Every competent business owner these days knows that it’s essential to have some kind of presence on the Internet. The question that faces every company when deciding on a web site is how to operate the site without having to invest thousands in computer equipment and technical staff. That’s when managed hosting can be of great benefit to small- and medium-sized businesses.

Many business owners and managers might be surprised to find that the first question to ask isn’t about finding a web hosting service, but about the web site itself. In other words, what exactly does the company want its web site to do? A business web site could act like a billboard, simply giving information about what the business does and where to find it. Or it could be a full-blown online business, not only offering goods and services but using social networking tools to develop a customer community around its specialty. Deciding what the web site should do and be is the critical first step.

Web developers help businesses decide about the functions of their web sites, and then create the web sites according to those specifications. After the website is designed, however, it still must be regularly monitored for performance, updated with new information and upgraded when necessary. This takes a lot of an employee’s time that some businesses would prefer to be spent elsewhere. At that point, managed hosting becomes an attractive alternative.

Just as with deciding a web site’s purpose, there’s a fundamental rule to selecting web hosting: “Cheap” isn’t necessary “best.” This is particularly true of managed hosting, which often calls for a higher level of technical skill and equipment than many low-level services can provide. The way to determine how well a web hosting service can fill a business’ needs is to evaluate the service by four key qualifications: technical support, reliability, data transfer rate and data storage. These last three qualities are more commonly known as uptime, bandwidth and disk space.

Often hosting vendors will promote their services, especially disk space and bandwidth, as “unlimited.” Business people in particularly know that no resource is ever “unlimited, ” so it pays to know how to ask about specifics for each qualification. The web site’s design can help by providing a business with standards for site, especially in terms of disk space and bandwidth. In addition, businesses should ask about the hosting service’s reliability, or “uptime, ” which often is expressed as a percentage such as 99.9 percent.

With managed hosting, technical support may not be as crucial an issue, since technical support usually serves businesses that maintain their own sites. However, this is not a quality to be overlooked, because it reflects the web host’s dedication to customer service, which also impacts managed hosting.

If a web hosting client meets the basic qualifications, then it’s time to take a close look at its managed services options. These typically come in two forms: Dedicated Server, in which a business leases a computer for its exclusive use, and Virtual Private Server, in which a business leases a portion of computer that acts like an exclusive piece of equipment. Choosing one of these options again boils down to how large and complicated the web site functions are.

In either case, the managed hosting aspect should be the same. The web hosting service contracts with the business to handle all of the administration of its web site. This arrangement frees the business from the expense of buying equipment and hiring staff at the same time it assures a continual, reliable Internet presence.

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