The True Costs of Hosting
"$1 Hosting Sale - Reliable, Secure & 99.9% Uptime"
"Only $3.95/month + $10 Off Today!"
"$1/mo 30GB Space 100GB Traffic, PHP, 100 Databases, 40+ Site/Blog Apps"
"Cheap Web Hosting Canada from $1/mo Web Site Hosting"
... These are just some of the offers being made for bottom-line hosting solutions on today's World Wide Web. Offers that seem almost too good to be true. Often times things that seem that way end up being exactly that. It's not that they should be avoided completely, but when deciding what you need from your personal, organization, or corporate web site it is important to consider the holistic view of how the public will interact with your site – not only today, but hopefully for years to come. If all you need is three static HTML pages that look like they were built in 1996 and you never plan to change them, then $1/mo hosting packages are right for you. But let's face it, on the ever-evolving Web of today, your flat static site will quickly be forgotten.
"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." -The Wizard Of OZ
The actual challenges to operating and maintaining an interactive and engaging web site are not massively complex, but they can be numerous and not all of the challenges may be apparent at the start of your web project. Some of the challenges aren't even apparent at the time your site launches and only become clear down the road when your traffic increases, a piece of hardware fails, or a malicious user attacks your site either for profit or for fun. Don't Panic! At OpenConcept we have a diverse team of developers who are not only great at building engaging, useful, and interactive sites in Drupal, but we also take care of the nitty-gritty, day-to-day operations to keep your site up and functioning for you and your users.
What kind of grit am I referring to? Let's take a look behind the scenes at openconcept.ca to explore just what kind of services we are providing to our clients, hopefully without them ever noticing...
Monitoring: OpenConcept uses Nagios, the industry standard for monitoring any piece of IT. Incredibly robust, Nagios can be made to monitor absolutely anything from a specific web page to a complex server infrastructure with many "moving parts". We keep an eye on our server health and are notified in the event of a server becoming overloaded, unresponsive, or going down completely. Obviously we try to avoid the latter and nip it in the bud before it becomes an issue.
Backups: Does your $1/mo hosting solution offer backups? How quickly can they be restored? OpenConcept has deployed Bacula to allow any of our developers to quickly restore files from any of our servers onto any other system in our infrastructure. In the event of a catastrophic server failure, we can get your files onto a different box and have your site up and running in a matter of hours, if not minutes (We're working on seconds but let's be realistic!). We monitor our backups daily and test our restores regularly. A backup is only as good as its restore!
Load: Many cheap hosting packages are on a Virtualized Private Server (VPS). This allows hosting companies to offer compartmentalized sections of a server to many different clients, so that to each customer it appears like a server unto itself. Some of these companies will even go so far as to oversell their servers beyond their maximum capacity, based on the faulty assumption that not everyone will use all their resources at any given time. The problem with a VPS is that when your "neighbour" on the server generates a lot of load on the box, your site slows down too! OpenConcept operates a combination of dedicated server hardware and Cloud systems, and although the Cloud systems are indeed virtualized, it is trivial for us to increase the resources available or create a whole new server when a client's site becomes popular and their hit rate starts to increase.
Security: The key to security is eternal vigilence. Purchasing a dedicated server hosting package without having an administrator to maintain it is asking for trouble. Some hosting companies will perform security updates for you for an additional cost, but few (if any) will offer a holistic security approach from the Operating System up through the web site software. That's exactly what OpenConcept does. We perform regular security updates to the OS and to Drupal so that our clients' sites are resilient and stay online in the face of danger.
Time to develop: OpenConcept uses a number of server-side tools to ease and speed the development of our clients' sites. Drush is a tool we find indespensible for these tasks, and it is not available on shared hosting environments with no command-line access to servers. We operate our own systems to ensure a versatile and team-based approach to development.
Imagine your child asks you to buy a cute little puppy dog because it is advertised in the window for a mere $5. Have you considered the true costs? Food. Vaccinations. Chew toys. The time needed to play with it outdoors. Annual veterinary appointments. Emergency veterinary appointments. Perhaps a new carpet. Suddenly this is not a $5 dog anymore...
The web of today is not the web of 1999. It's not even the web of yesterday, given the pace at which technology is changing all around us. Keeping on top of the latest developments and ensuring sites are stable, secure, and able to meet the needs of users is a driving force of OpenConcept Consulting. When everything is running smoothly it is difficult to imagine that work is being done, but rest assured that "the man behind the curtain" is in fact pulling the levers, oiling the gears, and ensuring systems are running as expected. You may not need to pay her/him any attention, but it is in your interest to recognize that [s]he is there. Otherwise you might find yourself in the Emerald Palace with no way home.
About The Author
Jack Of All Trades, Master Of Linux. Mike Mallett has been using and advocating the use of free source software for over 10 years. He has worked in organizations large and small, and everything in between. His professional career launched in 1999 with Ottawa-based Object Technology International and went on to pursue human-focused work at Nonviolence International, IDASA, and Human Rights Internet. With experience installing and configuring 20+ different operating systems, Mike has a strong fundamental understanding of modern computing.