In parts one, two and three we have already discussed security protection, the importance of a proper back-up plan, and registering your domain, so the next service you will likely need is hosting, which will automatically have your business email accounts attached to it that you will need to set up. More on that in the next post.
Hosting isn’t a software, as you can’t buy it and “own it”… unless you are willing to spend thousands of dollars for dedicated servers and pay someone to manage them 24/7. For the majority of us, we “rent” a portion of someone else’s server space for hosting our sites.
Let me explain something about what is involved with hosting. Beyond what I mentioned above about managing your own server, there are also security issues involved with such an operation. You can get a little “sloppy” with your own dedicated servers (that you own, and have nothing on them but your own sites) if that is your choice, but there is way more space (memory space) on a server than you will ever use yourself. Many large companies with multiple offices may buy and manage their own servers and hire someone to maintain them, but the average small business isn’t going to go to that expense.
For the larger companies who do own servers, the logical thing is to also rent out that excess server space to other people on which to host their sites. That is where a major shift takes place, because now, you (as the server owner/manager) may never know how much “top secret” data is stored on there by other users, and guess what… YOU are suddenly responsible for the security of all of that information belonging to other people! They expect it to be secure above all, online 24/7 with no excuses for down-time, and they expect someone to be there 24/7 for support if they have an issue. Then you will have to have a billing department to keep track of all those rentals, etc., etc. Who wants that kind of hassle?
I used to be one of the few electricians on call for a couple of data centers in a major city of about three million people. The one downtown was only a small, one-level frame building. Their security was the basic card-reader locks at every door, both inside and out. It was none of my business who their clients were, but I was told that many of the servers were public email clients.
At another facility was a two-story solid concrete building with walls four-feet thick, and ceilings two-feet thick. It could withstand a nearby nuclear attack. Due to public security, they also had to have a back-up plan, just to keep things running in the event of a major emergency! Out back, within another concrete enclosure sat a huge diesel generator the size of a railroad car.
The main building had a card entry at every door, only this time double entry doors (one past the other), including going from one floor to the other! There were also concrete and iron fences around the entire property monitored by cameras (as was the inside). The fire protection system was non-liquid, so that if anything happened it would only starve for oxygen and not short everything out from water! There were at least four tech support people on duty at any time, two up and two down. Bookkeeping and account information was in another off-site area. For this type of facility, I have to assume their clients were government entities, banks, and other higher level institutions that wanted higher security. I didn’t need to know. If they told me they might have had to kill me. (Just kidding…………I think).
My main point here is that hosting is serious and expensive business, and not something that an amateur should get involved with. It isn’t just the expense of the servers, but what you should have as a proper facility, and support for the operation.
There are many hosting companies out there, and also many “resellers” of hosting. I could be a “reseller” if I chose to, and customers would probably never know the difference, but I still would not own the servers nor have the responsibility of monitoring them. I would simply be a “subcontractor” salesperson, collecting fees (as in billing department), managing accounts, being responsible for something that I had no control over, and yet getting paid for bringing people to the actual owners of the servers.
Personally, I don’t like dealing with “middlemen”, so I usually go right to the owners. My preferred hosting source above all others, is HostGator. And yes, I do make a small commission, paid by them (like a finder’s fee), for referring you through my links, but the difference is that I am not claiming to be a hosting company or managing any accounts. I am only sending you to the “real” source of hosting, where you will do business with the hosting company directly, and believe me… it’s a very good one!
For $9.95 a month, we have unlimited hosting (meaning we can create as many sites or blogs as we want to, and all we pay for is the domain registration for each one. All that is involved with hosting is signing up for an account, and at some point, one of the forms will ask for the DNS (domain name server) location, which was provided to you by your domain registration company. If you get both the domain and the hosting through the same company, at the same time, they may even prefill this form for you. If not, it will be in the email you received from the registration company. That’s all there is to signing up for hosting and getting your site operational. Now all you have to do is add content to your site.
