Let’s be honest: websites aren’t easy to manage.
- They take time, money and effort
- The build takes part against a background of deadlines, pushy clients, and research into the latest best practices and design trends.
- Most web developers are overworked and underpaid, struggling to manage a hundred different projects at the same time.
- And to top it all off, server problems can strike at all hours, catching you off-guard while you’re out walking the dog or catching some well-earned sleep
Servers are more complicated than desktop computers, and desktops can be frustrating for even the savviest and most experienced of users.
That’s why people often struggle to find the time or the energy to manage a server on top of an already-full work and personal life.
Luckily, there’s an answer to your problems: managed hosting.
Managed web hosting has existed since the 90s, and it’s often been the go- to solution for webmasters and developers.
Most webmasters don’t want the burden of having to manage their servers, preferring instead to focus on the actual site.
Even experienced administrators often opt for managed hosting because it gives them an extra pair of eyes and hands.
Managed hosting is easy to understand and to work with once you wrap your head around it, but that hasn’t stopped people from misunderstanding and misrepresenting it.
Common managed hosting myths include:
- Managed hosting is for newbies
- Managed hosting is for small developers or digital agencies
- Managed hosting is a luxury service for lazy administrators
- Managed hosting is only needed when a problem arises
None of this is true.
In fact, most of the myths and rumors originate from companies that sell unmanaged hosting.
The managed market is experiencing an upswing. In fact, 451 Research predicts that managed hosting companies will grow 60% faster than infrastructure-only providers like Linode,
In fact, 451 Research predicts that managed hosting companies will grow 60% faster than infrastructure-only providers like Linode, DigitalOcean and AWS in the near future.
And honestly, it’s not unexpected.The hype around cloud is over, and now it’s back to business again. Savvy consumers are now (finally) not responding to the buzz and hype around anything with the word “cloud” in it.
More focus is rightfully being placed on viewing hosting as more than just a commodity, but a business investment for the future.
We’re not saying that there’s no place for self-managed cloud server hosting.
In fact, the public cloud can be useful for some developers, and it isn’t going away anytime soon.
But the buzz of recent years is starting to fade because customers are discovering the hidden tax of cloud hosting: management.
Using self-managed public cloud providers always comes with a greater expense, either in terms of the added workload or in terms of the cost of outside management via a freelancer or a company.
Larger organizations often require more and more full-time employees as their infrastructure expands, and experienced sysadmins don’t come cheap.
Some cloud ‘providers’ don’t actually have the infrastructure to back it up – their ‘cloud servers’ are actually just a generic VPS on a single server, which means the system is weak and prone to downtime.
New EuroVPS customers are often refugees from a bittersweet experience with a self-managed cloud hosting company.
They get lured in by the promise of cheap hosting, but once on board, they find themselves dissatisfied – and often under threat due to unanticipated downtime and rapidly rising costs.
A classic example of bait and switch.
The lack of proper management and poor service can have a serious effect on a company’s bottom line, especially over time.
Too many managers and executives are opting for a cost-driven business model.
They try to minimize costs and keep expenditure as low as possible.
And it seems like a good idea at face value.
A decrease in operating costs will net a higher overall profit.
It’s simple arithmetic! Right?
Unfortunately, web hosting – and running a business in general – has many variables.
It’s not a simple question of whether one plus one equals two.
By opting for a cheaper web host, you could sacrifice quality, and that can lead to a drop in online revenue if your site is too slow or offline all the time.
Cheap prices are often a result of cost-cutting on the part of the host.
Problems are much more likely to occur on retrofitted desktop “servers” as opposed to enterprise-grade servers, and when things do go wrong, you might find yourself talking to an outsourced support team.
Scenarios like this are a nightmare waiting to happen, but they’re also surprisingly common. Worse still, not all management is created equal.
Even expensive hosts can be bad at customer 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). Stay away from them.
Quality managed hosts don’t see themselves as merely a vendor, as MINOs do – they see themselves as a business partner.
When your business excels, your hosts excel too, so they’ll go out of their way to communicate technical subjects in a clear and concise manner and to add value at every opportunity.
If you’re being treated like a nuisance, or if you’re still managing the server yourself, you’re probably with a MINO host.
What to look for?
The best-managed hosting providers:
- Offer fast support
- Provide conclusive solutions to issues
- Deliver satisfactory server performance (with minimal downtime)
- Monitor your security
- Solve 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
They’ll ask you questions like:
- What applications are you using?
- What is your vertical?
- What are your performance targets?
- What is your RPO/RTO objective?
To understand how much good managed hosting costs, you need to put yourself in the providers position and kind of reverse engineer their business model.
Just like self-managed hosting, managed hosting providers need to shell out a significant amount of money for CAPEX costs like servers, routers, racks, and other hardware. The variable costs of colocation, network, and office space are also similar.
What’s different though is the variable expense of salaries.
Experienced system administrators are not cheap.
