Web Hosting – A Guide for Beginners

June 24, 2017

So you’re looking to learn about web hosting and what it has to offer or you may not know much about web hosting? There is no shame in not knowing this information. Everyone has to start at the beginning at some point. On that note, lets begin learning about web hosting.First off, what is web hosting and how does it work?Web hosting is the business practice of providing space and bandwidth on a high-powered computer server that is connected to the Internet at very high speeds. Hosting companies maintain large networks of high-powered web server computers in a physical location known as a data center. These computer servers are connected to a very fast, and generally redundant, Internet connection. The data centers have primary and backup power, a fast connection to the Internet, and a security monitoring staff.The web hosting companies provide a share of disk space and available bandwidth to a customer for a monthly fee. Once the customer is signed up, they can upload files to their personal space on the web server and the information is then viewable to anyone interested on the Internet. The monthly fee the web hosting company charges is much less than what it would cost to run a server out of your own home or data center. This is the reason these companies exist. They take care of all the hardware, software, and other technical needs for you.Types of web hostingThere are many different types of web hosting offers, but the main three are shared, reseller, and dedicated. Each type of hosting is for a different purpose.Shared Web HostingShared web hosting is the most popular form of hosting. Shared hosting is a portion of disk space and bandwidth provided to you by the web hosting company on a high-powered server. There are many other web sites hosted on this server, and the hosting company is likely to have quite a few of these servers in a large data center. The resources of the server are shared by as many other websites as are allocated to that computer.Shared web hosting is the best form of web hosting if you are looking for a great price and don’t have more than a couple thousand daily visitors to your site.Reseller Web HostingReseller web hosting is a popular, low-cost solution to starting your own web hosting business. There are two types of reseller hosting, private-label and a reseller of services.The private-label is the best type of reseller plan because it allows you to retain full control over your customer’s websites. A private-label plan allows the reseller to keep the full monthly payment of the web-hosting customer, but the reseller must pay a monthly fee to the larger hosting company for the reseller space. The more hosting accounts a private-label reseller can sell, the higher the profit for them. Private-label hosting allows you to host many more websites than if you were using shared hosting for each. This is a great solution for someone who has many sites they need to host in one location to save money.

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The reseller of services plans resell the regular web hosting plans of a larger web hosting company, but you get a discounted price for providing the customer and earn a monthly fee for as long as they remain a customer. This plan does not allow control over customer web sites and you only keep a portion of the potentially monthly revenue.Dedicated Web HostingDedicated web hosting is the most powerful and cost effective solution of hosting a busy web site without resorting to buying your own equipment and paying hundreds of dollars per month for a fast Internet connection. Dedicated hosting consists of single server with no one else hosting on that computer. This allows for the greatest of configuration options. Anyone who has a busy website will find dedicated hosting is the necessary choice.Web Hosting ConsiderationsWondering about all the other information listed in web hosting plans? In this section, I will explain the most important considerations in choosing a good web host.PriceThe price of web hosting services is one of the most important. There are many hosting companies out there with cheap hosting packages, but they may be lacking in other areas. Don’t let the price of a hosting package fool you. There are some hosting companies out there who have great prices and the other features are just as good. Price may be one of the most important decisions of a web hosting plan, but there is much more to consider in choosing a quality web host.Disk Space / Storage SpaceDisk space is the amount of physical storage space a web host gives to you to store your web files. Hosting companies these days have plans with disk space being measured mostly in terms of gigabytes, but some are still offering plans in the megabytes for storage space. Depending on your needs for file storage space, you may need more or less. Generally the more disk space offered, the better.Bandwidth / Data TransferThe amount of bandwidth available can make a big difference in choosing a quality hosting plan. In general, the more bandwidth a hosting company makes available to you, the better. This means you can support more traffic to your web site as your business grows. Be wary of web hosting companies that offer unlimited or unmetered bandwidth. While many of these are legitimate offers, there are some out there who are overselling their bandwidth in hopes the average user won’t use much.Customer SupportIn any business, it is very important to provide exception customer service. Web hosting is no exception to this. Many of the hosting companies are available all day and night in case you have a problem with your web site, but there are some who are just available specific hours of the day. If your web site goes down in the middle of the night when they’re not available, this means lost revenue for a business. You should make sure the web host you select is always available for support.Money Back GuaranteeMost web hosting companies will provide a thirty-day money back guarantee. Some will provide one even long, but be wary of the ones who offer no money back guarantee. I would not purchase web hosting services from a company who does not offer at least a 30 day money back guarantee, unless they have proven themselves to be a leader in the industry and have an excellent reputation.Operating SystemAn operating system is a piece of software that controls the interaction between the computer user and the physical hardware of the machine. A vast majority of all web sites on the Internet run on the Linux operation system. Linux is generally much more stable than Windows. Stability is critical in running a web site. For this reason, I prefer to host my web sites on the Linux operating system. Some sites have specific requirements that only the Windows operating system can satisfy, but there are always alternatives to those requirements.BackupA good web hosting company will have a regular schedule to backup the data on all the web servers. The more often the data is backed up, the better. At the very least, a web hosting company should backup web site files daily.Control PanelThe control panel is the point of contact the web site administrator will have between the host server and their own machine connected via the Internet. It is essential to have a well organized and easy to use control panel interface. My favorite control panel is cPanel, which is one of the leading web hosting control panels out there today. Plesk is another good one, and many companies will create their own control panel for you to use. Most web hosting companies will provide a link to a demo of the control panel they use with their hosting plans. The control panel used is a matter of preference, but it should be user friendly.EmailEmail is essential part of communication on the Internet. Most web hosting companies out there will give you more email addresses and more space to hold email messages than you will ever need. What you need to watch out for is the companies that have decided to be a little strict on their email accounts and only offer a small number or a small amount of message space.UptimeUptime is a term used to describe how often the average web site hosted by a company is available online. No company should be expected to provide an exact 100% uptime. This is impossible due to things such as hardware, software, and power failures. A vast majority of the companies are very good with uptime, and they guarantee it. It is still a good idea to be conscious of the uptimes posted by the company. If it is not at least 99.5%, it is probably not worth hosting with that company.

