Avoid “budget” hosting - use these criteria to ensure you’re with a good hosting provider

28 Nov 2023, by Slade Baylis

In the hosting industry, there’s a tendency for budget hosting providers to try and attract customers by offering the lowest price possible for their hosting plans.  Unfortunately, as alluring as this sounds, this race-to-the-bottom often has many negative consequences.  Among these drawbacks - and some of the worst - is that it’s a game of reducing costs by offshoring support, reducing what support they do offer, as well as relying more and more on junior staff who aren’t as skilled.

Last month, we sought to help our readers and customers make the process of starting out online easier by detailing how to get started with their own website.  In that same vein - and also to help avoid going with hosting providers that will end up costing you more money and sanity in the long term - we thought we’d also give some advice on what to ask potential hosting providers in order to find out if they truly know their stuff. 

For those who don’t have hosting as yet, we’ll touch on the key evaluation criteria that you should use when choosing between different hosting providers, as well as list the questions you should be asking to ensure that your services will be reliable, supported, fast, and secure from both physical and digital threats.  For those who already host with us, we’ll reassure you on how our services already do each of these things!

Support – How having knowledgeable and locally-based staff helps with resolution times and keeping your sanity

Out of all the criteria to evaluate providers on, one of the most important is the support they’ll provide you with.  Most people who already have an online presence know it’s likely that at some point you will need support for a technical issue with a website, a hosting service, or with your email accounts.  And it's during these critical key moments that you will realise whether or not the provider you have chosen to go with offers great support.

If they don’t, you’ll quickly find out why it's an important aspect  – as they’ll take way too long to get back to you; and when they eventually do, they'll not respond with any useful information; and even after all that wait and toing and froing, they still may not be able to resolve your issue at all!  So, although they may claim to offer “free” support, more-often-than-not, the quality of this support can actually be more of a hindrance than a help!

This is why it’s important to know what to ask, so that you can find out if that provider wlll end up being able to help you when the time comes, rather than making things worse for you!

Here are some of the questions you should be asking about your provider’s support:

  • Where is your support based? Does your company operate in Australia?
  • How much training do your support agents have? Are they reading from a script or are they experts that know things inside and out?
  • If I need to escalate from Level 1 support to Level 2 support or even higher, how easy is that to do? Will I be on the phone for hours trying to escalate to someone who can actually help me?

Having locally-based staff will mean that you don’t have to worry about being transferred to an off-shore call centre, with potential language barriers and poor phone connections making it even harder to resolve your issues.  Not only that, but being local means that you’re more likely to deal with technicians who understand their services and aren’t reading from a pre-written script.

In this industry, when it comes to technical support, the support provided to customers is usually broken down into levels - Level 1 support covers the basics such as password resets and email set up questions;  Level 2 support covers slightly more advanced issues, such as problems with broken websites and more complicated configuration concerns;  and there are even higher levels for more advanced tasks.

Here at Micron21, all our technicians start at the higher Level 2 – this means that you don’t need to spend hours on the phone attempting to describe the issue to new support agents repeatedly, or desperately try to get it escalated to a more senior staff member to get your issues resolved. 

Location – How the location of your hosting service matters for both performance and data sovereignty

We’ve touched on this in our previous Slow Website? Your network could be the culprit article, but the physical location of your hosting service can dramatically affect your website’s loading times.  If your hosting provider looks to save on costs by off-shoring their servers (as bandwidth and other costs can sometimes be cheaper overseas) - the result of doing this will be that it'll increase the latency of every connection, thus slowing down any service hosted on them.

Also, the ownership arrangement of your hosting company is another aspect to consider – if your hosting provider is actually owned by an offshore international company, this can be an issue if data sovereignty is required or if this is important to you. 

Here are some of the questions you should be asking about your provider’s location and ownership:

  • Where are your services hosted? Are they within Australia?
  • Does my data ever leave Australian shores? What about secondary systems such as backups?
  • Is your company 100% Australian owned?

In one of the performance tests that we ran in the above “Slow Website?” article, the difference of around 150 milliseconds – which is about the difference between hosting a website in the US rather than Australia – was enough to have a dramatic impact.  This amount of latency was enough to slow down a website from loading in less than one second to loading in around three seconds, without any other changes to the website.  It may not sound like a lot, but such a delay can have a huge impact and is all it takes to make the difference - especially when considering how quickly people will abandon a shopping experience if websites are too slow.

