How to Choose a Managed Hosting Provider? Questions, Flags, Solutions
The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Managed Hosting Provider Questions, Flags, Solutions
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I. Introduction 1. Myths and misconceptions 2. Managed vs. “the cloud” 3. Cost Driven Hosting Decisions 4. These hosts are managed in name only (MINO)
II. 11 Questions to Ask 1. Do you own your hardware? 2. Do you have onsite engineers, at all times, in the datacenter? 3. Do you have experience with ? (name of CMS, application or framework) 4. Do you outsource any of your support? 5. How do I communicate with support? 6. How many people work at your company? 7. How many years have you been in business? 8. Will I be able to access L3 engineers 24x7? 9. Do you offer advanced SLA for complex projects? 10. What is the biggest hosting customer that you have? 11. When was your last major downtime? How long did it last? How did it cause you to change?
III. Managed Hosting Red Flags 1. Assessing the culture 2. Testimonials vs. Case Studies 3. Poor Communication 4. You don’t get answers to all your questions 5. Seems too cheap to be real
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Introduction Let’s be honest: Websites aren’t easy to manage; they take time, money and effort. And then deadlines, juggling clients, and researching the latest industry trends adds stress due to lack of adequate time.
And you don’t want to be interrupted by server problems in your off-work hours, while trying to sleep or walk the dog.
Servers are also more complicated than desktop computers. And desktop computers can already be frustrating even for savvy and experienced users.
You just don’t have the time or energy to add managing a server to an already-full work and personal life.
The answer to your problem = managed hosting.
Managed web hosting has existed since the 90s, and has often been the go-to solution for webmasters and developers. Most site owners don’t want to be burdened with managing servers; they want to use it, not simply make it work. Even experienced server administrators often opt for managed hosting, as they value having extra eyes and hands (or like to sleep).
Managed hosting has too many myths and misconceptions: • • It’s not just for newbies. • It’s not just for small developers or digital agencies; it can especially be a life saver to larger organizations. • It’s not a luxury service for rich lazy admins. • It’s not something you only need when problem arise; by then, it’s often too late. • etc etc • None of this is true.
In fact, most myths originate from companies selling unmanaged hosting or “cloud” servers which brings us to the next section:
Managed vs. “the cloud” Managed hosting is experiencing a market upswing. 451 Research predicts that managed hosting will grow 60% faster than infrastructure-only providers like Linode, DigitalOcean and AWS in the near future. And honestly, it’s not unexpected. “Cloud” has been hype all along. Now don’t get me wrong – the public cloud is extremely useful for developers. And it isn’t going away anytime soon. But the buzz of recent years is quickly fading, because customers are souring on the hidden tax of “the cloud” – aka management. Using public cloud providers always comes with a greater expense – either as a larger workload for you, or to hire outside management (either freelance or a management company). Large organization will often require more full-time employees – and experienced sysadmins are not cheap! Not to mention that some “cloud” providers don’t actually have cloud infrastructure. It was “cloud” in name only! That “cloud server” was just a generic VPS on a single server. New EuroVPS customers are often refugees from a bittersweet self-managed public-cloud hosting experience. The lure of cheap hosting didn’t last long, and almost ruined many of them. No management and poor service long-term cost their businesses greatly.
Cost Driven Hosting Decisions Too many managers and executives opt for a cost-driven business model. They try to minimize all costs as low as possible. And at face value, it sound great! A decrease in operating costs nets more profit. It’s simple arithmetic!
But web hosting has many variables. It’s not a simple equation of 1+1=2.
Cheap prices are also due to cost-cutting at the host. For example, problems are far more likely on retrofitted desktop “servers” as opposed to enterprise-grade servers. And a cheap hosting probably outsources support. Scenarios like this are a nightmare waiting to happen, and it happens all the time.
But worse yet, not all management is created equal. Even noncheap hosts can give your terrible service!
As was the case with “cloud” hosts that don’t actually have cloud infrastructure, many hosts are cashing in on the term “managed” and providing poor or non-existent management.
These hosts are managed in name only (MINO). The difference between a quality managed host and a MINO host is whether they deliver positive return on investment to your business. You shouldn’t feel as if you’re a nuisance, or find yourself still managing a server yourself.
The best managed hosting providers:
• provide fast support • provide conclusive solutions to issues • deliver satisfactory server performance with minimal downtime • monitor your security • solve all of your day-to-day server maintenance needs • have data protection and disaster recovery plans • understand the special needs of your business, field, or industry • provide unsolicited feedback and suggestions to improve your hosting
Quality managed hosts don’t see themselves merely as your vendor, but as a business partner. When your business excels, the host also excels.
They will ask you questions like: 1. What applications are you using? 2. What is your vertical? 3. What are your performance targets? 4. What is your RPO/RTO objective? These are the types of questions that you’re going to start hearing when you talk to a great provider. And it will be a pleasant conversation, because the great ones also know how to communicate highly technical subjects in a clear concise manner that anyone can understand.
