Starting a Website, Choosing a Webhost

Files under Website Starting | Posted by Brian

Any web-based business is obviously going to need a website.  There are a lot of choices out there, and it’s easy to get lost in the details.  The good news is, you can start small without losing the ability to grow quickly in the future.  Some of the questions you may find yourself asking are:

  • How much webspace do I need?
  • Can I just choose based on price, or is there a significant difference between internet providers?
  • My friend said I should go with XYZ internet provider, which package do I need?
  • If I make the wrong choice now, how long do I get stuck with it?

Alright, so there are probably a hundred other questions I can think of, but let’s just start with these.  Below, we’ll link to additional posts that describe more details like how do process credit cards, getting your site marketed, and more advanced questions.  For now, let’s get you a website!

Everyone wants to know

First, let’s answer the questions that are going to be the same for everyone.  Then, we’ll move on to answers that will vary depending on the type of site your planning to setup.

Certainly different webhosting companies can offer different services, and some are better than others.  There are some basic principles that hold true in nearly all cases.  One is that larger companies regularly have better systems and support.  That doesn’t mean the smaller companies don’t, but if you know anything about economies of scale, then you already understand why this is.  If I hosted one machine and paid $20,000 / month for a full diesel generator, I probably wouldn’t make very much money.  On the other hand, companies who are hosting thousands of websites have the abilities to do such things.

Generally, this is why you’ll find companies like 1and1, Yahoo, or GoDaddy have very inexpensive plans, sometimes costing less than $5/month.  There isn’t anything wrong with these hosting plans, it’s just that you’re sharing resources with (likely) hundreds of other customers.  “Is that bad?”, you ask.  Not necessarily, but we’ll get to that later.  In general though, I’ve found that the larger companies have better support and a better ability to fix problems when they occur.

It’s unfortunate, but you will often find that companies don’t have time to help you setup your website.  This happens to be especially true of larger companies, but smaller companies aren’t always better.  Thankfully, you have internetstarting.com to help you with that part!  Just make sure that the webhost provider you choose does solve problems when there are actual technical issues with your website.  I’ll give you some details on a few of them later, but just search google for reviews on websites to get a better idea of who is good at what.

Caveat Emptor!

Beware when reading reviews!  Most sites collect a commisssion on sites when you purchase your webhosting after visiting their site (called a click-through).  Some companies pay a higher commission, so these “review” sites have an incentive to promote a particular company as their #1 recommendation.  As I write this article, we haven’t signed up any sponsors yet.  Once we do, I will publish a list of rank in terms of our commission in an effort to provide full disclosure.  I refuse to promote anyone that I feel would hurt your business though, irrespective of how much commission I might make off of such a recommendation.  It’s just not good business.

Linux or Windows?

You may be used to using Windows on your home PC and now you have to decide if you want to use Linux or Windows for your webserver.  (You could also be running Linux, in which case you have already answered this question.  I suppose you could also be using a Mac, but Mac users are already used to being ignored.)  It really has nothing to do with what you’re used to using.  Unless you’re running a major application on the web (in which case you’ve already hired a team of engineers to do this work for you), you won’t have any interaction with the Operating System on the webhost at all.

That being said, I will recommend that you choose Linux in most cases.  Windows just happens to be a bit slower and more prone to crashes.  This usually won’t affect you, but because your webhosting provider has to deal with it, they may actually charge you more for a Windows plan.  You’re actually paying more for the system to be serviced more often because it will be down more.  That’s not what you need.

If you were going to interact with the system, I might recommend you stick with what you know.  In the case of a webserver, it just isn’t the case.  Unless you have a really good reason to go with Windows (i.e., you need ASP or VB Scripts on your webserver), I recommend you stick with the Linux option.

Do I need a Terabyte? … what’s a Terabyte?

Alright, now let’s dig into the nitty-gritty of what you’ll actually need on your site.  This is going to be an experiment you’ll have to play with in order to find the right fit, but there are some simple principles that you should know and will help you along the way.  Now, read down and pick the site that best describes you.

Standing Page – Personal or Business

This describes your page if you just want to make sure you have some kind of internet presence.  You’d like to make sure your customers or clients can find you online and can find your hours of operation or perhaps your resume.

Relative to the major sites on the internet, this kind of a site is going to get a small amount of traffic.  If all of your pages are static (that means they don’t automatically change every couple of minutes or hours), then you don’t even need to worry about things like PHP or MySQL support.

Good news, you’re going to be fine with the minimum hosting requirements of most of the major services.  You can probably find the package you need for around or under $5 / month.  This will allow you to change your content as needed, but you don’t have to worry about a lot of traffic or storage space (i.e. you aren’t storing hundreds of videos here).  Check out some of our sponsors on the side and pick the one that feels right to you.  You can always upgrade your site later.

In terms of storage space, you probably don’t need more than 10-20 MB and most of these hosting accounts come with 50-300 GB (1GB = 1024MB).  Some hosts have a very cheap account that only allows for 10 or 20MB.  This is plenty if you only have 1 or 2 pages with very little graphics.  If you’re going to do much more it won’t hurt to bump up to that $5 (or so) plan.

Creating a Blog or Unique Source of Information

For those who are starting a blog or want to use the internet to get unique information out to the world, you may have slightly larger requirements.  The good news is, this still isn’t going to be very expensive.  However, you will have to dig a little deeper to make sure they provide you with everything you need in terms of technology.

For most applications (incuding blog software), you’ll just need a hosting provider that runs PHP and MySQL.  In the case that you’re using WordPress (the blog software we use here), some hosting companies even support a one-click wordpress option.

I still wouldn’t recommend going with a VPS (Virtual Private Server).  For most applications you won’t need it.  Most webhosting companies will give you 100MB per MySQL database and that will certainly be plenty when you’re starting off.

