Virtual Server

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Hosting of a site using your own domain is referred to as getting a "virtual server". Your URL has your domain rather than the domain of the hosting server. Because your URL doesn't have the hosting domain, you can change hosting servers and your visitors don't know that you've changed.

If your site is a business site, it is critical that you have your own domain.  Your URL is a unique "signature" for your business, and you want that signature to add to the image of your company.  In a way, it's a type of logo for your company.

There are many companies that host virtual servers. Some of them advertise in the various computer/internet trade magazines.  In addition, a web search on "web hosting" will get you many links.  Advertisements in your local media will probably get you contact information for companies in your area; however, because of the internet, your hosting company can be anywhere in the world, and you can easily ftp your files to the server.

Choosing a Server

Here are a few suggestions you might consider as you choose a hosting company (I'm assuming you have a business site, but the suggestions are valid for personal sites as well).

bulletFast hardware that includes redundant modules to minimize downtime. Look at several sites being hosted by the hosting company you are considering to get an idea how fast their web server is. Keep in mind, however, that a fast server can appear slow if the Internet is bogged down.

bulletThe amount of hard drive space in MB that you'll need. Hosting companies include a minimum amount and then charge extra if you need more. Both the minimum amount of space and the extra charge varies with the companies. To get a rough "ball park" figure for hard drive space, multiply the number of pages you expect to have by 0.2

bulletThe amount of bandwidth in GB that can be transferred during the month. The amount provided and the extra charge for more varies with the hosting companies.

bulletThe number of e-mail addresses that you'll need for your business. If is critical that your e-mail use the same domain as your site, because your e-mail advertises your company.

Hosting companies can provide e-mail accounts that store your email just as your e-mail account from your ISP stores your e-mail. When you want the e-mail, you point your e-mail program to the accounts.

E-mail accounts can be either POP3 (your e-mail must be transferred to your computer before it can be accessed) or IMAP (you can access your e-mail while it resides on the server).

Besides e-mail accounts, some hosting companies can provide e-mail forwarding addresses such that e-mail sent to your business addresses are automatically forwarded to a "real" address specified by you. You can change your "real" address but your business addresses never change. The forwarding addresses should use your domain.

bulletThe type and amount of support provided by the hosting company, either by telephone or by e-mail.

bulletThe track-record of the hosting servers for being online. All servers will go down once in a while, so you'll never get 100% availability over a long period of time. You'll want as high a percentage as possible, however.

bulletThe number of connections the hosting company has to the backbone of the Internet. The backbone is the fast communication network that forms the internet. Hosting companies and ISPs are like branches off the backbone. You want a hosting company that has at least two connections to the backbone, so if one connection crashes, your site is still available via the other connection.

bulletAC power backup, such as a motor driven generator.

bulletSite statistics and monitoring so you know who visits your site, the pages they access, etc.

bulletUnix or Windows as the server. From what I've heard, Unix is more secure and faster than Windows. I don't know enough about NT to say what its strong points are.

bulletIf your customers will be using their credit cards, you'll need a "secure server" that encrypts the credit card information while it is being sent from your computer to the server. 

bulletShopping cart? Shopping carts cost extra but make your business easy to purchase from. Not all hosting servers provide shopping carts. Less convenient for your customers and more programming for you is the use of a form as a "purchase order".

bulletResidence in a shopping mall? There are many emalls around in which you can park your site. Being a member of a mall lets you capitalize on the reputation of the mall. You will still need to do your own advertising, however. As time goes on, emalls seem to be losing popularity.

bulletIf you will be publishing an e-mail newsletter, you will need access to an e-mail list server, such as Majordomo or Listserv. It is convenient to use your web host for your e-mail host, but you could use a different company.

bulletMany people use the FrontPage  web design program from Microsoft. If you use FrontPage, you will need a site that provides what Microsoft calls "FrontPage Extensions" (special cgi for FrontPage). FrontPage generates forms and other dynamic elements for your pages under the assumption that you're using FrontPage extensions. If your host doesn't support FrontPage, you can always modify the HTML to get the code to work with other cgi, but that is more work.

The hosting company that I recommend is 1AND1. They provide inexpensive hosting with free domains. Their servers are fast and reliable.

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