Australian Made Web Hosting
For every person that tells you that you need a local hosting service (such as an Australian web hosting company like Anchor) there will be another that tells you an overseas service is better or cheaper. Rather than express the only opinion on this topic that we can, we've pulled apart some of the factors you should consider so that you can decide for yourself.
Full local staff. Assuming support is not outsourced to India or elsewhere, a more recent trend to be careful of, Australian hosting means that most of the people needed to answer your questions and solve your problems (regardless of how technical they are) are awake and at work at the same time you're at work, making it quicker and easier to get things done. The sales reps are here, the support staff are here, the management, the people responsible for fixing problems are here. The overseas host isn't exactly going to be too eager to do the face to face pre-sales and solution design meetings. As much as our services are sold in terms of GHz, GB's and Mbps's at the end of the day the part of the service that is likely to have the most effect on you is the interaction with the people behind all those acronyms. Being able to build a relationship with your hosting provider should be important to you.
Support when you're awake. Regardless of where your hosting comes from chances are there's going to be core team of people responsible for provision of services all the way from sales through to support, infrastructure design, systems development, company management and so on. These people are going to be working in their local time zone. If you really want to be supported by your hosting company, you can't expect the full service if you're not operating in the same time zone as them.
How 24 x 7 is 24 x 7? In most cases 24 x 7 support isn't quite what it sounds. There might be someone answering the phones 24 x 7 but how much further than "hello" you get will vary greatly. There are two components to 24 x 7 in a hosting company. The first part is ensuring that the services you say will be running, are running 24 x 7. For this a myriad of monitoring systems and notification tools are normally used. Responding to problems that occur and are detected by the monitoring systems for the most part doesn't require bums in seats 24 x 7. Automated fault resolution systems, and on call staff combined with a bulletproof escalation process can deal with this component quite comfortably. This means that when something really does start melting down in the middle of the night, someone knows about it and there is a suitably qualified technical person available to deal with it. The second part is letting your customers speak with you 24 x 7. The reality is that the Australian market is relatively small in this industry and there aren't that many providers that can justify putting someone on the end of the phone through the graveyard shift, because there wont be that many phone calls. Even in much large domestic markets such as telecommunications providers 24 x 7 support is limited if available at all. If it is provided, chances are it wont go that much further than level 1 type support. Let's face it, if you were a technical guru would you take the job that had you working through the middle of the night? In fairness, larger providers (such as those in overseas markets) are possibly able to do a better job of getting qualified technical staff at a desk 24 x 7 in line with increased demand. Follow-the-sun type of approaches are often used by international providers with a degree of success that allows staff to work in their own timezones and allow true 24 x 7 support with suitably qualified people.
No maintenance during business hours. As much as the industry touts 99.8% or higher uptime targets, these figures only ever apply to unexpected or unscheduled outages. The reality is that hosting uses machines and machines need maintenance if you want them to keep working when you expect them to be working. Enter scheduled outages. These are allocated times when services are intentionally taken offline to perform tasks which simply can't be done whilst a service is running. Any such maintenance is usually carried out late at night or in the early hours of the morning to minimise the disruption to end users. If your hosting provider is based overseas, their middle of the night may well be your middle of the business day. Maintenance doesn't just mean sporadic work. There are many automated tasks on every server that have to happen every day. Log rotation, backups, service restarts. These sorts of jobs can effect system performance and so, like scheduled maintenance are performed in the middle of the night during a time that should have minimal impact for most users.
Performance. As rapidly as technology advances there are some things technology can't overcome. The speed of light is one of them. Data transfer over medium to longer distances predominantly happens using fibre optic cables. Fibre optics use light to transmit information. The further away a server is from the end user, the more latency will exist in the data transfer. Domestic content may have a latency of 20-30ms, head over to the US from Australia and this becomes 200-300ms+. The further you have to travel the more networks you have to transgress and hence the more chance of some degree of performance degradation.
Many of you will be thinking now that there are many services we use daily which come from overseas, YouTube, Google, Facebook, MySpace, Porn, Twitter. If these all seem to work fast why wouldn't my website or application? There are two things to consider here. Many of these services utilise very high end expensive systems such as Akamai to improve performance. Services such as Akamai work by effectively creating locally hosted copies of their clients content. Many of these services you don't actually use as frequently as say a hosted business process application and so the latency isn't so noticeable.
Cost. Australia is a big country with not that many people in it. If you're telecommunications company, that means putting cables in the ground over vast distances and not having access to all that many people to pay for them. Consider the difference between Australia and the UK. The UK has in the order of 80 million people in an area roughly the size of Victoria. Less users and more cable means you have to charge people more money. As a result our wholesale data costs are in the order of 20 times higher than in markets such as the US and UK. Even as technology advances, it's hard to see that changing in a hurry. Network and communications costs form a large part of the cost of running a hosting business and so it will make Australian hosting appear expensive sometimes. There are some caveats though:
- With lower costs in overseas markets some providers offer massive data allowances which are in reality more than you'll ever need when your target market is relatively small. Think about how much you need rather than how much someone can sell you.
We have cheap providers in Australia too these days. But a cheaper service just like cheaper goods come at a cost, somewhere quality has to be compromised. Why Does One Web Host Cost More Than Another?
Warm Fuzzy Factor. Finally, and most importantly of all, consider that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you know you're supporting the local economy, your neighbours, your community.