Web hosting is cheap these days. For $7.95 per month you can get your website online with a reasonably robust hosting package which will be more than adequate for most small businesses. Managed hosting on the other hand, starts at $150 per month. Obviously the price difference between managed and unmanaged web hosting is huge, but the reason for this is quite simple: pay more = get more.
This cost differential between managed and unmanaged websites is caused by the labour costs incurred from customising your server to suit your business, updating software, creating daily backups and offering live phone/ email support.
Managed hosting: what’s it all about?
Managed web hosting is like having a small, dedicated IT department for your business. The web host you employ will offer phone and email support for emergencies, technical issues and general server side advice.
Reputable web host companies will assess your current and future needs to identify the best platform for your business. Having the correct foundations in place will save you and your web developer from wasting countless hours resolving issues arising from conflicting programs, incorrect server speed and security patches.
The benefits of managed hosting:
- Phone support – you’ll be through to a human within minutes;
- Priority email support;
- Customisation and configuration of your server to match your business needs;
- If your website crashes you can call your host to get your website back online fast;
- 24/7 monitoring of your website;
- The ability to autoscale your configuration. When your website has a huge traffic spike it will trigger a burst to the cloud to keep your website online: think of the AFL website the week before a grand final;
- Daily backups of your website and emails to multiple locations;
- Updating of core server-side software;
- Management of sub-domain, domain moves, mailbox changes and database modifications; and
- Daily Antivirus/ Malware security scans.
Examples of managed hosting test cases:
If there is an issue with the server then a good host will have an automated fall-back response for a wide range of different problems. As an example:
- Your website gets hit with a DDOS (Denial of Service Attack) at 2am from an Eastern Bloc country. The server can automatically block that computer’s IP address and if necessary, block that country from viewing your website for an hour until the DDOS attack has stopped.
- Your website was recently modified and now the site has disappeared. In this case your web host should have done a backup no later than 12 hours before the problem occurred, and wouldn’t have much trouble reinstating the website within a few hours.
- A new worldwide security vulnerability such as Shellshock and Heartbleed hits websites worldwide. A good web host will be aware of the problem and will add the security patch to your site as soon as it becomes available.
Unmanaged or shared hosting:
Unmanaged, shared web hosting is by far the most affordable way to get your business online, especially if you are setting up a website for the first time and funds are tight. As the name suggests, your website shares the same server with numerous other websites. Sharing resources in this way means you have economies of scale. There is no need to set up the technical side of a server, and there are numerous easy to install programs to help you get online faster.
The pitfalls of unmanaged web hosting packages:
- You are signing up for a one-size-fits-all solution. If you need a suite of advanced features, they may not be available;
- If your web host has placed too many websites on the same server your site may be adversely affected;
- Your website may not be able to scale as needed;
- Certain scripts such as automatic backups and firewalls may not run; and
- Customer service is often slow.
Despite the pitfalls, a shared unmanaged web hosting account is more than adequate for many small businesses, but they are not the solution for every business.
Unmanaged web hosting is the best option if:
- Your business is predominantly run in the non-internet world
- Your business has 1-3 employees
- You are in the initial stages of starting your business and every penny counts
- You expect less than 500 different visitors per day to your website
Managed hosting is vital if:
- Your business is ready to scale. If you’re a start-up with big ambitions then managed hosting will make your life easier
- Your website is absolutely vital to the running of your business
- Your website and email has to be online 24/7
- You have an eCommerce website and sell in reasonable quantities
- Your business doesn’t have the technical skills in-house to configure a server as well as manage and troubleshoot server and security issues
- You want peace of mind knowing that someone else is looking after the day-to-day maintenance of your website
- You need a large amount of email addresses and want to have the ability to store these emails over the long term
- Security is vital to your organisation. For example; universities, councils and not-for-profit organisations
If your business is predominately online and performing well, then using a web hosting company to manage your site is a no brainer. If, on the other hand, you are just starting out in business, or your online presence isn’t the core of your business, then a managed hosting account may not be in your best interests. The best choice for your business will depend on your unique business circumstance.
As with everything in life, the more research you do, the better your long term outcome will be.
Robin Jennings is a web designer that specialises in creating communities online through my web design agency We Push Buttons. Connecting people by passion, not location, really curls my whiskers.