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StatisticsAs a webmaster, it is nice to know how many visitors you’ve had, where they came from, how long they stay on your site, and how much bandwidth they’ve used. This information is collected by the web server and is placed in a log file. A statistics software package can read this data and provide meaningful information to the webmaster. The information gathered from these logs can be very valuable in improved services to the viewers of the web site.FTPFTP stands for file transfer protocol. It is a way of quickly uploading or downloading many files to and from a web server. Most web hosting companies will allow their customers access to their web hosting accounts via FTP. FTP is very useful and is a great feature to have when paying for a web hosting account.ScriptingSince the World Wide Web began, many scripting languages have been created and have evolved into the dynamic and interactive environment we enjoy today. A scripting language is a way of adding functionality to a web site, whether it be to calculate numbers or to load information from an external database. Scripting languages have made electronic commerce possible. Some of these languages include PHP, ASP, JSP, Coldfusion, VBscript, Javascript, and Perl. I won’t go into the details of these in this article for the sake of complexity. If you know how to use these languages, you should know what to look for in a web server for them.DatabasesA database is a place to store data that can be used in a large variety of ways. Databases are used on the Internet for applications such as shopping carts, message boards, and product catalogues. The more databases the web hosting provider allows you to create, the most applications you can deploy on your web server. Databases are used by the more advanced web master, but information is freely available online should you be interested.ConclusionsWeb hosting can be a very difficult decision with the many thousands of hosting companies out there. It is critical to find a plan that fits your needs and to have a good hosting company. I hope this article was useful in making your decision about which company to host with. Happy Hosting!

How IT Companies Can Effectively Manage Client Hardware

June 24, 2017

Despite the emergence of “The Cloud”, local hardware will always be required. Even the most basic small business client has a router, a network switch, a PC and one or more printers. Other clients may have Firewalls, Servers, Plotters, Multi-Function Units and any array of other hardware – most of it IP-enabled.Multiply that by multiple clients, and you’ve got an awful lot of hardware that becomes really easy to waste a lot of time and effort trying to manage – if you’re not organized.From Chaos to OrderThe first step in bringing order to the chaos is to buy a Label Printer. My personal favorite is the P-Touch Handheld range from Brother. Anything that you can easily carry with you, plug into the mains (battery operated is fine – but batteries run out, and you then start to forget to label things) and print labels will do the job. If you have more than one engineer, buy them all label printers and get them to label them with their own names – they’ll be more inclined to look after them.Next, organize a time for an engineer to visit client sites with his labeler at the ready – grabbing and labeling anything and everything with a power plug on the end and making a written note of each to take back to the office.(Talking of power plugs, get your engineers into the habit of labeling these too, especially servers. Clearly knowing which plug belongs to a PC and which to a monitor is a real benefit when you’re crawling under a dark desk on a dirty floor trying to work out what to unplug and what not to.)Why Labels?But why bother labeling things?