11 Questions to Ask So you’ve decided that Managed Hosting is for you. What do you need to ask? What’s important to know? Explore more as we deep dive into what you need to ask your managed hosting provider before you by.
Managed hosting providers often say whatever is necessary to make a sale. Some are honest, some are dishonest, and some are a little of both (disingenuous).
Most potential customers don’t know the right questions to ask, and take guarantees on support and uptime at face value.
They do no research, or the wrong research, and trust the host after only a brief chat.
1. Do you own your hardware? When a host doesn’t own their hardware, it either means they rent/lease it (uncommon), or they simply resell servers from another host (common). This presents three major problems: Problem #1: No spare parts When a professional photographer is on assignment, he always carries more than one camera. When disaster strikes, he grabs the backup body, and resumes works. It’s the amateur “photographers” that only take one camera to an important event. It’s the same concept with web hosting. Owning a server means having a stock of parts on stand-by. That’s what separates truly professional operations from the rest. Renting/ leasing or reselling (RLR) only covers the single server – not spare parts. In fact, RLR often have no option or ability to acquire spare parts, even if they want to! As mentioned in other recent blogs, many servers are a “host in a box” solution. So not only are spare parts not easily acquired, but the server can only use the hardware preinstalled by the manufacturer.
So hardware failure is a total disaster, often requiring an entirely new server. You site will be offline for hours or days while you’re migrated to a new system. This applies to any hosting: shared/ reseller, VPS or dedicated. Problem #2: No custom solutions As alluded to above, “host in a box” solutions preclude the ability to provide a custom platform. At most, you can upgrade RAM – sometimes, maybe. Problem #3: No on-site support staff RLR is a giveaway that the host has no physical presence in a datacenter, since they don’t own anything. They’ll often use “remote hands”, meaning the datacenter or actual hosting company has to provide the support. And depending on their RLR service agreement (SLA), it could be as much as 24 hours before they give the issue attention.
2. Do you have onsite engineers, at all times, in the datacenter? Sometimes, RLR is not a guarantee that the hosting provider doesn’t have their own physical onsite presence in the DC – though it is highly likely. So this is still an important question. And get details on whom, exactly, employs the staff. Because some hosts consider freelancers or “remote hands” to be “onsite” – and that’s what we mean by “disingenuous”.
3. Do you have experience with ? (name of CMS, application or framework). It’s hard – impossible, even – to provide management for something that you don’t know about. You don’t want your hosting company’s tech support to reply to your tickets with links to pages that they found on Google – the same sites you found with your own Google searches. Yet, sadly, that happens quite often.
4. Do you outsource any of your support? This is another area where many hosts are disingenuous. To most people, “outsourcing” refers to anybody working for another company. Many hosts misuse the term “remote” to refer to support personnel that are paid and treated like freelancers or general contractors. But that’s textbook outsourcing: a non-employee is hired to do work. And the “remote” worker is almost never at the same physical location as the company. The only way that a host can honestly answer “no” is when they use onsite support staff. At most, remote workers with full-time benefits like any normal employee.
5. How do I communicate with support? There are many forms of communication in the 21st century – phone, email, chat, Skype, SMS and more. But some hosts only support 1-2 communication methods for support.
Support contact methods fall into three main categories: i. Ticket support Support issues can be complex, and may require the attention of more than one person to resolve. Tickets document an issue. And as long as the managed host is replying quickly (EuroVPS replies within 15 minutes), there’s nothing to worry about. What customers often fail to realize is that quality hosts aggregate tickets at the end of the month. These are studied for ways that the host can improve, or look for trends affecting certain services. ii. Phone support Although a few budget hosts offer “phone support”, it’s only for simple issues, and you’re speaking with an L1 tech reading a script. At those hosts, anything complex still requires a ticket. True phone support is a high-touch service for enterprise-class clients. At EuroVPS, our enterprise customers have dedicated account managers to assist you with issues 24/7. iii. Chat / Skype / SMS / etc Although these support options may seem attractive, they’re often fads. Each comes with huge disadvantages for both the host and the customer. Hosts that offer such services tend to phase them out about 6-12 months later. It’s extremely common to see hosts advertising chat/Skype support, yet nobody is available.
6. How many people work at your company? There’s nothing wrong with small hosts – they meet the need for some hosting markets. But when it comes to quality managed hosting, small companies are ill-equipped to deal with demand. Its small companies that tend outsource support to keep pace with demand. Small companies are usually the ones that RLR servers, too. When you ask this question, the minimum acceptable answer is 10. In the premium managed hosting market, companies usually employ 50 to 500 techs.
7. How many years have you been in business? When it comes to management, experience is everything. You need a host that has seasoned warriors who have fought long battles, and won many wars. Server management is a manyfaceted area of expertise – performance, web stacks, security, caching, databases, etc – and is not a skill set that comes quickly. You also want a provider with a proven record for quality service – not a service that may disappear as quickly as it appeared.
