Hosting, much like air and water, without it we would shrivel up and die, and like water going to the wrong supply will make you sick.
Actually the analogy above doesn’t really work because I want to talk about the responsibility of hosting rather than choosing a supplier. Hosting is one of those awkward requirements of the web industry that doesn’t get the attention it needs. It’s a necessity, without web-hosting we wouldn’t be able to put our websites online, every website has to be hosted somewhere. It’s an incredibly important aspect of our industry and if you are involved in the creation and deployment of web media, you should have a strategy in place to deal with it.
The problem is, it’s an area with a few potholes. Often a client will have absolutely no idea of what hosting is or why they need it. This is fine and understandable, I wouldn’t expect them to any more than a plumber would expect me to know what sort of valve connects my boiler to my water supply. We could just include the hosting costs along with any other build and support costs, but, I believe that a greater degree of transparency is required. With hosting (and certain other support requiring services) identification of responsibility must be clarified up front.
There are sometimes issues with hosting, sometimes minor problems, sometimes major outages. This is where you need to have identified clearly to your client what hosting is, where your responsibilities lie with regards their hosting and ensured that their expectations with regards level of service are reasonable. Without these concepts clearly agreed between you and the client, things have the opportunity to get pretty messy.
A nice simple solution is to set yourself up a reseller account with a hosting company, that way you can supply hosting neatly bundled up with your branding. All lovely if you have the resources to manage this properly. Depending on your supplier’s set up you may have to deal with every support request from your clients and in some cases handle assorted administration tasks as well. I’m uncomfortable working on this basis, with the best will in the world, no amount of small print T&Cs are going to convince an irate client that their hosting going down is outside of our control if their control panel comes with our branding.
Handing the responsibility for their hosting back to the client can be considered. Yes, there’s the positive that you won’t have to deal with support calls, it’s up to the client to sort out the billing and, worst case scenario if everything falls over it’s someone else’s problem. The cons far outweigh the pros. Primarily it’s just unprofessional, I like to think a client can come to us for a web solution and we can make the process as simple as feasibly possible for them. Sending them off to set up an account they may have not even been expecting to require is just going to make the process frustrating. There are some technically savvy clients out there but the majority are not (and nor should they need to be). Realistically you are going to either spend half your life detailing what sort of package they need to purchase, or trying to work with a hosting package that’s not quite fit for purpose. The issue I have run into most with this approach in the past is that hosting companies tend not to have the flexible billing practices of a freelancer or agency (for understandable reasons) and often a client will just forget to pay their hosting, at which point their website ceases to exist (worse still with domain names).
With Shinytastic, by default we organise the hosting for the client and try to be as transparent as possible. We make clear that our responsibility is to ensure the hosting account is paid up to date and continues to exist, but the responsibility for the servers themselves lie with the actual hosting company. We always tell the client who the hosting company is and give them a copy of any sign up emails, agreements, logins or anything relevant to their account for their own records. We do add a markup to any hosting we purchase to cover administration costs, but we make the client aware of this and will give them the costs of setting up the account directly themselves should they wish to. I believe we’ve only ever had one client opt to purchase the hosting themselves, most are happy to not have to deal with it.
We do give clients the option to choose their own hosting company if they prefer, although there are certain hosts (who I shall not name) who if the client wishes to use we will insist they purchase the account directly and indicate that they understand they are opting for a ‘cheap’ solution which may cause problems down the line. We have run into problems in the past when a client has opted for the cheapest hosting solution they can find, which has caused us substantial additional work.
The hosting company (EvoHosting) we use are set up such that we can purchase multiple hosting accounts under a single client account. This massively simplifies the management of multiple hosting accounts without resorting to a reseller account. This is also set up so that should a client decide to part company with us, we can quickly release their hosting account to another agency preventing them needing to set up new hosting to move away. We don’t hold accounts hostage and do not charge a release fee, the only stipulation we have is that a client must have all invoices up to date before we will release their account.
We use EvoHosting as our preferred hosting provider. As a full disclosure, I’m good friends with the directors of the company, but my decision to use them is based on the reliability and quality of their service.
Let me know your thoughts, how do you deal with hosting?