Selecting the right managed hosting provider for your business is a critical part of your success. This white paper will help you learn the key items you should consider to make an informed decision. This white paper provides a roadmap for companies who are in the process of choosing a managed hosting provider. It is also designed to provide a definitional framework of the solution set and to address some of the common misconceptions about hosting. Because there are no industry standards around what to expect from a managed hosting service provider, this white paper explores some questions to consider when interviewing prospective providers or writing your next Request for Proposal (RFP).
The first step in your decision-making process should be to understand the services you are seeking. There are many "flavors" of hosting such as dedicated, managed, colocation, shared and remote managed services. Vendors use multiple names to describe their service offerings, which can lead to confusion about the actual solutions being provided. There are three simple questions that help define the different hosting solutions: This white paper will address the scenario in which the hardware is owned, deployed and managed by the hosting services provider. In this scenario, there is a single customer per server a dedicated environment. Because there are no industry standards around what to expect from a managed hosting service provider, this white paper explores some questions to consider when interviewing prospective providers or writing your next Request for Proposal (RFP). Who owns the hardware and where is it located? Who manages the equipment? Are there multiple customers on a single platform, or is each customer on dedicated equipment in terms of servers, networking and/or storage?
1. FACILITY RELIABILITY
The foundation of your hosting service is the data center facility in which it is located. Quality of the facility's infrastructure and networking is very important. On the most basic level, the data center facility in which your services will be hosted needs to have redundant electrical and cooling infrastructure. A rating of N+1, where N is the primary system or piece of equipment, means that the facility has what it needs to operate, plus one full spare. A well maintained N+1 data center facility can be operated to achieve 99.75% availability for your hosted services, while a facility designed to a lesser N standard can have as much as 14x the downtime which is caused if the primary equipment fails while there is no backup.
2. IP SERVICE QUALITY
A second source of concern is the reliability and redundancy of the Internet connections, as well as the caliber of the providers to the facility. If your hosted services are powered inside a robust facility, but you are unable to send data between the data center and your business or customers due to poor Internet connectivity, your business needs are not being met and your business will suffer. Ask if your provider uses multiple carriers or is carrier neutral. Carrier neutral means the provider employs many carriers in the event that one goes down. In addition, find out if the provider offers any Website Performance Optimization (WPO) technologies such as Intelligent Route Control, WAN acceleration or TCP acceleration. These technologies can speed up your application or website delivery significantly.
3. FACILITY SECURITY
For security, there are two types to consider physical and logical. Physical security focuses on the data center where the actual environment is housed. There should be 24/7 security staff on-site, as well as electronic or biometric scanners and video cameras. In a dedicated managed hosting environment only the provider will have physical access to your equipment, which should all be logged. Logical security focuses on login and access level to your environment. You want your provider to have good security practices so you know they are looking out for your best interests. They should access your equipment through Secure Shell (SSH) or Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). This ensures that the interaction with your data is done securely. Avoid providers who use Telnet or direct connections as these are indications of a less secure operating environment. You will also want to know who has access to your servers and how passwords are administered and stored. Ask how often passwords are changed and make sure the provider always resets passwords after churn. All access to your logical environment should be logged as well. Additionally, you can get a clear idea for the quality and security of the data center environment by requesting a copy of a SAS 70 or SOC 3 audit report from the data center provider. While these often come with some cost, they represent a third-party validation of the policies and procedures used to maintain the environment.
4. NETWORK POPULATION
When looking at the network and security of the potential providers, another consideration on your list should be the population of the network devices. Network population density can be defined as the number of different customers who have traffic passing through the same infrastructure. While network population density can be hard to determine, and many times companies are hesitant to reveal this information, you can listen for key words that often describe this situation. Multitenant, shared or aggregate are just a few terms that reveal there is a layer of infrastructure shared by multiple customers. Infrastructure shared in this way can have a negative impact to the overall performance of any solutions attached to that infrastructure. One of the greatest concerns that can result from over population is a denial of service attack (DOS), or distributed denial of service attack (DDOS). In this form of attack a solution or system is flooded with requests to such a degree that it can no longer process any additional requests, which effectively shuts down the website or application. Now consider if your website or application is on the same network infrastructure with the target of an attack. This gear will have a significant amount of traffic, producing performance impacts across the board. You can expect a delayed response and in the worst case, your application or website could go down. In order to avoid such attacks and performance issues, it would be wise to add this important consideration to your interview questions for a prospective provider.
