Hosting: Third-party or Internal?


A question that comes up from time to time with clients is whether they should use a third-party hosting company or host the website internally. At King Design, we recommend hosting with a third-party, such as MediaTemple’s Managed VPS. There are exceptions to the rule however. Here are some of the topics to consider:

Security

Security is an important consideration for hosting. One of the bigger pros for hosting with a third-party is that it keeps your website separate from the rest of your company’s IT infrastructure. This separation can still be achieved with internal hosting, but can remove some of the pros that internal hosting provides, such as the ability to easily share information across systems. Since a website is specifically designed to be open to the public and internal infrastructure is not, keeping the two separate often has advantages.

There are several reasons why you may need to host a site internally. The sharing of information across systems is one example. You may also need to collect information from customers that is private and requires a high level of security for audits or compliance reasons. Or you may be serving up material that is confidential. This is not to imply that third-party hosting is insecure, but if there is a higher standard required, then hosting internally could become necessary.

The largest concern with security on a third-party hosting service is the shared nature of the hosting. We use the VPS (virtual private server) plan on MediaTemple, so this isn’t the same as shared hosting in which many resources are shared, but the virtual servers may still be running on the same physical machine as other virtual servers.

In short, unless you are dealing with financial data or private health data that may require a specific compliance, security on third-party hosting will meet your needs.

Costs

Cost will often be a major concern for web hosting. Our recommended plan from MediaTemple is $55/month or $550/year. Hosting internally would require the purchase of hardware as well as an internal team to support and maintain the server. While the hardware and team may already be in place, adding an additional web server could require additional team members, resources and/or upgrading the hardware.

With third-party hosting, the support and maintenance team is included in the costs. The resources for the server can be upgraded with ease through the hosting provider, though with a higher monthly cost, and the hardware is maintained and upgraded on a regular basis by the hosting provider. Factoring in the various additional costs of internal hosting (team turnover and training, sudden hardware failure, popularity increase requiring more resources) it is often more cost-effective to use a third-party hosting provider.

Support

Support is one of the bigger reasons to go with third-party hosting, and one of the biggest factors in picking which third-party host to use. With good support, you should have 24/7 access to someone that can look into any issues with your site and address them immediately. With internal hosting, you may not always have someone available 24/7 and if they are available, the fix may not be immediate.

Support actually impacts the two previous factors as well. With the full-time support of a third-party host, you will be getting the latest software updates in a timely manner which often helps to keep a site more secure. This is also done internally, but may come with a much higher cost from additional hours or licensing.

One of the downsides of third-party support is that it must remain generic. They will not know your particular machine and what you are trying to accomplish with it as well as someone working internally would. This will often lead to support issues that are too specific to your setup that the support team can not address. Fortunately, these issues are very rare and can often still be addressed on a third-party hosting plan with the proper knowledge.

Configuration

Server configuration can have an effect on site building, deploying, and debugging. When using a third-party host, the server configuration is always the same and we have gotten to know it very well. This allows us to make assumptions about how the server is configured while building, allows us to smoothly deploy a website with our known and tested methods, and gives us a head start if any problems arise because we have most likely experienced something similar in the past.

A benefit of hosting internally is that you can configure the server any way you need it. On third-party hosting you may not have complete control over all configurations, so if there is a special need on the website, third-party hosting (at least the plan we typically use) may not be an option. The drawback to hosting internally is that every client will have a different configuration and so there is an extra step involved in all three phases, from confirming that the server meets the requirements of the platform, coming up with a new deployment strategy, and facing issues that may be entirely unique to that configuration.

Our Recommendation

While there are pros and cons to both hosting options, we have found that the benefits of third-party hosting outweigh the negatives. The only exception to this rule is if there are special requirements for the site that can’t be met through a third-party host. But perhaps the best argument for third-party hosting is that for a large majority of clients, it will make hosting their website much simpler.

For specifics about the particular hosting we use, take a look at the list of benefits and services provided by Media Temple. If you have any input or questions, please let us know!

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