As I mentioned in the previous post, early in our career we made the mistake of going with a smaller hosting company, and had nothing but trouble with them, from their sloppy billing practices to the down-time of their servers, to the customer service and prices they offered. We finally did our research, and moved everything but a couple of domain names to HostGator. They are completely based in the United States (Houston and Austin, Texas, to be exact), they use mostly “green” energy from the wind farms in that area, and their service has been excellent. The few times I have had to speak with someone, they spoke clear English, were knowledgeable and the problem was solved immediately. Other times, I have used their live chat service, and again, the customer service was excellent. They have several levels of packages for hosting to suit anyone’s needs, from single domains to unlimited hosting. For less than thirty-three cents a day in hosting, I could potentially have a thousand different sites, all for the same low price, and I know I have a reliable company to deal with.
Most hosting companies provide free web site template themes, along with many more from paid sources, that you can use to build your site… or you can use your own software to build your own pages… OR you can do a couple clicks of your mouse and upload a blog program, which usually has its own themes and templates. When you install the blog program on your site it will automatically take the place of the stock place-holder page, and then you can log-in to start building it the way you want.
For normal web sites, they have a simple “publish” button (usually within the file menu on your computer screen) to upload your site to the domain. Then, when you go to your URL, you will see your web site pages, rather than the blank page. We’ll talk more about creating web sites and blogs later.
The main thing to look for in a hosting company is their service (make sure you can contact someone for help 24/7) and their reliability (make sure their down time is minimal). Every hosting company keeps logs of server time,and should be able to give the actual stats of their down time. All of them have “some” down time, but ideally it should only be for scheduled maintenance, brief times between a power outage and when their generators kick in, and such things as that. Occasionally a problem can develop with a server just like any other electronic equipment, and they may have to switch to another server, replace a defective card, or make a repair. The big question is how well they are prepared to meet such emergencies to get you back up and running ASAP.
Bigger companies are going to have more knowledgeable people on staff, more inventory of parts, and even spare servers, all of which keep down time to the bare minimum.
We all need to be environmentally conscious these days, too, and I like the fact that Hostgator gets most of their power from wind farms, rather than smelly coal-fired power plants, fossil fuel driven power plants or nuclear powered electricity. After that accident in Russia and now the earthquake in Japan, it makes me more concerned with building any more nuclear plants.
The fact that Hostgator is based right here in the United States gives me confidence that when I need to talk to someone I can understand them. But they serve a world-wide customer base, also, and I’m sure they have people working for them that speak other languages as well. I would have to assume they route calls to those people based on where the calls come from, as it should be.
Along with any hosting always comes email accounts, and there is no extra charge for those (unless you need more than comes with the package). Smaller packages and single domain packages may have only five emails, while larger packages might have as many as fifty or more. I have a mid-range account and mine comes with 25 for each domain.
I don’t use them all, but for my main sites, I may use 5-10 email accounts each. Some are dedicated inbound only (I don’t send from them), like from my marketing newsletters so that I can track problems when they occur.
It has happened once before that a user’s newsletter account got hacked and I ended up with almost 250 scam and spam emails coming in per day, and I had no idea where it originated! It took me 12 hours to stop that problem and I had to shut down an email address in my name at my company… and that shouldn’t happen to anyone! Now if someone gets hacked, I can shut down only his dedicated address, and not affect the rest of my system. These are the little things that make or break a business, and that you sometimes learn the hard way!
But yet I see so many businesses too lazy to setup proper business emails of their own, and they end up looking like dorks, because of using a public email address, like “dorksboats(at)aol.com”. An address like that is a sure sign of an amateur, typical of someone who doesn’t even have a web site yet, and not someone I want to do business with! There’s no excuse for it. I can set up all twenty-five of my email addresses (for each account) in less than 30 minutes on a professional email manager, where all addresses from all accounts both public and private can be read and answered in the same place… AND create a back-up system at the same time! It’s not rocket science, or I wouldn’t be able to do it!
In the next chapter, we’re going to discuss all that, so you need to stick around. Come back often so you don’t miss any of this, because we’re just getting started. And as always, if you have any questions, let me know.