[Guide/Tutorial] Choosing a webhost and other features

Discussion in 'Web Hosting' started by Zapdos, Oct 22, 2011.

  1. Zapdos

    Zapdos Power Member

    Oct 22, 2011
    Likes Received:
    Eastern North Carolina
    Before I even start the guide part, I want to be upfront with some things. I'm not trying to sell you a service, get you to use an affiliate link or anything that nets me money or services. Since there seems to be alot of people who have no idea about the minute differences in hosting, I thought it would be ice breaker. Plan to be here alot and be a contributor and not leecher.
    Also, please for the love of god, don't copy this for copywriting or articles. It'll make me die a little on the inside :(

    So, onto the guide.

    1. What you need to know

    Through-out the course of looking for a host, you need to familiar with some terms and tactics employed by hosts to make a sale. Often times the terms are interchanged, and tactics are blatant lies. To start, here's some terms/acronyms you'll need to know.
    Webhost/host/provider: The company you will be paying to host your site
    Server: The computer that they host owns which runs all the hosting software.
    Data center: The building that houses alot of servers.

    RAM: Memory
    Bandwith/traffic: How much data you can transfer each month. This is usually measured in bytes.
    Space/Hard drive space: How much data you can have on the server
    Resources: This varies from host to host, but in this guide I use it to refer to the memory, traffic, space, email and every other consumable thing on the server.

    Shared hosting: A common method of hosting which puts many people (between 40 and 20,000...) on the same server. This is the lowest class of hosting and results are typically bad.
    Virtual hosting/Virtual dedicated server/Virtual private server/VPS/VDS: A less common method of hosting. This splits the server into several different 'computers' (usually consisting of 1-20 people, could be oversold to alot more.) A VPS allows the owner to login to the server and manage the scripts and everything on it. Everyone gets their own personal login, and its like they're own dedicated server. The only difference is resources are shared. This is medium class of hosting and is for semi-serious websites.
    Dedicated hosting/Dedicated server: Essentially your own server in a data center. You control everything on it and you're the only one using the resources. This is the 'best' hosting. You can get it in any flavors you want, but expect to pay. Also, best is in quotes because it can be trumped by the following two types
    Cloud hosting: You've probably seen ads on TV about the cloud. The cloud in simple terms can be defined as a single server powered by many servers. So if you host on the cloud, you can quickly scale your resources up and down. This can be very expensive, so if you know what you need you may be better off with dedicated.
    Colo/Colocation: You rent space in the data center, often in 1U increments. You pay for the server yourself (you also build it), bring it in and hook it up all by yourself. You just pay rent on the space, and also pay for power and possible addons like remote reboot, monitoring etc. This is a dedicated server, you build it for yourself. The catch is that you need to know what you're doing. The upside is you can get alot of space for dirt cheap, and will in the end be cheaper than a prebuilt dedicated.
    SaaS: Service as a Solution. You don't deal with any of the above. You pay a company money and they give you access to a certain service. They handle everything on the server such as speed optimization, storage etc.
    Off-site solution: This is just a term I use in this guide. Whether it used in the same context elsewhere I don't know. When I use this, I mean using a specific service provider for a specific thing. Commonly this is for static content (in which case its a CDN/Content delivery network) or for emailing.

    cPanel: A common control panel used by webhosts. This is often seen on shared hosting which allows for easily adding, changing and deleting settings, FTP users, email accounts, SSL certs etc.
    FTP: Stands for File Transfer Protocol. Its what is most commonly used to upload/download files directly to the server as an admin.
    SSL: Stands for Secure Socket Layer. This is used to encrypt the traffic between 2 different people (most commonly the server and someone). This costs money! More on SSL later.
    SSH: Stands for Secure Shell. This is what is commonly used to login to VPS and Dedicated servers. It's a linux only thing and is done via command line. If you got a windows VPS/Dedicated then you will use...
    RDP: Remote Desktop Protocol. This sends the display of the server to your computer. Windows only.
    MySQL: A type of database. It stores information in it.

    CMS: Content management system. Its pretty much an entire site management suite. Two popular ones that fit the name almost perfectly are Joomla and Drupal. Wordpress may be considered by some as a CMS.
    Forum: What your using right now. Popular ones are vBulletin (VB), Simple Machines Forum (SMF), and Invision Power Board (IPB)
    Ticket system: Something generally used for support by many companies. A popular one is Kayako.

    With the terminology down, we can get to dirty stuff.

    2. Pre-search

    Before you start looking for a host or hosting, you need to have a plan. If you listen to the hosts, they'll just suck you in with all the offers or get you to spend money on useless stuff. Some things you need to know beforehand:

