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How to avoid e-business nightmares

In today's business world, an Internet presence is almost as important as having a phone line. But who do you trust to host your Website and ensure reliable uptime, scalability, and flexibility, and to change and update your site when needed? Finding a provider to host and maintain your Web presence can be a walk in the park if you have the right information. Or it can be a disaster waiting to happen. Here are a few things you should consider when shopping for a Web host:


It might be tempting to go for a big-name provider, but consider Web hosting companies that cater specifically to small business owners. This way you won't be competing with larger firms for attention when it comes to addressing service and performance issues. If you have the technical resources and choose to host your own Website on a proprietary built server, you may want to consider co-location. In a co-location facility, or Web server farm, your server is stored in an environment with other companies' servers. You have direct access to your server and can update data at your discretion, generally without incurring additional costs.

By contrast, when you outsource your Web hosting needs, you are contracting with a Web host provider who will manage your site on its own servers, at its own location. You may be able to update content yourself via ftp (file transfer protocol), but in some instances you may have to submit changes to your host provider for them to make. You may also be restricted to making a certain number of updates per month or year, depending on your agreement.


The relationship between you and your Web host provider ultimately will be based on your service contract and the provisions and rights specified therein. You must read the contract carefully and include the specifics of any verbal negotiations in the contract. For example, if the Web hosting company agrees to respond to complaints or glitches with your account within 12 hours rather than their usual 24 hours, you should get that in writing for your own legal protection.


You owe it to yourself and your customers to ensure that data on your Website remains secure and within your control. You also have the right to ensure that your Web host limits and monitors the employees who have access to your site. Typically, Web hosting companies say they will provide "reasonable security" says Bradley Gross, a senior technology law attorney with Becker & Poliakoff P.A., a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based law firm. But there is no standard gauge of what measure of security is reasonable. Gross advises adding the words "state of the art security" to the service contract. "That term implies that there are one or two top-notch security standards" your Web hosting company must provide.


If you have an e-commerce business or rely heavily on your Website, site outages or slow performance (even for just a few minutes) could translate into lost revenue or business. MentorNet, a not-for-profit organization that matches undergraduate and graduate women studying science and technology with professional mentors via e-mail, suffered a blackout on its Web and e-mail servers during the last week of 2002.

The problem: A transformer blew up at the College of Engineering at San Jose State University, where MentorNet was sharing the Ethernet and network infrastructure of the college. Because the college didn't perceive Internet access to be as integral to its business as MentorNet does, it decided to get needed parts locally rather than calling emergency services for repairs. "When most of your work is related to some kind of computing, having your Website go down or having e-mails bounce back makes [doing business] difficult," says Carol Muller, founder and CEO of MentorNet.

By Tischelle George

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