In mid-2002, the minimum cost of a reliable, business-capable Web hosting service in the U.S. was around $16 per month. You could get a business Web site hosted for less, even for free, if you were willing to accept a stack of restrictions and possibly some huge, unexpected charges if your site got too popular.
Hardly anything has changed since then. Contracts written by Web hosting services are still full of loopholes that allow them to charge you extra if you have an unexpected burst of site
, let them
your site off (possibly without a refund) if
complains in any way about any material on your site or about email you send out that mentions your domain
, and do other things to you that might make you very
. And, naturally, most of these contracts contain anti-lawsuit provisions of one
or another or require you to file suit—or answer a lawsuit which the hosting service files against you—in a jurisdiction far from your home or office. Worse yet, no matter how
your Web site may be to your business, you will find that virtually all Web hosting services, no matter how loudly they may boast about their reliability in their sales material, bury some sort of clause in their contracts that say they are responsible for reimbursing you only for whatever fee you have paid them, prorated to cover only the
time, and that they are not liable for any other losses you suffer as a result of your Web site being unreachable by the public.
Reading Web hosting service contracts can be as depressing as reading the End
License Agreements (EULAs) that cover any commercial software you use, and if you are like most people, you have blindly clicked "I agree" many times without reading what responsibility commercial software
take for their products' behavior (usually none) and the restrictions that software licenses place upon you as a user (often major, even onerous ones). For some reason, even seasoned executives who would never sign a building lease without going over it line by line, possibly with help from an attorney, often accept software and Web hosting contracts without even skimming through them.
In Web hosting contracts, the single most important clause, for most commercial customers, deals with how much bandwidth your site is allowed. A dialup ISP that advertises unlimited access can safely assume that no customer will be online more than 168 hours per week, because that's how many hours there are in a week. A Web site's potential bandwidth use is far more
-ended than this, which is why ISPs and Web
are more likely to place bandwidth limits on Web sites than on dialup connections. Assume that a simple Web page consists of a 20-Kilobyte (KB) HTML file, and two 40-K image files. Each time a user reads this page, 100 KB of information are sent from the server to the user's computer. Our example site gets an average of 1000 readers per month, so its normal monthly bandwidth usage is around 100,000 KB, or 100 Megabytes (MB), per month. This is well within the bandwidth allotment that most Web hosting services allow in their
-cost hosting packages. (It is also all the traffic a restaurant or other local business needs to get on its Web site to make it a better marketing value than print ads or telephone directory listings.) Now imagine a disaster:
of horrors, this
little site suddenly wins a design award of some sort or is selected for inclusion in a "Best of the Web" directory or
achieves sudden popularity. Suddenly 100,000 people want to look at it every day. 100,000
times 100 KB per pageview equals 10 Megabytes of bandwidth every day. If this site is hosted under a contract that allows 100 MB of data transfer per month—which seemed like more than enough when the site's owner made his or her hosting arrangements—it is now going to use up all of its allotment in 10 days.
This depends on the specific Web host's contract terms. Some will continue serving pages and charge for excess bandwidth use. These charges can easily run into hundreds of dollars. Some hosting services will place a clamp on bandwidth use if your site is suddenly hit hard. This means that not everyone trying to view your site is going to get through to see it or that it will load very slowly for most users during peak load periods. Yet other hosting services simply stop serving your pages when you reach your bandwidth limits. In effect, once you use up your allotment, they take your site off the Internet.
Even a small, simple site that expects only modest traffic should have a minimum capacity of 5000 MB (5 GB) per month. You can easily get this much or more for between $20 and $25 per month base fee, and additional charges of $8 to $10 per additional Gigabyte are
reasonable in the retail hosting industry, although some hosting services may try to charge you
between $15 and $50 per additional Gigabyte of data transfer.
Read that contract before you sign it! This stuff is all in there!
Depending on your needs, you may be able to spend less than $20 per month to host your Web site—or you may need to
millions per year. There are six major hosting service classifications. The dividing lines between them are not
and they change constantly, but this will give you a general idea of what to expect from—and what to pay for—different levels of Web hosting.
This is the most basic, lowest-cost way to put a simple Web site on the Internet. The files that make up your site are stored on a server computer's hard drive that also contains files for many other Web sites. You have a password that controls access to the section of the hard drive that contains your files, but you cannot access other files on the server. Conversely, other site
cannot access your files. Basic shared hosting charges can range from free (with other companies' ads appearing on your pages; this makes you look like a clueless
, so don't bite on the "free hosting" deals, okay?) to about $100 per month. Most shared hosting plans in the $20 to $30 per month range offer enough server space and file transfer capacity—also called bandwidth—to accommodate a small business's needs unless that business has a database-driven Web site made up of hundreds of pages and pictures.
This is an evolving specialty in the Web hosting business: shared hosting that includes built-in ecommerce facilities like merchant accounts and templates to create "instant" catalog pages, "shopping carts," and "checkouts" with your logo on them. Many ecommerce hosts will either help you set up a credit card merchant account or have arrangements that allow you to share theirs—for a fee. Expect to pay $100 to $400 in setup fees, including merchant account startup, although many ecommerce hosts offer periodic "no start fees" specials. Expect to pay hosting fees
from $35 to $200 per month, plus credit card processing fees that are 1% to 2% higher than offline
pay. Ecommerce hosts that derive some of their income from credit card processing are likely to have less strict bandwidth limits than those that don't. While not always the cheapest way to put a direct sales site online, ecommerce hosting is usually the
, and the hosting service takes responsibility for keeping transactions—and your customers' credit card
—secure, which makes it "the" choice for small business people who do not have Web security experience
or access to anyone who does.
