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Web Hosting for Customers

So, You Want to have a Web Site for Customers

Web Hosting Options

So you've been thinking of putting up a Web site, eh? The good news is that there are a number of ways to do it. The bad news is that if you're not careful, you can run into delays, frustration, people (customers?) who lose their way to your site, and of course wasted money.

I, of course, learned the hard way, but read on and you'll hopefully be able to avoid the mistakes I made.

(If you've already chosen a bad webhost and need to change to a new one, make sure you read the page on changing webhosts for some tips on how to make the change go more smoothly.)

There are basically four options for putting up a Web site.

You can:

1. Have your Internet Service Provider (ISP) host your site.

2. Find a free webhosting service.

3. Use a paid webhost.

4. Run your own webserver (also known as Do-It-Yourself).

Each of these options has its own joys and sorrows, which are described in the linked pages. But I'll cut to the chase and tell you that the only option I'd recommend for the small business person is Option 3.

Why is that, you ask? Well, based on my personal experience, the short story is:

1. I tried Option 1, but my ISP didn't have low enough prices for the services I wanted.

2. Had bad enough experiences with the wrong (make that two wrong) Option 3 provider(s) to even consider Option 2, and

3. Based on my experience with getting cracked just running a Proxy server (geez, don't people have anything better to do?), decided that I had better things to do than play Webserver cop.

So, go check out the links above or click on the link below and get yourself a good webhost to securely and cost-effectively host that money-making site of yours!

Summary of Advantages/Disadvantages

Have Your Home ISP Host Your Site

1. Potentially Low Monthly Costs for a Small Mom and Pop Business

2. Prices for Larger Businesses Are Usually Higher

3. Your url will be hard to remember

4. Unprofessional Appearance

5. Missing Features

6. Not likely to Support a Specialty Business Well

Free Web Hosting

1. Your url will be hard to remember

2. Unprofessional Appearance

3. Not Reliable, Missing Features

4. Not likely to Support a Specialty Business Well

Paid Web Hosting

1. More Cost Effective, More Affordable Monthly Rates

2. More Features

3. Focused on the business of web hosting

4. You Have Better Things To Do

5. You Don't Have the Time to Learn or Money to Pay an Independant Consultant

6. Pre Packaged Services

Run your Own

1. You Still Have to Rent a High Speed Dedicated Internet Line

2. You Are Resposible for Your Own Hosting Support Services, such as Security, Backup, and Operation

3. High Initial Equipment Costs

4. High Level of Customization Possible

5. Open Source Webservers Software Are Available and Free

6. Learn ALOT on Your Own

7. You May Likely Have to Hire a Programmer Operator

8. You Own Your Customized Business Software Application

1. Have Your ISP Host Your Site

ISP hosting is usually the first thing that people consider when putting up a Web site, probably because most ISPs give you space for a small Web site as part of their monthly service charge. So, hey, if you're paying for it, you might as well use it, right?

The "free" ISP-hosted Web site has one primary drawback: its URL or address. The address for your Web site will usually contain the ISPs name, followed by your username, maybe followed by a directory name, and then maybe ending with "index.htm"

Really says "This is my web site!" doesn't it? Besides the fact that people know right away where your "home" is, this ISP-tied address is a big liability when you change ISPs. This article describes why registering your own domain name is a very good thing to do, and I recommend it for anyone who is serious about establishing a professional web presence.

Note: If you don't want to register a domain name, you can still get a better address than one based on your ISP's domain by using a dynamic DNS service.

"But wait!" you say. "My ISP will host my site with my own domain name!" Yes, they will... for a price, and those prices vary widely, so shop around and compare features!

What to look for

No matter which hosting solution you choose, you should look for certain features from your Webhosting service provider. This list is oriented toward a small business user.

* Setup fee of no more than $50

* No charge for registering your domain with InterNic

* At least 5 mailboxes included.

* Unlimited email forwarding.

* At least 1GB of monthly traffic allowance

* 24/7 toll-free phone tech support (Very important!)

* Microsoft Front Page support (Nope, not for me!)

* Good webserver log analysis reports

* 30 day moneyback guarantee (they usually keep the setup fee, but refund any monthly service charges that you've paid).

If you are planning on accepting orders or providing access to any databases via your Web site, then you'll want the following additional features:

* Support for database access (usually ODBC)

* SSL Encryption

* Some sort of E-commerce package

* CGI and/or Active Server Pages support

2. Free Web Hosting

This option really isn't recommended for someone who is trying to establish a business presence on the Web, because free hosting services usually don't allow you to have your own domain name. Although you can work around this disadvantage with a dynamic DNS service, "free" hosting usually has some other undesirable "feature", like having to display a banner ad for their service on each page, or getting an annoying "popup" window.

Not exactly the way to establish a professional web presence!

