Choosing your web hosting package: space, bandwidth, service-level agreements and email handling
Kevin Partner digs deep into the detail of web hosting packages to help you make your business choice
Hosting packages will include a predefined amount of hard disk space. Generally speaking, as you might guess, the more expensive the package, the more space you’ll get.
However, the majority of websites require very little space, so don’t imagine that you need to pay for the kind of hard disk space on your web server that you might have in your desktop PC.
Most sites will easily fit into a few hundred megabytes – even a media-heavy site such as my own company's PassYourTheory.co.uk needs less than 3GB in total – so disk space is not likely to be a deciding factor in choosing a host.
Treat “unlimited space” offers, therefore, with the disdain they deserve: it’s not something you need to pay extra for.
Hosting packages usually specify a maximum bandwidth. This is the total amount of traffic that your site is allowed to handle before excess charges apply.
If you have a web page that contains 80KB of data, for example, then each time one person views that page they’re using 80KB of your bandwidth allowance.
As with hard disk size, you may be surprised by how little you need. You would need hundreds of gigabytes of bandwidth only if you were running a media-streaming service.
As a very rough rule of thumb, you should typically be allowed ten times your hard disk space in bandwidth per month. Again, in practice the bandwidth allowance is likely to be so high that it’s irrelevant when it comes to selecting a host.
As a bare minimum, your shared hosting package should include PHP 5 (the programming language that adds dynamic functionality to web pages) and MySQL 5 (the most commonly used database), with permission to create one database.
You might not know yet that you’re going to need these technologies, but they cost nothing, offer the possibility to add functionality to your site without needing to change packages later and, crucially, are required if you want to install WordPress and many other web applications that can make creating your site easier.
You also need a control panel to configure your web space. The most popular one for shared hosting is cPanel, and I recommend also ensuring that Fantastico De Luxe is included in your package.
This is a bolt-on that offers one-click installation of a number of web applications, including WordPress, various other content management systems, photo galleries and discussion boards. Find out more at www.netenberg.com/fantastico.php.
For dedicated servers, cPanel is joined by Plesk. You get far greater functionality than with a shared host, allowing you to make low-level changes to your system configuration. Just remember that with great power comes great responsibility…
For dedicated hosting or VPS, only consider providers who offer a guaranteed “service level”. The most important component of this is the percentage of time over any particular month that you can expect your server to be working.
While 99% might sound excellent, bear in mind that a 1% downtime is over seven hours per month. You should be looking for at least 99.9% guaranteed uptime for a dedicated or virtual private server.