Website Hosting Demystified, Part 2: Recommended Services

Website Hosting Demystified, Part 2: Recommended Services

Please note that this guide is Part 2 of a two part piece about Website Hosting. You can follow this link to read Part 1.

Choosing a website hosting solution can be difficult. There are a myriad of puzzling terms and price ranges thrown around which you may be uncertain about.

I have created this two-part guide to help you make a more informed decision about your domain, website or email hosting.

In this two part article, I intend to demystify and make clear exactly what service providers have to offer. After reading, you should be able to make a more informed decision about which solutions will be right for you and your business. In the first part of this article, I discussed the services on offer and broke down what you should expect from your email, domain or web hosting package. In this second part, I will round-up some available services on the market and compare and contrast their offerings to help you choose which solution might be of best value to your business or project.

As pointed out by a commenter in Part 1 of this piece, many hosting companies use buzzwords such as ‘Wordpress’ or ‘SEO’ or ‘Cloud’ hosting in their advertising to lure customers to use them over their competitors. You should note than all three of these things (and many more) can be accomplished with any hosting plan and some know-how.

If you already have a solution in place that you are happy with, you may wish to compare this guide with your current plan to ensure that you are getting the best value for your needs.

Please note that I am not affiliated in any way with any company listed in this article, I have included them here simply down to their reliability and because I feel that they offer good value for money. All quoted prices are valid at the time of writing (August 2015)

What to look out for

Domains

  • 123-reg: First in this list primarily because I have used 123-reg myself for many years and have been consistently happy with their services and the prices they charge. 123-reg offer many types of domain extensions and filter their purchasable domain extensions by category (Sport, Food & Drink, Geographic etc). Their .co.uk domains are among the cheapest in the UK, selling for £3.49 per year for the first two years (going up to £6.99 per year after this period). Their .com domains are also around £23 per year. Each domain can be managed through their in-built Control Panel with a myriad of options for forwarding, DNS and Whois fixes.
  • Namesco: A UK based company offering .co.uk domains for £6.99 per year and .com’s for £14.99 with discounts for multiple year purchases. Each domain purchase includes a free (but paltry) 100Mb of storage (that’s Megabits, not Megabytes) and website builder (good for one or two static pages but not much more) as well as a 100MB email mailbox for one address and a selection of free stock photographs. Perhaps not the most competitive domain supplier, Namesco has certainly stood the test of time and is a reliable competitor in the market.
  • Hover: An American domain registrar which sticks to the basics. They offer a vast selection of domain extensions and divide them up by sub-category, recommending the most popular for your chosen field. A .com domain from Hover is reasonably priced at $12.99 per year. You receive WHOIS privacy opt-outs for free with each domain purchase (something which many domain suppliers will charge for). Not to mention their enticing transfer options, allowing you to keep your time from your current purchase as well as a free year added on for your trouble — nice one! Unfortunately they hide mail forwarding addresses behind a paywall at $5 per address (which many other domain providers offer for free), with mailboxes being priced depending on what size mailbox you desire at an additional $20 (10GB) or $29 (1TB) per year.
  • Gandi: French-based domain registrar which offers a ‘no bullshit’ approach to domain hosting with over 500 domain extensions to choose from. Their .com domains are sold at €12.54 per year with .co.uk’s currently being sold at €7 per year. Gandi are well respected for their customer-first attitude. Each domain purchase includes full domain management with total control over DNS and forwarding settings, 5 mailboxes and up to 1000 forwarding addresses as well as a one-page website totally free.

