Server Hosting: Finding the Best Company

DigitalForest

Company:   Digital Forest (now Digital Fortress)

Friction Factor   =   HIGH FRICTION
Value   =   NO LONGER RECOMMENDED

12101 Tukwila International Blvd., Suite 410, Seattle, WA 98168 http://www.forest.net 877-720-0483, 206-838-1630  

IMPORTANT UPDATE ON OCTOBER 26, 2013:
A NEW RECOMMENDED SERVICE

Since the sudden deterioration of Digital Fortress service we had to find a replacement company. Please see this article:

Cari.net for dedicated and hosted cloud servers

 

IMPORTANT UPDATE ON JULY 11, 2013

Digital Forest was recently bought out and its name changed to Digital Fortress. The new owners and new staff have totally changed the corporate culture and quality of service in a very negative way. Response time, with some exceptions, has gone into the toilet. Even for emergency situations, of which I have been experiencing multiple times now, response time is measured in many hours. When I call to get support after hours I reach a technician who listens and then reports that the help I need is in another department (even though I called the number I was given for my support department) and that I would have to be transferred. I would then have to wait for someone to come in at the normal start of business (noon my time) before the issue could be resolved. And then it is often hours more.

We started getting charged hundreds of dollars more and once the error was acknowledged I have been waiting months for credit to be applied. As of now it is still not been done and my inquiries about it and other promised information fall into a black hole.

I also learned that this revised company, being in the server hosting business, has nobody on staff who can handle simple SQL Server admin.

Not good.

 

On Hosting Services

For the last three decades I have been involved in the development of cloud-based software applications. In the pre-Web days this was accomplished via packet-switching networks like Infonet. With the growth of the Web, piggybacked onto the Internet, we gained much more convenient access to applications. The advancements in the Web since those days has, of course, been phenomenal.

If you want to create your own cloud-based application or just a regular website, you'll need a server for it that is connected to the Internet. Many companies do this with their own equipment, connections, and technical resources. Some even run web servers from home.

Your basic server hosting options:

  1. Option 1: Roll your own. Expectation: Pain—way more than you counted on unless this is a special area of interest and expertise for you and you are willing to have the equivalent of a costly high maintenance pet that must be cared for every day 24/7 for life (or you have the resources to pay someone else to handle all the maintenance, upgrades, babysitting, etc.) and your either have strong physical security for the server or that is somehow not a concern.
  2. Option 2: Subscribe to a shared hosting service. Expectation: Reduced cost, reduced performance, reduced options. I use this option via Godaddy.com for this publication. The cost is miniscule, I don't have to configure my own leased dedicated servers to run it (Wordpress hosting is a cookie-cutter solution at Godaddy), I don't have to worry about it interfering with my business applications, and, as you may have noticed, performance sometimes stinks.
  3. Option 3: Colocate server and related equipment that you own at a hosting service. Expectation: Why? Your purchase cost is much less than the cost to lease the equipment from the hosting company. But then you are responsible for providing replacement equipment when needed (which can put you out of business for an extended period unless you maintain replacement equipment on site).
  4. Option 4: Lease a dedicated managed server(s) from a quality hosting service. Expectation: Angels sing if you make the right decision on the hosting company. If not, let's not quibble about it—you just reserved a condo in hell.
  5. Added on October 26, 2013: Option 5: Hosted cloud server(s). Expectation: Angels sing with heavenly symphony, but see previous comment about making the right decision for the hosting company. I have visited hosting hell. You do not want to go there.

    This option has become a preferred option since I originally wrote this article. With a hosted cloud server you enjoy the benefits of a dedicated server with much greater convenience and lower cost.

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    A hosted cloud server is a virtual server. The server, including firewall if desired, can be set up in minutes. The hosting company maintains backups of its cloud server infrastructure. So if something happens to your virtual server, it can be restored or "components" replaced very quickly, greatly minimizing the single point of failure risks of hardware failures. Changing server resources such as RAM and disk space is a simple process that can be managed almost immediately from your control panel (versus a process of ordering and waiting for the installation of new hardware).

    With modern technology, the virtual servers in a hosted cloud service have as good performance as their dedicated server counterparts.

