Buy Cheap. Buy Twice!
The recent “Going Titsup” [to use technical terminology] at 123-Reg.co.uk has, once again, shown the folly of putting price above everything else, when selecting providers for your web services —especially when you’re running a small business which depends on those services.
Is the risk of losing your entire website and several days of business really worth saving a couple of pence a day, over the course of a year for?
Whenever I teach web design modules at the colleges and universities I’ve worked at, I always set aside one session to discuss the process for registering domain names, setting up email @yourdomain.com and renting web-space. I go through the procedures involved, recommend a few companies I’ve personally found to be reliable over my nearly 20 years of having a ‘web presence’ —and I also give out a lot of information about the kind of bargain-bucket “All the Internets You Can Eat! Plus Domain Name! Plus Three Centuries Hosting! All for 99p!” offers to avoid and explain why and what to look out for.
All Web Hosting is Not Created Equal
Web servers cost money to run. There are hardware costs, premises costs and electricity costs. Your web host needs to cover these costs, on each server machine they run, in order to turn a profit. If a host is offering you web-space for a couple of £££s a month, then they are very probably either:
- Running your website on old, out-dated hardware, which isn’t going to be upgraded.
- Running dozens of websites on the same server to maximise profit. This slows everything down, in the same way your home internet grinds to a crawl, when the entire household is online at the same time.
Shared Hosting vs VPS Hosting
Most of the bargain-bucket hosting on offer is Shared Hosting [as outlined above] whereby your website is sharing server resources and software with any number of other websites crammed onto that server. It is the cheapest option, but also the one over which you have least control.
VPS [Virtual Private Server] Hosting is the next step up the ladder. With VPS hosting, the physical server machine is divided into a number of Virtual Servers, each of which is allocated its own disc space, bandwidth and RAM [memory]. Each VPS is like an independent server, running on the main server machine. Each VPS can have its own software installed and can be configured to suit the individual site [or sites] running on it. VPS also has the advantage that, unlike with Shared Hosting, if a VPS crashes, it only affects the sites running on that particular VPS, not all the sites on that server.
Of course, VPSs are prone to being given the bargain-bucket treatment too —by being stuffed full with more websites than they can handle efficiently. Although, in this case, it will usually be a web-space reseller or web design company which is over-selling space on a VPS they are renting.
VPSs require a bit more “fettling” to set up and configure at the outset. And a good admin will also need to monitor the VPS to; make sure everything is ticking along, install software upgrades when needed, and take care of backups. So, if something does go wrong, you don’t lose everything [a la 123-Reg] and your site can be brought online again, ASAP.
Mind you, no amount of Admin over-seeing of your VPS will protect you if, as happened with 123-Reg, your hosting company accidentally deletes the VPS itself, and all the sites on it. To prepare for Doomsday scenarios like that, you need a dependable backup strategy in place.
You should always have at least a couple of backups of your website [and any database it uses]. With a good backup strategy in place, your site can be up and running again a few hours after a catastrophe and, if you’re backing up regularly, you’ll only have lost whatever has changed since the last backup. How often you need to backup, depends on how often the content of your site changes.
If you’re running a fairly static site where [for example] you might add a news item every week or so, then weekly or even monthly backups might be enough. If you’re running an online commerce site, you might need to backup your database every night, to keep a copy of recent customer transactions. Backups can be automated using a “Cron Job” which is a method for running scripts [such as a backup script] at set intervals.
The first rule of ‘Backup Club’ is that you never save your backups to the same server as runs your actual site. Not only did 123-Reg delete cutomers websites, in many cases they deleted the backups too, as these were stored on the same servers.
D’oh! —Schoolboy error. Off the pitch!
Domain Name Registration
As with the world of hosting, there are plenty of companies out there who will offer to register your domain names for very small fees or, in some cases, even for free. Be very, very, careful with availing of these “offers”!
