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What type of Hosting do you need?

Solo operator 

If all you want from your Web site is a place to post pictures of your cat or announce your presence to the world, there are plenty of low-cost options. Armed with some HTML skills and a few Web tools, you can turn to a low-cost shared host such as Aplus.Net. Utter newbies will do better with an account at a site such as Yahoo GeoCities or Homestead. Both hosts provide simple step-by-step design tools and templates, as well as modest amounts of storage, bandwidth, and e-mail addresses. For example, Homestead's basic $6-per-month package gives you a 10-page site with 25MB of storage and 5GB of bandwidth. If you want extras such as a personalized domain name (for example, www.yournameinlights.com) or phone support, however, you'll have to pay extra. ISPs such as EarthLink also provide simple 1-page sites for subscribers, so check with your service provider.

KEY FEATURES
Easy sign-up, with a free trial period: You can get your feet wet without having to pay for a year's service up front.
Design templates: Pick from a range of different looks and styles without having to sweat HTML code.
Ability to add storage and bandwidth as needs grow: Because you never know what might happen.
E-mail accounts included in the base price: Allowing site visitors to contact you.
File transfer protocol (FTP) server for uploading files: This is faster and easier than uploading files using standard Web protocols.
Expanded support and unique domains for added cost: You can start out small, then decide later if you want to pay more to have your own domain (for example, www.me-online.com) and get real-time support to keep it up and running.

Small business
If you run a small business, you need to hang your shingle on the Web. But don't let running the site turn into a full-time job. While thousands of small businesses use services such as GeoCities or Homestead, a shared host is generally a better bet. You'll be able to give your site a more customized look, though you'll have to design it yourself or pay extra to have a host do it for you, and you'll have more room to grow as site traffic increases or you add employees and e-mail accounts. Prices are extremely competitive; you can get a fully functional site for less than $20 per month. But you'll also be sharing one machine with potentially hundreds of other sites, so if sites on your shared server get hacked or blocked for spamming, your site could be shut down for a time.

KEY FEATURES
Unlimited e-mail and bandwidth: Should your Web site find a rabid audience, your readers/customers will find themselves locked out if you exceed your bandwidth allotment.
Personalized domain names: Having your own domain (www.yourowndomain.com) marks you as a serious business and one that's more likely to stick around.
Multiple static IP addresses: Static IPs are essential for any hosting environment (otherwise, people won't be able to find your site again); odds are you'll need several static IPs for Web servers, e-mail servers, databases, and the like.
E-mail and Web marketing tools: Want customers to find you in search engines or keep in touch with clients? Some hosts offer tools that let you do both.
Web-based site administration tools: They make it easier to manage your site remotely from any browser.
Site design services: Templates are too limited at this level, and your expertise may not be in Web design.
24/7 phone support: If your site goes down, even at 3 a.m., you lose face and may lose money, too; you want support to be there at anytime, day or night.
 
 
Online store
It's one thing to advertise your wares on the Net and quite another to sell them. If you want to conduct transactions and collect money, your needs go up. Here, the kind of hosting package you pick depends highly on whether you're selling 20 items or 2,000 and whether you expect 10 customers or 10,000. A low-volume shop could get away with a Yahoo storefront that accepts PayPal payments, but serious stores will want a host that offers a full e-commerce package with all the trimmings: a shopping cart; security certificates; an online catalog tool; payment gateways for accepting credit cards; and ways to drive traffic to your shop, such as advertisements, search engine placement, e-mail newsletters, and so on. You'll also want a host that can integrate these tools with your back-office accounting and inventory-management apps. And you'll want rock-solid security and uptime guarantees; if your store is hacked or goes down, you lose money.

KEY FEATURES
A full suite of e-commerce tools: A shopping cart, a catalog design template, security certificates, payment gateways, interstate tax and shipping calculators.
Web advertising and marketing services: Advertisements, search engine placement, and e-mail newsletters.
Support for online customer contact: Chat windows that provide live assistance for shopping and customer service issues.
Server redundancy and regular backup: You'll want your product lists to be regularly updated (hourly, if you have a busy or complex shop), and you'll need multiple copies in different locations. That way if there's, say, a major power failure in the Northeast, other shoppers can get to your servers in the Southwest.
24/7 phone support.


Medium-size business  
With a midsize business, a robust Web site is de rigueur. But the kind of hosting resources you need depends more on what you want the site to do than the size of your company. A large informational, or brochureware, site that doesn't change often has lower bandwidth and storage needs than a smaller site that conducts transactions, creates dynamic Web pages, or delivers streaming-media files. For online brochures, a moderately priced, shared-hosting account may be more than adequate. Heavily interactive sites, such as those that serve up audio and video files or those that need to run their own apps, might opt for a virtual private server, a shared host that splits one machine between a handful of customers, or a dedicated server that's theirs alone. Again, the staples here are security and reliability--the host must provide uptime guarantees, built-in redundancy, and superior tech support.

KEY FEATURES
Ability to scale bandwidth and storage to match your business.
Robust security: Having your site hacked or taken down by a worm can be a nightmare for any business, so ask about the host's firewall, antivirus, intruder detection, and other security services.
Offsite data storage and backup: This way, if a server goes down or the security isn't quite as robust as claimed, you'll be inconvenienced, but you won't go out of business.
Service-level agreements with uptime guarantees: At this level, you'll want an SLA (service loan agreement) that spells out the uptime that the host will guarantee, as well as how the host will compensate you if that agreement isn't met.
24/7 phone support.


Big enterprise
Large organizations are complex enterprises, so it's no surprise their hosting needs can be complicated as well. Traffic and e-mail volume alone may dictate the need for a dedicated hosting solution. In fact, most big enterprises will engage several servers--some for delivering Web pages, others for handling e-mail and database calls. The question for many is what kind of dedicated service. Businesses with large IT staffs that need more control over their Web sites generally opt for unmanaged or self-managed dedicated servers, where the hosting company provides the hardware but it's up to the customer to load apps and keep the site running. Firms that want to outsource their entire Web operation can go for a managed dedicated host; these are pricier, but they may also offer site development and design services. Companies that have their own hardware and staff but need a place to put them can seek out a colocation provider, which will rent them rack space in a secure, bandwidth-rich facility.

KEY FEATURES
Massive bandwidth, storage, and e-mail.
State-of-the-art virus protection, a firewall, and intrusion detection.
Redundant servers, bandwidth, battery backup, and onsite generators because if your host loses its electricity, you're hosed.
Offsite data storage and backup.
Service-level agreements with 100 percent uptime guarantees.
Secure facilities: Besides network security, you also want to make sure the company controls the personnel who can access your machines on the inside. This may include biometric scanners on the doors of the server cages, if necessary.
Top-shelf Level 1, 2, and 3 support available 24/7 so that even your most difficult problems get solved by the same company that you're paying to host your site.

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