E-commerce Web Hosting and Development

Once you’ve put your e-commerce site together, you need to make it available on the Internet. In this article, we’re going to assume that you’re not going to host your site in-house, so our discussion is geared towards outsourcing your hosting to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that can manage the servers and the connection to the Internet.

If you are planning on hosting in-house, we’re assuming that you either have (or will gain) the skills to do this, or are going to seek professional advice. In that case we hope that you will find some interesting background information here.

The information in this article is accurate at the time of going to press, but the rapidity of development of the Internet will, inevitably, mean some of the more specific detail becomes quickly outdated. The underlying approach to the topic should, however, give you a good perspective on the main issues and a feel for the marketplace. E-commerce is evolving quickly and ISPs are continually adapting their services to address this movement.

Finding an Internet Service Provider to host your site is a tricky proposition. The ISP that you choose will have a profound and lasting impact on your online business. Choose one that’s too cheap and you run the risk of not being able to present a quality storefront to your visitors, and hence not getting many customers; choose one that’s too expensive and you risk having all of your profit absorbed into hosting costs.

An examination of the issues surrounding finding a suitable host for your site – what general points you need to consider regarding hosting architectures, hosting locations, and the type of service you may expect.

A discussion of how we go about deploying our e-commerce site – we’ll discuss creating the production database, installing the VB components we’ve built and copying the ASP pages that provide the presentation layer of our application.

To start with, let’s get an appreciation of the area we’re getting into by looking at what it would involve to host a site.

What does Hosting Involve?
Hosting a site is not a trivial exercise; remember, to have a quality presence on the Web you’re going to want your site to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (a timescale often represented as 24/7). For interest, let’s break down the costs self-hosting might incur:

Hardware Costs:
It’s usually wise to purchase server units from a big name, such as Compaq, IBM, or Dell. These servers should have a lot of memory and hard disk space, and the hard disk space should be configured in a RAID array (more later). You also need to have redundant units to hand in case you need to quickly replace a machine. If you’re doing high availability hosting (again more later), you’re going to need to invest in load balancing hardware. Apart from the cost of the servers, money will have to be invested in the networking hardware required to link the servers together, and link the servers to the company network. Linking to the company network means you require firewalls to defend against attacks from the company network, as well as another set of firewalls to defend against attack from the Internet. Finally, you’ll require uninterruptible power supplies (several of the larger ISPs have backup generators on site, so even if the power fails to the building, the servers keep running).

Software Costs:
Broadly, this falls into three categories:
Licenses for the actual server software, such as Microsoft Windows NT Server and Microsoft SQL Server 7.
Licenses (in some cases like SQL Server 7) for connecting the software to the Internet.
Network management software to monitor your servers.

Bandwidth Costs:
You need to provide access to the Internet, and this is usually where the economies of scale of being a large ISP come into play. First of all, you need to source Internet connectivity from at least two different! providers, in order to provide redundancy should there be a problem upstream (we talk about this more ] later). Secondly, you have to buy enough bandwidth to cover your busiest times. An ISP hosting a number of businesses may well find that, although there will be commonalities in usage patterns, they can take advantage of all their bandwidth at all points during the day. Chances are that you’ll be paying j for bandwidth you’re unlikely to use.

Service Costs:
If you’re buying servers from a big name brand, you’re going to want to pay for on site service. Depending on how good your redundancy is, you most likely don’t need a top line immediate service contract, but you’ll need some cover. If you’re building servers in-house from components, you’ll need someone on hand to build new machines, upgrade aging machines and repair machines.

Environmental Costs:
This roughly falls into two areas:
The servers must be physically secure (from damage, theft etc.)
The servers will require cool, dry air 24/7 – basically they’ll want a round-the clock air conditioned environment

Management Costs:
You’ll also require staff to look after the servers. A large ISP is likely to have a team of extremely qualified personnel with experience at detecting problems before they happen, resolving difficulties quickly and optimizing the server environment for maximum efficiency. They also need to be available 24/7, ideally on site. At the time of writing, this is very much a seller’s market; so expect to pay a lot for staff with the necessary skills. For a small company like banglahili.com, the cost of the resources outlined above, not to mention the requirement for an employee to spend time maintaining and optimizing the use of the resources is just not a cost-effective or practical option.

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3 Comments

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