Outsourcing Web Hosting

As Web sites become more critical to the information infrastructure of companies, there is a growing need to provide high-quality, high-availability solutions. For example, a business selling something only online can’t afford to have its site go down at all.
The serving of a site to an e-business is as critical as power and telephone services would be to a traditional business. This trend might be termed the “utilization” of the Web, as some may consider the health and delivery of their Web site as important as other utilities like water and power.
However, given that the site must be run in a very efficient and reliable manner, firms quickly discover that it is in fact quite expensive for companies to develop in-house the talents and facilities to run a mission-critical Web site.
Therefore, many firms have decided to outsource their Web facilities. Web server outsourcing comes in many flavors, but many of the differences revolve around two factors. The first differentiating factor is whether your site is sharing a machine with other sites.
The second is whether or not the machine being used is owned and managed by you or the outsource vendor. Each type of service will be discussed in turn, with special focus on their pros and cons.

Shared Hosting

The most basic form of web site hosting, shared hosting, ranges from free Web space added to other services or in exchange for advertisement placement to high-end application service providers (ASPs). At the low end, many Internet service providers will provide a directory on one of their Web servers with a few megabytes of disk space and possibly access to a few shared tools that can be used on your Web site, such as simple formhandling scripts, counters, or message boards.
Usually, the URL for a site like this is of the form http://www.isp.net/~enduser or http://www.isp.net/enduser. The hosting service lacks any customization like your domain name (yourname.com), and it may impose limits on traffic delivered or programming tools that can be used. The upside to these types of services is that they are often free or may be included in the cost of your Internet connection.
There are also many vendors who will provide free Web serving in exchange for personal information for marketing purposes, or if you agree to show banner advertisements, they book on your Web site. While these services are appealing to home users or those looking to put up a site for fun, most will prefer other forms of shared hosting.
Shared hosting services that provide a domain name (www.yourname.com), often called a virtual server, generally are not free. These services also provide improved development facilities, like your own cgi-bin directory, statistical reports on site traffic, shopping cart facilities, and other useful features. The costs for virtual server accounts on a shared system usually start around $20 or more per month.
However, costs vary greatly and the more bandwidth your site consumes or the more special requests you have, the higher it may cost—even if the machine is not dedicated to you. In fact, with complex shared hosting services, where you may have access to content management systems or e-commerce facilities, the cost can literally skyrocket to hundreds or even thousands of dollars per month.
The major downside of shared Web hosting is that it involves using the shared server facilities of a hosting vendor. This means that the site will share Web server resources and bandwidth with other hosted sites. Server responsiveness may be significantly affected because of other hosted Web sites, particularly if those sites become popular.
Further, many customers are wary of sharing a server with others, because security often cannot be guaranteed on these shared systems. Despite its drawbacks, shared hosting is very popular—mainly due to price.

Dedicated Hosting

Because of the downside of sharing a server with others—most notably security and control—many people opt to use a dedicated server. Dedicated servers are advantageous because you can customize your server with whatever tools or programs you like, and you are not affected by other sites as much. However, the trade-off is cost.
Dedicated servers tend to be more expensive. There are two forms of dedicated server hosting. The first is where the outsource vendor owns and maintains the equipment. This may be called fully managed or dedicated hosting. The other is where you own and may even be responsible for maintaining your server.
This is usually called co-location. With co-location, the vendor provides space at their facility, electrical power, a network connection, a certain amount of bandwidth, and very limited system management for your server (like rebooting it if it crashes or maybe doing tape backups).
Co-location is generally cheaper than fully managed services, but for those who don’t want to be bothered with the details of Web site delivery, co-location is not as great of a deal as it might seem. Dedicated hosting solutions are very attractive to those who want control, security, and power, but don’t want to deal with many of the day-to-day issues of running a Web server.
The major downside of these solutions is price. Services provided by top-tier vendors might run many thousands of dollars per month—the amount dependent on the equipment and bandwidth required, as well as any services added, such as security monitoring or sophisticated hosting requirements like mirroring a site at multiple locations.
However, if a business really relies on robust fast Web site delivery, many of these vendors are a bargain, even at what appears to be a high price. Think of the actual cost of maintaining a telephone company-grade equipment room filled with servers connected to numerous Internet providers being monitored twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week by capable system and network administrators— you’ll see that the cost may be well worth it. When you consider that some of the largest sites