3. Paid Hosting

Paid hosting, also known as professional hosting, is the way to go for the small business person. Why?

* It's cost effective. You usually get more features for less money than from ISP hosting.

* They're more focused on the business. When all you do is host Web sites, you better make sure you do it well, or you'll be out of business.

* You have better things to do. Even if you know how to run your own webserver, this is one area where it's well worth it to spend the money for someone else to do it.

* For your reasonable monthly fee, you get a high-bandwidth 24/7 connection, file backup, email hosting and forwarding and plenty more.

The challenge is choosing the right company. If you were a large corporation, you could go through a formal evaluation process and request proposals from prospective webhost providers.

A small business person, however, doesn't have this option available, especially if you're looking to spend under $30 a month for service!

Why all the changes?

My Company #1 was a reseller and actually was fairly trouble-free until they were cracked and had about 1000 domains erased from their servers, mine being one of them. To make matters worse, they were not backing up the Web site files! However, I had a complete copy of my site on my computer and was able to upload it after they got the domains restored. But the thing that gave me the most problems with this first company was that the only contact with them was via email (no phone numbers were provided) and tech support had a one to two day turnaround.

* Lesson Learned #1: Don't do business with anyone who doesn't provide a phone number, especially for tech support! Companies that don't provide phone numbers are usually reselling space on someone else's server and you're better off dealing directly with the company who is really providing the service.

My Company #2 experience looked like it was going to be great. Nice big ads in multiple trade magazines, good features, low price, 24/7 toll-free tech support, they'd move the domain for free, etc. etc. Well, to make a long story short, I stayed with this company about 10 days, and my site never really ran properly. The things that went wrong with my site make me wonder how Company #2 can even stay in business, if what happened to me happens to others. But I didn't hang around long enough to find out.

* Lesson Learned #2: Even if a company can afford big ads in just about every trade magazine you read, it doesn't guarantee success.

My final piece of advice is to check out whatever company you're considering in the newsgroups. Do a Google Groups search on your prospective company's name. Post a message asking for feedback about specific companies. Followup privately via email with people who provide thoughful, informative answers. The basic idea here is to get as much information as you can before you host your domain with someone.

Remember, your domain is your company's identity on the web. You want it always available, fast, and trouble free.

4. Run Your Own Webserver (Do It Yourself)

So you don't really believe any of the horror stories about running your own webserver, or you just want to see for yourself if it's as much fun as advertised!

At any rate, you want to set up your own webserver. Since I haven't done this myself, I can only offer a few pointers and some links to places more knowledgeable than here.

High Bandwidth, all the time.

The key thing you'll need is a high bandwidth, 24/7 connection to the internet. You shouldn't attempt to host a webserver on a 56k dialup connection. You should have at minimum a full duplex cable modem or 'DSL connection. (If you are going to use a cable modem connection, be sure that running a webserver is ok under your ISP's Conditions of Service.) (NOTE: Depending on your business you may need a full T1 line or better)

Most ISPs do not assign permanent IP addresses unless you pay for a dedicated line, so in most cases you'll have a dynamic IP address. (Cable modem ISPs usually assign IPs dynamically using DHCP.) Since you need a static IP address in order to host a domain, you'll need to sign up for a dynamic DNS service. (NOTE: Since an Alarm System Company that plans on providing monitoring services is likely to have high bandwidth requirements, a dedicated high speed line with a static IP address is recommended)

For a good step-by-step on setting up a web server on a DSL or cable modem connection, hop on over

Get yer webserver here...

Once you have your connection, you'll need a dedicated computer and webserver software. You can run a webserver on just about any OS platform that you like, but Linux seems to have the most options for "free" (or nearly free) webserver software.


If you run your own server, and especially if you run your own mailserver, prepare for unwanted visitors!

You might want to first check out AntiOnline or
The stories here might just convince you to let someone else worry about getting hacked or cracked. Lots of good info, and very readable.

After visiting AntiOnline, you'll be ready to visit the CERT and CIAC sites for both tutorials and information on the latest happenings in the world of computer security. These sites are also good places to go if you want to see whether the virus warning you just received is real or a hoax (the McAfee Virus Library and Virus Alert pages are also excellent places to check for hoaxes and latest viruses). CERT also has a good Q & A style document on Home Network Security that's worth a look.

The WWW Security FAQ from the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) is worth checking out, if you prefer a FAQ format.

You'll need a firewall of some sort to protect your site. ICSA Labs Firewall Buyers Guide (free, but you'll need to register in order to access it) has info on stateful inspection and probably everything else you'd want to know about firewalls!

Last, but by no means least, read the book, "Hacking Exposed". It's very readable by non-experts and gives coutermeasures to every hacking method that it describes. Well worth the $40 or so. The Web site also contains comprehensive lists of Tools, Scripts and other links.