do I evaluate a shared Web host?
Finding a decent virtual or shared Web
host can only be achieved by conducting in-depth consumer research and
evaluation. Many tools exist online that can assist the individual and small
business find an extremely reliable hosting service. With the myriad of choice
available, it is necessary for the consumer to discriminate. Since shared Web
hosting is conceived as only a low-end, low-margin commodity by the industry
itself, it is necessary for the consumer to be very wary. There are literally
thousands of Internet presence providers (IPPs) who offer shared and virtual Web
hosting services. While many provide extremely good service, others provide
service that is less than desirable. In order to find suitable Web hosts,
consumers must conduct due diligence.
Prospective shared hosting clients must therefore ensure that they test the
technical capacity of any host thoroughly before they procure their services.
Advanced testing of a potential host will reveal whether the solutions they
provide are reliable enough for your high-traffic site. Remember that your Web
host must be trusted to provide solid network infrastructure. If you select a
host that cannot provide robust connectivity, then your site's availability to
the world will suffer. For this reason, informed consumers will evaluate
potential hosting firms before they sign-up.
Testing ensures that consumers will not waste their good money on bad
services. Reliable testing results can be obtained through the use of
sophisticated network tools that monitor hosting performance. Such tools will
determine how often a host's servers experience outages and will generate a list
of probable reasons why hosting services are unreachable. It is advantageous for
you to use such tools to ensure that the host you select will provide minimum
downtime. Most hosting firms boast about their relentless commitment to
excellent service and server responsiveness, and usually the crowning jewel of
this commitment is 99 per cent uptime.
But while most hosting operations use this promise of incredible uptime as a
hard sell, few consumers actually test whether these pledges are true. Smart
consumers of hosting services, on the hand, are the first to authenticate these
service guarantees. They usually consult the services of an established server
monitoring companies such as NetMechanic.
NetMechanic (www.netmechanic.com) provides an integrated suite of tools that
detect problems with your Web site. The company's "Server Check" product is an
excellent choice for ensuring that your server is up 24 hours a day. The tool
will ping, traceroute and attempt to access your site via http on a regular
basis to verify that your server is up. For a small fee, the service monitors
your servers round-the-clock, and contacts you by your choice of pager, cell
phone or e-mail when your server goes down. The tool will also generate
specialized performance statistics in real-time, so that you can monitor outage
patterns to ensure that you're getting quality uptime from your host.
You should also routinely attempt to check server response from your own
computer. If you are using a regular 56k dial-up connection, then you should
attempt to pull up sites on your prospective host during peak and non-peak
hours. A battery of low-cost tests is available on the network layer level of
your operating system. You can test a potential hosts' network and server
responsiveness from your MS-DOS or UNIX line prompt. In order to obtain a true
representation of the host's services, you should select Web sites on your
host's network that are typical of the services they render to their normal
You should thus avoid testing the host's main Web site or premier customers.
These sites are mission-critical to a hosting firm and thus are afforded an
extremely high level of maintenance, which is not always representative of
In order to locate a typical client of your prospective host, execute a "whois"
search. Whois is an application that looks up critical information about any
Internet domain. This information includes ownership, location of the host, and
most importantly, its block of network numbers. By executing the "whois -a
yourhost.com" command at a UNIX line prompt, you can search your potential
host's entire block of network numbers, and seek out a normal customer who is
hosted on an individual network address. The customer that you use should have
the approximate services that you seek. Use the ping and traceroute commands
from either your UNIX or DOS prompt to test server responsiveness. You also can
obtain many free or shareware WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) network
tools for the Windows platform that can test server responsiveness. An excellent
suite of bundled network tools is provided free-of-charge by CyberKit
Using a line-prompt or WYSIWYG application, attempt to "ping" sites from the
prospective host on your computer. Ping is the networking equivalent of sonar.
The network tool is used to verify that a given server is actually reachable,
and measures the delay that occurs when sending a data packet to it and back
Executing a "traceroute" from your computer is also an interesting and
informative experiment to run on a hosting company. Traceroute applications
allow you to map the direction that data travels over the Internet. By
conducting a traceroute, you can determine whether the data you have requested
from your prospective host will take a direct or indirect path to you. The most
successful incident of a traceroute is therefore when data takes the shortest
route to your computer.
These tests, conducted manually on a regular 56k connection will give you a
rough indication of your client's response time if you were to choose the
prospective host that your testing. In essence, these tests determine whether a
host provides the lowest level of network latency, ensuring that data is passed
to browsers and other Internet applications as quickly as possible. Your aim
must be to ensure that the delay between request and response from a prospective
hosting service is as short as possible. Making this determination is only
possible if you conduct serious tests on prospective hosts before hosting your