Blog | Website Wizardry

How Should I Host My eCommerce Website?

16/11/2015

If you’re building an eCommerce business, don’t rush into any decision about hosting until you’ve understood all the extremely important considerations about the environment and location of your users.

When looking to host a basic site with perhaps a couple of pages, there isn’t much to consider beyond choosing a quality host with servers in the same country as your users.

Web hosting is important for all websites, but especially crucial for eCommerce websites – where it is your source of income. If your website is down, your customers will have no way to buy any of your products, and you’ll be losing money. This isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s unacceptable.

It’s also important to understand who you’re targeting, the size of your website, the functionality of the checkout and what your long term growth strategy is going to be so that you can pick a scalable environment with a support team for backup.

To help you plan for the next stages of your growth, here’s a few things to get you started;

1. Types of Web Hosting

Depending on your type of business and its size, you need a server that matches your future needs. There are dozens of web hosting companies out there offering a variety of packages so make sure you pick one that is suited to your needs.

  • Free Hosting – This one isn’t relevant for eCommerce websites as it offers virtually no security for payments or customer data. However, this is a good choice if you want to set up a blog or opinion website
  • Shared Hosting – You share your server with other websites. While this saves on cost, you are at risk from suffering downtime because one of your fellow neighbour’s websites crashes
  • VPS Hosting – If you’re in the middle between Shared and Dedicated, and need the resources of a dedicated server, but can’t justify the expense, VPS is a good compromise. You’ll be sharing a dedicated server with a few other clients, but will have your own section of the server.
  • Dedicated Hosting – With this option, you get the server to yourself and all the bandwidth and resources are just for you. This will bump up the cost, but you get far more value and reliability
  • Colocated Hosting – Here you purchase the server itself and you will be responsible for its maintenance. The upside is you get to anything you want with it, including installing applications or scripts as and when you need them
  • Cloud Hosting – With Cloud Hosting, your website is hosted across redundant network infrastructure. You could compare this type of hosting to a combination of shared or dedicated, with the combination of redundancy – if one server/datacentre goes offline, your website should still remain accessible from another location

There are many tools and apps you can install and enable on different hosting packages, such as firewalls, resource controls, prevention against potential hacks, antivirus tools and much more.

2. Types of infrastructures

While most of our clients will primarily be focusing on visitors within the UK, there are considerations to make if you are opening up your business to a global market.

When you start off, you will just have once server that all users will read from which will impact load times for people in Australia, for example.

Content Delivery Network (CDN)

If you use a CDN, then even though your website is hosted in the UK, visitors will actually be downloading data from a much closer location to them either in their country or a neighbouring region close by. This speeds up the essential access to the website files from a location nearer to them, run by the CDN providers.

Using the diagram below, you can see the comparison if you have a business in the USA but a visitor from Spain.

How A CDN Works

Image source: Premium.wpmudev.org

If we think about the large international brands such as Facebook, they are likely to have a main server in the US, but the CDN distributes the content around the world, making websites load fast whether you’re in the UK, US, South America, Asia etc.cdn-example

Providers of CDNs include MaxCDN and CloudFlare. Below is a map of CloudFlare’s network map (64 datacentre locations and counting!).

CloudFlare Network Map - 64 datacentres

Edge Servers

Edge servers sit on the ‘edge’ between two networks, usually a private network and the Internet. An edge device could be a router, for example.

They commonly serve one or more of these functions:

  • Security: They provide an additional firewall against hacks and spam
  • Distribution: They balance the information being transmitted and ‘balance’ it out across servers
  • Mail: They provide a hub service that forwards mail onto internal servers

3. Uptime

Since your eCommerce website is your source of income, it is absolutely critical that uptime is at least 99.9% (if not 100%).

What if your server goes own at 3am? Have you got redundancy in place to ensure that your website continues to run, even if you’re not in the office? What if all of your data becomes corrupted – have you got a backup strategy?

Ensure you have server-side monitoring in place so you can be alerted the second your server goes down. It will also alert you before your server reaches critical mass (too much traffic before overload, for example), giving you time to assess the problem and take steps to resolve it; before it takes down your sites!

Secondary servers can also be used as backups if your server goes down outside of office hours, so get them set up ASAP.

4. PCI Compliance

The PCI Security Standards Council (PCI SSC) has set out technical and procedural standards that eCommerce website must adhere to in order to protect cardholder data.

Can your hosting provider offer a dedicated IP should you need an SSL certificate at some point?

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate establishes an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. This link ensures that all data passed between the web server and browsers remains private and secure. Interestingly, though these secure certificates are called ‘SSL’ certificates, SSL is actually an outdated and unsecure protocol, which has more recently been replaced with TLS (Transport Layer Security).

If you want to install an SSL certificate on your eCommerce website, you can read our How To Guide.

5. Backups

What happens if one of your employees accidentally deletes an important file on your website? The chances are, you’ll likely have no backup system in place and will be left to deal with the consequences.

To avoid situations such as this, you should use a backup system which will allow you to do an instant restore with minimal disruption.

There are two types of backup available – automatic and manual. It is best to have both systems in place for complete peace of mind.

Automated backups can be scheduled as often as you like – weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly and can run in the background without the user doing anything.

However, you should also perform your own manual backups whenever you make a big change or upload a lot of data to your website. That way, if anything goes wrong, you have a recent, unaffected copy ready to revert back to.

How Should You Host Your eCommerce Website?

When looking to host your own eCommerce website, you need to consider more than just how much it will cost you. You must think about factors that will directly affect your website and how it runs.

Downtime can be a death knell for any online business so look hard at whether you not you can reliably provide a robust and secure service yourself.

If not, then it is time to look elsewhere.

If you decide to take on hosting yourself, then considering all of the factors – site speed, capacity, security, compliance – will help you create a reliable and secure package you can rely on.