Header Shadow Image


WEB: Webhosting / ISP (Hosting, VoIP, DSL, Cable) Survival Guide

In the not so distant past, there has been an explosion of ISP's on the web which caused the only thing all of them could: dirt cheap hosting.  In fact, the web is virtually flooded with ISP's offering everything imaginable under the sun and space has literally become a door prize.   But what really separates a great host from scams and basement ran hosting companies that are fleeting at best.  The answer isn't as easy to find as it appears and true value doesn't exist in the up front offers but what happens once you actually join.

Unfortunately we can't all try every webhosting and host out there to check which one is best.  By the time we do things would change anyway.  There are some resources available online for you when looking for a good host.  Try searching for hosting reviews online.  There are dozens of sites out there for this very purpose.  Do your research.  After all, it's your money.  If you know someone that has a site, it's good to ask that person too.  In fact, even organizations that ensure proper business practices are often powerless to do much about a host that has questionable practices.

ISP, be it VoIP, DSL, Cable or plain hosting, are there to make money.  Plain and simple.  Then why do we see hosting companies that offer $50 for a package and another company offers $3 for the same package?  What's going on?  Does it really mean the $50 hosting package is really ripping you off?  What about longevity?  All factors to consider besides the usual: space, uptime, features.  This also depends highly on your own skill level.  

Here are a couple of web hosting survival guide things to consider when looking for a web host:

Host Feature Your Experience Considerations
Price Novice

Cheap isn't necessarily better for you here.  So what happens to hosting under the hood considering the above and the prices they offer.  Here is a couple of things that might get cut to save you money:

  • Hire cheaper support staff.  For example, from expensive $12 an hour support staff to $2 – $4 an hour support staff personnel outside the hosting company's home country.
  • Cut support staff wages.
  • Squeeze more clients on servers.
  • Use older hardware components for servers you are on.
  • Charge high fees for exceeding account limits.
  • Controls to setup basic things like subdomains and email accounts are likely be more involving and technical.

If you are a novice user to the web and would like to spend some time with support staff getting the help you are looking for or for customizing your account, you might find yourself following complex and seamingly disorganized and broad set of instructions to configure the most basic things.  This means heavy reliance on support staff who also have been cut and payed less, meaning, they may be less adept at resolving your issue.  This is an important consideration because otherwise, you'll end up using alot of their time and your time.  This again leads to another potentially problematic thing.  The more time you spend with technical support telling them what to do, the more likely something can go wrong and a simple thing can turn into a nightmare.  If the support staff tell you it's possible to begin with. 

So the bottom line is that it's truly what you pay for.  So unless you are an expert, you might not benefit here.

  Intermediate

You are a more experienced user.  You know and understand the ISP business and have all but the most advanced knowledge of things and what to expect.  You know things like what a .htaccess file is about and won't call in to technical support for your ISP to figure it out.  You know how to use FTP and it's limitations and occassional problems.  You know HTML, and have done some CSS and have an idea what XML is and even how to write an XML document.  You know how to configure Microsoft Frontpage or another publishing tool and understand how to hook it up with your host based on your reading off the ISP site or other resources online.

You also understand that an ISP, other then in regards to direct problems with a hosting package isn't responsible to teach you how to create your site: that is your task.  You also understand that to get such support, you need to either look for it online through search engines or on the ISP website in the FAQ sections.  This is a norm and is to be expected.

In this case you still might not want the cheapest ISP.  You can probably avoid the most expensive ISP as well unless there are specific reasons to justify the cost (ie features not found anywhere else)

 

  Expert

 You not only understand how to figure out the ISP's instructions available either by email they provide or their website including locating the FAQ, you also know how to identify when a problem is related to what you are doing or your ISP is responsible but also how to resolve problems related to your actions without having to call technical support.

You also understand that when your website is unreachable and you determined it's your ISP's fault, you do not call the ISP trying to find out why you could not access your website, you take lunch for 30 minutes and try again later or work offline and get your files ready when your website comes online. 

