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You get what you pay for 

The phrase “computer security” often evokes images of malicious hackers stealing confidential data. But the field is much broader, it includes confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information assets. In fact, in some business situations, availability is actually the most important factor. Web hosting is a good example.

Small businesses and successful bloggers frequently express dissatisfaction with web hosting companies. In addition to general concerns about poor technical support, they report two common complaints:

  • Many began with a $5 to $20 per month hosting plan which worked great at the time. As traffic levels grew, they moved from a shared host to a dedicated environment, but found the new service doesn’t reliably handle peak loads.
  • Some found a small responsive web host that, at the time, offered great customer service and excellent performance. But, as the hosting company grew, both the service and performance began to suffer.

The problem results from simple economics. At the low end of the continuum, inexpensive shared hosting simply consists of space on a large server. The only way hosting providers can be profitable at a low price point is by packing as many customers as possible on each server and automating the provisioning process. Customer support is almost always provided from an offshore location; and even then, a single support ticket could cost more to resolve than the customer pays for a month of service.

So why do cheap hosting services work well for low volume websites? The large servers are able to keep up as long as none of the sites sharing the server get too popular. When they do, they are often forced to move to a more expensive “dedicated hosting” package.

Moving high-traffic sites to a dedicated server (virtual or physical) solves problems for the hosting provider. It prevents the site from negatively impacting other sites hosted on the same server. However, the competitive nature of the web hosting business and largely uninformed buyers results in growing dissatisfaction.

For example, a fictional blogger named Bob’s primary income is from ad revenue. Bob pays $100 per month for a small physical server and hires an experienced system administrator who charges a relatively low rate of $100 per hour. His sysadmin spends about eight hours configuring the server, moving Bob’s site to it, and ensuring that it is optimized. Software monitors the server 24/7 for trouble, and every month he spends about four hours proactively checking on the server, applying security patches, and updating WordPress and plugins. Once or twice per month, Bob has a technical question or problem he needs help with, accounting for another two hours of labour. Bob’s minimum expenses are $1500 for the first month, and $700 per month thereafter.

As Bob’s blogging empire grows, his system administrator moves the database to a separate server to increase performance, and now needs to maintain two servers while ensuring minimal downtime. Bob’s cost increases to at least $1000 per month.

Of course, Bob could buy a $100 per month hosting package, but chances are he is going to be dissatisfied with the service. It will run on a virtual server, and hopefully Bob won’t have too many questions, because even with offshore support, the provider can’t afford to spend more than a few hours per month on the service. Dedicated hardware and responsive, knowledgeable customer service just isn’t available for that price.

Businesses of all sizes need to recognize that when it comes to IT customer support and performance, you get what you pay for.

Have a security question you’d like answered in a future column? Eric would love to hear from you.


Author: Eric Jacksch Email:

Eric Jacksch is a leading cybersecurity analyst with over 20 years of practical security experience. He has consulted to some of the world’s largest banks, governments, automakers, insurance companies and postal organizations. Eric was a regular columnist for Monitor Magazine and has contributed to several other publications.

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