When you buy a domain it does not mean you have a website! A good website is vital- and need not be overly expensive – but equally important is the web hosting of your website. You want people to be able to access your website quickly and easily 24 hours a day. You will want to check the number of visitors, the, areas of the site they show most interest in, (and the least!) and how they arrived at your site. To do this your website must be ‘hosted’ on a webserver and the quality of your website hosting will have a huge effect on your business.
The web server is a special type of computer permanently connected to the internet. All websites sit on servers and when someone types in your website address the server sends the files to their computer. The owner of the server is your website host. Most web hosts sort out your email too. Hosting simply involves housing, serving and maintaining files so that visitors are able to view the contents of your website.
You can opt for an in-house hosting solution, but most small businesses simply do not have the technical expertise.
What does hosting a website involve?
Hosting a website involves site functionality, performance and reliability. The functionality of a website depends mainly on the software used. You can get a free simple webpage for your domain from Duport, but if you want more you will need website design. If you have good in house technical expertise you can do it yourself using programs such as Macromedia Dreamweaver or Microsoft Frontpage.
Website performance depends on a fast connection to the internet and this is determined by the bandwidth – the amount of data that can be transmitted and received by an internet connection. Slow connections mean users will access the site slowly – especially if many users are trying to access your site at the same time. Slow sites are one of the biggest turn offs for customers.
Your website will need a dedicated web server. Think about the processor speed and the disk space needed for the website to operate well. Your website must be available 24 hours a day and must be reliable. Security must be excellent and must be able to withstand hackers and fraudsters.
Using an ISP for hosting
ISPs provide different types of hosting services and are responsible for providing your business with connection to the internet. You can choose between various hosting services – shared server, dedicated hosting and co-location.
The server is owned by the ISP and located in its offices. Other websites as well as yours will be hosted by the server. This is cost effective and simple, but not suitable for complex technologies.
Your website is the only one hosted on a dedicated server. This is particularly suitable for large websites with high user traffic or those which need special software or particularly high levels of security. Obviously this is more expensive.
You place your own server (either rented or owned) at the ISP premises and make the most of their technical infrastructure. However, should you choose this option don’t forget you are responsible for maintaining the actual data and website components?
Advantages of using an ISP
You obviously do not need to invest in your own webserver, and will normally get a very fast connection to the internet. The ISP should be reliable and almost always available. It should also be secure with high quality virus protection etc to ensure the security of your site.
Disadvantages of using an ISP
On the downside you are very depend on your ISP and if something goes wrong it could cost you dear. You need to have confidence and trust in your ISP and if it hosts other sites on a shared server basis which result in it being blacklisted (adult material or companies that send out spam emails.)you could be affected.
You would need a web server and a high speed internet connection and be directly responsible for day to day operations and 24 hour support.
Advantages on in-house hosting
You will have full control over access to the website, running environment, software, systems and hardware. You can manage web storage space; upgrades etc and you will not have the contractual or legal issues associated with using an ISP.
Disadvantages of in-house hosting
You will need significant resources to pay for purchasing your own web server hardware, software, high speed internet connectivity, to pay more highly skilled staff and keep up with the latest technical developments. You will have to prove round the clock support and ensure you keep the web site secure, which can be expensive. Small companies will generally struggle with in-house hosting unless they have very specialist IT departments and considerable resources.
If you host yourself you will have to understand the most common types of core operating systems, including Microsoft NT or Windows 2000, Unix and Linux.
Web server software
The software runs the web hosting services and deals with all elements of hosting the web pages, including requests from visitors to view them, and running programs or scripts. The most common web server software is Apache and Microsoft Internet Info Services (IIS).
Software languages include HTML (HyperText Markup Language) for simple web pages and CGI (Common Gateway Interface) such as JSP, PHP, ASP Cold Fusion and Perl which are used for dynamic interactive web pages.
Web editor software used to design and develop web pages with graphics, multimedia and user interactivity include Microsoft FrontPage, Macromedia Dreamweaver and Adobe GoLive.
If you want to store large volumes of information and have high traffic you might want to consider database systems such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle 10g or PostgreSQL. Suitable databases for smaller volume systems with lower web traffic include Microsoft Access and MySQL.
There are also e-commerce software packages for either third party or in house. These are based on templates and can be adapted to meet your needs. They are a quicker and cheaper option for small companies.
Maintenance, management and monitoring
Your site content must be kept up to date and downtime kept to an absolute minimum. Content management software is available so you can easily make changes without detailed technical knowledge.
CPU, memory, disk usage, network performance and backup utilities need monitoring. New software versions will have to be installed and hardware changed. (ISPs will do all this for you). You will want to check visitor statistics, returning visitors, new visitors, check which search engines they use to find the site, which parts of site they make particular use of.