You also understand that there will be wait times when you call. 

In this case, a cheap ISP will do for you since you understand the shortcoming of ISP's that offer cheap solutions.  You understand their limitations. 

     
Space Novice

 This depends on what you need to do with a host.  Hosts that offer 1.5 Terabytes for their users, are betting that not all their users will use up all that space and you are likely going to use only perhaps 5% of the advertised space.

The servers the ISP uses are also probably a couple of generations old and not only do they not even have 1.5 Terebytes in total, they probably don't even have the space on the entire server the ISP is offering you.

Then how come they offer me this space if they don't even have it on their entire server?

This is purely Marketing.  Many ISP's have hundreds of accounts on servers and the space of the entire server is likely no more then 500GB at today's standards.  And that is a good server. They are simply betting that you could never fill up that space and only have a few MB of files well below 1GB worth.  This is especially true on shared hosrint accounts.

What if I do fill up the space to 100% of my account?

You will definitely not fill it up to over 30GB very easily.  Even at today's bandwidth speeds, it would take you nearly a month constantly uploading data (24/7) to fill up your web host space to 30GB let alone anything over that.   Today's connections are simply limited by their upload speeds.   In fact, FTP and file system limits and other software used to upload will also have their limitations further impeding your uploads.  In fact, the combination of problems along the way to filling up your space would cause you so much headaches and problems it would make the task itself very unpleasant.  All ISP's are well aware of such limitations including the fact that it would take you forever to fill up their advertised space.

Also consider the more you upload the more you have to download when backing up.

  Intermediate You understand and can see through the marketing hype.
  Expert Just like an intermediate user, you understand all about the marketing hype you have been presented with.  You further understand that because of the marketing in space, other features of your web host will also be exagerated and are willing to put up with it to save on monthly payments.
     
 Uptime Novice You believe 99.9% Uptime means that your site will rarely if ever have downtime.  What you might not consider is that 99.9% uptime is 365 days * (100 – 99.9) = 3.75 days when your site will be unavailable, if uptime is spread evenly over all accounts on the server.
  Intermediate You understand that you can expect some downtime.  You also have a basic understanding of how to determine if your site is down because your internet connection is down or because your ISP server is down.
  Expert

You understand that 99.9% downtime means little.  You understand there are a number of downtimes even if you don't see it readily available on an ISP site:

  • Network uptime.
  • Server downtime.
  • Website downtime.

You also understand that if a company doesnt' specify which of the three, in the least, the dowtime applies to, you know they mean Network uptime which doesn't include any downtime from Server and Website problems.  You also understand that today's networks have near 100% uptime and are rarely at fault for any downtime.

You also understand that downtime is an average.  This means that when some people may have downtime of 99.999%, a few would have to have downtime as low as 95% for the average of 99.9% uptime to be achieved as the ISP advertises.

You also understand that when an ISP advertises a single uptime for say only the Network part, the uptime for the other components is not guaranteed and is likely much less and that this indicates more of a marketing feature that doesn't really reflect the actual uptime of the ISP and your site.

You also understand that when you have shared hosting and some other user is causing a problem on the servers, your site may be impacted. Further to that, you also understand that it may take your ISP some time to figure this out while your site is impacted as well.

     
Money back guarantee Novice When money back guarantee is advertised, you believe it without reading the terms and privacy policy.
  Intermediate You read some of the terms and privacy policy and understand the limitations of the money back guaranteed and it's conditions.
  Expert

You know there is no such thing, or is very very rare if at all, even if advertised.  You also know that when you sign up for a 2 year contract and you leave before then, you won't get any refund or if ever most likely a prorated refund. 

As a result, you understand that you should not commit yourself to a long term contract with an ISP when you first test an ISP out but only sign up for a few months at best to test first.

You have also REALLY read the terms of service and privacy policy and fully understand it and know all there is available to know about the REAL DEAL.

