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Evolving stages of web hosting

By Staff

With consolidation and price cuffing making services more affordable, the Web hosting market has changed dramatically over the years. Unfortunately it has also reduced the number of choices available to business consumers. Existing host providers need to “raise the bar” to be more competitive. Many are trying to do this by bundling services to keep generating revenue from their remaining customer base. In addition to providing rack space and managing servers and storage, many host service providers are also managing applications that run on their customers' Web sites.

Growing competitive pressures are driving some host providers to make unrealistic promises. The need to stay in business and keep their customer base intact has driven them to overextend themselves in what they say they can deliver. Take for example Electronic Data Systems. In February they offered a service level agreement that promised 100 percent availability for Web sites and applications that EDS is hosting. That raises the bar pretty high and adds pressure to deliver.

Another example of raising the bar too high is that some service providers often promise 99.99 percent uptime, which gives a cushion of about 53 minutes of “down time” a year when servers are shut down briefly for regularly scheduled maintenance. By touting 99.999 percent availability, it narrows the margin for error considerably.

Business consumers need to be wary of such claims. Taking it one step further, promising 100 percent uptime seems to be over-reaching and is virtually impossible. Common sense dictates that anyone offering 100% availability doesn't leave much room for mistakes and disasters, especially these days when there are so many other issues for Webmasters to worry about.

It’s a fact that Internet connections go down, Web sites become temporarily unavailable or fall prey to denial of service attacks and an errant Java script will crash a Web application. EDS seems to be hedging the uninterrupted claim by backing the offer with a "time-to-repair commitment as short as 15 minutes for fully redundant systems" and providing service credits that accumulate from the first minute of downtime. It’s only comforting if you're worried that the actual uptime might fall a little short of the 100 percent mark.

When you see the words "fully redundant", a red flag should go up. What does it really mean? Does it mean that you have an extra hard drive mirroring your hard drive? Or does it mean that there is a third drive just for laughs? Maybe it means that there is an extra server mirroring your server, or an uninterruptible power supply backing up the electricity for the servers. The point is, ask yourself what it really means. Better yet, make sure you find out.

With today’s economic slowdown, the Web hosting market has grown more competitive. It’s dog-eat-dog trying to gain and maintain business in this climate. Fewer companies are launching Web sites and many more are scaling back plans for multimedia Web casts and brand-building/bandwidth-hogging activities. The need for Host providers to focus on niche industries and promote unique capabilities to differentiate themselves from the pack has never been stronger. The claim of perfect uptime is one such strategy even though it may never be achievable.

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