Shared Hosting

  • Hostgator: Hostgator’s services will certainly appeal to newbies in the web hosting sphere. Their hosting plans come in a variety of price ranges depending on the length of time you sign up for, with the ‘Baby’ plan being the most suitable of the three for most people’s needs. What is interesting is that each plan includes ‘Unmetered’ disk space and bandwidth — meaning that you receive effectively unlimited storage space for your website ‘within reason’, assuming that so long as you don’t vastly abuse the policy by hosting gigabytes of questionable files, you should not have a problem with your storage space or bandwidth needs. All aspects of these plans are configured through cPanel, a very competent management panel which allows you to configure your website storage, domains, email, databases, stats and FTP through a web-ready interface. Their 3 price brackets range from $3.96 – $6.36 – $10.36 per month with a 3 year buy-in. The primary difference between the packages is the amount of additional domains allowed, each package provides web space with ‘unmetered’ (i.e. unlimited, within reason) disk space and bandwidth. Hostgator would probably work best for businesses based in the Americas with long-term plans, their price ranges get a lot cheaper if you commit to a longer contract.
  • 123-reg: Mentioned once already for their exceptional domain registration, 123-reg also offer great value web hosting packages. Perhaps their strongest point is UK telephone support, which many hosts simply do not offer. All of their hosting packages include a free .co.uk domain with a healthy amount of storage space (starting at 10GB on their cheapest packages). Although MySQL databases are limited on their cheaper packages (only 1 on the ‘Essentials’ package) all customers receive unlimited bandwidth for their website. Email allowance is good, with even the ‘Essentials’ package offering 100 mailboxes with a 1GB storage allowance to split between mailboxes. Although they do have their own management panel instead of cPanel, 123-reg are certainly a competent, trustworthy hosting solution for your business. Of the 4 price brackets available, there are a variety of differences with the web space available changing at each price range. The cheapest option ‘Essentials’ starts at £2.49 per month (ex VAT) ranging up to ‘Premium’ at £19.99 per month (ex VAT) with the first year at £14.99 per month. The ‘Essentials’ package offers 10GB of web space which for most small businesses with 1–5 websites hosted should be more than enough.
  • 1&1: Offering slightly higher pricing than 123-Reg but with generally higher allowances for storage space and email storage, with both being unlimited on their ‘Unlimited Plus’, £6.99 per month package. Both Linux and Windows hosting can be chosen allowing for versatility in your software options. Strangely, 1&1 offer over 100 server software ‘apps’ which can be installed quickly and easily, including WordPress, Joomla and Drupal, unfortunately they do not mention that these can be installed by any user themselves, which does come across as a little misleading — but arguably useful for customers who want to get themselves set up online fast. 1&1 offer 4 different types of shared hosting options with the cheapest ‘Starter’ set at £2.99 per month (ex VAT) includes 10 GB of webspace, 10 email accounts and 2GB of email storage – great for heavy email users. Unfortunately the Starter bundle only includes the capacity for 1 website, but this is bumped up to Unlimited on the further 3 packages. The Unlimited package is perhaps of best value, with unlimited webspace and unlimited website options and 2 GB of email storage for £4.99 (ex VAT) per month with an offer price of £2.99 per month for the first year. Unlimited Plus and Unlimited Pro seem to be a waste of money by comparison with their only real offers being added pre-installed Apps (which any user can install themselves).
  • eUKhost: UK-based hosts eUKhost boast over 12 years experience in the web hosting industry and their hosting packages showcase why. Each of their Linux shared hosting plans is powered by cPanel and include unlimited monthly bandwidth. Storage space is also liberally given, with 2GB as minimum on their ‘Basic’ plan, with 10 GB and 20 GB on the ‘Intermediate’ and ‘Advanced’ plans respectively. Each plan includes 24/7 technical support too which should be of aid if you ever have a problem with your service. eUKhost also offers Windows hosting plans for those with .net software requirements. With three packages available for shared hosting with cPanel, the ‘Basic’ comes in at £3.33 per month (including VAT) with 2GB of storage, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited email and 24 hour tech support. The only differentiation with the Intermediate (£4.99 per month) and Advanced (£6.99 per month) plans are an increase in the available MySQL database allowances and disk space (10 GB on Intermediate, 20 GB on Advanced).

