So if companies of this scale, who no doubt put a huge value on their websites being 'always on' can be affected by server glitches, what should you be looking for in a web host to minimise the risk of disruption?
A track record
Looking back over recent server performance is always a good indicator for how well a host performs. Any host worth its salt should be able to provide historical server stats for at least the last few months. This chart below is from one of our dedicated servers and shows a brief spell of downtime in June 2013 (the red line 2/3 into the time line), but otherwise 100% uptime.
In addition to being able to provide detailed usage and uptime charts, we also maintain a public hosting status page so our clients can see at any time the availability of our servers.
Servers work hard and are active 24/7. This means that there is a reasonable liklihood of a server component failing at some point or another. A reactive and supportive hosting partner is essential in this kind of scenario to ensure you can get back online with the minimum of downtime or data loss.
For us, having service contracts in place with our network and hardware providers Melbourne Server Hosting means we're able to extend the benefits of this to our clients. This means we're their first port of call so they don't have to worry about dealing directly with a technical team - we can take care of that. In addition, we're also able to offer a 1 hour fix, not just a 1 hour response to any hardware related issues affecting your website, even if that means we need to move your site to a different server.
This type of high availablity hosting with a service level such as this inevitably costs more than your typical web hosting package, but being prepared for the unknown when your website is your most active sales resource is a must have for many organisations.
Backups are all too frequently overlooked on websites. Web servers are like any other computer, and we all know that occasionally something can, and almost certainly will go wrong. This could be software related or a hardware failure, so being able to restore files from a backup is vital to protect your website.
A huge investment is made in a new website; not only in terms of cost, but also time spent writing content or adding products. Ask yourself what would happen if that was lost unexpectedly? At a minimum it would be inconvenient, but some of the more significant impacts are listed below.
Loss of Content
in any website, content is king, for a number of reasons. If you lose your content, there's not going to be much left that makes up your site. When we talk about content, this could include videos, photos, user generated content, blog posts, comments or products. The more well established the site, the greater the loss could be, and in some cases, it may be irreplacable without a backup. This would be inconvenient, but could also have significant consequences on the business, as well as the website.
Damage to Search Engine Listings
Search engines can only determine the nature of your site and how to rank it based on your content. If this content disappears and isn't replaced, and you were fortunate to rank well for a given phrase that no longer exists on your site, you'll soon fall out of favour with the search engines and see your traffic tail off pretty quickly. Broken links to pages that no longer exist will also count against your search rankings.
If you're running an ecommerce business or online shop, or rely on your website to produce new leads, suddenly being without your content could significantly affect your sales pipeline. Should the worst happen to your site, being offline for an hour or so can be tolerable (albeit, not without cost), but facing the prospect of spending the next few weeks (or even months) re-building your online catalogue could cause irreparable damage.
Website speed is increasingly important as people are accessing the web from a wider variety of devices. Search engines have recognised this too, with Google taking speed into account when indexing a site. However, hosting is only part of the story when it comes to speed. The way a website is built can have a far greater impact on the way that site performs.
That said, a responsive server will still contribute to the overall speed of your site - even if the site is made up of complex code. Sharing a server with thousands of other sites (ie. shared hosting) can greatly affect performance, so ask 'how many other sites will be hosted on the same server?' If the answer isn't known, or turns out to be thousands of other sites, this should be a warning that there's probably little control over who, or what runs on that server. (You can find out how to check how many other sites you might be sharing a server with in our article Shared Hosting: Who are your Neighbours).
Image credit: Ronnie Garcia (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ronniegarcia/89655720)