May 02, 2016

Magento Hosting Provider – Negotiating the Contract

Shane Blanford

This is the fifth and final post in a multi-part series on selecting a hosting provider for your Magento site.

Alright by now you have hopefully selected the hosting provider that you want to use. I am assuming that they have sent over a contract and want you to sign this before the services will be provisioned. What do you do now? When it comes to the final price of the contract this is often negotiated from the initial quoted price.

In my experience, you can successfully negotiate a lower overall contract price by starting the negotiating at these two points.

  1. The length of the contract. The length of a contact you are willing to sign the lower the price will be. If you are willing to sign a 3-year agreement you should hopefully end up at roughly a 20% discount over the 1-year term.
  2. The setup fee. In most cases, you can get this waived without too much of an issue. Even on a small 1-year contract with some persistence this hosting provider should drop or deeply discount this fee.

Once you have negotiated the price of the contract pay attention to these clauses in the contract.

  1. Contract Renewal. Pay close attention to this clause. Some hosting providers use an automatic renewal or “Evergreen Clause”. I would suggest that you not sign a contract with this clause in it. Your hosting needs will most likely change by the end of your current agreement. Due to that you want to be in the best position to negotiate a new deal when your current contract expires.
  2. How far in advance do you need to cancel the contract. Similar to the above issue. Pay attention how much notice you need to provide to cancel the services at the end of the contract. Even at the end of the contract, you will need to either renew or move your hosting services other places. Make sure you understand the time frames required for proper notification.
  3. What is the process for canceling the contract if the hosting provider fails to live up to their SLA. This does happen on occasion and you should know what the process is, what sort of violation is required and any penalties you could be assessed.
  4. What are the penalties for canceling early? Worst case scenario you need to cancel the contract for your own business reasons. If this occurs, you will want to have negotiated this penalty beforehand. Try to negotiate this to a simple 30-day additional monthly cost.

That wraps up some simple tips for evaluating and signing up with a hosting provider for your Magento site. As always I and the entire team here at Orange Collar are here to help you out in your journey.

Apr 28, 2016

Magento Hosting Provider – Hosting Providers Software Review

Shane Blanford

This is the fourth post in a multi-part series on selecting a hosting provider for your Magento site.

Once you understand what hardware each hosting provider is offering up the next area to focus on is the software on the physical servers.

The following are the question I suggest you ask the hosting companies you are getting bids back from.

What version of PHP is supported by the hosting company? – PHP versions have a big impact on the performance of your Magento site. If you are running Magento 1.9 then you need to request PHP 5.6, any earlier versions of Magento and PHP 5.4 is the safest version I would recommend. If you are running a Magento 2.x site, then you need to run PHP 7 to realize all of the performance gains. Considering that you will be signing a multi-year contract for hosting services request to see their support roadmap for future versions of PHP. Also, request to understand the process to upgrade your server to a new version of PHP. The goal here is to ensure that the hosting company has a plan in place to upgrade servers to newer versions.

New Relic Monitoring? –  More in-depth monitoring can help troubleshoot performance issues with your site. Find out what level of monitoring comes with the hosting companies service beyond hardware monitoring. Some hosting providers are including NewRelic monitoring in their packages. This would be the ideal monitoring solution for your Magento site.

Redis or Memcache? – You will want to verify that caching technology is available to your site. Using Redis for full page and block caching should be a requirement. If the hosting company only supports Memcache I would suggest that you do not move forward with that provider.

Apache or Nginx? – There is significant difference between these two web servers. However with a Magento site and assuming that both web servers are properly tuned there is not much of a difference in performance that you will realize with one over the other.

Without getting any further into deep technical questions this should give you a good handle as a site owner on what questions related to hosting software you should be asking. If you are working with a developer on your hosting provider selection there will be many more technical questions that they will be asking. Far too many questions to cover without going into the deep technical background required to understand what each one could potentially mean.

Next up in this series is how you put all of this information together and successfully negotiate a hosting contract with a provider.

Apr 27, 2016

Magento Hosting Provider – Hosting Providers Technical Review

Shane Blanford

This is the third post in a multi-part series on selecting a hosting provider for your Magento site.