    • Your budget. Free is not a budget. Expect to pay atleast $6/month for starting (bad quality). Good quality starts at around $16/month on shared. If you have $40/month or more you can get the best providers.
    • Your required resources. Know what you need. If you're starting out, you can get by on the really bad 'unlimited' plans from hostgator/godaddy. If you're running a high quality white hat site, you'll probably need atleast 3 MySQL databases, PHP support and FTP. If you do alot of email marketing, make sure the host allows enough per hour/day to get to your entire base in less than 12 hours.
    • How much help you need. If you're an expert, you can probably skimp on getting quality customer support from the host as you can provide it yourself. If you're inexperienced, you will want high quality and fast support! You should also know that not all customer support is the same. One company I was with (lowest package was $300/month with a 12 month commit and they're touted as the best) had absolutely horrible support and did nothing more than reboot the server. Dropped them, got a host that cost ~75% less and got customer service that actually goes onto the individual scripts to fix stuff.
    • Your upgrade path. If you plan to scale, you will be taking up more of everything. Make sure the host offers bigger services and also offers free transfers between them. At the very least, they should have shared, VPS and dedicated (bonus if they allow custom dedicated).
    • Customer expectations. This will not apply to many people doing affiliate marketing, but if your actually selling a product yourself you will need an SSL certificate. Most consumers now will not enter their info on an unsecured website. You can get them for $20/year. Also know that an SSL cert requires a dedicated IP on whichever hosting package you get*! *Not exactly true, but its ALOT cheaper and easier to get a dedicated than one for s shared.

    3. Finding the host

    This is where most people fail. They see the godaddy/hostgator ads or reviews and thinks that because they say they're #1 that they're the best. This is simply wrong. Godaddy and hostgator are for low quality sites. You will get crappy customer service, high prices (relative to specs) and overloaded servers. Big name hosts oversell the server. This means they stick thousands of people on a single server and hope no one needs the power. If you do, you'll get terminated for abuse. This is for everything! CPU, RAM, Bandwith, space, email. They tout unlimited, but they will terminate you.
    Instead, you should look for the smaller hosts. They have less customers which means more server resources for you and better customer support. I use a host that only has a few thousand people which means I get support ticket responses in ~5 minutes. Not just 'Ill forward this to the tech team'. If its a tech issue, I normally see a 2 paragraph response ending in some form of "its fixed". $300 dedicated support couldnt rival this because they server hundreds of thousands of people.
    Now the question you should have is 'How do I actually find a host?'. That's great! Heres how: webhostingtalk . Its a huge forum dedicated to web hosting. They have reviews for shared, VPS and dedicated for practically any hosting company that exists. Look for hosts with good reviews! Additionally, you can find some targeting your area. Some include ecommerce, adult, blogging, marketing, forums and shady activity. I would do that so their ToS will be inline with your needs. Alot of hosts don't like adult websites!

    4. Choosing the right package

    Choosing the correct service/package is critical. You don't want one way too huge where your just spending money for nothing. Don't want one too small where you won't even fit. I'll boil it down to three categories to help.

    - The newbie -
    Budget: Minimal. ~$6->$14/month
    Resources: Almost non existant (<1 gig storage, <10 gigs bandwith)
    If you're just starting, you can skimp by on cheap shared hosting. Normally you will want to start with the godaddy unlimited. This will let you test the waters for whatever it is you're doing. If it doesnt work, you didn't lose much. If it does, then you can switch hosts down the line.
    Generally you will fit in this if you're just starting out, or are only making squeeze pages. If you're running an actual site, you should outgrow this quick.

    - The informed person -
    Budget: Not much. (budget)$15/month -> (quality/budget)$45/month
    Resources: Starting to become noticed (<5 gigs storage, < 60 gigs bandwith)
    If you get to this stage, you're doing something right. If its happened slow over time such as 6 months, you can stick to a shared host. You'll probably want to use a small host so you got customer support that can help if you need it.
    If it's happened within 3 months you can think about getting an entry VPS or an outdated dedicated server. Decent entry VPS start at around $45/month. If you require cPanel, be sure to get atleast 512mb RAM.

    - The somewhat established marketer -
    Budget: Decent. (budget) $60/month -> (quality) $120/month
    Resources: Definitely noticed and need to be accounted for (<15 gigs storage, <200 gigs bandwith, <1024mb ram)

    At this point, you need good specs. You're no longer in the shared hosting league. At the very least you will want a VPS with root access to install anything you may need.

    The package contents
    All packages should come with some features, but heres a rundown of what you will want to watch for
    Bandwith: Make sure its inline with your needs and is not unlimited (unless your in the $6->$14 bracket). 0-200 gigs can be done on shared hosting (~$6->$60). 200-1500 gigs on vps (~$30->$140). ($200+)1500+ on dedicated, CDN or cloud.
    Space: Same as bandwith. If you need space, consider creating a file server.
    MySQL databases: If you're installing things like blogs, forums etc you will need one MySQL database for each.
    Addon domains: You'll probably be making several sites, so you should consolidate them into one hosting package. An addon domain just allows you to use the same hosting package for several different domains.
    Email accounts: With multiple domains comes possible multiple emails. Make sure you have enough!
    Email limit: This is not usually advertised. If you do email marketing and plan to do it direct from your site, your host may limit the amount you can send a day/hour. Ensure this meets your needs and has room to grow!
    Dedicated IP: Not needed for everyone! If you require an SSL cert (ecommerce/personal info) then one is needed.
    cPanel: If you're not great with servers, you will need cPanel or something like it to manage everything.
    SLA: When you get into bigger packages like VPS and managed dedicated you should check to see if they have an SLA. It's essentially a guarantee that if the server is unaccessable for X amount of time, you get cash back.
    Memory: Only applicable for VPS/Dedicated. Be sure to get what you need and then some! cPanel takes up alot. I would personally suggest 512mb as a starting point.
    CPU: Applicable for some VPS/All dedicated. Do reviews on the CPU and see how well it performs server tasks!
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    Last edited: Oct 23, 2011