Dedicated Hosting

  • Memset: Memset is a highly recommended hosting company who’s customers include Boots, Lush Cosmetics and the BBC amongst others. Their VPS servers distribute resources from dedicated servers between users and can be configured as you see fit: with choices over hard drive type (HDD vs SSD for storage vs speed). cPanel comes at an extra cost on all virtual servers. With only a minimum term of 1 month and no set up fee, Memset also accommodates those who may want to try before they commit. What’s great about Memset is their customisation options, you can patch together your very own server exactly as you need it. All server options like CPU, Storage Space or RAM can scale up or down depending on your usage needs. Prices for Virtual Servers start at £3.25 per month, but I would suggest you consider the VM2000 at £6.45 per month at the very minimum to allow you enough RAM to install Plesk for easy server management.
  • 4D: Eco-friendly hosting is what 4D strive for, with one of the greenest and most innovative data-centres in Europe. Their VPS options simplify things somewhat with 3 options: ‘Start-up’, ‘SME’ and ‘Enterprise’, giving you an easy option for deciding on your server based on your size of operation. The ‘Start Up’ package begins at £17 per month and includes 1 CPU core, 2GB RAM, 75 GB of disk space and 2000 GB of bandwidth as standard, with the SME and Enterprise packages increasing the amount of each of these options in line with the price increase. All VPS options include 24/7 support and free set up. cPanel is available on all packages for an additional £15 per month. All of the packages can be customised for additional resources.
  • Bytemark: Certainly at the higher-end of the market, Bytemark offer dedicated servers with high monthly costs but with a focus on automated backups and priority of speed (SSD’s come as standard, with additional storage as an add on). The ‘Dual’ package is an entry level system with 8GB of RAM, 120GB SSD and 3.6GHz Dual Core Intel i3 Processor at £75 per month. Their ‘Pro’ and ‘Max’ dedicated servers ramp up the price to £145 and £179 per month respectively but also bump up the storage capacity and RAM (the Pro includes 4 1TB hard drives).

I hope that this piece has helped to give you a better idea of what hosting solutions are available on the market and some things to look out for. If you’re still unsure about which hosting provider to choose, this comparison of 10 leading suppliers from FirstSiteGuide is well worth a look.

Thank you for reading, DFTBA

If you would like help setting up your website hosting or more bespoke recommendations for the right hosting plan for you and your business, send me an email and say hello.

Website Hosting Demystified, Part 1: Domains, Hosting and Email

Website Hosting Demystified, Part 1: Domains, Hosting and Email

Please note that this guide is Part 1 of a two part piece about Website Hosting. You can follow this link to read Part 2.

Choosing a website hosting solution can be difficult, particularly when there are a myriad of puzzling terms and price ranges thrown around which you may be uncertain about.

Picking a hosting solution without knowledge of the entire package can mean that you might end up paying over the odds for services which you don’t need or won’t actually make use of.

I have created this two-part guide to help you to make a more informed decision about your domain, website or email hosting.

In this two part article, I intend to demystify and make clear exactly what service providers have to offer in order for you to make a more informed decision about which solutions will be right for you and your business. In Part 2 of this article (to be published next week), I will round-up the available services on the market and compare and contrast their offerings to help you choose which solution might be of best value to your business or project.

What to look out for

Domains

There are two components to your domain purchase: the domain name and extension. In order to purchase a domain, both the domain name and extension cannot be currently owned by another party.

Every website is hosted on a server which is accessible over the internet. Each server has a unique IP address in order to be accessed from another device. An IP address is a string of numbers not unlike a telephone number. We use domain names to point to these numbers instead to make them more memorable — a website address like ‘vestigemedia.com’ is arguably easier to make note of than ‘180.126.78.79’.

Domains are typically charged on a per-extension basis, some extensions cost more than others owing to their popularity: ‘.com’, ‘.net’, ‘.org’ are perhaps among the most common extensions whilst niche options such as ‘.tv’ can cost more due to their in-demand nature. When you purchase a domain name, you will often be given the option to purchase many different extensions to go alongside that name, each extension you pick will add to the billable price. Now that there are an almost endless range of new domain extensions such as ‘.blog’, ‘.app’ or ‘.shop’, there is unlikely to be an end to the possible addresses for your chosen home on the internet. Some region-specific domain extensions such as .de (Germany) require that you are located in that country in order to register, however most do not have such a restriction.

