When Good Hosts Go Bad

Website down again? Here's how to avoid e-business nightmares.

In today’s business world, an Internet presence is almost as important as having a phone line. But who do you trust to host your Website and ensure reliable uptime, scalability, and flexibility, and to change and update your site when needed? Finding a provider to host and maintain your Web presence can be a walk in the park if you have the right information. Or it can be a disaster waiting to happen. Here are a few things you should consider when shopping for a Web host:

EXPLORE YOUR OPTIONS
It might be tempting to go for a big-name provider, but consider Web hosting companies that cater specifically to small business owners. This way you won’t be competing with larger firms for attention when it comes to addressing service and performance issues. If you have the technical resources and choose to host your own Website on a proprietary built server, you may want to consider co-location. In a co-location facility, or Web server farm, your server is stored in an environment with other companies’ servers. You have direct access to your server and can update data at your discretion, generally without incurring additional costs.

By contrast, when you outsource your Web hosting needs, you are contracting with a Web host provider who will manage your site on its own servers, at its own location. You may be able to update content yourself via ftp (file transfer protocol), but in some instances you may have to submit changes to your host provider for them to make. You may also be restricted to making a certain number of updates per month or year, depending on your agreement.

GET IT IN WRITING
The relationship between you and your Web host provider ultimately will be based on your service contract and the provisions and rights specified therein. You must read the contract carefully and include the specifics of any verbal negotiations in the contract. For example, if the Web hosting company agrees to respond to complaints or glitches with your account within 12 hours rather than their usual 24 hours, you should get that in writing for your own legal protection.

MAKE IT SAFE
You owe it to yourself and your customers to ensure that data on your Website remains secure and within your control. You also have the right to ensure that your Web host limits and monitors the employees who have access to your site. Typically, Web hosting companies say they will provide “reasonable security,” says Bradley Gross, a senior technology law attorney with Becker & Poliakoff P.A., a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based law firm. But there is no standard gauge of what measure of security is reasonable. Gross advises adding the words “state of the art security” to the service contract. “That term implies that there are one or two top-notch security standards” your Web hosting company must provide.

MONITOR PERFORMANCE
If you have an e-commerce business or rely heavily on your Website, site outages or slow performance (even for just a few minutes) could translate into lost revenue or

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