The fees for registering domain names are fixed by the various Top Level Domain Name Registrars around the world. If your prospective registrar is under-cutting the official registrars, they either love you so much that they are willing to pay the difference for you…. or they are planning to recoup that money further down the line. Again, check out the small print!
When a domain name is registered, it will have a Registrant, Admin Contact, a Technical Contact and a Billing Contact:
Billing Contact, as you’d expect, is the person who gets the bill for renewing the domain every year. That will most likely be you.
Technical Contact will be the person to contact when there is a problem with the domain. From the point of view of domain ownership, it doesn’t really matter who the Technical Contact is. Usually you’d make this your “tecchy bod”, who manages the site for you.
Admin Contact effectively controls the domain name as only s/he is able to change important info such as the names of the other contacts and [most importantly!] the DNS Records for the domain. The DNS Records define which particular web-space on which particular web-server your domain “points to”. So, if you don’t control the DNS records, your domain could be taken away from you, or pointed to another website —perhaps one belonging to a business rival.
Registrant has even more power than the Admin Contact and is the recognised owner of the domain.
A lot of the bargain-bucket domain registrars avail of this situation to register the domain name for you, with you as the Billing Contact but themselves as the Registrant and/or Admin Contact. In this way, they effectively control your domain and can lock you into using their services by requiring you to pay an “Admin Fee”, if you want to move the domain away from their servers. I’ve seen this “Admin Fee” [which is usually buried at positively subterranean levels in the small print!] set at from £30 to £50, in the Terms & Conditions of some of these bargain-bucket companies.
Again, Is potentially losing control of your domain, or having it held hostage, until you pay a
ransom “Admin Fee”, really worth saving a couple of £££s a year?
You can check who the various contacts currently listed for your domain are by entering the domain name in this online form. If you don’t see yourself as Registrant or Admin Contact then, to all intents and purposes, you don’t own your domain!
madra.net has been around the block a few times, when it comes to working with hosting companies and domain name registrars. If you’re looking for dependable companies to provide your web services, here are my recommendations.
NOTE: You’ll notice none of these are affiliate links. I don’t get any kick-backs for recommending these companies. I recommend them because, these are the ones I use:
Linode —recommended for VPS web hosting. I run most of the sites I manage on Linodes and, on the whole I’m pretty happy. They have had their own “tits-up” moments. Bu in over seven years of hosting with them, I’ve only had about half a day’s down time and have never lost any data.
Digital Ocean —recommended for VPS hosting. Not as many configuration options to appeal to my “inner geek” and a relative newcomer to the VPS party. But, from what I’ve experienced of them so far, they seem pretty reliable.
Namecheap —despite the unfortunately “bargain-bucket” sounding name, this lot are my recommendation for domain name registration and management. Been using them for years and rarely had any problems. I wouldn’t bother with their web-hosting, though.
Amazon S3 is my recommendation for backups —especially if you have a lot of data. In this case it really is a case of “Cheap but not Nasty”. With Amazon S3, you can back up 100s of GB of data for a few quid a month.
What Can madra.net Do to Help?
The above information is given for free and I’m always happy to offer my tuppence-worth, when people have questions about this stuff. I know it can all be a bit overwhelming, if you’re not a “computery” person, or not technically minded. I have over 16 years teaching experience, much of which involves explaining technical matters to people of all skill levels [and none!], so I think I’m pretty good at removing the “fear factor” and explaining things in plain, jargon-free language.
Alternatively. If you don’t think you’re up to handling this stuff yourself, why not hire madra.net to take care of it for you? For less than £1 a week, you can retain me as your web consultant. I can use my years of experience to take the pain out of renting web-space, registering domain names, setting up company emails, putting in place a backup strategy, etc. I’ll recommend the best companies for your needs and budget and, if you want, I’ll take care of all the “technical stuff” –and I’ll be on hand to help you sort things out, if you run into problems, or just want to change providers or install new apps and software.