In general, when it comes to quality managed VPS or dedicated hosting, you want a hosting company that has been around for at least 5 years. EuroVPS has been in business since 2004, so just over 12 years.
8. Will I be able to access L3 engineers 24x7? Many customers are shocked to find out that their “24/7” hosting support only covers basic issues, and that a resolution to a complicated matter is only available during 9-5 business hours. So if your server fails at 6 p.m. on a Friday, it will not be resolved until an L2 or L3 tech comes to work at 9 a.m. on Monday. Yikes! And, of course, RLR probably doesn’t even have L3 techs/ engineers, since L3 is usually datacenter staff. At EuroVPS customers are able to access L3 support night and day, even on major holidays.
9. Do you offer advanced SLA for complex projects? High-touch managed hosting companies excel at providing custom solutions. Custom platforms, custom server clusters, custom SLA, etc. If you find a host that is unwilling or unable to provide custom service, odds are that they’re a RLR host.
10. What is the biggest hosting customer that you have? A common red flag excuse is “we’re not able to divulge our clients”. If you see/hear that, run away. Like digital agencies, managed hosting providers want to build a lasting clientele. And the only way to do that is to showcase past work. Professional hosting companies have not just testimonials, but in-depth case studies outlining how they positively impacted the business of their client. When the site or company name is not impressive, or not believable, or nothing has been given at all, it’s time to move along. That’s not the host for you!
11. When was your last major downtime? How long did it last? How did it cause you to change? Everybody has downtime. But not everybody learns from it. You should really scrutinize their answer – and then try to verify it as well, researching Google and on sites like WebHostingTalk.com (WHT). Next The answers to the above questions will give you a sense of the hosting company’s expertise and experience. This conversation you have with them will also give you a sense of their personality and company culture. If the company’s team doesn’t have satisfying answers to these questions, or brushes them off as an annoyance, they might not be the best provider for you. At EuroVPS, we’re very transparent about what our company does and uses. We welcome questions about our technology. We enjoy them! We’re IT geeks, and love to talk about hosting technologies. Many of our clients actually learn about hosting by having detailed conversations with our staff. And we’ll be glad to teach you, too! In part 3, we’ll go over a few more red flags to watch out for, when selecting a managed hosting provider.
Managed Hosting Red Flags We’ve told you why you might need managed hosting, what to ask the managed hosting provider, and now we’ll conclude with what red flags you should avoid. If you see any of these, move on to another managed hosting provider.
1. Assessing the culture
A website is a very intimate item for a company, organization, or even private site owner. In the 2010s, it’s an extremely valuable online tool. You don’t want to entrust it to just anybody. So managed web hosts are seen more as business partners, not mere vendors. Buying hosting is not as simple as buying groceries at the local market. It has to feel right. For example: • Did you like the people you’ve talked to during live chat? • Did the sales staff take time to analyze your needs, or simply offer a price quote? • What about their politics, humor, or professional demeanor?
Customer Success Tip: If the hosts seem like a good fit, then treat the situation like you’re hiring an employee, or courting a client. You want to build a pleasant long-term relationship.
2. Testimonials vs. Case Studies Always look for case studies or detailed customer stories. These reveal past successes (or even failures). It highlight the battle hardiness of the host’s support staff and engineers. You can BS a testimonial, but not a case study! Don’t be gullible and fall for “testimonials”, where “Sally from UK” simply praises the service as best ever.
3. Poor Communication A professional managed hosting provider should respond to all requests in a timely manner. If you cannot get them on the phone, or don’t get a reply on your sales ticket for hours (during M-F 9-5 hours their time), then you should look elsewhere. If they don’t respond to simple requests that will net them a new customer, then how will they respond when you’re a client that need support?
4. You don’t get answers to all your questions If the provider neglects to provide you with clear answers to all of your questions, no matter how insignificant they might seem, that’s not a good sign. You’ll be paying a premium for managed hosting because you want a better quality of service than what is available at the cheap commodity providers. So if your questions are repeatedly being brushed off or ignored, then you should go elsewhere.
5. Seems too cheap to be real If the managed hosting provider gives you a quote at pricing comparable to self-managed hosting, then it’s most definitely too good to be true. The only way a provider can get away with prices that cheap is by overselling hardware, support, or both. Beware of Overselling: Overselling is the hidden cost of cheap hosting. They’re business model is based around volume (i.e. trying to sign as many as possible) rather than committing to your businesses’ needs. In the end, you matter most! The right managed hosting provider can help you save time, avoid headaches, and guarantee the security of your online infrastructure. Great managed hosting providers can help you with: • • • •
Monitoring your website and server metrics Optimising your web stack (LAMP, WIMP, LNMP, etc) Securing your server from hackers Give you the peace of mind that you need to focus on your business
But it’s on you to choose a provider who not only understands your business, but also has the skills necessary to help improve it.
EuroVPS offers multiple managed hosting products, using the latest in enterprise cloud hosting architecture. We have true 24/7 on-site support staff and network engineers who provide management to freelance developers and major corporations alike.