IT Hosting Series: What to look for when considering a hosting/cloud provider

In today’s digital world, many organisations are looking at their in-house IT systems and wondering whether to get another organisation to manage them for them or to turn to an IT hosting provider and put them in the ‘cloud’. However, not everybody is IT savvy and understands enough about the terminology to make an informed decision.

Millennia Computer Services Ltd. was recently asked by the Ticketing Institute to put a series of three articles together for their newsletter on the subject of IT hosting to help organisations make a more informed decision.

We thought it a good idea to publish these articles as blogs on our web site.

The series started with a basic glossary of common terms used in discussions on hosting/cloud technology. Article 2 introduced hosting/cloud and listed some pros and cons. Lastly, we provided an explanation of what to look for when moving to or changing a hosting provider.


What to look for when considering a hosting/cloud provider

When considering moving to a hosting/cloud provider or if you are looking to replace your current host, it is important that you understand your requirements and ensure that the hosting company can match your expectations. There are thousands of global hosting companies and understanding the key differentiators will help in making a decision. Nobody wants costly downtime and the affect that can have on a business. Speed and availability are often the key requirements along with quality technical support.

System uptime: this is usually expressed in percentages and is key in determining the quality of the infrastructure of the hosting company. The closer to 100% the better, but be aware of 100% uptime claims as technically even a 1 second interruption breaks it. A maximum of 99.99% tends to show very high availability mixed with realism, and 99.9% in now considered a standard service. All uptime service level agreements will exclude notified maintenance periods, so be aware that outages may still occur.

Bandwidth: premium network bandwidth is key as the speed and reliability is then assured. Websites and systems will display faster and perform better via quality bandwidth providers. Any provider that uses premium bandwidth puts performance and quality ahead of price. Look for generous or even unlimited monthly allowances as part of the package, and ask what the maximum Internet port speed of the hosted solution could be. These days Gigabit Internet is pretty common and indicates investment in networking equipment at the provider.

Invoicing: cloud computing is often invoiced, depending on the contract, based on what is actually used. Care should be taken to ensure that services are not over-provisioned unless there is a discount available for long term contracted reserved capacity.

Metadata and transparency: some customers require that their provider send them metadata about their cloud workloads. Sometimes the metadata is incomplete with compliance data, performance, historical, security and billing data missing. The lack of metadata means that customers do not gain the full benefit of the cloud. A lack of transparency may give rise to a variety of issues, with performance problems and outages being high.

Compliance concerns: as companies are responsible for their own data wherever it is held (on-premise or via a cloud/hosting provider), it is important that they can demonstrate compliance which can be difficult if cloud providers hold onto or don’t reveal relevant information within the metadata. Audits may not be possible or may be difficult, so confirm the ability to receive the information your compliance reports may require from the provider.

Support and on-boarding: care should be taken to ensure that any provider can set up the system (on-boarding process) quickly as companies sometimes experience lengthy delays. Quick response to support is important along with a personal service. Support costs also need to be understood from the outside as sometimes providers have ‘hidden’ costs which make them more expensive than appreciated at the outset. Availability of support is key so the hosting company needs to be available for when you need your systems available (either during working hours or more likely 24×7). You should look for support 24×7 covering all days of the year including holidays. Support may include regular patching and maintenance as part of a managed hosting package.  Some providers fail to provide the necessary support to their clients causing failures. Look at reviews of the company for any complaints or poor reputations. Ensure that the hosting company can prove they have the necessary qualifications to support the infrastructure and all software that they will be responsible for.

Additional services: most hosting providers will offer web servers (dedicated and shared) along with cloud services but not all offer additional services.  A quality hosting company will offer server management (operating system updates, application patching, resource monitoring, etc.), backup and recovery options, security services and DDoS protection.

Location:  it is important that you understand your requirements for the location of your company data. Many hosting companies store data is different countries where the laws on privacy, security, etc. may be different to the UK. If you have a requirement for the data to be stored in the UK, then you need to establish where the data centres are that may host your data, and that there are no caveats in the terms that may mean your data is transported to a data centre outside the UK at the provider’s discretion (in the case of a local data centre disaster for example).

Company history: many companies come and go, so it is important to establish how long your prospective hosting company has been trading. If a hosting company has been trading for some time, they are more likely to have invested heavily in the infrastructure and staff and are likely to remain in business for a long time. Does the hosting company own their equipment, for example? A hosting company with a long history is more likely to have seen the numerous IT problems and have gained the experience to solve them than someone new.

Performance requirements: consideration of your requirements is key.  Where resources are shared, performance can be affected. It is important that you understand your performance requirements and discuss these at the outset with the potential hosting provider so that the best option in terms of infrastructure and bandwidth is selected.


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