As for storage space, you still won’t need much here — especially if you’re running a blog.  Almost all of your blog data will be stored in a database, so the storage space of the account is insignificant.  If you’re running a site that will be pretty active or has a significant amount of images, flash, etc. then maybe you need a bit more.  It will depend on your application, but usually 50GB is more than enough (when large pictures can sometimes consume less than half a MB!).

Internet Application Companies / Mid-size Companies

For those of you with a Mid-size company (say, larger than 100 employees) or who are making an internet application, you may want a dedicated server or a VPS.  Even as a Mid-size company, you may only need this because it’s hard to explain how a $100 Million company can get away with paying $20 / month for web space.  If you need a bigger number, a) think about a VPS, because they’re less expensive and will still probably meet your needs and b) Please, make sure you click our affiliate link so we can share in the excess profit you’re bleeding!

In all seriousness, you may eventually need to go to a VPS or dedicated server in this case.  Be careful though, very often shared hosting solutions are actually under-utilized and you will lose resources by upgrading.  The key to VPS and dedicated server offerings is two-fold.  1) You don’t have to worry about some one else’s traffic spiking right when you need the bandwidth (this is slightly less applicable to VPS) and 2) You need more processing power or specialized requirements like large MySQL databases, etc.

To give you an example, I run a DVD Catalog and Organizing site. It ran for a year and a half on a shared hosting solution, and only after our database grew from 100,000 movies to over 200,000 did we need to shift to a VPS. Obviously every application is different, but hopefully that will give you a little bit of perspective.

VPS vs. Dedicated Server

A Dedicated Server means that your webhost actually sets up a physical machine dedicated to serving only your website.  You may use the machine for anything you want, as long as it complies with your webhost’s terms and conditions (usually just things like spam and illegal activites are not permitted).  This is a good solution if you really need the processing power, and most webhosts will allow you some level of configuration of the machine.

Because it is a dedicated server, you essentially are paying the lease on the hardware as well as the webhosting fees.  These packages generally start at around $99/month, but you can sometimes find specials for less.  Be careful, I have seen dedicated plans costing as little as $29 / month, but they actually come with no support.  If the machine shuts down, you’re on your own bub!

VPS stands for “Vitual Private Server” and operates similarly to a dedicated server.  In the case of a VPS, there is only one physical server which hosts several VPS accounts.  Usually these are pretty beefy machines with quad processors or even 8-way processors, but they are also usually serving between 16 and 64 VPS accounts.  This puts you half-way between a dedicated server account and a shared hosting plan.  Prices usually float somewhere between as well.

If you just don’t quite need the processing power of a dedicated machine, VPS systems are a nice way to go.  They will get a bit sluggish if another member is crunching away on a task, but usually some amount of RAM and processing power is always reserved for each machine so you should never get resource starved.

The VPS is also a nice way to go if you need to do something besides just a webhost.  For example, if you need to run software that hosts an online multiplayer game you likely couldn’t do that on a shared hosting account.  VPS setups are still cheap enough that it may fit your budget, but because it acts like an independent machine you should also be able to run whatever other types of server you may need (proxy, STUN, game host to name a few).

For VPS or a dedicated server, you’ll have to decide how much RAM and/or processing power you need.  There’s no real way to gauge this, it’s just going to depend on your application.  256MB of RAM isn’t a lot, but if you are hosting an application that isn’t very busy or that has a small database footprint, then maybe it’s enough (I’m speaking in terms of a Linux VPS here, Windows VPS accounts — you’re on your own).  The best thing I can recommend is to make sure your web host allows a simple upgrade path.  Then if the allocation isn’t enough or your requirements grow it will be easy to migrate to a larger account.

It All Comes Down to This

Remember, it’s not a big deal to upgrade.  I wouldn’t recommend doing it every week, but it won’t kill you to upgrade once or twice in this process.  So, while I might make less commission off of it, I recommend starting small and moving up as required.

As for which host to go with, I can tell you that I host 3 sites on 1and1 at this point.  They’ve done a pretty good job of it so far and their technical support has always been responsive (I usually get through in 1 to 3 minutes).  I also checked throughput (how fast they download) and 1and1 wasn’t the absolute fastest out there, but they’re almost always near the top.  That was one of the big factors for me — if it loads slowly, people will move on.

When reading through internet archives I’ve probably read more bad about Dreamhost than good, but I don’t have any personal experience, so you’ll have to make your own judgement there.  GoDaddy seems to have similar plans and features to 1and1, but they’re usually just a tad more expensive.

Finally, if you are going with a dedicated server, you may want to check out ThePlanet.  They do dedicated servers almost exclusively and they seem to do it very well.  When I look at who is running what, the big sites seem to frequent ThePlanet.  Again, if you’re looking for shared hosting (the smaller plans), this isn’t the company for you.  Check out one of the previously mentioned companies.

Also, check out our advertiser list.  I don’t blindly signup advertisers, so if they’re in our list there’s a good chance they know what they’re doing.  If I ever hear otherwise (from reliable sources), I’ll be sure to remove the offending companies from our list.  We believe you’ll come back if we’re honest and upfront with you, so you can trust our advertisers!

Tools and Resources

I need to add a whois database lookup to this blog, so if you are reading this and it’s not on the right — shoot me a reminder.  We’ll try to add useful tools to this section as we find them.

Thanks for reading and thanks for making InternetStarting.com your place for online business information!

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One Response to “Starting a Website, Choosing a Webhost”

  1. Starting a Blog - A Quick Guide to Blogging : Starting an Online Business - Help Starting a Website or Business Online and Marketing Information / SEO on June 13th, 2009 11:37 pm

    [...] blog will need to be hosted somewhere (see Starting a Website for more information) and there are several sites online that will host your blog for free.  The [...]

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