Getting Web Server Space

A Web server is a computer that's connected to the World Wide Web and runs special software that enables it to provide information to Web users. You can easily get space on a Web server. Several Web-based publishing services include free Web server space. Or, you may have a friend or an affiliation with an organization that can lend you Web server space. These are all good options for a single Web home page or a small site.

Web hosting service features

A number of businesses and organizations offer Web hosting service — that is, space on their Web server for your Web site. Most of these organizations charge for this service, and fees vary. You should look at a number of concerns when choosing a Web hosting provider for your Web pages.

  • Pricing structure: Instead of focusing only on the charges for your initial, bare-bones site, consider also what providers charge you when your site grows larger and attracts a moderate number of visitors — say a few hundred or a few thousand a month. Some hosting providers charge a very low rate for your initial site but sock it to you when your needs grow.
  • Support: Excellent technical support for your Web publishing effort is one of the hardest — and most important — kinds of support to get. You need support for putting your pages onto the server, for answering questions about your site, and for solving problems about speedy access, uptime (how long the service is on the air trouble-free), and so on.
  • Web-related consulting services: Some Web hosting providers, even those that offer some services for free, also offer other Web-related services that they charge for, such as hosting business sites or managing your site for you. What do the providers charge for these services? How well do they work?
  • Site services: Some Web hosting providers offer helpful services, such as counting the number of users who visit your site. Other providers allow you to create and run Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripts that perform sophisticated functions, such as processing the data from an online form.
  • Domain name: The domain name is the name of the server where your site resides, but clever providers can put multiple domain names on a single computer. This means that you can have your own domain name, even if you have a small site, as long as your Web hosting provider registers the name.

Some Web hosting providers offer to register a domain name for you, but then they retain ownership of the domain name themselves. Find out whether the Web hosting provider allows you to get your own domain name, either immediately or later.

When you consider a Web hosting provider, consider in your evaluation the following factors:

  • Speed: How fast can users access your Web site? How fast can users download files hosted on the site? You can ask, but you should also test.
  • Downtime: Is the Web hosting service that you're considering ever "off the air"? Even larger online services have downtimes. Find out the track record for downtime of the Web hosting service that you're considering and compare that service's record with competitors.
  • Switchability: Having the ability to switch Web hosting providers is crucial. With the right to switch, you can resolve any other problems.
  • Viability: Many Internet-related businesses have gone out of business. Make sure that your chosen provider has a good track record and is of sufficient size.
  • Reporting: You really want your provider to offer basic reporting features, such as the number of visitors your site has each day, for free. This may be the critical factor in choosing between one provider and another.
  • Data transfer fees: Another potential gotcha involves data transfer fees. When users look at a page on your site, all the data on that page is transferred to their machines. If users download files, more data is transferred.
  • Price: If all other things are equal, price is the determining factor. But all other things are rarely equal. Consider other factors first, but don't let yourself get ripped off on the price you pay.

Hiring help

To find a good Web hosting provider or get other help relating to getting your Web site up, we recommend the following steps:

  • Start small. Asking the right questions to help you find a Web hosting provider or consultant is difficult if you have no Web publishing experience of your own.
  • Figure out what services you need. Are you going to create a simple site or a complex one? Do you want to create the site yourself and buy hosting services only, or do you want to contract out most of the work? List your needs, and then find someone who's well suited to fill them.
  • Investigate sites like your own. Find Web sites that look like the kind you want to create. Ask the Webmasters how they got their sites up and running and what Web hosting providers they use.
  • Go local. One perk of hiring a local consultant is that you can meet with the consultant occasionally in person. Although going local greatly restricts your choices, especially if you don't live in a big city, it may significantly improve your working relationship.
  • Be involved. No consultant or service provider can do everything. You need to be very much involved in every step of the process, so plan to devote many hours to working with your consultant or service provider.
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