Like traditional dedicated servers, DigiServ's dedicated servers are leased only by one single customer - so you are never affected by what other customers are doing with their sites.

For those customers who want the power and security of a dedicated server, but — because of the nature of their highly specialized applications — need a server without a virtualization layer, DigiServ offers our Self-Managed Dedicated servers. This is typically only necessary for highly specialized cases where kernel access or a broader choice of OS is needed.

Tips on Choosing a Web Hosting & What to Look Out For

Choosing a Web host is a very personal decision based on your own unique needs. Switching hosting companies is a painful process that you'd only wish on your worst enemies. So try to choose a company that not only meets your needs today, but can grow with you as you expand. Here's a list of more than eleven questions to ask before making that decision.

1) How much does it cost?
This may seem like an obvious question, but fees and costs may not be obvious. For example, is there a set up fee? Are there extra fees for secure transactions? Are there bandwidth fees? If you need to upgrade to a higher plan, what are the upgrade fees? What does it cost to host multiple URL's? What does it cost to have multiple URL's point to the same site? What do additional email addresses cost? Is there a fee for auto-responders?

2) What is the minimum contract? Is there a discount for a longer contract period?
Often hosting companies will offer discount for longer contract periods, but paying monthly or quarterly is very common. Make sure you are clear about the length of your obligation. Often you can pay monthly, but you are committed for an entire year. Be careful about long-term commitments, though. Twelve months is an eternity on the Internet, and you need to be flexible if and when your needs change.

3) How much disk space is included? What does additional space cost?
Your disk space needs will vary based on your business. For example, a store that offers free music downloads in MP3 format will need lots of space for all those large music files. But a poetry site with very few pictures and mostly text files will take up less space. You can estimate your disk space needs based on the amount of space your site takes on your own computer. Disk space can vary from 10 MB to 1000 MB.

4) How much bandwidth is included? What does additional bandwidth cost? 
Bandwidth (also called data transfer, traffic quota or throughput) is the combined size of all the files transferred from your host computer to your customer's browsers. For example, a 10K html page (dogfood.htm) that includes three 50K images (can1.gif, can2.gif, can3.gif) requested by 100 people generates 16 MB of traffic. The html page and the graphic files only require 160K of disk space -- but if many people visit -- they create throughput.

Most hosting plans offer a set amount of traffic for free (often around 1000MB.) Most sites (especially those without any history) will not exceed the free traffic limits.

Adult sites (a polite industry term for pornography) usually generate a lot of traffic, and because of this, many hosting companies have special pricing plans for these sites.

5) How many email accounts are included? How many auto-responders are included?
You usually have two choices for picking up email at your URL (for example yourname@yourcompany.com). You can pick them up directly (program your email software to pick up the mail at yourcomany.com -- this is called a POP account) or you can forward the mail somewhere else (for example to youraccount@aol.com or youraccount@ivillage.com).

If you have a serious business on the Web, it is an important part of your image to use your own domain name for all your mail. It simply shouts "Newbie!" (new to the Internet) if you place your AOL (yourname@aol.com) or free Web-based (yourname@hotmail.com) email address on your Web page. So, you can use yourname@yourcompany.com on your Web page -- but behind the scenes (where nobody can see) you tell your Web host to forward ALL your mail to where you want. And yes, that can be your AOL account or your WebTV account.

Auto-responders are a special kind of email address that automatically sends out a standard response to anyone who queries them. They can be used to send out price sheets, documentation, product specs and photos. Their uses are only limited by your imagination and the number your Web host will provide.

6) Do they support Front Page extensions?
This is only important if you plan to use Microsoft's Front Page to create your Web site. Many people do -- and most (but not all) Web hosts do support Front Page.

7) Can you use your own CGI scripts?
CGI (Common Gateway Interface) are small programming scripts that add functionality and inter activity to your Web pages. Most Web-hosting companies have libraries of standard CGI scripts you can use for free. If you plan to advance past "standard" you will need to find a hosting company that allows you to install scripts. Many will not.

8) Do they provide daily usage statistics?
Most companies do provide daily reports. Ask to see them. You will notice a large variety in the usefulness and layout of these usage reports from one company to another.

9) What kind of technical support?
Do they provide 24/7/365 technical support? What kind of support is available after hours? Can you call them and leave a message? What is their response policy, do you have to wait 24hrs before you get a reply? Do they really offer 24/7/365 technical support? Many hosting providers will just say that to get your business.

10) And just because one through nine wasn't enough -- here's a list of additional questions that may be important to you:

  • Are they UNIX or Windows NT based?
  • Are there upgrade fees to switch from one pricing plan to another?
  • Can you resell Web space?
  • Where are the computers located?
  • How long has the company been in business?
  • What's the connection speed and distance to the Internet backbone?
  • Do they support image maps? Can you have password protected pages?
  • Do they support anonymous FTP?
  • Do you get telnet access and a shell account?
  • Do they support server side includes?
  • Do they provide database access?
  • Do they allow Java applets?
  • Do they have a RealAudio server?

11) And last, but not least, ask for web hosting references. And then check those references.