 

So how do you determine a great host to begin with?  This really isn't easy at all.  In fact, two hosting companies may look identical in terms of features and other offerings but one, though cheap, may be terrible and cost you while the other, though expensive, may actually save you alot of money and turn out to be cheaper in the long run.  So what really makes the best ISP.  Most top ISP's are found by research and actually calling them, reading their their site thoroughly and even testing some of their features.  Here's a table of some good top questions to ask your potential web hosting company when researching which ISP is the right one for you (The questions are in no particular order):

 

CPU Time Limiting

This is avery handy thing to have running on a server when you are a web host.  This ensures that when someone uploads a very inefficient and CPU intensive task, it won't overload the server.  By overloading I mean causing the server CPU usage to spike as high as 100%.  This is a feature that has to be tweaked on a LINUX, UNIX and Windows servers as it does not come preenabled.  In my findings by calling and emailing dozens of ISP's only two ISP's had this at the time one being my own ISP 1and1.com.

How is this usefull?

This effectively prevents any users from creating a scenario no a server which would cause delay for your website. 

It is also noteworthy to ask if the ISP limits CPU usage by application.  For example if an application uses the CPU at 100% usage for over a predetermined amount of time, it will then be asked to share CPU usage with other applications vying for CPU time.   As an example, this application might be lowered in priority for a few seconds to allow other applications to also use the CPU  (All very technical stuff but worth while to ask)

This question is related to the next one.

If I overload the server with my website software, what will happen?

This question is very heavily related to the one above.  The reason i that you will be uploading stuff to your website some of which may not be what you wrote.  Possibly the software can cause some unforseen problem and cause your ISP's server problems.  You should find out what will happen to your website once this scenario occurs.  Some common actions ISP's will take.

  1. Delete your website.  Do not expect a refund.  This is draconian and only a few hosts may end up doing this.
  2. Suspend your website.  You can then contact them about the cause.  Do not expect a refund in this case, even if it's not your fault.
  3. Remove the application / script that caused the problem.  Suspend the service for your site that the script used to overload the server: IE HTTP which is the service used to display your site to visitors
  4. Move the script out of the way and notify you on it.
  5. Fix the script and notify you on it.

Again these points are important to know.  Ask a potential ISP what they would do.  It will also indicate their level of interest in helping you.

Cancellations

Learn the How and Where before you sign up.  List of questions to ask about cancellations.

  1. What will happen when I cancel midway in my plan?  Find out if your refund will be prorated.
  2. Where do I cancel?
  3. What will happen to my site when I choose to cancel?  Some ISP's may give you a grace period or even offer extended FTP access for you to move your files off the server.  Some may even backup your site for a period of time in case you come back to reinstate the site. 
  4. Will I be given a backup of a site before or after I cancel?
What payment options do you accept.  Do you accept cash?

Many ISP's , perhaps due to bililng errors or miscommunication with you, may continue to charge you past your cancellation date or expiration date if you choose not to renew.

This is obviously wrong and can be a hassle.  For this reason it's sometimes good to pay in ways other then credit that the ISP can't continue to charge you otherwise you'll be calling your credit card company to cancel your credit card, but that's a hellish scenario.

When testing out a new host, you may wish to opt for other payment methods then credit and also ensure you do things proactively and not do things like cancel in the last minute.

SPF records Ask your host if they support SPF records.  SPF records are very important in reducing spam coming into your domain name.
Bogus TCP/IP attack protection.

These are essentially D.O.S. (DOS) attacks or Denial Of Service attacks.  They occur when a party on the internet wishes to take down your website and does so by trying to open thousands of connections per second to your site and the server.  When they do, subsequent connections to the site cannot occur and everyone else gets a timeout which will effectively block your legitimate visitors.

Smart ISP's will run software to prevent this from occurring by automatic software that will be in place to prevent such attacks.

Other ISP's will rely on their technical support to prevent such attacks which is not necessarily as good as there will be a response time involved which can stretch for a while depending on the level of support the ISP has.

