Things to Consider When Choosing Your Hosting Provider
We're frequently in the position of making hosting recommendations to clients. Choosing the right host, however, can be a daunting thing. How do you know which host will be best for your organization and your application? What options are out there and what factors should you be considering when making your choice? Our job is to recommend the best technical setup for your application, but there are also a number of business factors to consider when making this decision.
This post covers some of the most common business factors we consider when helping our clients choose a hosting provider.
In beginning discussions about hosting with our clients, we start by getting answers to a few basic questions:
- What is your planned or target monthly budget for hosting?
- If you don't have a planned or target monthly budget, what is the maximum that you expect to be able to afford? (There is always a cost/benefit trade off between budget and the level of service.)
- Who is the team that will manage your website/application after handoff? Specifically, are there any technical team members in-house who will manage the servers? Or, are you looking for a third-party to support managing the servers?
Understanding your target budget, as well as your long term support plan, is key to making an effective recommendation. The costs for hosting services can vary widely, especially depending upon the level of support services required. We have clients on plans that cost as little as $100 per month and clients on plans that cost upwards of $20,000 per month.
Support is perhaps the biggest consideration—or the one with the most variability between providers—both in terms of services and pricing. When choosing a host, you should be thinking about the type of support you'll need for your site in the long term.
When reviewing options ask yourself:
- Do you have a team who can handle ongoing server maintenance (patching, updates, etc.) or do you need a provider who can complete these tasks?
- Do you have a team who can complete basic troubleshooting if the site goes down (server reboots, etc.)?
- Are you comfortable with web-only support if there is an issue with the site or do you prefer being able to reach out by phone?
- Are you comfortable with support being limited to business hours or do you need 24/7/365 support?
- What do you consider to be an acceptable response time when there is an issue?
- Do you want to set up automated monitoring on your site, so that you receive alerts if there is an issue?
Depending the team you have in-house, you might prefer to have a host that can provide 24/7, guaranteed support should an issue arise. Or, you might prefer a lower cost hosting provider and leverage your own internal team in those instances.
If the site went down for an hour, what type of impact would that have on your business? What if it went down for four hours or a weekend? While many precautions can be taken to reduce downtime, all websites experience it at some point or another. Determining the desired behaviors in these scenarios is the key to choosing the right environment set up and support service for your team.
Another consideration is your typical site traffic. Is it steady and consistent week over week and month over month? Do you have peak periods (for instance the holiday period for ecommerce sites or the start of the admissions cycle for a higher ed site)? Do you have spikes in traffic driven by campaigns, advertising, or events? It's important to consider your past traffic patterns and external factors that might influence traffic when determining the best set up for your environment.
A final area of consideration is security. What security requirements does your company have? Does your application need to be on a private environment? Can it live on a shared server? Are you required to consider add-on services, such as DDoS protection? Will your site need a SSL certificate?
As you can see, making a hosting recommendation extends well beyond the technical requirements of your site or application. To get the best recommendation, it's important to consider business and support requirements (i.e. those driven client or organization) and technical requirements (i.e. those driven by the application) equally.
While we don't have a single recommended host, we do have a shortlist of providers that we commonly work with.
Digital Ocean works well for clients with minimal support needs or in-house teams. It's cheap, fast, and reliable —and our devs love working with it— but it doesn't come with a support offering.
Rackspace is a good fit for clients looking for more robust (24/7/365) support or for dedicated hardware. It's proven and reliable, but more expensive.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is our recommendation for clients looking for the middle ground. It's cost-effective and offers some optional support services, but the interface is unintuitive and can be difficult to use.
In our experience, each provider comes with its own tradeoffs. For instance, if I don't have an in-house support team, is it better to pay more each month for support in the event that there is an issue? Or, is it better to pay an hourly rate for our developer to troubleshoot bugs as they emerge? Maybe finances drive that decision or maybe the answer lies in your tolerance for risk. The key is to understand your needs, as well as the pros and cons of each option, so that you can find a solution that meets your technical and business requirements.
Are you getting ready to choose a hosting provider? Check out these tips in checklist format.