Check the following before you buy:
– DNS / Name-servers: will you have control over your DNS settings? this allows you to manage which address your domain points towards. If you host your website with the same company you purchased your domain from, this shouldn’t be a problem, however this is useful to maintain control over if you do decide to change your hosting provider later on.
– Forwarding: can your domain be set to forward to another should you need to, either permanently (301 forwarding), or temporarily (302 forwarding)?
– Control Panel: is there a tool to allow the management of your domain and billing once purchased?
– Sub-domains: can you easily create sub-domains to point visitors to different parts of your site (e.g. services.vestigemedia.com, portfolio.vestigemedia.com, articles.vestigemedia.com)?
– Billing: how often is your domain billed for? can you cancel at any time?
– Transfer: can your domain be easily transferred to/from another service or owner should you choose to move or sell your domain later on?

Web Hosting:

Your hosting plan dictates what you can do with your website: how much space you have, what programs you can run and what level of control you have over your files. Hosting plans are usually either bundled or heavily pushed for sale alongside a domain name. With both a domain and a hosting plan, you are able to create and host your website on the internet.

Your web hosting solution represents a permanently-on piece of hardware stored remotely. You can access it, add and delete files as well as have it run complex scripts in order to display results. There are four main types of web hosting solution (ordered by general cost):
1. Shared Hosting — your website scripts and files are hosted on a server alongside those of many other clients. The server is managed by the service provider to ensure your website remains online.
2. Virtual Private Server — similarly to shared hosting, your files are stored on a server alongside those of other clients, but your segment of the server is more tightly walled-off, giving you stronger controls over your allocated segment of the server resources. You can usually choose whether to manage the server yourself or pay an additional fee for on-site tech support.
3. Dedicated Server — your very own dedicated remotely-hosted machine, giving you full control over system resources and storage space.
4. Server Cluster — for resource-heavy websites and server applications (think social networks or multi-national web shops), many dedicated servers can be strung together to manage extreme load.

When I discuss hosting with clients, it is typically either in reference to Shared Hosting or Virtual Private Server use as these will cover the majority of requirements in majority of cases. If you are a small to medium business, either of these options will likely be fine to get you and your business online.

Check the following before you buy:
– Storage Space: how much storage will you have access to in order to store any website files and extras (photographs, videos, audio files etc)? can storage be scaled up or down to meet your requirements? do you require extra space to store private files?
– Bandwidth: how much data can you transfer to users of your website during a billing period and at what speed? will this amount of data transfer be enough to meet your needs? what happens should your website overuse the available bandwidth — will your website be taken offline or will you incur extra fees?
– Server Location: where is your server located? is it geographically-close to your primary audience for optimum data transfer speeds?
– Domains allowed: do you intend to manage several domains under the same storage solution to make the most of available storage space? Can you create and manage more than one domain through your hosting plan?
– IP: can you purchase additional IP addresses if you need to in order to manage large/multiple websites?
– Sub-domains: can you create sub-domains to point visitors to different parts of your site? This is also a domain option too as sub-domains can often be managed either through the domain host or the web hosting provider.
– Programming Compatibility: is it possible to use a variety of server-side code like MySQL, CGI, PHP, Ruby, SSH, Perl, Python etc? You may need access to a handful of these if you want to run software programs on your server such as WordPress, a Forum or an eCommerce solution.
– MySQL Databases: required for many server-side software programs. If MySQL is enabled, how many databases can you make use of? You may need access to several if you wish to install more than one service on your web hosting server.
– Server Stats: are programs like AWStats or Webalizer included? these can help you to analyse your website traffic (useful for improving your search engine placement!)
– Logs: are you or your tech support team able to analyse your server access logs if there is a problem?
– Operating System: what operating system does your server run on? servers typically either run on Windows or Linux. Unless you absolutely have to use server software which requires a Windows server, Linux is certainly the recommended option, giving you more choice and versatility.
– Backups: does your server automatically make regular back ups of your hosted files? are you able to make and download your own backups for safe keeping?
– Management Panels: is there an internally-produced management panel for your settings or a third-party solution such as cPanel or Plesk? Some panels will allow you to manage your hosting settings and install new functions like WordPress or eCommerce functions easily without fiddly manual installation.