Do you limit network connection speeds (throttle bandwidth) to and from the site? This is important and is good to have for various reasons.  This both ofers protection against bogus attacks designed to flood you rsite but can also limit your traffic once your site becomes popular.
What will happen when I exceed my quota either in space usage or bandwidth?

Many ISP's will limit the amount of data you and your uers in total can upload and download in total for a given month.   This is important for another reason.  If you put a large amount of files on your website, it's possible that either malicious users or even legitimate users will download so many of the files that it will push your usage over the designated limited placed by your ISP.

This is where many ISP's will start making alot of money on you.  They will charge you as much as $6 / Gb downloaded over your limit!  If you go over by 100GB that's $600 they will charge you.  It is therefore highly recommended to either ensure your host has some limits in place that would send you a warning when you are approaching your quota so you can take measures to prevent it.

Smart ISP's will implement some protection against this by allowing a certain speed of download/upload from your site in such a way that it isn't noticible to you.  It is recommended to ask this.

What will happen to my site if it is hacked?

This is another good question to ask.  However, unless the hack poses a threat to the server, your host will likely mention that you would be responsible for cleaning it up.

It is however good to ask what remediation steps they may be willing to help you with.  Most UNIX / Linux Administrators for an ISP may be able to assist you here in removing the intrusion and related software used in the hack.

Do you use MOD Security or similar hack filtering tools?

This is essentially a plugin for the Web Server (HTTP) .  Mod security is similar to a firewall however the setup and rules are very different for mod security then a firewall.  Mod security also functions by interpreting the traffic coming in through port 80 (HTTP) for signs of problems with requests, and blocks requests that are determined malicious based on some defined rules.

You can visit http://www.modsecurity.org/ for more information on this.  This is definitely one you can ask your ISP if they have and use as it can save you from many hack attempts.

Do you run automatic backups?  If so how do you backup?

Most ISP's will backup but you should ask all ISP's if they do.  Most other ISP's will do backups but it may not be readily clear on their site with regards how they do it.

ISP's know that many users upload music and video files which can become huge.  Some users even hold collection of CD images (ISO's) on their websites which are enormous.   Many ISP's will then do backups selectively on such websites, for example skipping all music, video and CD image files.   Or they may backup only files with certain extensions such as .php, .htm, .html, .txt etc.  This is a good question to ask as well.

Technical Support

Call their technical support at various times in the day to determine how their response is like.  Ask some simple questions you might be interested in or better yet ask them the above questions to see their level of understanding.

Then call again a couple of days later to find out if they give you the same answer.  I have not yet found one where tech support will provide the same answer each time you call but there are some that came in very close.  This is not a major issue but you should get their names and employee numbers or some other ID's so you can refer to them in case you get another technician.

This also highlights a scenario where small companies have a benefit here.  They won't have many technical support staff.   In this case, likely every time you call, you'll most likely always get the same guy.  So for small ISP's this issue is less prevelent.

Check your local bad business reporting organizations.  (BBB – Better Business Bureau)

For Canada and USA the service can be found at http://welcome.bbb.org/

The ratings on the sites are very critical of any company the BBB reviews.  So often good companies may end up with an unsatisfactory rating.  What's important to note the number of resolved to the unresolved cases presented.  If you see 1 resolved and 10 ignored, you may want to steer clear of the company.  If you see 10 resolved and 1 unresolved then you can bet that company will try to make real effort in addressing any issues and you will probably get a good experience.

Does the company own their own datacenter? Larger more experienced companies that have been in the business longer will own their own location and server rooms.  Look for this.  This is significant as it indicates the maturity of the host.  If they do not own their own server room chances are that the hosting company is running off another ISP and the company only owns a dedicated, VPS server or a reseller account they are trying to sell you.  Usually such companies are less reliable and stable then hosts that actually own their own equipment.

 

This is it in a nutshell but check here again often for new updates.  Feel free to also leave a comment and let us know your experience and submit an opinion.

Leave a Reply

 


     
  Copyright © 2003 - 2013 Tom Kacperski (microdevsys.com). All rights reserved.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License