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Finding the Ideal Host for Your Web Site
the information is just too outdated.

by Robert L. Seltman

This article originally appeared in C@lling Japan, the Computer Assisted Language Learning Newsletter of the Japanese Association of Language Teachers , May 1999 Volume 8/2

There comes a time in most CALL teachers’ lives when they consider creating their own web page, or even having their own domain. After reconsidering why in the world you want still another responsibility, and reconfirming that a web domain is de rigueur, you will need to find a host. A host is a company or school, with a large computer called a server, to keep your web page files accessible 24 hours a day. You may also set-up a server at home with 24 hour access, but if you are that tech cool you won’t need to read this article.

In an informal survey among Kinki Mac User members and various computer friends, Tabnet.com, a part of Verio.com, was the most popular host among the foreign residents in Kansai. Everyone I asked seemed very pleased with their service and rates. Most everyone I asked were doing modest professional sites with needs easily managed within the smaller packages offered by Tabnet but all had added at least one additional service. Their cost was probably between $300-$500 per year of service. I would probably use a slightly cheaper host service, as I want to experiment with a wide variety of web page tools and handle a large inventory of pages and services, but for a user-friendly environment Tabnet seems to foot the bill for many of my friends here.

Most people need only spend between $200-$350 a year, for the kind of simple pages most enjoy, with a few photos and typed pages, or even for a small business, attempting sales of a limited inventory of products (usually under 10 items). If you don't want your own domain name and are willing to ride on another's site you can find a free host or rates around $10 a month. America-on-line and other ISP services will also provide a small web page service for their clients, often free.

There is a $70 fee ($35 per year) that must go to InterNIC, the registering agency for your own name i.e. http://www.yourname.com. Some host companies will pay this if you order a big corporate account. Fees for registering your domain name vary from ‘free’ upwards, but average around $40.

Rates are usually negotiable and discounts are available to resellers (people who provide or create websites) and agents (people who advertise the host on their sites). There is usually set-up costs that vary from free to $150 so be careful to check before choosing a host. $30-45 is average. Bandwidth is the amount of 'hits' you can handle before you are charged extra, again be careful if you plan to have a popular site with many visitors. Most people's sites are visited once by close friends and family only, and so Require no bandwidth, while sites like CNN need dedicated servers to handle the volume. Some providers advertise unlimited bandwidth and other features important to successful sites.

If you work full or part-time for a school or company you might ask if they will provide you with your own web page and/or e-mail account. I have web prices for a dozen companies, and have bored myself by
reviewing websites that list hundreds, who were all eliminated one by one because of limited support, flaky looking web presence, or because they were targeting companies well beyond the small independent web author. Here are my finalists, prices are rounded off and there are many subtleties in service that need to be considered. Check their web sites for further details.

Tab-net is one of the more expensive hosts per Mb of space of those listed
here. $25/20 Mb, $50/30 Mb, $100/40 Mb per month.

Reliant (based in Toronto) $20/25 Mb, $35/75 Mb, $50/150 Mb
Good web presence and a promising support face.

Ci Host (based in Bedford, Texas) $25/50 Mb, $30/100 Mb, $50/300 Mb
Not bad web site and OK looking support.

Interland (based in Atlanta, Georgia) $17/80 Mb, $40/120 Mb, $60/160 Mb
Good web presence and a promising support face.

9netavenue (based in New Jersey) $15/20 Mb, $25/50 Mb, $40/40 Mb
Web and support looked OK.

Altaway has a great one-price plan of $30 a month, with a $40 set-up fee,
With unlimited everything. Definitely worth considering, support looks good.

Factors to consider are, do you want a chat room, mailing lists, PO accounts for one or for many people, shopping cart and cyber cash capabilities. If you want to have support by telephone in Japan then you will
go with Tabnet or a Japanese host. Some hosts here will only take Japanese domain names, like ac.jp, and not the American com, net, org categories. There are other tags from other countries you can buy if that is important to you.

Some questions you should consider before choosing your host, much of this information is rewritten from service notes of Altaway.com:

    Is the host giving you your own domain name or a tag on to their name? www.yourname.com verses www.theirname.com/yourname.

    How much disc space will you need? Look and see how much your present writings need for space, and estimate how much volume you intend to put-up on the web. The average web site takes less than 10 MB.

    How much traffic will your website get? My New Yorker guess would be ‘not much.’ If you want to be a hit, and sell out for millions, there are several good sources for courses and tools to promote your site, visit:http://e-comm.internet.com/resources/vault/vault.education.html

    How many POP accounts do you need? The POP server essentially acts as an Internet mail center for processing all of your email communications. The POP server has the capability to receive and store incoming email messages. The messages are held on the POP server until the appropriate user logs on to the POP server and downloads them to his/her email client.

    How many aliases will you need? Aliases allow mail that is sent to one address to be redirected to another address. They also allow mail to be appended to files or piped through programs, and they form the basis of mailing lists.

    Do you want auto responders? An auto reply can be set up on your server to automatically send an email response to anyone that sends an email message to a specific email address. Auto replies can be very useful in providing information about your business or can be used simply as a way of notifying the email sender that their message has been received.

