In the following section, we will provide additional details about the first two tiers and criteria: Availability, Security & Trust. Availibility represents the most critical and important aspect. No one wants to have a web hosting service (shared, VPS, dedicated, colocation, cloud, SaaS, paid or free, etc) which is poorly designed and maintained, frequently down, not stable, not reliable, not secure, etc.
As described in the previous article, “The Web Hosting Pyramid of Needs™” can be used by customers in order to help them choose the right web hosting partner who will be able to provide the perfect offers that fit their needs within their budget in the location of their choice. At the same time, it is used as an audit checklist for web hosting providers to help them implement the required improvements (tools, processes and people).
The Web Hosting Pyramid of Needs™ is a five-tier model combining thirty-five (35) evaluation criteria. Every person and business has specific needs and their focus depends on the importance of every need to them. When a deficit need is more or less satisfied it will go away, and we start focusing on meeting the next set of needs that we have yet to satisfy. The five levels are as follow:
- Availability: This represents the most critical and important aspect. No one wants to have a web hosting service (shared, VPS, dedicated, colocation, cloud, SaaS, etc) which is poorly designed and maintained, frequently down, not stable, not reliable, not secure, etc,
- Security & Trust: Once the first tier needs are satisfied, security and trust represent some of the very important aspects. People and businesses want to ensure that the web hosting provider is a trusted professional entity to ensure the security of their valuable data, personal and non personal information, payment information, etc,
- Support: This represents an important aspect, not only for fully managed services. Web Hosting providers have to ensure they are providing a quality support/customer services for their customers. This includes self-support via a Knowledge base and other tools, human support via phone, ticket or chat, etc.
- Features: These are specific requirements to each customer. They include the different service offerings (shared, VPS, dedicated, colocation, domain names, SSL, etc), multi-location availability when needed, integration tools and options (API, etc), any freebies (free services, upgrades and features), the services’ technical specs (storage, memory, CPU power, account limitations for shared hosting, etc), etc.
- Pricing: Getting excellent services with affordable/good pricing is the ideal scenario for customers. But for most people and businesses this is not very critical compared to previously listed needs (Even for those looking for free services). Everyone wants to get better for less whenever possible. We do consider monthly fees, initial setup fees and any other hidden or known fees in the evaluation criteria.
In the following section, we will provide additional details about the two first tiers:
This tier represents the most critical and important aspect. No one wants to have a web hosting service (shared, VPS, dedicated, colocation, cloud, SaaS, paid or free, etc) which is poorly designed and maintained, frequently down, not stable, not reliable, not secure, etc.
- Network Infrastructure Availability (uptime/reliability): Network infrastructure reliability represents the foundation of any web hosting provider. Some of the providers own their data centers, others rent servers and colocation spaces from the owners (Sometimes it is a multilevel resellers chain). All professional web hosting providers build and invest in a very reliable network infrastructures. They usually have mature and well defined maintenance, incident and outage management processes and communicate in a transparent way any event to their customers.
- Server Availability (uptime/reliability): In the shared, VPS, cloud and dedicated server world, server availability is critical. The hardware reliability, server performance and uptime represent a critical differentiator. A poorly deployed, secured and maintained server will have a negative impact on the hosted applications and services. Different management levels are available based on the offers. Self-managed and managed environments are the well known packages.
If you want to monitor your websites’ availability from different locations, check this partner’s offer. They have a FREE offer (5 Uptime Monitors from 3 Locations Checked and more).
2) Security & Trust:
Once the first tier needs are satisfied, security and trust represent some of the very important aspects. People and businesses want to ensure that the web hosting provider is a trusted entity to ensure the security of their data, personal and non personal information, payment information, etc.
- Infrastructure Security: How the provider secures the infrastructure (network, physical, etc) is important to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the entire IT infrastructure. Some providers document parts of their security practices, processes and implemented measures in their website (or in documents shareable upon request). The security aspects are usually audited by internal teams and/or third party auditors as part of the certification and accreditation process.
- Server’s security: In the self-managed/managed dedicated server world, the servers’ security is a shared responsibility between the provider and the customer. Customers have to read the terms carefully to understand the scope of support and security. In the shared, VPS and cloud environments, the provider’s takes care of the physical servers’ infrastructure security and the customer is responsible of his own scope based on the management level.
Usually customers are responsible of their data backups. Ensure that you have an effective backup strategy. Test your backup and simulate data restore to avoid any bad surprises when you need to perform a data restore into the production system. You can learn more about some data loss issues related to backup management in this article (6 Notorious Cases of Data Loss All Hosting Providers Can Learn From). Check the backup solutions implemented and available with your services.
In addition to Denial of Service attacks, hacking, brute-force and other types of attacks, one of the common issues in the web hosting industry is IP and domains blacklisting. If you are sharing an IP address with other customers, its reputation (if blacklisted) may have a negative impact on your services.
If you want to monitor the reputation of your IP addresses, check this partner’s offer. They have a FREE offer (for 32 IP/Domain blacklist Monitors against 168 DNSBL Blacklists and more).
