Every website needs a host, and a fantastic website on a mismatched hosting platform can become a terrible website. You've spent a lot of time and money on your website (or websites). Deciding where to host should not be an afterthought.
Complex websites with content management, media management, and authenticated users have more complex hosting requirements than simple static websites. If your project warrants a CMS like Drupal, you need to ensure your hosting platform matches.
Here are some questions to ask to ensure you choose the appropriate home for your investment.
What are your goals and priorities?
Or alternatively, why is your current hosting solution not working? Where is it falling short? There are several things to evaluate:
- Performance and reliability
- Deployment workflows
- Consistency with updates of the underlying software
- Management tools
- Customer support
But you can't just list the things you want. You must work to prioritize them. Otherwise, you'll have stakeholders that want all of these things equally, to the maximum measure. To prioritize, however, you must have a clear view of your goals.
If you had the choice between a cheap solution or a more secure solution, which one would you go for? It depends. If you're a financial institution, you'll want to prioritize security. If you're a marketing agency, you don't want an insecure website, but you probably care more about performance and price.
You must also know what each of these criteria means for your organization. How do you define security? Is it based on certifications, like SOC2 audits? Is it based on specific hosting features, like proactive protection against common security holes? Is it based not on capabilities but on who owns what layers of the stack? A Drupal site owner has much greater responsibility for the security of a Drupal site on AWS or Linode than hosting with a managed provider.
Your definition of performance may differ. Are you seeking to host one high-performing website or a network of lower-traffic websites? Is your traffic relatively even throughout the year, or are there days when your site sees 10x or even 1000x times the traffic?
If you are hosting one large website and need top performance, what will it take to reach that goal? It can be hard to scale out one big website. One provider might be able to do it well, but the cost might be prohibitive.
If you have lots of smaller websites and are optimizing for costs, that means shared resources. This is fine as long as the sites don't get much traffic. But what happens if one of those websites runs a big, viral promotion and gets a traffic surge? Will all the other sites go down?
Don't forget organizational politics. A stakeholder with lots of authority may have something against a particular hosting provider. One of your top goals may just be to remove yourself from your current vendor, whatever the cost. These political goals might be hidden and come out of hiding at the most inconvenient times, so be sure and dig deep. For example, we had one client who would not use anything that used AWS under the hood. This automatically eliminated certain providers. The earlier you get this information, the better.
What are your in-house capabilities? And are they available?
Your options are limited based on your in-house resources and their availability. You might have the expertise on staff to manage your own hosting, spin up servers, secure them, and maintain them.
But will they have the dedicated time to do this? Are there other priorities that could pull them away from these duties? Go back to your performance goals. If the website goes down in the middle of the night, do you need someone to take that call? If you did an in-house solution, would you need to hire another person, or would you need to contract with a company for first-tier support?
Your answers to these will limit or expand your potential hosting options before you even evaluate them. For example, if you don't have anyone to monitor servers and have limited Drupal expertise on staff, you'll be restricted to managed Drupal hosting. Then again, perhaps your site has a limited or narrow audience, so weekend downtime doesn't matter.
Go back to your goals and priorities. If you need to hire talent to meet those goals, consider that during your evaluation. These costs and expectations should be transparent.
In some cases, you might not even have the in-house expertise to do the evaluation itself. That's ok. You can hire plenty of experts and consultants to give you an honest recommendation. We've helped many organizations with these same questions.
Which hosting providers do you want to evaluate?
You have your goals and have prioritized them. You have honestly assessed your capabilities. Now, it's time to choose who you want to evaluate. Don't make this decision lightly. Every provider you put on this list increases the time you will need to assess them honestly.
You probably already have an idea of where you want to host. For Drupal hosting, Pantheon and Acquia might be on your list. If you have the resources and capabilities, having your own data center might be one of the options. Server providers like Linode and DigitalOcean can be good options, as are cloud services like AWS and Google Cloud.
Once you have developed your list of options, start evaluating based on your already established criteria.
Do you really need the extras the hosting provider is offering?
Hosting providers get you in the door with hosting and then want to upsell you with other services: personalization, digital asset management, managed updates, and more. Many hosting companies want to be technical MarTech companies because that's where the money is.
You might need or want their extra services. Maybe one of their extra offerings is a big positive for choosing them. Or maybe not. Again, go back to your goals and priorities. Most organizations just want reliable hosting. Evaluate based on that, not the bells and whistles that start blaring in front of your face.
You've done a lot of work thinking through what you need, so don't deviate from it in the final hour.
Have each evaluator give scores independently for the same criteria. Don't use the numbers to choose a winner, but to determine points where evaluators disagree or where further research is needed. A simple spreadsheet with line items and scores of 1-3 works well. Give each person their own copy so they can work independently without being influenced by other scores. It also helps to determine yes/no criteria as quickly as possible because that can help rule out providers before diving too deep.
Finally, keep track of the gaps each shortlisted provider has. If your request is significant enough, they may be willing to prioritize missing features on their roadmap. If they promise to have a desired feature in three months, that could add an asterisk to your deliberations.
However you keep track of your evaluations, you'll want to keep it open and transparent. Make it clear how you have come to your decisions, and be ready to explain your rationale. Writing up a summary document for those who don't want to dive into spreadsheets is a good idea.
If all this sounds daunting, we can help you through this process. We help organizations every day uncover requirements, set goals, rank priorities, and come to a good decision.