Businesses seeking a competitive advantage often underestimate the unexpected places it can come from. A user-friendly website or app that works smoothly regardless of the location of the customer is one such example of a competitive advantage. Staying ahead of the competition by taking advantage of modern technologies has become a necessity rather than being a luxury only large businesses could afford.
Cloud-based technologies have leveled the playing field and now SMBs and even individuals can take advantage and stay competitive. Shared hosting is a great option for individuals and small businesses on a tight budget, but growing and established businesses need more to stay competitive. We have already covered different types of hosting services and things to consider when choosing a provider in a separate post. This post focuses on managed hosting services and the benefits they offer to businesses.
What is Managed Hosting?
A managed hosting provider is responsible for most of the headaches related to setup, maintenance, administration and support of a site/app. Managed hosting services work well for businesses that don’t mind spending extra money for more robustness and convenience. The term managed hosting is often used interchangeably with dedicated hosting, but managed hosting also applies to other type of hosting services such as VPS and co-location.
The main reasons of choosing managed hosting over shared hosting include limited IT knowledge about things related to setting up and administering a website/app and limited time. Some businesses do have the IT resources required to efficiently run a site/app, but they prefer dedicating those resources to other important tasks.
Although individuals and businesses have to pay extra for managed hosting, they do get many services in return that are not included in most shared hosting plans. Most managed hosting providers include a variety of features in their subscription plans. Some providers offer more features than others, but here are some common features to look for when choosing a managed hosting provider:
- Control panel setup
- Software installation and upgrades
- On-call maintenance
- Server monitoring
- Hardware upgrades and maintenance
- Backup services
- Security auditing
- 24/7/365 support
- On-site technicians
- System-levels monitoring notifications and alerts
- Full installation/support of the core software
- Virus and spam protection
When Should Businesses Consider Managed Web/App Hosting?
The basic selection criteria is rather simple and straight forward. Bloggers and businesses that think that their website/app will attract a lot of web traffic should consider dedicated hosting instead of shared hosting plans. Dedicated hosting is especially recommended for users who don’t have the technical know-how or the resources to manage a high-potential website.
A managed hosting provider works with you like a contractor that allows you to scale more effectively and efficiently. Outsourcing hosting services can take off a lot of IT work from the shoulders of the IT staff and helps stay focused on more important tasks that create more value for the business. Most shared hosting providers boast of ‘unlimited features’ of their subscriptions, but that’s not exactly how shared hosting works in the real world.
Although the service provider also takes care of the servers that host ‘shared plans’, the users are responsible for the software they are running on it. The ‘managed’ part essentially includes the IT services related to managing all levels of software on their server for example the OS, web server and PHP.
Alternatives such as AWS and Microsoft Azure are cheaper, but they require a DIY approach and a huge amount of engagement. That’s where the opportunity cost comes in as businesses also need to think about the cost of opportunities missed when trying to do it all by themselves. The decision becomes easier if the opportunity cost is higher than what you will be paying for a managed hosting subscription.
Benefits of Managed Web/App Web Hosting
The benefits of managed hosting can be better understood by knowing the tradeoffs of shared/unmanaged hosting which include:
- It takes a lot of time and IT hours to manage a site by yourself
- In most cases, the provider is only responsible for managing the physical environment
- The same server is shared between a large pool of users, resulting in suboptimal allocation of resources
- The lead pipeline can take a direct hit by slow-loading sites
- Unpatched software can result in cyber exploits
- Shared hosting does not play well with sudden spikes in web traffic, hence crashes
- IT talent is expensive and hard to find, making the opportunity cost higher
Managed hosting can help you deal with most of these tradeoffs and allows you to manage most things while paying only a fraction of what you would have paid to a dedicated IT team. The key benefits of managed hosting include:
- It reduces the risk and exposure to online threats by ensuring timely patching, updates and round-the-clock monitoring
- The provider is responsible for stopping suspicious traffic and only allowing ‘good traffic’
- Helps businesses scale rapidly and deal more effectively with seasonal spikes by optimally allocating resources
- Access to latest technologies such as machine learning and IoT without having to heavily invest in the infrastructure
- Better compliance
- Quicker and relatively affordable access to skilled IT experts compared to hiring dedicated human resources
- Helps the existing IT staff stay focused on more important value-generating tasks
- 24/7/365 support and monitoring
Things to Consider When Choosing a Managed Hosting Provider
All managed hosting providers are not the same as some specialize in a certain space and are better than others in that particular area. For example, specialized WordPress hosting providers are focused on WordPress and pay more attention to the details related to the CMS. The most important thing to consider when choosing between managed hosting providers is that it should offer all the required management features you need.
Making a checklist of these features is a good starting point and makes it easier to filter out the right providers. The checklist varies according to individual/business requirements and it’s not possible to compile a definitive checklist, but some important things to consider include:
- Are the subscription costs within the IT budget?
- Do you need different technologies or more than one type of managed service?
- Do you need dedicated services for other tasks such as image manipulation and video processing?
- What is the guaranteed uptime and the impact of downtime on a business?
- Does the SLA clearly define responsibilities of the provider and what to do when something goes wrong?
- Does the hosting plan meet the server performance requirements (CPU, RAM, Storage etc.)?
- How scalable is the server?
- Does the provider support load balancing across multiple servers?
- Network quality and multi-region data centers
- Remote management and self-service options
- Support options and timings
- Compliance and security such as GDPR, firewall, virus and malware scanning
- Migration assistance
- Quality of the control panel
- Reputation of the provider and references of existing clients
Managed hosting services don’t come cheap, making it important to do the home work and due diligence before picking a provider. Going for the cheapest possible managed hosting provider might seem like a better idea than opting for shared hosting plan.
However, anything significantly lower than $150-250 per month (except VPS) is a sign of poor services and should be avoided. Apps like WordPress and WooCommerce on average cost less than $50 per month, while managed email costs something between $1-5/month.
The extra amount you pay for managed hosting services can be worth it if you are clear about your requirements. Individuals and businesses also need to consider the opportunity costs associated with shared/unmanaged hosting including security breaches, downtime, productivity loss and time involved in patching and updating the installation yourself.
Considering these costs makes the decision obvious for businesses that want to stay ahead of the competition and prioritize great customer services over cutting costs. Managed hosting is the obvious choice for businesses/blogs experiencing a stable growth and driving traffic shared hosting cannot deal with.