    Will you be running any mailing lists? Some hosts will install Majordomo on their servers to automate the maintenance of Internet mailing lists. Majordomo allow users to add and remove themselves from the list, obtain information about the list, obtain files through email, etc.

    Is it a SMTP server? SMTP Servers use Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. SMTP allows your server to send out email messages. Basically, it routes your email messages through your server, out onto the Internet, and to its final destination. Without SMTP, you would not be able to send email messages.

    Anonymous FTP? With Anonymous FTP anyonecan access your /ftp directory without a password. You just enter 'anonymous' for the user name and 'guest' or your email address as the password. Using anonymous FTP is the safest way to grant access to the virtual FTP service because it is restricted to the /ftp directory in your home directory. With this restrictive access and by assigning permissions correctly you can limit the harm they can do. You can use this service to give your customer access to your download area (demo programs, patches, documents, etc.).

    Telnet access? You will need this to access your virtual server via telnet.

    Secure server (SSL)? SSL (Secure Socket Layer) is a protocol created by Netscape Communications Corporation for authentication and encryption over TCP/IP networks, including the Internet. You may need to request a Digital Certificate for your business to a Certification Authority (such as Verisign or Thawte).

    FrontPage extensions? FrontPage 98 extensions backward compatible with all versions of FrontPage.

    How's the support? Is there 24 hours of 7 day a week service, 24x7 Network monitoring and 24x7 Technical support, will a real person be available to you for 24-hour troubleshooting and technical support via e-mail or fax

    Will you get Log files to log web access and error information to analyze log files with HTTP-Analyze or any other web statistics program?

    CGI Support? You may want Common Gateway Interface (CGI) and a private CGI-BIN directory. All the most important languages for CGI programming (Perl, C/C++, C Shell, Tcl) should be installed on the server.

    Will you be using Java? Java is an object oriented language. Java enables the development of applications on multiple platforms. Will you need C/C++’s latest versions of GNU C and C++ compiler on your server?

    Will you need sound or music on your site? Some hosts have RealAudio via RealServer to stream RealAudio files (it's not HTTP streaming but a true powerful RealNetworks server).

    Server Side Includes (SSI)? Also known as Server Parsed HTML, provides a convenient way of performing server-side processing on an HTML file before it is sent to the client. SSI provides a set of dynamic features, such as including the current time or the last modification date of the HTML file without developing a CGI program that performs this function. SSI can be considered as a server-side scripting language.

    SWISH indexing program? SWISH is the Simple Web Indexing System for Humans. You can run SWISH periodically to search the files in your web tree, then save the results in a complete index file.

    WWWWAIS search program? WWWWAIS is a CGI program that searches SWISH index files to generate responses to user queries. When WWWWAIS receives a user search request, it scans the index file for entries that match the search parameters.

    Cron? Cron is a standard UNIX daemon that starts when the system boots and remains running as long as the system is up. This daemon reads a configuration file of commands and times at which they are to be invoked. You can use cron to run scripts, commands, programs at any time without
    your intervention.

    PHP2 and PHP3? PHP (Personal Home Page) is an HTML embedded scripting language originally designed for simple page development. PHP has evolved to become an extended scripting language capable of substituting for CGI and SSI.

    MySQL? MySQL is a database engine that provides a powerful capability for accessing data within the virtual server environment.

    A CGI Library? It's a collection of pre-installed CGI scripts (web counter, form-mail, text-counter, www-board, simple search, etc.) some host provide this stuff, others don’t.

    Does the host allow you to receive continuous updates at no extra charge, including all new developments, programs, scripts, etc.? Some hosts have these automatically, even a member’s newsletter or mailing list, while others expect you to be on your own. Some companies will hand hold the creation of your web pages, while others are simply a machine in a room somewhere. Consider how much help you will need before signing up.

Tabnet's registration process on-line allows you to register in the USA or here, and then have a separate billing address. This would be convenient ifyou want to keep one country your base address, like a USA permanent home, but need to do business from here. You can register with Tabnet, and most other companies, for a fee and 'park' your site there until you are ready to go on-line. Parking allows you to register your name before someone else does.

For Canadian patriots I'd definitely suggest checking out Toronto based Reliant, though several Canadian companies had impressive sites. I was not particularly impressed with the bilingual sites based in Tokyo Japan. Local rules, I was told, limit the kind of competitive edge found in American and European based companies. The company Gaijins in Osaka will help people set-up a bilingual site with native speaking support in both languages. Sometimes it pays to pay a little more, and get highly skilled and professional service locally.

I have gone with Interland, they looked professional yet competitive in pricing. They advertise in many popular computer magazines 'a pig farmer' as their client success story, perhaps reflecting their Georgian born roots. Not a particularly appetizing ad, but one that stresses (I hope) their customer-friendly support, so far so good. I paid $740 for a two year contract (about US$30 or 3600 yen per month), their plan 2, bigger in size than any sensible English teacher should ever need or want. Loving technical challenges and silly acronyms is a prerequisite, also you will need to have something to say. The world wide web will be watching.

Copyright 1999 R.L. Seltman. All rights reserved.

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