Hosting and domain names in 2017: evaluation

Now that an increasing number of retailers have turned to e-commerce, all aspects of the digital infrastructure have become essential. These aspects range from hosting to domain names, including SSL certificates and protection against DDoS attacks. It is therefore time for an evaluation!

Round table meeting with 5 players from the world of hosting and domain names

Five major players, who had the opportunity to observe first-hand recent progress in the world of hosting and domain names, got together in order to share their experiences. How have customer expectations changed, especially when web stores are concerned? What does good hosting mean today? Did the new domain extensions produce the expected success?

All of these questions and many more have been addressed during the round table meeting, to which Bart Mortelmans (managing director at bNamed), David Geens (managing partner at Nucleus), Maik Gruppen (account manager web agencies at Margato), René Lacroix (CEO at Datazon) and our dear colleague Thijs Feryn (tech evangelist at Combell) were invited. You can find the entire debate on OnlineRetailer, which also published a second article on Thijs Feryn’s findings and recommendations. Some striking conclusions…

Hosting: it is no longer a matter of infrastructure only; customers now want total solutions

Web stores are becoming more numerous by the day. And they want their website to be hosted in a secure and reliable environment. Traffic peaks resulting from successful marketing campaigns must be absorbed without any difficulty. In the past, making sure that the customer’s application was available, fast and secure was essentially a matter of server space and bandwidth. Nowadays, such problems are solved, inter alia, by caching content or by using Content Delivery Networks. Hosting providers must therefore be able to offer this total package.

Hosting: it is no longer a matter of infrastructure only; customers now want total solutions

Self-service hosting or hosting with advice?

There have also been major developments in the various forms of hosting. Lately, self-service solutions provided by Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and others have been very successful.

This means a good hosting provider must know what they are about, and even be able to provide hosting on such platforms.

However, a good hosting company will provide web merchants with sound advice and draw their attention to the benefits and drawbacks of these platforms in the public cloud operated by large American companies. The scale and innovation of these unmanaged cloud platforms indeed offer an advantage, especially budget-wise, but for communication, availability and reliable technical support, web merchants should keep trusting local hosting providers. The fact that they are in the same time zone and that they can assist web merchants in their own language are without doubt key selling points.

OpenStack is an interesting compromise that is currently gaining in popularity. It offers features similar to those of AWS, but it can be hosted by a local hosting provider. Its great advantage is that, compared to AWS, the hosting company has better control over both the network and storage and can react promptly.

Shared hosting and Platform as a Service

In the past, another form of hosting, shared hosting, had a bad reputation; there was no regulation, which means any cowboy could start a hosting company. But the last few years saw a wave of consolidation within this segment, which made the market more serious and reliable.

Thijs Feryn: “It has become more professional for us and our customers alike. Expectations are definitely higher. By offering an increasing number of options, we can keep the customers on the same platform as long as possible.”

By offering an increasing number of options with our platforms, we can let the customers stay on their trusted platform as long as possible (Thijs Feryn, Combell)

Good hosting helps prevent downtime

And what about the option of having your own server in a broom cupboard? It is positively fun and geeky, but the e-tailer must understand that this server must stay up and running 24/7. And what if the company’s only IT engineer goes on holiday?

Our experts all agree that web merchants who are only interested in the price of hosting make a huge mistake. There is indeed a risk that, in wanting to save 5 euros per month, they expose their business to losses amounting to thousands of euros. When the server is down, when they cannot reach their hosting provider or when the provider does not react, the company cannot receive e-mail, the web store is unavailable and all employees are left to twiddle their fingers!

The conclusion is clear: hosting is not a cost but an investment – one that grows along with the extent of the marketing project, and above all that revolves around a plan to handle traffic peaks by using caching techniques and by optimising the code of the database.

Hosting is not a cost but an investment that allows businesses to continue to grow.

A free SSL certificate provided with your hosting or a premium SSL certificate?

A free SSL certificate provided with your hosting or a premium SSL certificate?

Another recent development is the emphasis on secure connections. A good hosting provider offers its customers, as Combell does, the opportunity to use secure HTTPS connections. For this, an SSL certificate is required. The free Let’s Encrypt certificate was created in order to encourage the use of SSL. This certificate can also be extended with domain verification.

The participants in the meeting all agree that an Extended Validation (EV) certificate inspires more confidence in users, thanks to the well-known green address bar in the browser that also displays the name of the company. (You can also read this article: Should you go for a free Let’s Encrypt certificate or a premium SSL certificate?)

An Extended Validation SSL certificate inspires more confidence, thanks to the green address bar that displays the name of the company.

Hosting with HTTP/2 is important for fast web storesHosting with HTTP/2 is important for fast web stores

One more recent development is the introduction of HTTP/2. Thijs Feryn: “With the arrival of HTTP/2 and the requirements of browsers to establish a secure connection with this protocol, a (free) SSL certificate is more relevant than ever before. We recently deployed the HTTP/2 protocol in our hosting environment and Let's Encrypt allows us to meet the SSL requirement at no extra charge.”

However, the arrival of HTTP/2 did not only impact security, but also stability and speed. Thijs Feryn: “Today, websites contain many more images, videos, etc. Loading large quantities of small and medium-sized media files takes quite a lot of time. HTTP/2 allows sites to fetch multiple resources over a single connection simultaneously. The net performance gain with the same servers can reach 40%!"

How can you protect your hosting against DDoS attacks?

Another aspect of security that everyone has been talking about in recent months is the protection against DDoS attacks. You should know that there are different sorts of DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. On the one hand, there are attacks of which you are not the first target, which means you are just collateral damage. You can limit the inconvenience of such an attack by adding security layers in name servers and external DNS servers. You can also add extra anti-DDoS name servers. And if you really want to put your mind at ease, you can use different name server providers. This way, if one of them goes down due to a DDoS attack, the second provider is ready to take over. That is the lesson you can learn from the recent DYN attack, which affected the services of Twitter and many others.

On the other hand, if you are the target of such an attack, you can protect yourself by using a new service that providers recently launched: the anti-DDoS Wasstraat (abbreviated as NaWas), which offers on-demand protection against DDoS attacks.

When malicious traffic is found, the backbone provider is notified, so that it can redirect the traffic to NaWas. Advanced equipment then determines if the traffic is valid or not, and accordingly blocks it or accepts it and sends it to the hosting provider via the backbone network.

Domain names: the new extensions

Domain names: the new extensions

To conclude this evaluation, our specialists also addressed the developments with regards to domain names. The launch of the new extensions for domain names was intended to offer businesses the opportunity to pick a great sounding domain name, without having to spend huge amounts of money for a .com domain.

Most of these extensions target niches, such as professions, sports, arts or cultural identities. Experts did not expect large volumes of registrations, and that proved true today. The .shop TLD is, however, an exception.

And finally, our experts wanted to share a few tips on how people should choose and register a domain name:

  • Choose a logical domain name, which is easy to remember with any extension.
  • The name must be representative of your business.
  • Make sure you also register the misspelled variations of your domain name.
  • Pick the name of your company based on the domain name that is still available, not the other way around!

Thijs Feryn wrapped up this meeting by saying this: “Retailers need a partner that can assist them with knowledge and service in this world that often makes no sense to them. With us, they are definitely in good hands. Trust is the key – certainly when it comes to domain names, hosting solutions and bridging the gap between code and infrastructure.”

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