Email

Just like your website files, your email will also need to be managed using your hosting plan. Your available email options will depend on which method you choose for your web hosting. If you are on shared web hosting, your email options will typically come as an additional priced add-on from your hosting supplier. If you manage your private server yourself, you will be able to create, manage and allocate email resources through your management panel.

If access to email is important for you then choosing the right amount of storage space and mailbox availability is definitely worth paying attention to from the onset, it can be difficult to change later on and result in potentially problematic downtime.

Check the following before you buy:
– Accounts: are you able to set up more than 1 email account? You may want additional accounts for different members of your team or to create some addresses which forward directly to others.
– Mailboxes: how many unique mailboxes can you have? is there allowance to create one for each member of your team, your help-desk, accounting etc?
– Storage Space: is there enough storage space available to store a moderate amount of emails on your server? do you often receive large file attachments to emails? it may be the case that you need more storage space for mail than you might think.
– Forwarding: are you able to create forwarding email addresses? perhaps you or a member of your team would like the opportunity to receive help desk mail to their primary mailbox without creating separate storage boxes?
– Catchall: can you create a catchall address to ensure that all mail sent to address at your domain (even if they don’t exist) are caught in a net and checked through? (‘here lies danger’ however if you begin to receive many spam emails every day which can potentially destroy your productivity)
– POP vs IMAP: Are you able to choose which connection method to use when accessing your email? (you can read all about the benefits and challenges of POP or IMAP for your email access in this article I published last month)
– Autoresponders: if you go on holiday or leave the office for a few days, can you create an autoresponder to inform senders that you may be delayed in responding? alternatively, you may want to create an email address which automatically responds with a notification such as an automated thank you note for resumés or a notification of receipt for first contact requests.
– Mailing Lists: are you able to import a list of email addresses and send a group mail to many contacts at once? there are many services which will allow you to do this outside of your email hosting provider (and arguably they do a better job), but the option is always nice.
– Spam: what does your service-provider offer in terms of anti-spam? can you ramp up the filters if you begin to receive copious amounts of irrelevant mail?


I am often asked about the best options for website & email hosting and domain purchases, many people are understandably confused about what they are paying for and how that relates to their needs. I have known clients of mine in the past to pay far over the odds because they didn’t know exactly what it was they were being sold or what they needed when they purchased their website domain. I hope that this article has helped you to make a more informed decision about your hosting choices.

Please check back next week for the second part of this article where I will compare and contrast service providers and provide recommendations based on their offerings in regards to your needs.

Thank you for reading and DFTBA.

If you would like help setting up your website hosting or recommendations for a hosting plan that suits you and your business, fire me an email and say hello.

Email: POP or IMAP?

Email: POP or IMAP?

Email is arguably synonymous with the Internet, perhaps it was even your first interaction with digital communication? Email remains one of the most important aspects of modern business communication. If you are a business owner, employee, content-creator or even simply a consumer of the Internet — it is likely that email is now fundamental in your life and work.

In today’s hyper-connected world, where many of us access our emails from more than one location (often using more than one address), it is now more important than ever that we understand and make choices regarding which method we use to connect and access our emails.

Although many email hosts provide their own browser-based methods for accessing your mail (such as Google or Yahoo), many accounts can only be accessed through an email client application on your device. No matter which software or operating system you use, there are two methods for accessing your mail — POP or IMAP.

Email is sent from one address to another (or to many others in the case of group mails, CC or BCCs). When email is received, your server keeps ahold of it until it is told to delete it, either by yourself or by your email client. Most servers have a limited storage space for email. If you receive a lot of email containing large attachments, graphics or HTML code, your storage will be used faster than if you were to receive just plain-text communications. How this storage space is made use of and how your email is stored is dependent on whether you access your emails using POP or IMAP.

