news / tech talk

Commercial Hosting

by Lee LeClair
As seen in Inside Tucson Business

If you are a business owner with a “working” website (something more than a brochure site, like an online storefront, for example), then you may be wondering about the pros and cons of using a web hosting service vs. just hosting your site yourself. As usual, the answer is that it depends.

Hosting services tend to be relatively expensive compared to the one time cost of setting up a server at your office and using the Internet connection your business already has to pay for anyway. However, hosting services can provide benefits you may not or cannot get at your office.

For example, a good hosting provider will typically have a large investment in reliable power. They should have uninterruptible power supplies and/or generators to ensure that their data center is always up. Similarly, a good hosting provider will have multiple high-bandwidth connections to the Internet through different carriers (e.g., AT&T, Sprint, etc). If any single connection goes down, the network traffic should automatically be routed through an alternate path. Hosting providers will often lease equipment to you which they manage but some will allow customers to co-locate servers on their network. In other words, customers can lease equipment and management services or simply the physical space, power, and bandwidth they need. Management services are convenient because it typically reduces the technical skill requirements on your staff; you can have managed firewall and network services, operating system security updates, Oracle database administration, etc. from people whose job it is to do exactly that. Good hosting providers will have 24x7 technical support and usually allow for at least manual reboots as part of their basic service. Finally, a hosting provider can scale services quickly. For example, Oprah Winfrey mentions your site is great for buying shoes and suddenly a tsunami of traffic is headed for your site. An emergency call to a good hosting provider can quickly get your site much higher bandwidth, access to a rented load balancer service, and some additional web servers so you can weather the storm.

All this comes at a cost, of course. There are several levels of service with varying costs so it’s important you evaluate your needs, risks, staffing skills, etc. in coming to a decision about whether to host with a provider or do it yourself. If you have a brochure site, it’s probably a needless expense. If you have a more sophisticated site, especially one that generates revenue e.g., storefront, supplier connections, etc. then you should consider it. Price and performance vary widely among hosting providers so shopping around is highly valuable. In my experience, going with a “big name” is no guarantee of superior service either – just a certainty that you’ll pay a premium. You should consider “performance” as it pertains to you and your business as well. I look at network uptime (a good resource is Netcraft at and the infrastructure a hosting provider uses but I look just as hard at their technical support skills and how quickly I can get to a knowledgeable technical support staffer. If I have to wait on hold or deal with a level one flunky for very long, it’s a big problem for my needs.

If your business requirements call for high availability and you don’t want to hire a lot of technical staff, look into hosting services as a way to rent the knowledge and infrastructure you need.

Lee Le Clair is the CTO at Ephibian. His Tech Talk column appears the third week of each month in Inside Tucson Business