    For HIPAA compliance, the law is not yet clear on whether a hosted cloud server can meet the requirements. A hosted cloud server is on "shared" hardware, however, it is secure and may pass a HIPAA audit, maybe even likely if a private cloud is set up (somewhat higher cost).

    Hosted cloud servers are more easily scalable and, like dedicated servers, can be used for special requirements such as geographic redundancy, load balancing, and data warehousing.

Here's my rather strong opinion about server hosting: If yours is a business application and you're serious about its success, then you be the expert in your business and let the right server hosting company be your expert in that part of the business. I have zero interest in providing my own Internet server hosting solution, even if it saves significantly on the cost. Setting up a server as an Internet-based host is not all that big a deal. Keeping it up and maintained is a very big deal.

Do you really want to be on call 24/7/365 and have to deal with IIS, DNS, and IP settings and changes, third party software management, email server configuration and maintenance, SMTP changes, data backup chores, operating system upgrades, security settings and rules, and the myriad other details that must be managed for the smooth operation of your servers?

With our dedicated leased servers, we get RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) and FTP (File Transfer Protocol) access. So my developers and I have full, secure, unrestricted access to our servers. We can do anything we need to do, but because of Digital Forest's expertise and great customer service attitude, we don't have to worry about any of the server maintenance and management. We can spend our time on the things that are directly important to our business. Besides, Digital Forest techs do this regularly and can do it much faster and with less chance of error than we could do. Well, I can say that about Digital Forest, but the reality with any other company I've tried has been just the opposite.

Tip: don't base your hosting decision on the base cost of the hosting service. That is the smallest of your costs. It's all the rest that may be the difference between being profitable and sane.

 
Pick the Right Server Hosting Company

First, let's make some assumptions about what a server hosting company must have just to be considered. Your candidate server hosting company will have racks filled and to be filled with rackmounted computers and network gear in a climate controlled facility. It will have high bandwidth Internet-backbone connections with redundant service. It will have a multi-million dollar state-of-the-art network operations center (NOC) with physical access security and serious uninterruptable power backup capabilities tied to battery and filtered generators. It will have top line data backup facilities and off-site data backup rotations.

Then comes the huge differentiator—your server hosting company will have competent technical talent.

Over years I've tried a variety of dedicated leased server hosting companies including what was, at least at the time, the largest in the country, Interland. I blame them for my bald dome. I couldn't even begin to convey the degree of contempt I acquired over the extreme incompetency these companies exhibited time after time. I could never trust them to do even the simplest task correctly. If I needed, for example, a simple DNS change, I came to expect that my site would be down for periods ranging from hours to days as a result of it being done incorrectly, and then incorrectly again when their mistake was "fixed"...even if I exactly spelled out to them what to do. It got to where I couldn't trust them to manage my servers and I had to do it all myself via RDP connection.

 
What is the Low Friction Solution?

With this single recommendation I can save you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in grief, lost employee time, sacrificed customer goodwill, and real dollars. It will far more than cover your cost for subscribing to this publication. Wait... there is no subscription cost here. Ok, just send me 10% of what you figure you've saved.

Go to Digital Forest. Now Cari.net is recommended.

Their website may not be very sexy, but they have the right facilities, they have the right people, and their people are highly competent. When I submit a request on the Digital Forest online help desk, it is completed in a timely manner, it is done right (the first time), and it is done with a wonderfully positive customer service attitude. And they are competitively priced.

Where with the other hosting companies I had constant grief that cost far more than the hosting service, I have now been with Digital Forest for several years and have not had even one bad experience. They do it right. Clean and simple.

We started out with a simple two server solution, a production server and a development server. For our healthcare industry solution, MedTegra.com, Digital Forest has configured for us a leading edge server farm with several virtual servers in a secure three-tier architecture, RAID, redundant power supplies, hardware firewall and other security services, network switch, etc. In addition they host all of our email domains on their own top line email servers including anti-virus and spam protection and provide us with excellent email management tools.

When we are ready they will be able to scale our server farm to add file servers, geographically dispersed and balanced mirrors, and anything else we need in the network and Internet world because they really know this stuff.

Has the information in FrictionFactor been helpful to you?

Please take a moment now to support this effort with a donation. It is processed securely by Paypal. While any amount is appreciated, you might consider your cost or friction savings. Thank you!

 


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