Dec 18, 2008

Selecting a Hosting Company - Setting Up Your Own E-Commerce Website Part 3 of 6

in the previous section of this e-course on setting up your own e-commerce website we offered guidelines for selecting and registering your domain name. Part Three of our e-course focuses on web hosting and what you should look for in a hosting provider.

A web host provides space on a server (a server is simply a high performance computer), located in a hi-tech data center, directly connected to the Internet through very high bandwidth connections. With this setup, web hosts allow individuals and businesses to make their website accessible via the world wide web.

Through an online search, you will find thousands of hosting companies from which you can choose. There is however one important element to consider: always try to select the provider closest to your buyers. If you forecast that your buyers will be mainly from the US, select a US hosting company.

Most domain registrars offer to be your web host. For around £132.00 per year (that is £10.50/month) you can purchase a shared hosting package from 1&1 UK with: no minimum contract; 4 gigabytes of web space; 40 gigabytes (GB) of monthly transfer; 1 free domain; 2 databases (very important for ecommerce sites); telephone, email and online support and more. Large companies often have the most competitive rates and innumerable services, 1&1 and GoDaddy are two such companies we strongly recommend for startups. Rackspace should be considered by UK businesses with a larger traffic and sales volume (Rackspace's cheapest option is around £300/month, but the service is impeccable).

When selecting a hosting package, be aware that you will need to choose either Linux hosting or Windows hosting. Linux hosting is generally cheaper, and is used for PHP (an open source programming language) based sites, whereas Windows hosting is used for ASP and .NET (both Microsoft® proprietary programming languages) based sites. We recommend you opt for Linux hosting (because PHP programmers are generally less expensive). More advanced users will be aware that both PHP and .NET are equally powerful programming languages, and that neither will leave you short of options when thinking of expanding the functionalities of your e-commerce store.


What You Need

One thing to be aware of is the tendency of all of these providers to offer much more than you require. Companies will charge additional fees that can add up quickly as you add options.

Here are the basics that you'll require:

  • 100 MB of disk space.
  • 2- 3 GB of transfer per month.
  • At least 1 e-mail account.
  • E-mail forwarding accounts.
  • E-Mail autoresponders.
  • E-Mail aliases.
  • At least 1 database.
  • 24/7 support.
  • Frontpage support (if you're using Frontpage to build your site).
  • Daily backup.
  • 24/7 File Transfer Protocol (FTP) access. FTP is used to transfer data from one computer to another over the Net.
  • No minimum contract period (this will allow you to expand later on as you grow).

For the first few months, there is no need to purchase an expensive plan. You can always upgrade when you need more space and more services. Don't waste your money on features that you won't utilize. When you find that you need something, you can always purchase it later.

Additional features might include:

  • Protection of e-mail from spam and viruses.
  • Secure certificates that let clients know that you are protecting their information (known as SSL certificates: a good inexpensive SSL certificates provider is Comodo).
  • MySQL, which is an advanced database management system using Structured Query Language (SQL).
  • Authenticated Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), allowing you to access your e-mail anywhere in the world.

Before selecting a web host be sure to:

  • Tour the web, comparing various providers.
  • Ask friends and colleagues about their providers and what they like and don't like about the company and service.
  • Be sure to purchase a package that will cover your business needs. You can always add more space and services later.

When you first start considering providers, you may be overwhelmed by how much is out there. Use this part of our e-course as a guide, take some time to consider what you need (don't purchase services impulsively) and select a provider with which you are comfortable.

The next installment of our e-course takes you through the process of creating your site. Part Four also offers advice concerning contracting a company to create your online store.

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