When choosing a hosting provider, you’ll often come across the option to select a data center depending on how many a hosting provider has in its arsenal.
Thus, it is essential to know what a data center is and how it affects your hosting experience.
This article will discuss the significant factors to consider when choosing a data center with your web hosting package and explore an alternative that can help improve the hosting experience for your users irrespective of the data center you end up choosing.
But first, to make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s quickly walk through what data centers are and precisely what they do.
What Is a Data Center, and How Does It Work?
Many people have a misconception that the internet is intangible, but it consists of an extensive network of cables and servers in reality.
The infrastructure behind all websites you visit on your phone or computer is what we call data centers.
A data center (a physical building) houses all the hardware, software, and services necessary to connect millions of users.
Data centers are made up of special computers called data servers which are just like regular computers but without any peripherals like monitors.
When a data server is connected to the internet, it becomes eligible to store and serve website files worldwide.
Purchasing a hosting plan with a hosting provider grants you access to a data server connected to the internet (also called an Internet Server); it stores your website data and allows anyone on the internet to access your website through internet transfer protocols (i.e., HTTP, FTP).
A data center makes it easier to house several data servers in a single location. Like regular computers, servers need specific environmental conditions to function correctly, such as regulated heat and humidity levels; a data center is equipped with technology that makes all that possible.
Housing several data servers in a single location also helps companies save on maintenance and operation costs (economies of scale).
Does Every Hosting Company Own a Dedicated Data Center?
Many large hosting companies have their dedicated data centers, while some offer colocation services (data server renting services) to smaller hosting companies who cannot afford to build and operate one.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Data Center With Your Web Host
- Proximity/Location (to the targeted audience, for instance)
- Uptime & Redundancies
- Performance (speed, type of hardware running the data center)
- User Reviews/Reputation
One crucial factor to consider when choosing a data center with your web host is the proximity of the data center to your target audience.
For instance, HostGator being a worldly known hosting provider, understands that their audience is located in different continents, which is why they offer multiple data centers across the globe that their clients can choose from.
The further away a data center is from your primary website users, the longer (high latency) it would take to deliver website data to their browsers.
Proximity plays a large part in the rate at which data is being delivered; when the data center you select is in a distant location from your target audience, it results in increased latency (delay in data delivery).
This isn’t exactly accurate because the number of network hops between points on the internet is not directly proportional to physical distance.
In most cases, though, it is recommended to host your website on data centers closest to your primary website audience to be on the safe side.
Another major factor to consider is security; before choosing a data center, you should consider the security measures that have been put in place to make sure that it is secure.
Security should be at the top of your consideration list as an insecure data center is vulnerable to data loss, data breach, and sabotage.
A data center must make adequate provisions to handle and prevent security threats like fire hazards, natural disasters, and on-site theft.
It should have a strict policy that ensures that data is secure and out of reach from unauthorized or untrusted staff to prevent sensitive data from being leaked or sabotaged.
Security measures like round-the-clock CCTV surveillance, electronic identity verification, and a complete access control room should be put in place to reinforce the data servers’ safety.
You can confirm the availability of such measures by asking the customer support team of the hosting provider you’re looking to host with.
When it comes to data center compliance, there are different standards out there, but the two major standards that you should look out for are;
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA for short, handles all forms of health-related data privacy and security.
If you plan to handle sensitive customer data that may be health-related, you should ensure that the data center you’re considering is compliant with this act.
HIPAA forces data centers that deal with health-related information to place security measures to prevent any form of data leak or tempering.
HIPAA also strengthens a data center’s overall data security as other forms of sensitive data being handled by the data center will benefit from these same security measures.
SSAE 18 (Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements no. 18) governs the way organizations report on their different compliance controls.
The reports are mainly in the form of SOC (Service Organization Control) and provide information that is used to evaluate the risks associated with data center affiliated vendors.
Simply put, SSAE 18 reports provide attestations of compliance when assessing data center certifications.
They ensure that when you use a data center’s services, you can rest assured that all vendors associated with the data center have risk management policies in place.
Without an SSAE 18 compliancy, there is no assurance that vendors will not expose your business to risk due to a lack of security and risk management policies.
You can determine if a data center meets these compliance standards via a hosting provider’s customer service team before making any decisions.
Uptime and Redundancies
You should talk with the support team of a hosting provider about the redundancies that have been put in place in their data center(s) to prevent things like power outages from affecting your rented customer server uptime.
Redundancies like uninterrupted power supply (UPS), backup generators, and a solar-powered power supply, when put in place, make it almost impossible for unusual power grid blackouts to affect server uptime and reliability.
This is an essential factor to consider if you’re concerned about your website’s uptime and reliability.
The type of hardware that is being used in a data center has a significant impact on the performance of its servers.
From routers to storage technology, hardware plays a significant role in your rented server’s performance; you should find out what kind of technology is being used by a data center before making any decisions.
For example, many data centers still use HDD as their storage technology to reduce the cost, even with SSD being a better alternative.
A good data center will always be at the forefront of new technology implementation; you should avoid data centers that sacrifice their servers’ efficiency and performance to save on the cost of operation.
They will always underperform when compared to data centers that use high-end technology.
You can also get a good insight into a data center and its performance over time by reading customer reviews online.
Many review websites and forums online document the experience of actual users of different data centers; this includes everything from server performance to uptime.
You should check if the data center you’re considering has any bad customer reviews; if you find many bad reviews (with few positives), it’s likely that something is wrong with the services being offered by the data center.
It’s best to avoid that data center and opt for another in such cases.
As your website(s) begins to grow, it gets to the point where you’d need a lot more server resources to keep up with usage.
Choosing a data center that will accommodate this growth is an essential factor to consider, especially when you have a growing business; again, this is something you can confirm with the customer support team over at the hosting provider.
A good data center should have the available space to accommodate the growth of its clients.
Making sure this is in place will save you from a lot of hassle when it’s time to scale your website.
Is There an Alternative to Data Centers?
A CDN (content delivery network) comprises a system of distributed servers (network) that deliver web pages and other web content to a user, based on the geographical location the request is being sent from.
It helps reduce latency and improves performance by handling user requests to your origin server from closer locations using edge computing technology.
You see, a CDN consists of several data centers (with edge servers) placed in strategic locations across different countries.
You can think of an edge server as a shortcut to your origin server (your data center); not only does it help get files across to your users faster, it also reduces the load on your primary server by caching files locally, thereby reducing the total number of requests that reach your primary server.
No matter the data center you decide to choose, CDNs will always guarantee reduced latency and better performance.
One of the major CDN providers available today is Cloudflare which powers more than 7,500,000 different websites.
Irrespective of the data center you decide to choose for your web hosting, combining it with Cloudflare CDN is a sure way to make sure you get the best out of your hosting experience.
Cloudflare offers a free plan that most website owners use and, in most cases, should be enough to cater to a majority of your audience.
If you need more features, you can always upgrade to a paid plan or switch to another CDN. But, at a bare minimum, using the free Cloudflare CDN should be enough to give your users a better experience when they try to access your website from different locations.
Whether you’re new to hosting websites or already have some experience, this article should have provided enough information about data centers and the factors to consider when choosing one for your web host.
We hope you’ve found this article useful; if you have any questions related to data centers, feel free to leave a comment below.