A few weeks ago I interviewed Chris Drake, CEO of Firehost, along with Kevin Mitnick, a Firehost customer and security consultant / author.
Both had good insights to offer with respect to choosing a hosting company — especially a host that will be proactive about security. In fact, Firehost CEO Drake went so far as to say that “In our opinion, proactive security should be part of the managed hosting mix.”
He says that your hosting company is as important a service as your telephone service.
Unfortunately, I would hazard a guess that most small business people do not give the “where to host” decision the same level of attention as the ‘where do we get our phones?” decision. Hosting services are often treated as a commodity, as if they are all the same and the only thing to compare is price.
One thing that came across loud and clear in the interview is that hosting services do vary considerably – especially when it comes to monitoring for, and proactively preventing, intrusion attacks. Problem is, you may only discover this after a problem has occurred … many hours of lost productivity later.
Here’s how to get in front of the curve, anticipate issues, and determine whether a hosting company is a good fit for your needs and will be there when you need them most:
1. Contact current customers of the hosting provider. See how satisfied they really are, whether they have encountered any problems, and how the hosting company responded. The most challenging part could be finding other customers as some hosting companies do not share their customer list openly, nor do they have testimonials on their website.
2. Pick up the phone and call the support line. Ask a few questions and see how they respond. Are they courteous? Or do they sound indifferent … or worse, rude? Can you understand them, or are you speaking with offshore support staff whose accents you may find difficult to grasp? How long did it take for someone to answer? “At some point you will end up on the phone with support,” says Drake. “Your time is worth something.”
3. “Make sure you understand the different packages and services the company provides,” says security consultant Mitnick. “Read the website; ask questions.” There are a number of factors to consider. How much storage space will you get? What about bandwidth and data transfer – how much is covered? Will you be charged for over-usage and if so, how much? How frequently will site backups be made? What’s the hosting company’s uptime / downtime experience? What level and type of customer support will you be entitled to with the package you choose – email-only support, telephone customer support during business hours, or telephone support 24/7? What level of security monitoring and intrusion prevention/detection is available?
4. Look for a secure provider. In today’s world, where intrusion attacks have increased dramatically, security is a much bigger issue than in the past for small businesses. (Read: What Every Business Owner Ought to Know About Website Security.) This is especially important if you have an ecommerce site that must be PCI compliant for credit card transactions. Says Drake, “A big problem we see is when a small business will come to us because their website has been breached and they have 60 days to get into PCI compliance. In extreme cases, the website may have to be shut down until brought into compliance.” It is a serious, business-threatening situation.
A secure hosting environment is only one part of the security equation. Says Drake, “The main thing for a small business, is that if you collect critical information about customers such as billing information, share the awesome responsibility related to that. A hosting company can share in securing your website, but it is also important to have secure procedures for dealing with confidential information overall.”
For example, don’t print out sensitive customer information and leave it open to the public or put it in the trash without shredding it. Another example: are employees permitted to have confidential customer information on laptops, which can be lost or stolen? A third example: don’t permit employees to give out sensitive customer data over the phone without requiring verification that they are really speaking to the customer. Be security conscious in all your business processes, as well as in your hosting arrangements.
Bottom line: Next time you are in the market for website hosting, take the time to make an informed decision. Do not rush into it without doing due diligence. You may regret a snap decision later on when you find out just how momentous your decision was for your company.
And take a hard look at your current hosting provider. Have you had security breaches? What level of support are you getting? There are many options available today that you can shop for on the Web. You do not have to settle for lousy service or being hung out to dry on security issues, even on a small business budget.
Great information Anita. Any readers out there have recommendations of companies they are currently using?
I have the same question. I got recommended by Kalle Blomqvist a.k.a CharlieBloom.com to use InMotion Hosting. He had checked different listings and reviews. He is using it for his NetZpider.net(work). I thought it was convenient to pick the same hosting company when I registered my EgoSoleTrader.com domain. This is my new site [under construction… 😉 ], so I can’t say so much about the service yet, for my part.
It would be great to find a review site of secure and reliable hosting services.
Your second point is one that I think a lot of people overlook. Why not find out how responsive the customer service team is before you actually need them? Great advice.
I’ve seen several discussions where it is recommended to not use the same hosting company where you registered your domain name. Do you have any thoughts on it?
Great advice Anita. This is one of those sticky situations you can find yourself stuck in if you’re not careful. It’s hard for a beginner to know where to start with hosting. This helps a good bit. I was clueless when I first picked mine.
Well what i use is dreamhost.com. I feel convenient with them
Thanks for this information
Great article, it is very important to have reliable and secure provider, listen to advice of people based on their experiences with such companies.
Re “2. Pick up the phone and call the support line”
Now this you HAVE to do:
Dial the free line to Hostgator.com (1-866-96-42867) during peak business hours and get put on hold!
Great post and so important for small business to consider in selecting a hosting company. Too often business owners go with the lowest cost provider, then find out the service or technology support is severely lacking.
Recently one of my blog sites got hacked. The admin login returned an error page which my hosting company (In Motion Hosting) said was due to an intrusion hack. Restoring the site from a recent backup didn’t work. They (hosting tech support) then went into the affected file, found the hacked code and corrected it for me! This was done in less than an hour.
Technical support of your hosting company to resolve issues can’t be underestimated in your decision of where to host. Do they have phone support with reasonable wait times? Do they have a ticketing system that works effectively? Do they value your business and will they go the extra mile to resolve issues?
The other thing I would say in choosing a hosting company is to make sure they expertly and technologically support the type of Web application (software) you will be building your site or blog or eCommerce site with. What is their specialty? Some hosting companies try to be all things to all people and are price driven – meaning they offer comparatively lower prices. You get what you pay for!
Couldn’t agree more small companies do not always consider who to host with, but as you grow you want a flexible solution that is right for your company. Testimonials are a great way to see what a companies service is actually like.
Probably, it is good idea to follow to your advice to avoid problems later.
I use Logicworks and they have done an outstanding job especially when it comes to customer service and live support!!
Great post Anita! I think you’re right that security is paramount to think about in today’s Internet world. I actually wrote a bit more about my thoughts on this (including support)
Do you think support is paramount as well?