Web Hosting Buyers Guide
Despite what your momma or teacher told you there are definitely bad questions. Questions can be good things and you should definitely be asking them before choosing your next web hosting company. We’ve outlined good and bad questions to ask your web host covering five separate categories. Hopefully you’ll come away as a more educated shopper and maybe learn a little about Alpha Hosting in the process.
- What happens if my server catches on fire?
Believe it or not I get this question quite frequently. Another common one is, “What happens if a meteor hits the data center.” My answer to that one is we probably have more to worry about than web hosting if meteors are falling out of the sky.
The fire questions is a good one for the fire department, but not helpful for choosing a web host. (If you’re really curious about different fire suppression methods for data centers I’d be glad to chat offline.) However, how you/they recover from a catastrophic failure IS a really important question to ask your web host.
- Can you describe your basic disaster recovery plan?
- How fast can you restore my data if I have a local backup?
- Do you make backups of my files and keep them offsite?
The better questions to ask are about the web host’s plan if a hardware failure, or large outage of some kind, occurs regardless of the reason. It’s important to know how quickly they can have you back up and running.
If you have your own backup we can get your site live on a new cloud server very quickly. It will largely depend on how large the backup file is and how long it takes to transfer it. The same is true for restores from an Alpha Hosting backup. We use redundant cloud infrastructure for high resiliency and data loss prevention. It’s always a good idea to keep your own local backup just in case. In terms of larger disaster recovery plans we rely heavily on the backup systems in our data center. We’ll cover those features in the next question.
- Are you a reseller?
Most web hosts resell at least some part of their infrastructure. What you probably want to know is to what extent they’re relying on SLAs from other companies. You may or may not care how much they’ll be passing the buck if there’s an outage. Also, beware that most companies reselling popular cloud architecture (think AWS, Google Cloud, etc.) are probably also using a SaaS based support/ticketing system. That means if they’re not thinking about maximum redundancy then an outage of your server may also mean an outage of the system you use to contact them on.
- How much of your infrastructure do you actually control/own?
Many hosting companies don’t actually have a physical data center. Instead they work with Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, or other similar services where they’re building on top of somebody else’s infrastructure. All data centers and hosting providers have an outage at some point. The closer your web host is to the source of the infrastructure the more information they can give you if there is an outage. It should also enable them to give you better recovery options. If they do in fact own the data center it is important to clarify what that means. Otherwise you might be hosted in the broom closet of a defunct burger joint.
Located in Huntsville, AL, our tier III data center is equipped with disaster resistant pods housed within the interior of the facility. The location is protected 24/7 by armed security, plus three more layers of security before you reach our multi-factor, biometric turnstile. At the rear of the facility, we house an array of machinery that keeps us up and running when the power fails. This machinery includes multiple utility feeds, UPS, diesel generators, and robust data replication grids. These tools can provide multiple hours of backup power to allow technicians to fix the problem.
- Will you migrate my site for free?
Of course they will! Most hosting companies in 2020 provide migration services free of charge because they want your business. The “heavy lifting” upfront (which they’ve probably automated) is a small price to pay knowing you’ll be a client long into the future.
- Describe your migration process?
The better question is what their migration process actually looks like. For example, knowing how long the process usually takes will give you a good idea of how long you’ll be double paying for web hosting. Another key piece of the migration process is how much downtime you may expect. If there is downtime then you’ll want to make sure to schedule it for your off-peak visitor times. Any good hosting company should be able to walk you through their process from sign-up through to the go-live procedure.
At Alpha Hosting we provide free migrations (of course!) to our new and existing clients. Here’s the outline:
- Purchase a new Alpha Hosting package(s).
- Open a ticket with support requesting a migration.
- Schedule your migration with the support team and provide access (application, ssh, control panel) to your existing hosting environment.
- One the data has been migrated you can view the site on a temporary domain to verify all os working as it should.
- Point your DNS at your new service with Alpha Hosting.
- What happens if I’m featured on Shark Tank?
While you may hit the TV show jackpot being featured on GMA, Shark Tank, etc. there are other, more common, events that you’ll want to plan for. Things like Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales and successful marketing campaigns. The reality of most TV appearances is that you’ll really need a great, static, and mobile friendly landing page. The vast majority of that traffic will show up during the airing of the show while on their phones and many visitors will bounce quickly. Your real goal is to draw as many as you can deeper into your site for conversion purposes. The other benefit of television is you’ll know well in advance of the air date which gives you time to plan and scale your hosting solution. This brings us to better questions.
- What’s the traffic capacity of the solution and how quickly can I increase it?
Work with your host to figure out how your current traffic is using server resources and how that might look if traffic is 10-50x normal volumes. Then ask about scaling options. Does your host have the proverbial “OH SHIT!” button to get you more resources on demand? Or do they have to spin up physical hardware which will take days of planning? Even with quick vertical scaling options there are upper limits. You need to know the maximum potential you can increase your RAM and CPU cores. Finally, you may need to step up to cluster (multiple servers) architecture. A critical piece to consider here is how long your term length will be if you only need an enterprise solution for a week or two. Most hosts (but all…unlike Alpha Hosting…*wink*) will lock you into long term contracts.
You can instantly scale up and down from the Mercury to the Apollo package at any time. There’s the self service option from the client portal or you can work with support to make it happen. Within a minute or two you’ll have the resources you need. When you need something bigger, we can stack our packages together to create load balanced cluster solutions. With all services being month-to-month terms you’ll never be sitting on unused resources. Scale up and down hassle-free as needed.
- Is your support team available 24/7?
While most support teams are “available” you’ll want clarification on what that might mean. Is a late night call just buzzing someone awake so they can stumble to their kitchen table to help? Or do they actually have sys admins available 24/7/365 sitting in front of a terminal eagerly awaiting your call?
- When I call support can I speak to your engineers and how much application knowledge do they have?
It’s important to know what types of support engineers are available at specific times of the day/night. This is especially if your development resources may be off-shore. Make sure your web hosting company is able to give you their highest level of support when you need it. Also, if you’re running Magento/Drupal/WordPress/etc., you’ll want to know that their support team has at least heard of those applications. While most hosting companies don’t provide development support, they should at least be able to troubleshoot and correct issues where the application and web server aren’t quite agreeing with one another.
We have support techs and sys admins available 24/7/365. They’ve all been trained to resolve issues with the common applications we host. Applications like Magento, WordPress, WooCommerce, and Drupal. Momma always told us it was impolite to point so we make sure to work WITH your developers to resolve issues quickly.
Thanks for reading! We hope this blog will help you be better informed the next time you’re looking for a web hosting provider. (Selfishly, we hope you’ll consider Alpha Hosting if that’s what you’re doing 😉)