Web hosting is probably the most crucial decision you’ll make in putting up a website. This one decision influences the professionalism and reliability of your site. How’s that? Web hosting serves your website to people from all over the world looking for your content or your products and services. A bad or unreliable host means your website might not be available at all times or loads slowly or behaves in ways that erode people’s trust in your content, your brand, or your products and services. You must invest the time and effort needed to find the right web host for you who can provide the reliability, professionalism, and technical expertise you need. Sadly, there are three key facts that many web hosts won’t volunteer. You need to ask them about these so you can avoid the sad consequences they bring.
Secret #1: Most web hosting “companies” are merely resellers with limited resources
Most people think of web hosting companies as full fledged companies using their own staff, their own equipment, their own space, and their own resources. This is far from the truth. There are many levels in the web hosting industry At the top are web hosts that own their own bandwidth—both at the downstream level (connects to their client’s servers) and upstream (pipes that connect to the backbones of the Internet). These players have their own data centers. In the middle are down stream providers which lease their downstream bandwidth but have their own data centers or they lease a part of a data center. At the bottom are resellers. Resellers do precisely that—they resell the bandwidth/server space of top tier or mid tier hosts. There is a wide range of resellers—some have their own technical support and customer service staff and actually have access to the data center. Others have less to offer. They merely route your customer service and technical calls/emails to the company they are reselling for.
Most of the companies you see promoted on webmaster forums and even search engine results are reseller companies. Normally, many lower priced outfits are actually resellers. This is a well kept secret because they would not volunteer this information to you. This secret becomes a problem if the reseller is slow in relaying your request for information or support to their provider. Also, since many resellers don’t maintain their own offices or even a staff, your requests might fall on deaf ears or you might be requesting services/support that they are not competent to provide or worse, they don’t have a service agreement with the company they are reselling to provide such services for free. Of course, they may promise otherwise but if they are a bare reseller, this would definitely be a red flag since it relates to whether they have the resources to back up their promises.
As we mentioned earlier, to be fair, there’s a range of resellers out there—from purely resellers to value added resellers. The key here is to ask a web host you are considering if they are resellers. Ask them who their provider is. If they are elusive or being evasive, ditch them. Regardless, make sure to check their site name and, if you can get it, their corporate name against web hosting reviews and sites listing hosting companies. Most hosting forums and review sites would mention if the web host is indeed a reseller.
Secret #2: Much of the cheap hosting out share the same small group of upstream providers
Assuming that you got past the first secret above and you’re using a provider who actually has the infrastructure to provide customer service and technical support, you are not out of the woods yet. Many hosts out there, specially the lower cost ones that don’t own their own infrastructure, buy from a small group of upstream bandwidth providers so they can lower costs.
While there’s nothing wrong with saving money this way—they are passing the savings to you—this becomes a problem if the bandwidth comes from an upstream provider who has a history of spotty service or worse yet, coddling spammers and other abusive clients.
Let’s take the first scenario, you’re essentially buying rebranded bandwidth. Your bandwidth is just repackaged and relabeled but it ultimately comes from a problematic provider with a known spotty record. Eventually, your hosting quality might be affected. To fix this problem, make sure to ask your provider who their upstream providers are. Research these companies. See if they peer their networks or if they have backup connections and there’s built in redundancy. Finally, ask for the percentage blend of bandwidth. Many companies don’t just get their upstream bandwidth from one company but use a “blend” of differing sources. Find out the percentage so you can compare reliability and can calculate your risk.
The second scenario is more disturbing. If you are unlucky enough to buy from an upstream provider with a history of providing services to spammers and other abusers, your site might be included in whatever collective punishment is meted out at the source of your bandwidth. For example, an upstream provider starts getting blocked due to too many spammers using their service. The downstream might get affected to. The key here is to research the companies to see if they get these types of complaints.
Secret #3: The cheapest plans out there using Shared hosting can open you up to all sorts of problems
Many newbie web publishers focus solely on cost when deciding which hosting package to subscribe to. Bad move. Focusing solely on costs would restrict your hosting package choice to shared hosting plans. While they are cheaper than virtual private servers and dedicated server packages, they also open you up to a wide range of problems. Particularly, just as in Secret #2, you open yourself up to collective punishment when someone you have no control over does inappropriate things and you end up getting punished for. This happens most frequently when your account is hosted on a web IP that is being used by another client to spam. Anti-spam organizations flag the whole IP block and your email starts bouncing all of a sudden. Another example is when a shared host client violates copyrights and the whole server gets seized—including your website!
One troubling part of this sad situation is that a conflict of interest might prevent your host from protecting you fully. Since many spammers and copyright violators are big bandwidth / processor users, the host might be generating more revenue servicing them than servicing your account. Since they stand to lose a lot of money by getting rid of these clients, they are tolerated at the risk of harming other less paying clients like you.
To protect yourself against being put in this situation, investigate thoroughly spam and copyright infringement complaints against your host. Keep an eye out for even a hint that this is going on.
In closing, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to web hosting. The secrets discussed above are issues that your web host won’t voluntarily tell you. You have to prod them. Don’t be shy or be embarrassed. Better to risk being labeled “pushy” or demanding now than getting less than stellar service down the road or getting embroiled in all sorts of legal and technical problems later.