Playing Host: Service is key

Hosting a Web site may not seem like a big deal - at first. But high start up costs, maintainence fees and lack of experience could be factors that distract your company away from its main focus.

When your e-business is all about other people, micro-managing your own hardware could be a distraction.

SINGAPORE - For, business means being a logistics service hub and marketplace. Its clients consist of shippers, consignees, freight forwarders, shipping lines, airlines and third-party logistics service providers - all engaged in the online selling and buying of supply chain management and logistics services.

Developed by IPACS, was built with the goal of being a hub for the transportation and logistics industry, as well as provide e-business solutions, consultation, and systems integration services.

With about 2000 customers engaged in online transactions, the e-logistics marketplace also provides various monitoring services such as e-tracking, e-fulfillment and e-settlement, while providing an infrastructure to run supply chain executions.

Then there's the consulting arm of the company that engages in transforming traditional businesses into click-and-mortar ones.

With all that to do, the e-marketplace decided that it was best if they outsourced their hosting needs.

Web hosting is fast growing in popularity, with more companies deciding to outsource the technical aspects of establishing their online presence - freeing them up to concentrate on their core competencies. This was exactly how felt about finding a web host, confirms Ms Tan Mee Hong, who is senior manager of business consulting at IPACS.

According ot Ms. Tan, outsourcing the hosting requirements gave the company the flexibility to concentrate on time to market at their own end of the business. It was also a space saver in the office, and a cost-saver. In-house maintenance can run high bills, while web hosts typically charge a package deal for 24x7 maintenance services.

"We also wanted to be able to concentrate on our business," said Tan, "knowing that our hosting is in safe hands."

According to the GartnerGroup, the necessity for a speedy time to market, combined with a very real need for support and management services "have contributed to the increased interest in Web hosting services".

In many e-business companies, the time and staffing needed to establish, maintain, and support their own Website may not exist. An in-house operation involves high start-up costs as well.

Web hosts can furnish both the infrastructure and the expertise. One of the key advantages of outsourcing to hosts would be that they have the bandwidth necessary to support growth, or according to demand - a given site can arrange for bandwidth increase during a holiday season or a high-volume event for only that period of time.

GartnerGroup's Dataquest has projected that the Web-hosting services market will grow to US$3.1 billion by 2002.

Although most companies with an online presence settle for shared hosting - sharing the server space with other companies, high-traffic/volume companies typically require dedicated hosting in order to cater to the heavy traffic and virtual usage.

Because was also hosting their client's data, they carefully considered the requirements for a web host before engaging Webvisions on a dedicated hosting plan, after looking at several other hosts, as well as some ISPs.

The Asian web host stood out in terms of service, according to Tan. In addition to co-hosting the e-marketplace's clients, Webvisions also provided the backbone infrastructure that was already in place. Services that included automated re-routing of traffic during downtime, an option for to lease or own their own racks (co-location services) in the future, as well as a dedicated pipe direct to the office, were what strongly appealed to the ASP.

Webvisions also offers a range of servers from Cobalt microservers to Sun Enterprise servers, as well as packaged security features like intrusion detection systems, firewalls, and load-balancing management.

Customers like seem to be appearing almost overnight. Outsourced Web hosting seems to be the trend right now, especially if one takes a look at the many Internet Data Centres in the region. However Webvisions believes that the market will evolve into providing niche hosting packages to cater to specific customers' needs in outsourced and managed hosting services.

True enough, studies show poor customer satisfaction levels in the hosting market, largely due to inexperienced hosts trying to keep up with demand and concentrating on the technical complexities, without realizing that customer expectations go beyond just hardware.

Some suggested criteria for choosing a Web host provider include:

  • The amount of technical support available
  • The quality of the customer service provided
  • The reliability of the network to which a site will be connected
  • The performance guarantees offered
  • The speed of repairs
  • The scalability of the network and its ability to ramp up bandwidth on an 'as needed' basis
  • The network security measures put in place
  • The host's background and (a reliability indicator) how long the company has been in business

While its true that the hosting market is growing at an incredible rate, the better hosts are judged so because of their service.