They demand hefty salaries, because honestly, we’re living in an internet driven economy and system administrators are the engineers that help keep this system running. So logically, they are in very high demand at the moment.
For quality managed hosting, expect to pay a minimum of $100 per month.
This takes into account at least 1 hour of salary time per month, all of the hardware, and then depending on the provider, any extra costs for customer success initiatives they might offer.
For example, we bundle in quarterly security audits, performance tuning on-demand, and 24/7 proactive monitoring. All of these things take time/money to deliver.
Managed hosting providers often say whatever’s necessary to make a sale. Some are honest, some are dishonest, and some are disingenuous. You’ll have to ask the right questions if you want to find out whether a potential host is right for you.
Most customers don’t know the right questions to ask, and they take guarantees on support and uptime at face value. They do no research – or they do the wrong research – and make a purchase decision off the back of a quick chat with a salesperson.
Luckily, we’re here to help you out.
Here are the most important questions to ask when you’re thinking about switching provider.
Q1: 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
Running a server requires you to have spare parts on standby. That’s what separates professional operations from the rest. Renting or reselling only covers the server – and not the spare parts.
So if the hardware fails, they’ll require an entirely new server, and your site will be offline for hours or days while they migrate it.
Problem #2: No custom solutions
If you need extra resources or want to customize your setup, you’ll have to look somewhere else. Most “host in a box” solutions rule out the ability to build a custom platform.
At best, you could upgrade the RAM – if you’re lucky.
Problem #3: No on-site support staff
Renting, leasing and reselling (RLR) companies typically have no physical presence.
They have no datacenters because they don’t actually own anything. They’ll often use “remote hands”, which means that a third-party company is providing support.
And depending on their service agreement (SLA), it could take up to 24 hours before they give the issue some attention.
Q2: Do you have onsite engineers – at all times – in the datacenter?
If a potential host has no actual presence inside the datacenter, it means that they’re not going to be on hand if something goes wrong. But it’s not enough to simply ask the question – you’ll also want details on who the staff are employed by.
Some hosts consider freelancers or “remote hands” to be on-site, which is disingenuous and misleading.
Unless they have full-time employees on the payroll, they’re outsourcing the task of maintenance and customer service.
Q3: Do you have experience with…?
This is where you’ll want to talk about your CMS, application or framework. It’s hard – impossible, even – to provide server management for something that you know nothing about.
You don’t want your host’s support team to reply to your tickets with links to pages that they found on Google.
Chances are that you’ve already tried that, and no Google search will provide a solution that’s specific to your setup.
How many people work at your company?
There’s nothing wrong with a small host.
In fact, they have their own set of advantages, and they more than meet the needs of some customers.
But when it comes to quality managed hosting, small companies are usually ill-equipped to deal with the demand.
Many small companies outsource support, and the same companies often use RLR servers. As a general rule, look for double figures.
In the premium managed hosting market, companies usually employ 15 to 50 techs.
Q4: Do you outsource any of your support?
This is another area where hosts are often disingenuous. To most people, “outsourcing” refers to hiring someone who works for another company.
But many hosts misuse the term “remote” to refer to support personnel that are paid and treated like freelancers or general contractors.
These people are rarely based at the same physical location as the company, and they’re also rarely on the payroll as a full-time employee.
A potential host can only honestly say “no” if they use their own on-site support staff.
Q5: How do I communicate with support?
These days, we’re almost overwhelmed by communication channels, from phone calls and emails to Skype, SMS, instant messaging, social networking and more.
But some hosts only use one or two channels, and this can make it difficult for you to get in touch with them.
Contact methods for support teams typically fall into one of three categories:
Support issues can be complex, and they often require more than one person to resolve them.
Tickets are designed to document all steps of the support process so that different employees can understand the history of the problem at a single glance.
As long as the host replies quickly (we aim to do it within fifteen minutes), there’s nothing to worry about.
The very best hosts aggregate tickets at the end of the month to identify areas of improvement.
While some of the cheaper hosts offer “phone support”, it’s usually only for simple queries and typically involves someone trying to fix the issue by reading from a script.
At those hosts, anything complex will still require a ticket.
True phone support is a high-end service for enterprise-class clients.
At EuroVPS, for example, enterprise customers have dedicated account managers that offer round-the-clock assistance.
Instant messaging and other options can seem attractive to potential customers, but they’re often poorly staffed and underused.
Hosts that offer these services tend to phase them out within a year, and it’s common to see hosts that advertise instant messaging or Skype support but who have no one actually available.
Q6: How many years have you been in business?
When it comes to server management, experience is everything.
You need a host that’s staffed by seasoned warriors who have fought long battles and won many wars – metaphorically, at least.
It’s a many-faceted area, covering everything from performance and web stacks to security, caching, databases and more.
It takes time and hands-on experience to be able to offer full support. Make sure that your provider has a proven record of quality service by reading reviews and talking to other customers, and pay particular attention to longevity.
