Businesses have widely varying needs in web hosting. From the simple information-only website to large and complex web applications, companies must choose what’s best for them. In this article, we’re going to discuss some of the options available, and which you should choose. We’ll use a series of scenarios to make this a little easier to digest.
Scenario 1: A simple information-only website and contact form
If all your company requires is an attractive web presence for marketing purposes, we recommend using a hosting service catered to the specific application you plan to use. The most common application we see in use is WordPress. WordPress allows you to quickly and easily create an attractive and custom website in minutes. For this option, we would recommend WordPress.com (or a similar service). They will take care of all the operations of the site, while you simply provide the look and feel.
There are other applications that may even make it easier for you, such as Wix.com. Wix is similar to WordPress and takes a lot of the guesswork out of creating a simple website.
The critical factor in this scenario is that you are not storing any sensitive information on the website; only publicly shareable data!
Scenario 2: A simple storefront with a shopping cart, optionally accepting credit cards
In this scenario, we need to be cautious about how we handle financial data. Customers are trusting you to take care of their personal credit information, and if you’re not careful, you could find yourself facing hefty fines from the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Council as well as civil or even criminal charges. The best way to avoid this is to leave it to the professionals!
Some options include Shopify, Squarespace, and BigCommerce. These vendors not only handle all the heavy lifting on the server-side, but they also take care of the credit card processing and absorb most of the risk for you too! Unless you have a VERY specific reason, you should outsource your shopping cart to the pros.
Scenario 3: You have a services firm that needs a web presence as well as a method to transfer files between clients
In this case, we recommend a two-step approach. First, use the technique described in Scenario 1 (above) to host your website. Next, we recommend finding a file-sharing site to handle all your file transfers. For example, DropBox, Citrix Sharefile, and many others offer familiar interfaces for your clients and even Desktop synchronization if you need it.
You’ll notice that in this case, you’re still letting the professionals do what they do: manage your Internet-facing IT resources for you and take on the majority of the risk!
A special note on HIPAA: If you transfer or store any healthcare data in a third-party system, you must request a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) from the site. Many services (like DropBox) make this as easy as downloading the agreement. This is a HIPAA requirement!
Scenario 4+: You have a complicated or custom web application that you need to host
We call this Scenario 4+ because there are a lot of options to explore. If you fall into this category – and there are no hosted services that will meet your needs – you will likely need to invest the time and energy into IT expertise. Decisions such as Cloud Hosted versus Local Hosted will come in to play. But you also need to be concerned about backup, redundancy, security, and much more. The details on this are outside of the scope of this article.
If you find yourself taking a custom approach when you only needed the services in the previous scenarios, we would recommend you reassess your strategy and try to outsource to vendors you trust rather than taking it all on by yourself.
This article obviously did not dig into the details of setup and implementation, but hopefully, it gets you on your way to a more secure environment for your company and your clients.