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Firstly, you’re acknowledging the existence of a device. If it’s labeled, you know about it and can document it for future reference.Secondly, when new hardware “mysteriously” appears at a client site and a client calls you for support on it (probably outside your support contract) you can save yourself a heap of time trying to work out why Windows 7 Home Edition is installed on it rather than a Business O/S.Thirdly, labeling hardware speeds up the support process. If a user telephones the Helpdesk to say they can’t print to “That printer in the corner of the office”, then you can ask them to read the label and quickly identify which printer it is that they’re trying to print to.What to label?What the label says depends on the hardware, but the label should help you easily identify the hardware in question. Some examples:-PCs – Workstation name, Fixed IP address (if applicable)
Servers – Server name, Fixed IP address, Domain name
Routers/Firewalls – External IP address, Internal IP address
Network Switches – Internal IP address, Management IP address
Local Printers – Locally attached Workstation name
Network Printers – Fixed IP address, Queue Name (//Server/Queue)We’re not going to worry about Workstation and Server naming schemes, IP address ranges or any other standards just yet. Right now we’re focusing on documenting what’s already out there.In some cases the engineer won’t be able to identify network equipment. Rather than ignore the hardware, they should label it as “unidentified” and raise a support ticket or make a written note to investigate how to identify it later.This takes some time, especially if you have a lot of clients – but it’s time well spent. You should make this type of ‘discovery work’ a part of the on-boarding process of every new client, as the time spent discovering hardware now will pay dividends when you’re supporting that same hardware later – perhaps in a time-sensitive situation.Document your findingsGoing forwards, make it a policy that from now on, every piece of hardware you deploy to a client site should have a label on it.Document your findings. If you have an RMM tool such as GFI Max, then you’ll already be able to scan networks for devices. Supplement this automated information with your own findings.Pretty soon you’ll have a good overview of the hardware at all your client sites. It’ll make supporting the client, both remotely and on-site, a *lot* easier.The use of the labeler as a force of good doesn’t stop there.Hardware in the WorkshopWhenever an engineer brings a piece of hardware back to the Workshop for troubleshooting, it needs to be labeled. You might label it with the client’s name, a brief overview of the issue, and if you’re using a ticket system, the ticket number.This might sound obvious, but how many times do engineers walk back into the office, drop off some faulty hardware and then get distracted by something else? In this scenario, a colleague may be left scratching his head over who the hardware belongs to and why it’s here, or worse, think the hardware is “spare” and go and re-use it for another job they are working on…

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Talking of spare hardware – it’s worth creating a process to deal with this too. I like to create an area of the workshop that is specifically for Hardware under Repair, Hardware under testing, and Hardware for disposal. Then, as hardware comes in…If it’s hardware that is to be sent back to a manufacturer under RMA, it’s labeled as such and placed in the “Under Repair” area of the workshop.If it’s hardware that may be faulty and required testing, a ticket is raised for this and it’s labeled as “For Testing” and labeled with the appropriate ticket number. The hardware is then placed in the “For Testing” area, and you can confidently give your newly employed Junior Technician something productive to do on his first day in the office.If it’s hardware for disposal, it’s labeled with the fault and marked as “For Disposal”. It’s placed in the “For Disposal” area of the workshop and once every few weeks you arrange for a specialist IT disposal company to collect the pile and dispose of it in an ethical and environmentally-friendly fashion.Save Time With LabelsThe amount of time IT companies can waste trying to re-use faulty hardware that has simply been left lying around, or re-testing known faulty equipment is mind-blowing.A simple system of labeling such hardware saves hours of wasted time.I hope this article has helped to describe how armed with a label printer you can build the basis of a series of systems that lay out how your business deals with client hardware.