POP

The Post Office Protocol (POP) is most commonly used under its third revision (POP3). Created in 1984, POP is often considered the ‘default’ method for accessing your emails. This is a simplification of the POP process, but your email is accessed as such by your email client:

  1. Connect to the server using the login and password you provide.
  2. Check if there is new mail not previously downloaded to your device.
  3. Download a copy of your new emails to the Inbox on your computer.
  4. Send any mails in your outbox
  5. Delete old emails from the server (in-line with your deletion settings).

Your email client will allow you to specify after how long emails should be deleted from the server. Typically, POP keeps emails on the server to ensure that you have enough time to download a copy of it to your device (the default in Microsoft Outlook for example is 30 days). If you have multiple devices accessing the same email account, each device will get a copy of the emails on your server whilst it is still available. Emails can no longer be downloaded to new devices when they have been deleted from the server, so the deletion period is important to consider when using POP.

IMAP

An acronym of ‘Internet Message access protocol’, IMAP was created as an alternative to POP in 1986 and has seen many revisions since. With some providers like Google Mail actually requiring that you opt-in and agree to using IMAP for email, it is considered by some to be secondary in use to the POP method. So how does it differ? IMAP is a two-way protocol, which seeks to provide further functionality for the user. By always being connected to the mail server, your emails are constantly kept up to date and synchronised across all devices accessing your email using IMAP.

Similarly to POP, IMAP connects to the server to check for new mail, but where it differs is that it doesn’t always download your mail to your computer. Instead, IMAP tells your email client to download ‘headers’, effectively the most important metadata about your mail: the subject line, who sent it and where it was going. Only when you click onto an email does your computer download the information. Unlike POP, IMAP places priority on the server for storing your mail, rather than your device. This means that if you place email into a different folder, mark certain emails as read and delete others, the same changes will be reflected onto the server and therefore, across all of your devices.

Which method should I use?

Both POP and IMAP connect to your server where your email is stored, what your email client does next is dependent on which method you use to access your mail.

POP is simple, it downloads a copy of your email to your device and then either deletes that mail from the server or leaves it there for later deletion — it’s then up to you to ensure you have properly maintained back ups of your mail. By creating a local copy on your device, POP also ensures that you have copies of your emails when you cannot access the Internet. If you access your email on more than one device and then move email to a different folder or mark emails as read — the changes won’t be reflected across devices and you will have to make those changes multiple times. However, POP also puts preference on your device’s storage rather than the server. Mail can be removed from your server regularly, meaning that your server storage will never be clogged up by large attachments or years old email. POP can also be beneficial for those with email of a sensitive nature. In the Post-Snowden world, leaving digital traces, particularly for those involved in journalism or political dissidents, isn’t always desired — POP ensures that your mail is never left to linger in the cloud.

IMAP on the other hand always reflects your changes across devices. If you create an organisational, folder-based system to file away and archive your mail, it will be the same across all of your email-capable devices (handy if you use a mobile phone, tablet and computer to access your mail). Not only does it synchronise your inboxes, but it also keeps your Sent items, Drafts and Trash folders up to date, so you are always able to check what mails you have already sent, or continue writing your drafts from another device. However, by always storing your mail on the server, using IMAP can eventually clog your storage space if you don’t regularly delete your mail. The ‘constantly-connected’ nature of IMAP may not always be beneficial for those who have sporadic or temporary Internet connections. If you only have sporadic access to the Internet, POP may suit you better.

Even when there are now many startups that claim to have replaced email with their new service or network (see the countless instant messaging platforms that continue to launch on mobile, Slack or Skype), email remains firmly entrenched as the most dependent and widely-accepted of digital communication platforms. There are positives and negatives to each connection method, so choosing the right method for you and your work is an important decision to make. POP might best suit those who access mail from one device, have concerns over privacy and are on confident in their backup method. IMAP is better suited for users with readily available Internet access who read and write their emails from multiple places and devices, or who require the luxury of always being able to look through past communications with ease.

Are you looking to make the change from using POP to IMAP or vice versa to access your emails? The solution depends on which operating system, device and software you are using to access your mail. Get in touch by email, Twitter or leave a comment below and I would be happy to help you with the transition.