Hosts with the most

10 Sep 2007

Third-party services can take the pain out of running an e-commerce website.

If you were setting up a shop in the real world, you probably wouldn’t start piling into the bricks and cement needed to build it. So it is with hosting an e-commerce website. The idea may be yours but some tasks are best left to specialists.

There’s an array of companies ready and willing to look after the running of your site – Ireland has more than 100 providers of different scales.

At the most basic level, a third-party hosting company will take away the headache of having to maintain the server which runs the website. It will ensure that the site is continuously available and allocate a certain amount of bandwidth to cope with visitors.

Ireland’s hosting market has become more competitive in recent years, so the days of having to host sites in the US to avoid high prices should be over.

That said, Ed Byrne, general manager of Hosting 365, argues that if an e-commerce site is to work, the cost of hosting should not be the most important consideration. “The market is price-competitive but it should be about service. Price is indicative of course, but you need to look at your requirements.”

Trent Dickinson, operations manager with Novara, agrees. “Customer service and support would far outweigh price. You can get a very cheap hosting package in America or India, but if you had a problem especially with an e-commerce site that’s down, can you contact it straight away?

“The most important part is actually having your site up and running 24 hours a day 365 days a year — after all it’s your business. If you have a host with poor connectivity, continual downtime or poor support, I would advise you look for another provider,” he says.

Byrne believes there’s still an education gap among many Irish firms when it comes to sourcing the right provider for their needs. “There’s a lack of knowledge of what you need to do — it’s not just about going for the cheapest option,” he says. “People put loads of thought into how their site looks but not into how it performs. For the typical entrepreneur, I don’t think hosting is on the radar.”

According to Tanya Duncan, managing director of Interxion Ireland, three elements are essential in establishing a good working relationship with a hosting provider: “Flexibility, scalability and a trustworthy partner that understands their business needs.”

Visiting the company’s data centre, suggests Byrne, should be part of a due diligence process for any e-commerce enterprise. “The big thing is to meet your supplier. You shouldn’t just give your credit card over the internet to get it. The hosting side should be consultative. There should be a level of trust and you should be able to put a name to a face.”

On the flip side, there may be hidden costs and customers should always look out for such pitfalls, warns Dickinson. “Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting and what your bandwidth and traffic limits are.

“Also ensure that if you exceed or grow out of the current package, you have the option to upgrade straight away,” he says.

Having a website hosted by a specialist means having a guaranteed level of service but with e-commerce, security should be the top priority. “We’re talking about the company’s business stream and revenue generation.

“Security becomes paramount in this type of scenario,” argues Daniel Tinkiel (pictured), chief operations officer with Data Electronics. “Availability is always an important factor but what is the point in having a site available when it is under serious risk?”

According to Tinkiel, some of the main security services a hosting company should provide are a firewall, the ability to stop a denial of service attack and intrusion detection features.

E-commerce sites are more sophisticated than ‘brochureware’ sites and should be treated accordingly.

Dealing with customer data such as credit card details or addresses carries an extra responsibility, Tinkiel maintains. “You might lose business if your site is not secure enough or gives away confidential information that belongs to customers,” he says. “We are talking about mission-critical services so all the considerations are completely different.”

Good research based on your requirements will mean you get the right hosting service at an affordable cost.

By Gordon Smith