Why does one web host cost more than another?

Anchor Web Hosting staff see this question or a variation of it asked all the time. Quite often the person asking this question will get an answer from a friend or a friend of a friend. Sometimes this friend may not be giving the best advice to you.

Below are some points you should consider when picking any web host. Be it Anchor or one of our competitors, you should still consider the following points before opening an account with any hosting provider.

Level of Support Provided

  1. A big unknown issue for any web hosting customer is going to be the level of support provided. When things break, and they do, you want to know that you have capable support to rely upon. This can make or break more than a day's trading on an e-commerce website.
    • Our recommendation is submit a support request and call the prospective web host's support line to get a feel for their support response times.
  2. What is the number of support staff & system administrators the web host has employed?

    • You should try to find this out, as it will greatly affect their ability to rectify problems quickly and efficiently. A host with a very large number of support staff to a small number of system administrators may not be able to offer high degree of personal technical support.
  3. Can you speak to the system administrators if you have VPS/VDS/dedicated server or co-located server?
    • Being able to speak to the system administrators by phone is a great boon to your productivity. If you get stuck or need a quick bit of advice it can be a great time saver being able to get that question answered right away.
  4. Does the web host have staff on-call 24/7?
    • Any web host who does not have senior staff on call 24/7 to deal with hardware & software problems does not deserve your business.

Some web hosts offer 24/7 basic support, and this is great, but don't discount a host for not offering it.

Server Systems

Not all computing systems are designed the same. Some web hosting providers build their systems to handle the capacity of a large number of clients with almost unlimited storage available. These systems typically do not have the performance of one built primarily for reliability.

Overly complex systems can have complex failures that are very difficult to diagnose and correct quickly!

  1. You should ask the prospective web host if they use SCSI or SAS hard disks over SATA or IDE drives?
    • SAS and SCSI hard disks are designed for continuous operation in business environments. However, their capacity is typically less than SATA or IDE hard disks.
  2. If the web host uses a SAN, do they have a spare SAN unit and spares of all critical components on site?
    • If a critical component fails, the web host is likely to experience a very large and possibly long outage. They will likely become overwhelmed with support enquires. If the web host has a top end support contract for their SAN that will only do you so much good while your site is off-line.
  3. Does the web host use ECC memory?
    • ECC memory can detect and correct errors that cause file system corruption and make software crash. If your host does not use memory that has ECC functionality, beware!

Upstream Network Providers, Network Utilisation & Networking Questions

  1. Who are the network providers for the web host?
    • This question can mean a lot or not much. If a web host only has only one upstream provider they will be susceptible to an outage at that provider.

For any serious hosting requirements you should ensure the web host has at least 2 or more upstream network providers who both do not rely on the same provider themselves.

  1. Does the web host have their own Autonomous Systems Number?

    • An AS number will ensure the web host has the ability to change upstream network providers easily without needing to change any IP addresses. This will save you downtime and possible outages if they need to change providers themselves. It also means the web host can provision extra network capacity more easily.
  2. What is the web host's upstream network utilisation like?
    • A web host that operates near their network capacity is very susceptible to a number of problems, all of which can make your site perform poorly or even stop working altogether.

Location of Servers

  1. Does the location of servers matter much with today's Internet users having high speed connections?
    • Yes, it does. Hosting with a provider who is geographically far away from the users can mean 50% or more of the page loading time can be just the time it takes for the first bit of data to reach the user after they click a button.

The longer the distance a user is from the server, means there is a larger number of network providers between the user and server. This means there are more places for a congested network to slow or halt data transfers.

A web host has little to no control of how their data travels across the Internet once it leaves their network!

Upgrade & Migration Support

  1. Does the web host offer paid-for migration support?
    • Successful websites get busier. Eventually you will need to migrate to a new account or server altogether. You should ensure your web host is willing to do this for you or help you with this.
  2. Can the web host grow with me?
    • Small web hosts who only support shared hosting are realistically only going to be able to help you so far, then you will be on your own. Our advice is to pick a host who can offer you shared hosting, VPS, VDS, dedicated & co-location. Some hosts can offer you full racks or even bare floor space in a data centre.

Migrating a web site between systems without down time & data loss can be complex. It requires skills that not many web developers have. You really want system administrators for that task.

Does Price Matter ?

Price does matter, if the web host is charging bargain basement prices they are cutting costs somewhere. This is usually by hosting a very large number of clients per server which reduces overall performance, or they employ fewer staff to handle support enquires.

They may also host their systems where their bandwidth costs are lower, such as the USA.

There is a fine line between a server near capacity or over capacity. A server with too many users on it will suffer during peak times. This could mean a lost sale on your website or at least increase your end users' frustration when using your website.

How do I Decide

If you know what your needs are, based on the above information you should be able to make an informed decisions.