5. HARDWARE QUALITY
After you are satisfied that the underlying data center is robust, well-connected to Internet transit and secured, it is important to understand what type of hardware will be used to host your business. It is also important that the equipment is reasonably new as well as being a recognized brand name. Name-brand equipment is supported by the manufacturer who will have thoroughly tested the product prior to release and who will have thousands of units in production. That manufacturer is constantly receiving updates about how their hardware performs and are proactively providing updated drivers and software patches to prevent unplanned outages on your equipment. In situations where the unit goes down, getting repairs and replacement parts are in many cases easier with name-brand equipment than with a "white box" solution. Using one of the major manufacturers generally means you have their technical support behind you, as well as the hosting provider in the case of a catastrophic event. Next, ask questions about the specific equipment. Doing so will provide you more details on your solution and will also tell you what your provider knows about your equipment. Ask why this equipment is right for your business. Finally, ask about the number of spares that are generally stocked to ensure your provider has a backup in case of equipment failure.
After examining the physical aspects of the hosting environment, you should now consider equipment monitoring. When it comes to monitoring, you need to understand exactly what the hosting provider will monitor. Avoid providers that simply tell you that the IP address is up or down. Look for providers who monitor CPU usage, memory and disk usage and who allow you to check your log files, processes running and ports responding. These features help determine if your applications are healthy and functioning properly and can often predict problems to help prevent or minimize downtime. The provider should also be able to give you historical data trends rather than snapshots so you can view the health of your environment over time and be able to predict your growth.
7. TECHNICAL SUPPORT
When it comes to technical support, your provider should have the data center and the support centers staffed 24/7. Technicians should be reachable by email and phone in the event of a problem, no matter how small. Avoid automated email attendants and make sure your tickets are immediately sent to a human being who is physically looking at your equipment to determine the nature of your problem. As part of your due diligence, you should ask about the Tier II engineers you could potentially find yourself working with in the event of an issue. In the course of your research, you can and should ask to speak to these engineers directly. Raise some hypothetical questions about what you might experience to understand the steps in their response process. Finally, ask for references that can attest to how they responded in a failure situation. When it comes to technical support, make sure that your provider has the data center and the support centers staffed 24/7.
8. ACCOUNT TEAMS
While you are investigating your technical support team, make sure you understand (and preferably get to know) who will be on your business account team. Generally there are two different account teams: the sales team and the account support team. Understand the structure of both teams. It's best if the sales team is local to you, so you can put a face to a name. You will then have someone you can hold accountable for overseeing your business since their success is tied directly to your satisfaction. In both teams you should look for redundancy of roles. If one person should leave, you want to ensure someone else on the team can easily pick-up where your former lead left off. Find out what type of knowledge base they keep specific to each of their accounts. If a key team player leaves the vendor's employment, a good knowledge base will guarantee there is little, if any, transition period when someone new has to step in.
9. FINANCIAL HEALTH AND COMPANY REFERENCES
It is also important to check the financial standings of the hosting company. Make sure you understand the company's financial condition, how they are audited, the number of years they have been in business and their overall performance track record. Ask the provider for both favorable and unfavorable references (although the latter may be difficult for many to admit to having), and then call as many references as you can.
Not to be forgotten, cost is a key factor in choosing your hosting provider. When comparing costs, make sure you understand what you are getting. There are many ways to save money when going with any one provider over another, but saving the most on the bottom line isn't necessarily the best for your business. For example, some providers will give you a very low price. However, once you start reading the fine print, you suddenly understand the non-covered items quickly add up to an amount equal or above what another vendor may have offered as a part of the solution. Low costs can mean more risks for your business. Lack of support, insufficient product lines and unreliable data center facilities can end up being very costly, making it important to understand the trade-offs in addition to understanding the cost differences.
You will not get the right answers if you don't ask the right questions. This white paper was written to provide either novice or seasoned professionals the knowledge necessary to ask the right questions. Once these preliminary conditions have been satisfied, you can move to a quoting phase in your discussions with prospective vendors. With all the right line items, you should have no problem getting a quote that you can feel good about. You should be able to pick a vendor not solely based upon the number in the "total" column of the pricing sheet, but rather based upon a combination of features provided at a price that is right for your business. Linux Hosts Inc. is the high-performance Internet infrastructure provider that powers the applications shaping the way we live, work and play. Our hybrid infrastructure delivers performance without compromise blending virtual and bare-metal cloud, hosting and colocation services across a global network of data centers, optimized from the application to the end user and backed by rock-solid customer support and a 100% uptime guarantee. Since 2003, the most innovative companies have relied on us to make their applications faster and more scalable.