What Should a CIO Look for in a Web Host?

The role of chief information officer comes with substantial corporate expectation. A recent article from Forbes recommends including CIOs on the boards of even the smallest companies. But tech knowledge alone isn’t enough; strategic focus is mandatory. One of the critical tasks assigned to IT leaders is to find a web host for their companies’ online storefront.

Here are four factors every CIO should consider when determining where to host the company web site.

1. Understand the Costs of Doing Businesses

As a member of the C-suite, cost is a top priority for any CIO. When it comes to web hosting, however, this can lead to a problem: free hosts. On the surface, free sounds great — why pay more than you have to for a website, especially if your company is just starting the transition from brick-and-mortar to online destination?

The problem? It starts with limitations on space. As noted in a Huffington Post article on business hosting, most free web hosts provide between 1,500 megabytes and 10 gigabytes of storage. Although 10 gigs might seem substantial at first glance, expanding a site to include e-commerce functionality or multimedia content, like video, quickly eats up this space.

Additionally, free web hosts place ads of their choosing on your site and often require you to use a specific top-level domain name. For-pay web hosts, meanwhile, vary from $2 to $10 per month, or more, for basic hosting services. Some hosts include website-building tools; others provide blank canvases more suited to companies with in-house web designers.

2. Search for Server Options

Shared, dedicated or virtual? Before you can make the call on a web host, consider server type. Shared plans are the most cost-effective and achieve lower pricing by placing server “tenants” together on the same server. Each tenant pays a portion of the upkeep and upgrade costs, and all share a finite pool of resources. Issues may arise, however, if continual requests from one site deprive others of needed bandwidth.

Dedicated hosting, meanwhile, gives a company full control over server resources. Although dedicated options are more expensive, the upshot is a server with one sole customer: your corporate site. Security also improves with dedicated hosting, since only a company’s CIO and its authorized agents will have access to any server data.

Between the two extremes are virtual private server (VPS) plans, which use virtualized instances to create partitions between websites on the same server.

3. Inspect Your Web Host’s Security Chops

Search for “web hosting” and you’ll find hundreds of free and for-pay options. While they all mention pricing, many neglect security in their advertisements or documentation.

According to A CIO’s Guide to Managing Security Risk in Web Hosting Contracts, produced by the SANS Institute, there are three types of security controls that are essential for any reputable web host: avoidance, detection and recovery. In addition, CIOs should ensure any hosting contract contains terms that include a company’s right to periodically audit the host’s security, along with proof of malware and virus defense provided by an independent third party.

4. Pay Attention to the Details

Beyond price, server type and security, CIOs also need to consider the details that make a web host either easy to work with or a constant irritation. For example, does the company provide email autoresponders, or do they use catchall email addresses that return messages to website accounts not yet initialized? What kind of technical support is provided — can a real person be reached, and during what hours? Finally, does the host offer a static IP address option, even if you choose a shared server plan?

CIOs are one step removed from the technology world — they posses the knowledge to administer servers and websites but must repurpose that knowledge for use in the boardroom.

Choosing a web host is a top-tier strategic task for any information officer — a task it pays to get right the first time.

[image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/ThinkStockPhotos]