This post assumes that you have already assembled the information about your site and are now ready to start comparing bids from various hosting providers.

The following are the question I suggest you ask the hosting companies you are getting bids back from.

Is it shared / virtual server or a dedicated server? – You can have a great performing site on a shared environment or a bad performing site on a dedicated server. If it is a shared environment find out physically where the database & caching processes live. If they are located on separate physical servers and you are just sharing the web server this type of solution can deliver excellent performance. If it is a dedicated server ask the same questions, where do the database and caching services physically live at? It is better from a performance standpoint if the services are separated on different hardware, not just virtual instances.

Do they offer integration with a content delivery network (CDN)? – If they do and will help set it up for you this can significantly reduce the number of requests coming to your actual web server. The key is to make sure that you understand who will be responsible for actually setting up the CDN and ensure that your site is working with it. Just by turning on a CDN does not mean that you will get the benefits of it.

Backups and recovery process. – I cannot stress how important it is to understand what exactly is being backed up, how long you can access it and the process to recover data. This is not part of the hosting contract that you want to skim over or assume how this process is being done. Your website is your business, it’s how you make money and live your life. If and when someone goes wrong and you need to revert to the backups they need to be current and quick to restore. Here is what I strongly suggest that you get in writing:

  1. The entire document root of the web servers file system is backed up nightly.
  2. If you make a significant amount of changes to your product images, or you store images uploaded by clients ask to have the media folder incrementally backed up hourly.
  3. Ensure that the database is being backup up “live”. This means that a good backup can be taken while the database is up and running and does not require you to manually dump the database for a backup. This is critical as there are hosting companies that will NOT backup the database services live and rely on you to run a database dump to the file system.
  4. Depending on how many orders you get during the day making a request to have the database backed up hourly is reasonable.
  5. Find out how long it will take to recover your entire site in case of a failure. Not all backup systems are equal, some can take 24 hours to restore your site from tape.
  6. What happens during a hardware failure? Do they have exact replacement servers on standby or do they need to be ordered.

Once again I cannot stress how important it is to understand the backup & restore process up front. When a failure occurs you, your site and the revenue your site was generating will be at the mercy of the hosting company’s backup and restore process. Orange Collar has worked with clients on subpar hosting providers that have taken 24 hours to restore a small simple site. During an outage is not the time to start asking these questions. Get all of this in writing in the hosting contract before you sign on the dotted line.

What type of storage devices will your website run on? – Not all hard drives are equal when it comes to performance. The best performing storage is locally attached solid state drives (SSD). You want to ensure that you get the best performing storage devices you can. Disk IO operations have a huge impact on the performance of a Magento site.

Memory, memory, memory. – This is not the area to go cheap and save some money. RAM is essential to the performance of your site. I would recommend a minimum of 32GB of RAM for just the web server requirements. If you must collocate your database and caching on the same physical server you need to have 64GB at a minimum.

Next up in this series will be what software should be installed on your server and why.

Apr 26, 2016

Magento Hosting Provider – What your site needs

Shane Blanford

This is the second post in a multi-part series on selecting a hosting provider for your Magento site.

Assuming that you either do not work with a solution integrator or you do not want to use their suggested hosting provider these next posts in this series will help you choose your own.

Before you can start accurately comparing hosting plans and providers you need to understand what you need to ensure that your site will be successful. Just as not all hosting providers are equal, not all Magento sites are equal. Knowing the following information will allow you to inform the hosting providers that you request bids from to accurately quote a hosting footprint that will work with your site.

How many requests per second to you get on average & at peak? – A page view is not the same as a request for the purpose of our discussion. To understand the difference head over to http://tools.pingdom.com and put in the URL of your home page. Run the test and once it is complete click on the Page Analysis Tab. Towards the bottom of this page is the Requests Per Domain box. This will show you the number of requests that were made to your web server to render the page on the screen. Now that you have an idea on how many requests per page you need it is time to figure out how many page views per second you get. This can be hard to get but it vital to understanding the size and scope of the hosting footprint you will need. Google Analytics will only go down to as small as an hour. Hosting works in time slices of requests per second, so you will need to get more detailed information. Start by asking your current hosting provider to either answer this question for you by looking at the Apache or Nginx logs. Or if they cannot or will not tell you the requests per second ask for the raw log files to be sent to you. This is where getting a solid number can require the assistance of someone pretty technical. There are a number of free tools that can analyze these log files and give you a number. This number will allow you to know how many requests per second your hosting footprint will need to handle to ensure your site is successful.

