What hosting should I choose for my website, e-store or IT project?
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The article describes the very important issue of choosing the right type of hosting for a website, e-commerce site or any online project. Should I use a webmaster’s offer? How to verify such an offer? What will be the organizational, business, technical and legal consequences? This is a common problem faced by the owner of a website when the creation of a project has been commissioned to a developer or an agency. This publication aims to explain what the differences between these solutions are and what the consequences of their choice are.
Hosting offered by the webmaster
Most website developers, along with the implementation of the ordered service, also offer their clients hosting (server) in the package. However, they do not provide their own hosting services, and in any case, they should not. Professional hosting services require a high level of expertise and resources; there is a strict specialisation here. Thus, if the developers, in addition to their main activity, still trying to create their own hosting services, they certainly will not be able to provide a sufficiently professional level.
So, in most cases, the offer of hosting consists of the mediation of the developers between the client and the hosting company, with which they cooperate. And this is a very professional and fair arrangement for all concerned, on the principle: let everyone specialise in his own areas and competencies. Usually, the cooperation between specialists is arranged in such a way that the final customers do not have to pay additional costs, so it makes no difference to them.
Models of cooperation between a developer and a hosting company
To begin with, it is worth understanding how a webmaster or agency works with a hosting provider. Most often it is one of the following models or some mix of them:
- The webmaster or agency buys one or more high-capacity accounts and then divides them among their clients.
— Pros for the developer: easiest management for the developer (via 1/multiple accounts). If they have chosen a good hosting provider and manage it well, then the packages are isolated on the server side (client security). They also have full freedom to manage their clients’ payments.
— Cons: The developer cannot give their clients access to their account, as this would expose other clients’ data.
- The web developer buys a separate package for each client, with registration of a separate account for the client. For the duration of the work, the client’s details are registered, but with the contractor’s email (e.g. clientX@agency.com), so that all system notifications remain under the control of the technicians. Once the work is complete, and before access is given to the client, the e-mail is changed to the correct one.
— Pros for the webmaster: Packages are fully isolated on the server side, and separate accounts give the ability to pass access to the client. There remains complete freedom to manage payments with clients, it is entirely up to the webmaster’s own policy.
— Cons: Each account has separate login details, so it is slightly more complicated to handle (more data), at least until the account is handed over to the customer.
- The hosting provider works with its partners using a typical reseller solution, implemented using dedicated software. This usually takes the form of a ready-made sales system, a dedicated e-commerce site. Within it, the developer can offer hosting packages under own brand. They can also manage end customers and their orders through an ‘overlay’ on the hosting provider’s system. There is no need for any business start-up costs, they get a ready-made solution.
— Pros for the webmaster: Ability to configure own brand, including: domain, company name, logo, content and design of customer invoices, own invoice numbering format, own help-desk system signature. Ability to define independent payment gateways, ability to define own prices for products, add-ons and domains within assigned limits. End-customer registration and management system, view of orders, invoices and all products, possibility to place orders manually. System of statistics on sales, revenue and end customers, access to documentation, etc.
— Cons: Must take over customer service completely.
- Access to the hosting operator’s systems at the software level, to which it connects through its own technical solutions. In this case, the developer can offer customers more than just specific, off-the-shelf packages. They can create a completely separate offering, billing for resources and not for the number of accounts.
— Pros for the developer: They get one “reseller bag”, billed on the basis of agreed resources, and what they do inside is their business. There is complete independence from the hosting provider, they can even sell their hosting packages, a completely independent offering.
— Cons: They have to take over completely the customer service and all billing aspects, etc. Both on the business and organisational side, as well as on the technical and technological side.
The pros and cons of hosting from a developer, from the website manager’s point of view
And now we come to the most important issues for the owner of e-business, as the choice of a solution will be closely related to its consequences. Not only strictly business, organisational and technical consequences, but also legal ones.
A conscious and responsible webmaster will use one of the solutions no. 2-4. Most often it will be no. 2, because no. 3 requires much more time, and no. 4 also financial investments. Moreover, it does not matter much to the end users which of the models no. 2-4 will be used in their case, at least in the context of the parameters of hosting itself. So let’s focus on the worst (for the website owner) model, that is no. 1:
The advantages of such a solution:
Actually, there is only one, and it is illusory, namely potentially and theoretically slightly lower costs of hosting. This is because the developer divides the hosting price between projects, so that the hosting cost for a given project may be slightly lower. However, it is worth remembering here that – de facto – the cost of hosting depends mainly on its quality parameters. These cannot be divided in such a way that the final price for e.g., 1/10 of the disk space is significantly lower than the price for an analogous space purchased separately. Thus, in order to obtain a significantly lower price, it usually happens at the expense of quality. And, in the end, the speed of a website (and therefore its position in search engines) is determined mainly by two issues, i.e., the quality of a code and server parameters.
Disadvantages of such a solution:
There are unfortunately quite a lot of disadvantages, here are some of the most important ones for the e-business manager:
- Complete dependence of the client on the developer. The site owner cannot freely hand over access to the project to another developer, because the creator will not give them access to their hosting account. Primarily for security reasons, as they maintain other projects on the same account. Technically, this is feasible, but requires additional and not cheap work. In addition, the developer or agency can thus force the client’s loyalty, even if the client would like to change partners.
- The client has no control over the hosting, which makes them feel less secure. The developer is not able to be available 24/7/365, their network connection may break or other obstacles may occur, and then the client cannot make quick changes to the project. It is also necessary to consider the extremes, such as a situation where there is a conflict between the client and the developer. The webmaster may not hand over the project to the client, blackmail the client with the project, damage the project, may cheat the client and not pay for the hosting, just keep the money for themselves.
- The risk of hosting resources being taken over by another project. If the developer does not ensure that resources are limited for each project separately, a situation may occur where another project will need more resources. Within one common package, such resources are not automatically allocated, so the overload of another e-business will be at the expense of the other projects.
- The risk of the project being infected by another project. If the developer does not take sufficient care of the security of one project, it may happen that a virus from one project attacks other projects. It is also important to remember that most websites are implemented by external software (such as WordPress), so the webmaster does not have full control over it.
- Legal liability risks. Running an e-business comes with many risks of this nature, ranging from GDPR to, for example, tax issues to consumer rights. If the website has been thrown into the same bag as other projects and is exposed to the risks discussed above, then a liability may fall on the e-business owner that they were not the main culprit for.
How do you know which model a webmaster is using?
Unfortunately, not only professionals operate on the market, so you can find a lot of irresponsible offers. It will be difficult for a person from outside the industry to verify the offer at first glance, but there is a universal filter, which will be discussed in a moment. First of all, it is worth asking the developer which partner they cooperate with, and then verify the quality and parameters of the offer recommended by them. It is also worth making sure that the contractor commits to create a completely separate account there.
In addition, it is worth making a fair analysis of the cost of making a website. Solution no. 1 is usually used by agencies or webmasters who operate on the principle of “discount” – as cheap as possible, as much as possible. They are the ones who are interested in solutions such as “we’ll buy a cheap package and in addition divide it among many clients”. Frequently, quality has its cost, so it is best to filter out such “cheap” offers right away. Cheap only seemingly, because in the end they often cost much more than choosing a professional.
This article was written in cooperation with Servizza.com – Hosting PRO & Admin 24