And your host for the future is…

17 Oct 2007

Business never sleeps and Ireland is emerging as a rich resource for business-focused hosting providers.

The demands of the modern enterprise means a 24×7 operation is expected and considered as a given.

But this can create a strain on technical and human resources.

Outsourcing has become one of the most used routes to provide a technical balm to soothe the problems of acquiring skilled staff and creating a footprint for the extra technology needed.

Once a website or any part of an IT infrastructure becomes an important part of a business strategy, its performance, uptime and scalability (in line with your business) become crucial.

At this point choosing a hosting supplier should be done the same way as choosing any other key supplier — get some proposals, interview potential partners and, most importantly, tour their facility and meet the engineering staff that will be looking after you.

According to Ed Byrne, general manager of Hosting 365, the myth that hosting is cheaper abroad no longer holds true, given today’s better connectivity.

He gives a list of the real factors by which you should evaluate potential hosting partners: Facilities — do they own and operate their own data centre or will they be outsourcing this to another provider? (And if so, depending on the size of your hosting requirement, maybe you should be going straight to the company they outsource to); Support — what level of support is provided?

Can you get access to technical staff around the clock, seven days a week, and through what channels? It’s not a bad idea to test this also. Why not log in to their website after hours and see if you can contact anyone? Reputation and size — it’s not that you should necessarily go with the ‘big guys’, but in the internet age it’s very easy for companies to appear to be bigger than they really are.

Byrne recommends making sure the provider has the infrastructure and staffing it claims to have. Viewing this and getting reference customers for similar services to your requirements would be recommended.

Dan King (pictured), hosting and managed services manager with Digiweb, says most hosting providers are chosen for a mix of reliability, support and value for money.

King suggests that asking the potential provider for details of outages (if any) over the last year is always prudent. “It’s also worth noting that hosting companies are very exposed to feedback from the internet — look for customer feedback on forums and blogs, especially related to customer service and any outages.

“Many hosting customers are extremely vocal and not shy about speaking their minds about their provider.”

According to King, cost and support are big considerations.

“What hours can you receive support? What exactly is supported? Do you need co-location, where you own the hardware? Perhaps a dedicated server is more preferable, where your hosting provider leases the hardware but generally provides replacements in case parts fail. These questions are probably easier posed as ‘How would you react to a disk failing at 4am on a Saturday night?'”

King says it’s advisable to ask your potential hosting partner whether it operates its own data centre, or whether it resells from leased space belonging to another company. While resold space is convenient for a small hosting provider, it does limit flexibility and the control the hosting company actually has over its environment.

“If your hosting partner does have its own data centre facility, ask how many outages has its facility seen in the last year. What power or network outages if any have occurred? What infrastructure is in place to stop these from happening? Does your hosting partner have a dedicated network engineering team? Does it have specialised facilities staff?”

Trent Dickinson of Novara said for e-commerce the greatest importance is reliability.

He says there is more pressure on an online store to be available to the public 24/7. If it is down at any hour then customers can’t make a purchase and a business’s reputation has been tainted. If another company is online and functioning the customer will use it and also spread the word about the fact that your site wasn’t available.

Dickinson warns of forming an opinion of a prospective partner based on what their website says about uptime. “Do your research and look for customer reviews of the prospective host.

“Online merchants should also not look at bargain basement prices. They should bear in mind that you get what you pay for and so by paying that little bit more you can expect a reliable hosting company with good uptime, support and customer care.”

Des Kane, head of sales for Eircom in the enterprise market, says outsourcing was becoming more popular and companies that decided to go down this road are looking for vendor stability and quality of people and processes.

“So people looking to acquire hosting ask possible providers if they have international accreditations such as ISO 117799 and BS 7273.

“I think any organisation that’s thinking of deploying key assets in off-site locations should be looking for this type of quality standard.”

Kane recommends visiting the premises of the potential host partner to get a tangible visibility of the security and the processes — how are people allowed onto the data floor and so on.

He says value was a challenging area to calculate with outsourcing, though analysis of the benefits is usually done before choosing someone.

“It’s not just value in terms of money. It’s the range and quality of service that you’re getting.

“So you could go to some operators, for example, and the level of service would be totally different.

“Better facilities and resources — that’s where the value lies and that should be obvious to the companies looking for hosting partners,” Kane concludes.

By Eamon McGrane