Your site needs a home and a name, so do it right. Choosing the right infrastructure for hosting is about as important a decision as the one you make when searching for an apartment or house. Your server is a remote computer, managed by a (hopefully) reliable hosting company and stores your website files, runs the necessary processes and queries that occur when users interact with your store and serves up the corresponding pages as required.
E-commerce requires a series of server-side processes and interactions. Your e-commerce site, therefore, will not run off a hosting plan that offers space and nothing else. In fact, your web server should be able to do a few core things:
- Support Your technology. Depending on your choice of database and development platform, you’ll need to go with the operating system that fits it best. Certain platforms such as .Net and PHP need to be installed and configured on the server before they can be used. Processes such as sending and receiving emails from the website also require such components to be installed. Any hosting company worth its salt will outline what technologies are installed on their system, as well as the operating systems available for their server packages.
- Offer reliable service. Choose hosting companies that offer backup services, redundant high-bandwidth connections and that guarantee you a certain amount of uptime in their service agreements. Cheaper hosting companies may offer you similar services, but unless they provide some level of guarantee in their service in the event of a hardware failure – you’re better off going with trusted names in the business. No one stands to lose more from a loss of data than you.
- Offer extensibility and expandability. Nothing wastes time and money like having to switch hosting services because your current plan doesn’t offer a simple upgrade track to add more disk space, bandwidth allocation or other such physical features. A successful store will grow faster than you can keep track of and even a medium sized e-commerce site is capable of swallowing a large portion of server resources. Stay one step ahead by choosing a plan that allows easy upgrades.
Shared or Dedicated?
Hosting setups for e-commerce websites generally fall into one of two categories – shared or dedicated.
- Shared hosting indicates that you lease server space, usually on a monthly or annual basis, on a server that is shared between yourself and several other hosted customers. This is an economical way of receiving hosting services, since it allows you to experience the benefit of a fully enabled web server without paying the entire cost of maintaining a single server machine. Hosting accounts of this nature usually run between $20 and $100 a month, depending on the type of service and system.
- Small ecommerce systems, content management systems and simple shopping carts usually run well on these setups. The drawback to this arrangement is the sacrifice of performance as your site grows larger or requires more processing power to efficiently execute large requests of data. As site traffic grows and bandwidth usage increases, shared accounts will also usually experience decreased performance.
- Because of the nature of this type of hosting, a customer on a shared account will not have direct control over the actual server, but is limited to simple file management features available for his or her own account. Therefore, any requests for special software or components will have to be made to your hosting provider – who has every right to deny such requests if they deem it unsafe for the other clients who share that server.
- Dedicated hosting refers to your complete control over an entire server – meaning a physical server is allocated to your company and your company alone. You receive full access for managing the server and updating it with any software you desire – usually via a remote terminal connection which allows you to manage the computer from any internet connected client computer. Hosting providers usually offer unmanaged dedicated services (limited support and more responsibility on the customer to manage his server and update it with any necessary patches and security updates) as well as managed dedicated hosting (full range of support services provided, including security checks, network scans and 24 hour support should there be a server problem).
- Dedicated plans offer extensive control and power, but come at a substantially higher price than shared accounts – usually starting in prices of over $100 a month and ranging into $300-$500 a month for full featured, managed servers. Nevertheless, they are the solution of choice for larger e-commerce systems – particularly those with complex processes, extremely high traffic or server-intensive processing requirements.
- Other types of hosting arrangements exist, (such as co-location packages). These are, however, rarer cases and their specifics depend on the hosting provider that offers the service.