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Selecting an E-commerce Hosting Plan
Finding the perfect e-commerce hosting plan can be very complicated for those not familiar with all of the options available. Comparing e-commerce hosting companies can be a tedious task, as there is an overwhelming amount of features and benefits to consider when making a comparison of services.
It is important for businesses to select the perfect e-commerce hosting company so that their website will be able to grow as the business does, plus provide fast and reliable services so customers are not inconvenienced when trying to make a purchase or gather more information about products.
Windows or Linux Server
Servers are available under the Windows and Linux platforms. Linux is generally preferred as it is an open-sourced platform that runs about 25% faster than Windows. In addition, since Linux is an open-sourced platform there are no additional fees when wanting to build onto the server. According to Ellen Messmer in her article “Windows Server vs. Linux” in Network World, Windows is preferred by enterprises since it is easier to patch, its access control is much better, and it provides a single point of contact for business customers. Messmer explains that the appeal of Windows over Linux is that Windows is easier; however it lacks the flexibility that a Linux server has to offer.
For small to medium e-commerce websites or websites that will not offer complex features, there is not much of a difference between the two servers for a basic e-commerce hosting plan. Since Linux is cheaper and is known to perform faster than Windows, it tends to be the more popular choice for those starting out.
Shared, VPS, or Dedicated Server
Most e-commerce hosts offer businesses a choice of plans on a shared, virtual private (VPS) or dedicated server. The shared e-commerce hosting plan is the cheapest of the three and has multiple businesses hosted on one server using shared software and hardware. This plan is usually the most affordable choice for startup e-commerce websites, with the choice of upgrading to a VPS or dedicated server as the business grows. The major disadvantages to having a shared server plan are that there is a higher probability of website downtime, slowed performance and data theft. If another website on the server unexpectedly begins to use more than its reserved portion of bandwidth or its scripts conflict with the server’s performance, then other sites on the server could experience downtime or slower performance for an extended time.
A step up from a shared server is a VPS plan, which is one server partitioned so that each partition resembles an independent server. This type of e-commerce hosting plan reduces the risk of having downtime with the added advantage of the website developer or programmer having root level access for a fraction of the price of a dedicated server hosting plan.
The most reliable e-commerce hosting plans are those on dedicated servers, as data has a higher level of protection is not affected by the actions of other businesses. A dedicated server hosting plan offers website developers more flexibility with adding software or needing root level access.
Bandwidth is the measurement of the amount of data transferred each time someone views a webpage or downloads from the website. If the e-commerce website will offer digital products for downloading or a large catalog of products, then it would be beneficial to have a large amount of bandwidth available.
It is important to ask the e-commerce hosting company how it handles excess bandwidth usage in order to prevent the chance of complications in the future. Some e-commerce hosts will turn a website offline in the case it exceeds bandwidth, which means customers will not have access to the website. An alternative solution from some hosts is to automatically switch the client to its next highest plan. Also, inquire how the e-commerce hosting company would handle a spike in bandwidth. Nothing could be worse for an e-commerce website than to go offline once it receives a jump in traffic and sales.
E-commerce hosting plans come with a pre-allotted amount of hard disk space for websites. If the business’s website will have a large catalog, number of digital products or downloads, or graphics, then look for hosting plans with a larger amount of disk space. Ask the e-commerce hosting company how they handle a situation where a client exceeds their allotted space. In addition, find out the options available for increasing the amount of disk space.
It seems that most e-commerce hosting companies offer at least a 99.7 percent uptime guarantee for their servers, however issues seem to arise more often than this generic guarantee. Find out if the e-commerce host has connectivity through several backbone providers to ensure a faster connection and lower probability of having substantial downtime. Furthermore, in case there is a disaster or major issue the host should offer to back up the websites of its clients automatically on a daily basis. Some hosts also offer clients to be able to backup their sites through their control plan as well.
If the e-commerce hosting company claims to have live support 24 hours a day for 7 days a week, then test their claim beforehand. Call support during varied hours on different day and see how long it takes to get a live person on the phone. Some companies claim to have 24/7 support, yet in the evenings the support is just via email.
Ensure that the e-commerce hosting company offers Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption to encrypt transaction data over the Internet. Even if the company will be using a shopping cart program hosted by a third party, it would be a benefit to have SSL on the host in case the business wants to later host its own shopping cart.