You lease an entire server computer from the hosting service, including space for it on their premises and use of their bandwidth up to a set limit, plus fees for extra bandwidth above that limit. You or an employee or subcontractor can configure "your" server remotely with any software you want; usually Linux and Apache are the most efficient and cost-effective choices, but whatever you choose, you are responsible for it. Security and software reliability are up to you, not to the hosting service. Prices for dedicated hosting generally start around $100 per month for a single server computer capable of operating a modest ecommerce or news/information site that gets fewer than 10,000 daily pageviews, and can range into thousands per month for more powerful (or multiple) servers that can handle traffic loads of up to 500,000 pageviews per day. Do not even think about dedicated hosting unless you know how to administer and secure a Web server or are willing to hire someone who does. This is
an expert's game.
dedicated hosting with the hosting service providing the systems expertise and labor. Base prices can start out as low as $150 per month for Linux servers, and around $200 per month for Windows servers, but at this level you can expect to pay extra almost every time one of the hosting company's network administrators goes anywhere near your server. More
, for full-service managed hosting you can expect to pay $600 per month and up for Linux servers, depending on the specific software you select, and $900 and up for Windows servers. Managed hosting prices are negotiated based on the specific software and services you need. If you are not fully familiar with the art (and it is an art) of setting up and maintaining Web servers, and none of your
has this expertise, you may want to hire a consultant to help you find, evaluate, and negotiate with managed hosting service suppliers. Although dealing with a managed hosting service takes less day-to-day knowledge (and less of your or your workers' time) than running your own dedicated servers, it still takes a certain amount of knowledge. Managed servers can safely and economically be used up to about the 500,000 pages/day level, beyond which you are probably better off owning your own equipment.
You own your own servers and routers. You hire your own network administrators and do your own hardware maintenance. You supply your own software. All the "co-lo" people (as they are called in trade slang) give you is a locked-up space in their facility where you can put your servers, along with a direct, high-speed connection to the Internet, power, air conditioning, physical security, and usually wiring for a phone line or two in the "cage" where your servers are located. Your admins and techs get bathroom keys and access to drink and
machines and a break room, and they'll need these, because if you are at the million-pageview-per-day point where it starts to make sense to control all your own hardware and hire your own technical staff, your people will be in that co-lo facility almost every day, with one of your admins on call nearby or even in the building twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, just in case something goes wrong. Co-lo is strictly for the "big boys and
" on the Internet for whom combined hardware, bandwidth, and labor expenses run into hundreds of thousands of dollars—or more—annually. (You know who you are.)
You have DSL or other high-speed Internet access at your home or office, a spare computer, and a set of Linux CDs, so you decide to set up your own server. You'll have total control of everything, but you will also have responsibility for everything. If your electricity goes out and you don't have a backup power source, your site will go offline. If your server's hard drive dies in the middle of the night, do you want to get up and replace it? Or are you going to have a backup server and automatic failover? What if your Internet connection fails? Once again, your site is down.
Small-scale, do-it-yourself hosting is for computer hobbyists and students, not serious business people. The only rational reason to run a Web server in your home or office is to learn how to do it. This is not bad knowledge to have, whether you are a solo Internet entrepreneur or president of a company that has an
online operation, but
are that a site hosted by a professional hosting service that has redundant Internet connections in case one dies, backup hardware to plug in at a moment's notice, and a backup generator out back in case of an extended power failure, can keep your site up and running more reliably than you can on your own.
At the top end of the hosting scale, you may be better off running your own servers than
space in a co-lo facility. It is entirely possible that you can save measurable sums of money, without sacrificing reliability, by building your own hosting facility in a low-cost industrial park building in an area where
don't command top-level salaries. Naturally, you need multiple backbone connections and your own backup power generators, and all employees who work in your server facility must be trained to keep doors locked, and admit only fellow employees or known visitors.
Where you put this facility doesn't really matter, as long as it has the required Internet access, plus reliable electricity and phone service. If you're in Boston and you want an
on the Florida Golf Coast frequently, put it there. If you're an avid ice fisherman headquartered in San Francisco, put your servers in Minnesota. A golfer in London might choose a town in Scotland, and so on. You may even end up with an entire satellite operation in your low-cost secondary location, built around your server facility, that provides workspace for some of your writers, editors, designers, programmers and clerical workers who can all live and work there for less than they would need in a high-cost business center—and that means even more savings.
It is easy to be seduced by Web hosting services that advertise rates of $10 per month or even less, but taking these offers is generally not a good idea. You want your site hosted by a company that has backup servers which they can throw into service immediately if one of their primaries fails, has backup power
that can keep them online in case of thunderstorms or other problems, has re-dundant connections to the "Internet backbone" in case one fails for any reason, and has a skilled staff that can protect your site from hackers and "denial of service" attacks (where hackers use automated tools to overwhelm a server's capacity by requesting thousands of pages per second so that
users can't get through). All of this costs money and requires a certain amount of organizational heft to maintain. There is a price point below which no company can afford to offer truly reliable Web hosting service, and it is foolish to try to shop below that price point.