With services hosted with Micron21, our standard is to host all services within Australia as well as have all backups stored on our shores.  We do have options of hosting services internationally for our customers if required, but only on a strictly opt-in basis.  We choose to do this because data sovereignty is important to us, which is why we’re also proud to state that not only do we operate from within Australia, but we’re entirely 100% Australian owned.

With international tensions continually rising and the increased risk of state-actor funded cyber-crime, data sovereignty is now becoming a growing concern for many organisations.

Performance and Reliability – How the hardware used under-the-hood affects how fast and resilient your website is

On the previously mentioned race-to-the-bottom, it’s not uncommon for budget providers to try to cut costs from wherever else they can, even in vitally important areas!  One of those areas is in the hardware they choose to use, such as using lower performance hardware, or worse yet, using older and out-of-date hardware.

Here are some of the questions you should be asking about your provider’s hardware:

  • What hardware are you using to provide this service? What make and model?
  • What are the specifications of that hardware? What CPU architecture, what disk drives are used, etc?
  • What support is provided for it? Is it backed by support from the manufacturer?
  • If there is an issue with the hardware, will that cause an outage? What redundancy is in place to protect my data and systems?

Here at Micron21 we use enterprise-grade Dell hardware to host even our entry-level hosting platforms - not only that, but all our Shared Web Hosting (SWH) platforms utilise VMware hyperconvergence to make sure they’re protected against outages caused by hardware issues.  For those interested, we have an article called Protect your mission critical systems with Hyper-Convergence which goes into more detail on the technology.

For those who need a little more “oomph” from their hosting, we have a Speed Boost platform as well, which places the hosting plans on the latest and greatest of Dell servers – Dell PowerEdge R650s and R660s – with Intel Xeon Gold CPUs to make sure they fly.  On both the Speed Boost and our regular hosting platform, NVMe SSD drives are used to speed up anything requiring data to be read off disk, such as intensive database queries from large eCommerce sites. 

For support, as we partner with Dell for our servers, we’re able to ensure all issues are worked on quickly, and we’re able to work closely with them directly to do whatever is required to get the issue resolved.  We’ve gone into some detail on this partnership in our How our partnerships empower our customers article. 

Security – How your security posture is affected by your hosting providers physical and digital security

An ever-growing concern among many, and rightfully so, is the security of their IT service – with there being new articles every week about another company having been compromised, it’s hard not to be concerned. This is why it’s important to ask questions about the security measures that your providers take to ensure they remain secure.

Here are some of the questions you should be asking about your provider’s security posture:

  • What measures do you take to make sure your premises remains secure? 
  • What measures do you take to make sure your servers remain secure from cyber-threats? Do you use firewalls, WAFs, DDoS protection, vulnerability scanning, malware scanning, etc?
  • How do you ensure the appliances you use are secure from threats, such as firmware tampering or counterfeiting?

When it comes to protecting your servers, their physical security is just as important as their protection from cyber-threats, as your services are only as secure as the physical servers they run on.  Here at Micron21, we aim for and meet the highest standards for physical data centre security, which includes a 9-foot anti-scale palisade wall, 24x7x365 security and monitoring, access control on all doors, and all mission critical zones being secured with two-factor security, including biometric readers.  Through our partnerships with manufacturers like Dell and Cisco, we’re also able to increase our security against threats such as firmware tampering and counterfeit components.

On the digital security front, we take things just as seriously – to start with, all services with Micron21 come with our base level of always-on DDoS protection. This is acheived via our DDoS mitigation and data scrubbing appliances throughout our global network.  We also provide and utilise a wide range of security services to help increase the security of our users, including WAF (Web Application Firewalls), vulnerability scanning, virtual and physical firewalls, and endpoint protection and malware scanning services. 

Make sure your provider is secure, local, reliable, and can support your business!

Overall, we recommend making sure your provider’s services are secure and resilient enough for your business to rely on - it's also important to ensure that they will be there to provide great support when you need it!

If your services are unreliable, slow, compromised, or you’re unable to get the support when it’s required, then it’s likely that the so-called “cheap” hosting services will end up costing you more money than they were meant to save you!

Have any questions about anything we’ve covered?

If you have any questions about anything we’ve gone over in this article, or questions about our hosting services more generally, let us know!  We’re more than happy to answer any questions you have and provide details about our platforms and services.

You can email us at sales@micron21.com or call us on 1300 769 972 (Option #1).

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