Here are the basic managed hosting facts you need to know, without the sales pitch, from Dominic Monkhouse, UK Managing Director of hosting provider PEER 1.
One fact about managed hosting is that there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings that make finding the right hosting
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What goes on behind closed doors?
Many managed hosting providers do not make it a policy to notify customers when they experience downtime. What this means, in reality, is that your website was out of action and you didn't even know. For e-commerce organisations, small and medium-size businesses outsourcing software or white-label Web services, this isn't just an inconvenience, it can hurt profits. Finding out revenue has taken a hit due to faulty Web availability is never an easy thing to take -- nor should it be.
Make sure your managed hosting provider reports regularly on uptime -- don't take its "uptime guarantee" as gospel. It should also prove its service-level agreement (SLA) and provide regular reports, rather than granting credits retrospectively for downtime. It's also worth noting that large chunks of downtime are often excluded from credits under the guise of troubleshooting. Have a conversation with your managed hosting provider and agree how uptime will be proven, what the process is, and what the definition of "downtime" actually is. This way you'll know exactly what you're entitled to and it'll be difficult for your managed hosting provider to get away with poor service.
Know what you're paying for
Many managed hosting providers will give you an all-in fee for setup, hardware, operating system, support and bandwidth. This may seem like an easy option, but the problem with these deals is you can't see exactly where your money is going, and therefore can't see if you're paying for things you don't need. The best way to ensure you're not taken for a ride is to ask for a breakdown of services and individual quotes for support, bandwidth, additional hardware, etc. It's the only way to know what's being delivered, what isn't and what is surplus to requirements.
Always ask about pricing for over-usage. What happens if you exceed your allotted monthly bandwidth? And how much more will it cost to add an extra Gig of RAM? Over-usage pricing can be horrendous and a sharp shock if you weren't expecting it. You need to know what's included and, more importantly, what isn't. Ask for the extra cost of things like memory, hard drive, bandwidth per gig and backup to be quoted separately, as they could come back to bite you.
Know who is really hosting you, and do your own research
In some cases, a managed hosting provider will actually have a host itself. This means you may be paying a margin when you could get a better SLA and a better price by going direct. The closer you are to the host, the swifter the fault resolution, so it pays to do a bit of research.
TIP: One of the best tools to discover your real host is the anti-phishing toolbar from netcraft.com. It allows you to see who is hosting your site and the other sites that provider is hosting. If you don't want to ask your managed hosting provider for a reference, but you do want to find and contact some of its customers, this is the perfect way to do it.
TIP: References are always good. One way to avoid being conned is the Alphabet Test. Ask for your provider's references, ignore them, then choose any letter of the alphabet and ask for three references beginning with that letter. If you don't get any, you know the initial references weren't exactly robust.
Understand your managed hosting contract and exit options Many managed hosting providers offer a discount on longer-term contracts, which may sound like a good deal. But if the provider isn't delivering within the SLA, you're stuck with poor service or forced to pay a hefty exit fee. Instead, sign a month-to-month contract. You may pay a little more, but you will have the flexibility to leave or alter your managed hosting agreement at any point, which will make life easier in the long run.
TIP: If you are stuck on a long contract with a bad provider, it's often worth paying the exit fee to switch to a month-to-month contract. Changing managed hosting providers is not hard, and there are many digital agencies that can handle migration projects without difficulty, so don't be put off about changing things, and never resign yourself to bad service.
Dominic Monkhouse is the U.K. managing director of vendor-independent hosting provider PEER 1
and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk.
This was first published in December 2009