- Previous hacking & data breaches: Unfortunately not all the hacking & data breaches are communicated by providers to protect their reputation, unless required by local laws and regulations. This aspect usually gives a good indication about how the provider handles security.
- Accreditations & Certifications: This is an important need for businesses who want to ensure that the provider has mature processes and recognized by third party audit organizations for compliance with the accreditation or certification requirements. The type of certification and accreditation you will be looking for depends on your business compliance requirements.
- Years in Business: The web hosting industry has low barriers to entry and is aggressively competitive. Many providers come and disappear after a short period of time in business. This is an indicator to be used when needed with caution to ensure that the provider has a certain level of experience in the industry. This can be compared to a person’s professional experience. The interpretation of this aspect can be analyzed from different angles. Some providers display in the footer of their websites the year when they started doing business (In the web hosting or in IT services in general?). You can also use the whois information of the provider’s domain name to get the domain registration date. Keep in mind that “Old does not mean better”.
- Datacenter’s Ownership: A provider who owns and operates his own datacenters is different from a provider who rent colocation spaces, servers or shared web hosting spaces from other providers. In some scenarios where you want to reduce the number of involved parties and ensure accountability an owner may be preferred. Each type (own, rent or a mix) has it’s pros and cons. At the end of the day, providers have to build and maintain a profitable business. Any operational inefficiencies will have an impact on how much customers have to pay for their services.
- Contact Information (Office/Headquarter Address): Does the provider have a valid address in his website? Check google maps to locate the address, you may be surprised. This will give you an idea about the provider that you are going to choose as a partner to take care of your business. Some companies may have mail/virtual addresses in some locations. At the end of the day, providers need to effectively manage their finances to keep their competitive advantage. From the compliance perspective, you may have to select partners from a specific country (location). Keep in mind that some big companies started in the founder’s garage, so evaluate this aspect if it is important for you and your business.
- Contact Information (Valid Working Phone Number): Having a valid phone number of your provider is important, especially when you have issues with the purchased services and other communication channels do not work. Some providers do not publish a contact phone number on their websites. Others may publish an invalid (not working) phone number. Check this information to get an idea about the professionalism level of your provider.
- Provider’s Website Quality: If your provider is not able to maintain a professional quality website which represents his business and brand, how do you want them to take care of your servers, valuable data and personal information? Different aspects can be evaluated (not just the design). So focus on the most important points (content quality, legal section, information completeness and accuracy, etc).
- Social Media Presence: Active accounts/pages (Facebook, twitter, Linkedin, etc) are a good indicators. Do not focus on the number of followers and likes. Focus on the shared content and discussions instead. Some providers choose to be present on specific platforms but not all of them as part of their communication/marketing strategy.
- Team/Leadership: Is the web hosting provider operation and management rely on a single person? If so, this may represent a huge risk for your business and operations. Most providers have a section dedicated to their team and management in their website where you can learn more. You can always ask questions about the team (support, billing, management, etc). The experienced team of your web hosting provider can be considered as an extension of your team. Select your partners carefully to build successful relationships.
- Reputation: This refers to the global online reputation of the provider, its domain(s), its network (Spamhaus ROKSO, etc) and other parameters.
Note that online reviews published by many websites and blogs have to be taken with a grain of salt. They call them Expert Reviews or Customer Reviews and Rating. Most of the reviews are fake (It is very hard to recognize the genuine reviews, unless you wrote them!), anonymous, paid or do not represent the whole reality. Unfortunately, people still trust online reviews.
As every person’s needs and experience are unique, the best way we suggest is to try the provider’ services to see if that really fits your specific needs.
- Acceptable Use Policy (AUP): The Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) is a legal document which describes the allowed activities to minimize the risks of impacting the provider’s and other customers’ reputation, availability and security. The AUP is a set of rules one must agree to abide by in order to use the services. Every professional web hosting provider needs a published and publicly accessible AUP document.
- Terms of Services (ToS): The Terms Of Services (ToS) is a document where the provider describes any terms related to the offered services. This includes, but not limited to, limitations, payments, usage, support scope, guarantees, service level agreements, etc. The ToS document is a set of rules by which one must agree to abide by in order to use the services. Every professional web hosting provider needs a published and publicly accessible ToS document.
- Transparency (Status Website / Status Page, etc): Most professional web hosting providers a status web application, web page or website (accessible publicly or restricted to their own customers) where they publish any planned maintenance events in advance and communicate infrastructure, network, servers, services’ outages, incidents and events.
Having a status website demonstrates the level of transparency and processes maturity of the provider. Visit the status website of your provider to learn more about past and future events if any.
Different status website options are available (paid “statuspage, status.io, statushub, etc”, hosted and open source). For shared or VPS hosting companies, you can build an easy monitoring and reporting platform using the public reports and embed them to your website. For more details check this partner’s offer. They have a FREE offer (5 Uptime Monitors from 3 Locations Checked and more).
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