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You are all set to launch your web site. You have zeroed in on a domain name, too. The business plan is all ready to go. Now is the time to find a web hosting vendor. The first impulse might be to identify the top 10 providers. There are several ways you can slice and dice that problem. The first cut is obvious - we are discussing Windows hosting services providers. You might look for ASP hosting top 10, cost effective top 10 and so on. In any category, there are a lot of these providers available.
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Beauty is in The Eyes of the Beholder
The problem is not of any scarcity. In fact, there are a plethora of providers available. I went over to Google and searched for "Windows hosting reviews". About 10 million odd results came up. But, that's not the point. I simply looked at the lists given by the top 10 results. These were from:
Hosting-Review.com, RateMyHost.com, WebHostMagazine.com
WebHostingGeeks.com, HostReview.com, FindMyHost.com
WebHostingTopList.com, Web-Hosting-Top.com, WebHostingReport.com and WebSiteHostingReviews.com
Each one recommended a list of 10 or more service providers. The lists were quite different though some name did appear on more than one list. Their rankings were different on these different lists, however.
Is it the case then of beauty being, simply, in the eyes of the beholder? The surveys are based on user inputs, too. Therefore, it is possible that different segments of users came up with different top service providers. One thing is certain though, all of these service providers are good. As a starting point, I shall urge you to look at all these lists and review the facilities being offered by these providers. One thing will strike you right away. The offerings are similar - not identical of course.
Given that you have this problem of lots and lots of providers available to choose from, how do you find the gem of a service provider for your project?
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How to Find the Hidden Gems!
If the features are similar, what would really differentiate these providers so that you can choose one for your hosting? In a companion paper this month, I discussed what the essential features of a Windows hosting provider are. Take those into consideration and try to find a provider who stands apart from others. There is hardly much to choose from in terms of basic requirements like server power, storage space and communication bandwidth. They are similar and most often enough for your purpose.
There are two key factors that differentiate a superb provider from those who are good. Performance and customer service along with technical support are the keys to finding a great provider! Customer service and /or technical support issues should include even such things as how long it takes to replace hardware when something goes wrong! A half an hour is a good number.
You need to get a fix on how well the web pages load when you have launched your site and visitors are few. Page load times under these conditions will tell you how well the provider's servers are performing, whatever the server plan you may have chosen. "How does this deteriorate", or "does it deteriorate" are the questions you need answered. These will tell you if the communication bandwidth is enough. However it will be difficult to find a direct answer to this question as your site is brand spanking new and it'll take a long time before high visitor levels are reached. Unless you can get an agency to simulate and actually test the access to some other sites hosted at the provider's facilities it will be difficult to asses. The best way to check on this may be the feedback from actual users!
The uptime/availability guarantee provided by the vendor will also tell you a lot about the quality of service. Is the guarantee better than 99.5%? Are users actually getting that kind of uptime? This, along with reasonably constant average page load times could easily be used as a figure of merit to differentiate the services providers. Beyond all that what does the service cost to you is, of course, the final consideration.