Digital Marketing - a Practical Approach 3e : home


from: Digital Marketing a Practical Approach 2nd edition

Websites are hosted on a computer that is permanently online, and so available for access from any other computer around the world. Such computers are known as web servers - or more commonly, simply servers. Outside of the major online e-commerce sites, few organizations operate their own servers, leaving their website hosting to companies that have the rental of web space as part of a business model. Such organizations (commonly referred to as Internet Service Providers - ISPs, or Application Service Providers - ASPs) operate server farms - banks of servers that can spread the workload of demand on hundreds or thousands of individual websites. ASPs will also normally offer a dedicated server facility, where only one site is hosted on a single server. Single page websites can be hosted for only a few pounds per year (possibly as part of a domain name registration deal), though naturally, dedicated servers cost far more.
When choosing a website host, server-related issues to consider are (1) speed of download, (2) downtime, (3) security, and (4) IP integrity. Let's consider them in more detail:
* Speed.    Like all computers, not only is technical capacity relevant (both hard- and software), but the greater the demand, the slower the operating speed. Therefore, a small capacity server which hosts numerous websites which each attract thousands of visitors at the same time will deliver web pages slower than a large capacity server that hosts only one moderately busy website.
* Downtime.    This is the term used to describe a website being offline. Whilst zero downtime is the target, it is also somewhat utopian. All manner of problems from simply human error through fire or flood to malicious attack might render a server inoperable.
* Security.    How easy would it be for a hacker to access the server and so damage or delete your website or download any information stored on it. For those sites that conduct transactions online, the use of a secure server is essential.
* IP Integrity.    It is the case that at any given time there will be more websites than there are people who wish to view them, therefore many websites will be sitting on their server with no one wanting to download them. Hosting companies know this, and so only allocate an IP address only when a site is requested - a practice known as dynamic IP addressing. A significant problem that can arise is that if the server is used to host websites that infringe search engine (or email) protocols then innocent sites that share the nefarious site's dynamic IP address might be punished along with the offending site.
A further consideration is that of having a website hosted on multiple servers spread around the globe. The advantage of this is that if you trade (for example) in Europe, the USA and Asia then if your server is located in just one of those then requests from the other two must travel a long way. Having a server in each of those regions will increase download speeds in each location. It is also commonly assumed that there is an advantage in search engine optimization to this practice where geographic search is favoured.

DECISION TIME As with all business applications, quality of service is related to cost, therefore the requirements of the site should be balanced against cost when choosing a server. For the likes of Amazon to have their website to go offline is a business-disaster, even reduced download speeds will cost them sales (see mini case, 'the cost of downtime'), therefore such companies own and maintain their own servers - and many of them.

The cost of downtime?

Even the biggest and best are not immune from technical glitches. Microsoft (in December 2009), Facebook (September 2010 - reports say that this one was cured by turning the whole system off and turning it back on again - the same as we all do to solve PC problems!) Foursquare (October 2010) and, on the eve of the Olympics in July 2012, Twitter. However, sometimes a website being unavailable is totally avoidable. For example, November 2011 saw the launch of a new range of Versace products available only at retailer H&M (H&M x Versace). As hordes of shoppers descended on H&M stores around the world and Donatella Versace arrived at the H&M London Regent St store, thousands of customers logged on to to snap up a designer outfit. Or rather ... they didn't - because the website crashed. So, all the money that was spent on the launch and nobody thought to beef up the servers to cope with the demand? I doubt that nobody forgot to book security staff for Donatella or make sure the shops were fully staffed that morning? So why was the website's availability not a key aspect of the strategic planning for the launch?

Conversely, a small offline business might get only a couple of visitors a day (or even per week), so slower speeds or two hours downtime once a year is not a significant issue. Similarly, the chances of a malicious hacker accessing the site of a small offline trader is not only small, but they would be unlikely to inflict significant damage. However, for an e-commerce site to have its database of customer details stolen could - ultimately - result in the failure of that business. For the pure-online trader who depends on organic search engine results for their business, being blacklisted by Google because of shared IP address is disastrous, whilst the offline business whose website is accessed only by customers who have been referred to it in offline promotions, high search engine listing is not so important.

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