Dec 192008

Web hosting goes by several names:  Hosting, domain hosting, webhosting, web site hosting, web domain hosting, and probably others.  They are all the same thing. What you are doing here is renting space on a Hosting Service’s computer(s,) and that space is where your site will live. You then upload your files to that site, or create them with a utility like Fantastico, and you’re good to go.

There are thousands of web hosts these days. Some tiny, some in the garage (or bedroom,) some pretty big (GoDaddy ,LiquidWeb, etc.) Some actually rent servers and or space from bigger companies and resell it, others have their own hardware.

They all have hosting packages that contain various features, usually ranging from a an inexpensive starter packages to expensive dedicated servers. Which one you pick will depend on your needs, but the starter package is a good first stop for most people. Skip the expensive packages for now, you can always move up later.

Ordering is really pretty simple, but let me cover a couple of definitions first:

  • Domain Names: The name of your site. Most hosting services will let you register a domain name when you sign up for their service, which is convenient. I prefer to use a third party which leaves me in control of the domain name. Can’t think of name for your site? Here are some tips on creating a domain name.
  • Web space: This is the amount of space on their computers that you can use for your stuff. While 100 megs will cover all the web pages you’re ever likely to put up there are other things that use that space. The two biggies are email and your web statistics logs. Unless you’re running some massive picture gallery or a site with a zillion pages you won’t have huge space requirements. 500 megs of space will cover everything you will do for awhile. Disk space on srvers grows cheaper year by year, so the amount of available space will keep increasing.
  • Bandwidth: This is a measure of how much data/stuff your server can send over a month and is usually measured in gigabtes. Every page or image on your site takes a certain amount of space. Someone comes to your site and looks at four pages. You’ve served them four pages of data. If each page is 100 kilobytes in size then you’ve served 400 kilobytes of data. 10,000 megs (10 gigs) of bandwith is a minimum, but if you start getting lots of traffic you’ll want to upgrade. We have three sites that greatly exceed the 10 gigs mark.
  • Cpanel: Cpanel is the interface that you use to manage your site. There are a lot of different user interfaces out there, but Cpanel is pretty common and we like it a lot.
  • Fantastico: is a nifty little device. It will let you install software (scripts,) such as a WordPress blog, into your webspace with a couple of clicks. It can save a lot of work. I believe it only comes with cpanel setups, other systems might have something similar. Anyone care to comment on that?
  • Shared Hosting: this is hosting where several accounts share one computer/server and all of its total resources. This is perfectly fine for most websites. Big sites with a lot of traffic will want to move up to a ….
  • Dedicated Server: This baby is all yours. One account, one computer, and the hosting company handles all the hardware issues. A dedicated server costs a lot more and is far beyond what most sites need. Build that big site that gets lots of traffic and you might want one, though.
  • Cloud Server: Computing services are spread over many machine, the “cloud.” Resources are shared transparently. The sweet thing about this is that is you have a busy site with predictable spikes in traffic then you can upgrade your server on demand and then resize it back down when the spike is over. Resources can be shifted on the fly which means that changes are quick and easy. Doing a massive upgrade to your site? Need a new server? You can do it in a couple of minutes, instead of hours. Pretty slick. Not for the new guy, but if you’re going to be the next Engadget, you might want to think about it. This little site is on Storm’s cloud server, not because I gets that much traffic here, but because my other site does.

There are other alternatives, depending on the host. A Virtual Private Server is one. It’s a cross between shared and dedicated. Meaning that you get more control and more resources, but you don’t get the whole machine to yourself.

Ok, Here we go…

Most hosting services will be very similar in how you buy hosting. It’s pretty straightforward and is much like buying anything else off the web.

  1. Figure your your needs and pick a package that works for you. Usually the starter shared hosting package will be fine, and you can usually get it for a few bucks a month, but if you need more then go for it. If it’s me, I want…
    1. Real customer service that isn’t outsourced to India (nothing against india, but their people aren’t located in the server room. :) )
    2. A cpanel interface for the flexibility and because that’s what I’m used to.
    3. Fantastico comes with most cpanel hosts, make sure yours has it. This gadget makes installing blogs, forums, and a lot of other stuff almost trivial.
    4. At least three databases. You’ll want one for your blog, maybe one for a fourm, another for a link tracking script…
    5. As much bandwidth as I can afford. 10 gigs is a good start, more is better. If you start getting withing shouting distance of the limit they’ll force you to upgrade, so get it now.
    6. Disc space.. 500 megs gives you lots of room for your blogs, logs, misc files, and so on. It’s not as important as bandwidth, but it’s nice if you’re going to be uploading big files, like video.
  2. Look for the section on their site which says, web hosting or shared hosting. You will generally see three or more package choices. Pick the one that fits your needs. There will be a button or link that says “add to cart” or something similar. Click that.
  3. You may hit a page which asks you to create an account. Make sure all the contact info you enter is real and that your email is one you will check on occasion.
  4. Most likely the next page is where you finalize your package choice and enter your payment info. Keep in mind that this will be a monthly payment. You’re renting space on the system, not buying it. If it’s me and it’s a new host (for me) then I want a short term package to make sure that I’ll like their system. If I do then I might sign up for the longer term package, which should be cheaper overall. I’ll be with Storm until they kick me off, their service rules.
  5. Once payment is made the host will get to work setting up your account. Sometimes it’s not instant, but it should be live in a few hours, tops. A cloud server should be up in minutes.

When the account is live you’ll get an email with complete instructions for accessing that account. That’s why you need to give them a real email address. You will need to make a note of:

  • their nameservers
  • the url to get to your cpanel (or other admin section.)
  • their support url or email
  • your username and password
  • any other details you feel you need.

Store that in a safe place.

Most hosting services are pretty similar to the above. Pick your package and order. Some will offer some added bells and whistles and some will give you a free, or greatly discounted, domain name if you order that domain name through their service. I prefer to order my domains elsewhere, then point them at the new host. Use whichever method works best for you. Sites like BlogSuccess will, among many other things, do 100% of your blog set up for you (if you’re a member.) All you do is tell them your domain name, fill out a short form, follow any instructions, and you’re good.