Choosing a Web hosting provider

Ovum's Phil Carnelley and Christina Kasica look at why you should be considering a Web hosting provider to run your corporate Web...

Ovum's Phil Carnelley and Christina Kasica look at why you should be considering a Web hosting provider to run your corporate Web site(s).

Web sites can range from a basic homepage to a complex portal with streaming media connected at the back-end to internal corporate systems. And while a family's personal Web site can expect several hits a month, the Web site that IBM hosted for the 2000 Sydney Olympics catered for close to a million hits a minute.

But both ends of the spectrum - and all points inbetween - can benefit from getting a specialist to host their web servers. The value proposition of web hosting, namely that it can cut your costs in half while increasing your Web site reliability without exhausting expensive resources, is well accepted, even in regions such as the US where in-house provision is still prevalent.

A Web hosting provider offers Internet access and infrastructure provision, together with value-added services, such as administration, implementation, integration and application management.

What if it's mission-critical?
However, Web sites for which any downtime, lack of availability, performance problems, or security breaches cause significant loss of revenues, customer loyalty or goodwill, will have to satisfy themselves that outsourcing doesn't put the bottom line at risk. Examples include online auctions, online stockbrokers and financial institutions performing transactions online.

While established companies such as eBay or e-Trade, are likely to rely on extensive in-house IT capability to ensure uptime, availability, performance and reliability,
"The value proposition of web hosting, namely that it can cut your costs in half while increasing your Web site reliability without exhausting expensive resources, is well accepted"
Phil Carnelley and Christina Kasica
this may not be feasible for new entrants making use of the models pioneered by such original entrants.

These may be bricks-and-mortar companies moving online, dotcoms with good funding but little staffing resources or IT capability, or ASPs for whom budget may be a problem, but for whom a complex, highly reliable Web delivery channel is essential. They may simply be organisations taking advantage of new functionality the Web provides, such as integrated marketing campaigns that leverage instantaneous, interactive responses, or Web-casting techniques.

Another sector that might benefit is large, temporary Web sites, such as those for major sporting events such as the Olympics, which require massive capacity for short-time spans and are interwoven with cultural imperatives like national pride and event status.

For such organisations, the expertise that Web hosting companies provide, guaranteed by service level agreements, is likely to be a necessity.

Who does what?
Telcos, ISPs, hardware vendors and specialists are good candidates to offer Web hosting. Systems integrators and Web design firms often work with favoured Web hosting providers to develop strategic Web sites and presence for their clients. They may have Web hosting capacity themselves.

It's important to choose a Web host that can deliver what's required at the appropriate level of cost, scalability and sophistication. Many users have difficulty finding the right Web host, and Web hosts are struggling to position themselves in a growing and changing market.

The types of players in today's market include mass-market web hosts, complex Web site specialists and neutral provisioning.

Mass-market Web hosts tend to be:
  • Local, regional or national carriers or ISPs. They could be carriers with a global reach, especially in European or Asia-Pacific markets, where Internet penetration trails North America.

  • Large Web hosting providers in other markets (such as BT or GTE) tend to form separate divisions or subsidiaries to target mass-market provision. BT's Internet for Business group and GTE's Verizon, for example, cater for individuals and small 'Mom-and-Pop' shops that want a basic Web presence.

  • Local or small ISPs are major providers in this area, some even providing a free Web site with purchase of other services.

Complex Web site specialists are likely to be:
  • Web hosting specialists that may or may not own their own backbone, but that have honed their business to focus solely upon the provision of complex Web sites to businesses. Their ideal customer will be a business with mission-critical Web needs. Their clients will tend to be enterprises, dotcoms or ASPs that require a global reach and some degree of application service, ranging from firewall provision to full back-end application integration.

  • Hardware companies and telcos, and national or global ISPs in some cases, are likely to join specialist providers in this space.

Neutral provisioning comes from:
  • Telecoms hotels and data centres will offer Web hosting as part of a laundry list of services. Their provision will be competent but unable to compete with the sophistication of specialists and others focused on business web delivery.

  • Their customers are likely to have strong internal IT capacity, and utilise their web hosting services as adjuncts to connectivity services.

How does Web hosting work?
There are three main types of Web hosting: shared, co-location (colo) and dedicated.

Shared - Off-site provision of space on a Web server that is shared with other users. It may offer some basic services (such as Web design), but is primarily aimed at those organisations that want a basic Web presence.

Co-location (colo) - Provision of a physical location in which companies can place their Web servers and equipment. Colo providers offer a secure environment, connectivity and basic services, such as firewall provision, reporting, network services or web design. Additional managed services may also be available.

Dedicated - This hosts an organisation's complete Web function, including provision of all hardware and connectivity, and a full range of managed services. It involves dedicating one or more servers or lines to a single customer. Organisations that subscribe to this form of Web hosting will tend to have a mission-critical Web site, which requires extremely high uptime, availability and security to maintain market capitalisation or meet corporate revenue and other objectives.

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