When it comes to quality managed VPS or dedicated hosting, you’ll want a company that’s been around for at least five years.
Q7: Will I be able to access L3 engineers around the clock?
Is technical support available around the clock?
Many customers are shocked when they run into a problem and find that their host’s “24/7” support only covers basic issues, and that complicated problems can only be resolved during business hours.
So if your server fails at 6 pm on a Friday, it won’t be resolved until an L2 or L3 tech comes to work at 9 am on Monday morning.
L1 techs are the customer service reps in the call center, L2 techs are the next step up, and L3 techs typically have years of experience and are tasked with resolving issues that L1 and L2 are unable to deal with.
Because of this, most RLRs don’t even employ L3 techs and are reliant on a third-party.
Q8: Do you offer advanced SLAs for complex projects?
The best managed hosting companies provide bespoke solutions – such as custom platforms, server clusters and SLAs – for their customers.
If you find a host that’s unwilling or unable to customize their offering, they’re probably an RLR host and best avoided.
Q9: What’s the biggest hosting customer that you have?
Just like digital marketing agencies, managed hosting providers strive to build a lasting clientele, and the best way to do that is to showcase past work.
Professional hosting companies don’t just have testimonials – they have in-depth case studies and customer stories that outline how they positively impacted the client’s business. If a potential host says that they can’t talk about other customers, run away.
Find a different one whose customers are more than happy to act as advocates. If they give the hosts permission to use their name, it suggests that they’re happy with the service.
Q10: When was your last major downtime?
Everybody has downtime, but not everybody learns from it.
Ask potential hosts how long it lasted, what caused it and how they changed their business to stop it from happening again.
Scrutinize their answer and try to verify it, researching it on Google and corroborating it on discussion forums and websites like WebHostingTalk.com
The answers to these questions will give you a good sense of the hosting company’s expertise and experience.
Never blindly enter into an agreement with the first managed hosting provider that you come across.
By asking the right questions, you’ll start to get a good idea of whether a potential host is right for you or whether you’d better continue the search and look elsewhere.
Also, the conversation that you have with them will also reveal their personality and company culture.
Where possible, it’s a good idea to work with a company that’s similar to your own, but a culture clash is better than going with a company that just can’t do the job that you need them to do.
By now, you know why managed hosting is a good idea, and you also know what questions to ask of a potential provider.
But finding a reputable, trustworthy managed hosting provider can be difficult, and there are several red flags to watch out for.
If you see any of these, move on to another provider.
Red Flag #1: Poor Communication
A professional managed hosting provider will respond to all requests in a timely manner.
If you don’t receive a reply to your ticket for hours on end, it’s a sign that you should look elsewhere.
This becomes particularly important during the research phase – if they don’t respond to requests that could net them a new customer, how will they respond when you’re a client that’s looking for support?
Red Flag #2: Mismatched company cultures
A website is an important – and intimate – item, whether you’re a company, an organization or even a sole trader. In our modern age, your website is more important than ever, and you can’t entrust it to just anyone.
That’s why managed web hosts are increasingly seen as business partners, and not merely as vendors.
Buying hosting isn’t as simple as buying groceries at the local market. It has to feel right.
- Did you like the people that you talked to at the company?
- Did the sales staff take time to analyze your needs or did they just offer a generic quote?
- How does the company talk about itself?
- Do their politics, sense of humor and professional demeanor tie in with your own?
Red Flag #3: A lack of case studies
Always look for case studies and detailed customer success stories. These reveal past successes (or even failures!) and highlight the hardiness of the host’s support staff and engineers.
You can BS a testimonial but not a case study.
If all they have are testimonials – where “Sally from the UK” says that they’re the best company ever – then consider looking elsewhere.
Red Flag #4: A lack of answers
If the service provider fails to provide clear answers to each of your questions, no matter how insignificant they might seem, then it’s a bad sign for the future.
When you’re paying premium prices for managed hosting, it’s because you want a better quality of service than what’s available from the cheaper commodity providers.
So if your questions are brushed off or ignored, you should find someone else who’ll take the time to answer them.
Red Flag #5: It seems too cheap to be real
If the quote that you receive is comparable to self-managed hosting, it’s probably too good to be true.
The only way that companies are able to offer such low prices is when they’re cutting costs and cutting corners, or even outsourcing their operations.
In the end, you matter most!
The right managed hosting provider can help you to save time, avoid headaches and ensure efficiency while guaranteeing the security and uptime of your website and your online infrastructure.
The best-managed hosting providers can help you to:
- Monitoring your website and server metrics
- Optimizing your web stack (LAMP, WIMP, LNMP, etc)
- Protect your server from hackers
- Have peace of mind so you can focus on your business
Ultimately, it’s up to you to find a provider who understands your business and has the necessary skills to improve it. By now, you should know exactly what to look for – and what to look out for.
If you’re in the market for a managed hosting provider, be sure to pick up the phone and have a chat to one of our friendly staffers. We’d love to help, even if you choose to work with someone else!