The BEST Web Host
I recently went through the ordeal of finding a new host for a very high-traffic Web site with a complex back-end and very demanding system requirements. This forum was a big help in finding out about people's experiences with different hosts, and which hosts were perceived as the 'best'.
However, too many new posters to this forum are too lazy and too quick to put up posts asking 'which is the BEST Web host'? This question is next to impossible to answer in any meaningful way, since the answer depends on what you and your Web site needs. There is no single best Web host suitable for all situations, folks, so stop looking for the easy answer--which may well be the wrong answer for you--and take the little extra time needed to identify your hosting needs and which Web hosting service provider fills those needs.
For example, my client needed dedicated servers, Win2K to run some Microsoft e-commerce apps, and a supported VPN to connect the public servers to their internal inventory database. (Side rant: Anyone who reads these specs and makes a naive and facile comment such as "Why don't you move to Linux" should continue to stay closeted away in the server room, since they'll never be taken seriously elsewhere in the real business world. And it has nothing to do with the world-class Linux operating system. Understand the needs and reasons for selecting a platform and the costs and feasibility of moving off that platform before you espouse any platform simply because it's your favorite.) They also have higher traffic and thus more extensive bandwidth and uptime needs than most as well. As you can imagine, the "best" Web host identified for them is not the same one as you'd choose for a lower-traffic site sitting on a single server running PHP and MySQL.
So how can you find the best Web host for you?
1) Identify your system requirements in terms of your hardware and software needs. What software and/or scripts do you need to run? What level of fault-tolerance do you need? Full site failover with load-balancing between multiple dedicated servers, or just machine-level fault tolerance, such as mirrored hard-drives in a RAID array and redundant NICs?
2) Identify your service requirements. How much downtime can you afford? Can you afford a hosting provider that offers no service-level agreements, or do you need guaranteed 99.9% site uptime? Ignore vendor claims of "99.999% network uptime", since this has little to do with your actual site uptime, and has even less relevance if the vendor has no SLAs to back up their claims.
3) Check sources such as this forum to identify possible hosting providers that appear to fit your needs. Make a 'short-list' of those that appear most suitable, and send them your system/site specs in as much detail as possible.
4) Keep track of which vendors respond when, and how well they respond to your specs. Make another 'short list' based on vendor replies. If you need more help to identify 'the best' in the remaining group, use a standard source selection tool like a Weighted Vendor Matrix. This is a tables that shows your Evaluation Criteria in the first column (Price, Service, Customer Reports, Vendor Viability, etc.), with a score for each provider in each category. Multiply this score by the 'weight', which is a number (factor) indicating the relative importance of each given criterion to you in your overall decision process. For example, a vendor may score a 5 (excellent) for Price, but if this factor is not critical to your decision, you may assign it a weight of 2 or 3 (Low or Medium priority), meaning the vendor would end up with a score of 10 or 15 in this category. The 'best' vendor is the one that ends up with the highest total score.
The other option is to ask someone else who the best Web host is, and accept their answer, although it may be totally inappropriate for your site and your needs. But you usually get what you pay for, when you invest either money or time.
Tom LaTourette, PMP
Senior Project Manager, System Arts