How many store fronts are you running with unique URL’s? – One of the best features of Magento IMHO is that you can create and run multiple unique stores from a single installation. This is important when it comes to hosting for two big reasons.

  1. You need to understand the traffic patterns of each store and how that adds up to the overall traffic that your hosting footprint needs to handle. This includes how you intend to run promotions and marketing in the future. If you have just launched a 2nd store and it currently does not get much traffic but will be ramping up a marketing campaign, then you need to take that future growth into your plans.
  2. Search engine bots. Don’t forget about these guys when looking at site traffic. Remember for each store front the bots will crawl them independently of each other. It is pretty easy to have multiple bots crawling all of your sites at the same time adding up to a huge increase in traffic volume.

How many products are in your store and what type of product are they? – Not all products in Magento are equal when it comes to the technical cost of rendering them to the client. For example, a category page with 24 simple products is simpler and requires less hosting horsepower to render that page than a category page with 24 configurable products. This starts to matter due to the cost incurred in updating promotions, running the indexes and rendering the products to the page.

How many employees will be accessing the Magento Admin? – Do you have a team of customer service or warehouse employees in the Magento admin during the day? If so you might want to consider a separate server for your admin portal access to keep the load off of the main customer facing site.

Once you have this information put together you can then move on to the next step, contacting hosting providers and start comparing what they offer. That is the next post in this series.

Apr 25, 2016

Selecting a Magento Hosting Provider Part 1 – SI Suggestions

Shane Blanford

Choosing a hosting provider to host your Magento site is one of the most important decisions you will make. This post is part of a multi-part post series that discusses the different approaches to selecting a Magento hosting provider. I am hoping this discussion will help you make the right decision and give you a few tips to look for when making your decision.

To start with let’s get a few things out in the open to help level the playing field between hosting providers. Most site owners start their search by calling up their chosen solution integrator (SI) and asking for recommendations. Quickly you will get back a very short list and advise on what provider to go with. What you might not know is that the SI probably has a horse in the race when it comes to where you take your hosting business.

The majority of hosting providers provide some level of financial kick back to the SI for each client that they bring to their service. If you are working with an SI that is reputable they will have no problem disclosing this relationship and most do so up front.

What are you getting out this relationship by using the provider that your SI recommends? In all honesty, you get a much better level of service and price from the hosting provider. Over the past 6 years, we have referred a large number of clients to various hosting providers. In each of these cases, the clients got much better pricing and contract terms compared to what they would have received by just calling up the general inbound sales line. To understand why this is the case you need to understand a few factors that are going on behind the scene between your SI and the hosting provider.

  • Your SI has the motivation to ensure that you use a hosting provider that will work for your site. Imagine if your SI recommends a hosting provider that does not deliver for what your site needs. Not only are you going to be disgruntled at the hosting provider but at your SI as well. Here at Orange Collar, we have been an SI for over 6 years. I can tell you from first-hand experience that if a recommendation we have given to own client starts to go south it does have an impact on our relationship with the client. Trying to avoid disgruntled clients keeps us motivated to suggest hosting providers that will help make for happy clients.
  • On the opposite side the hosting provider has motivation for the SI to keep sending them business. In an effort to maintain this sales channel they attempt to make the process as easy as possible for the SI to recommend a service and get the client signed up. Because the SI will be in the middle of this relationship most hosting providers will start off with excellent pricing and contract terms. They know that the SI does not want to become a negotiator and they want to close the deal as quickly as possible.

The greatest benefit that a client is receiving by going with this recommendation is how issues are handled. Hosting issues do happen and when they do normally your first call is to your SI to “fix it”. If you went with your SI’s suggested hosting partner it starts to pay off in this moment. Your SI will have a dedicated contact person for the hosting provider and access to 2nd tier support directly. The developers at your SI will have the ability to quickly get an engineer on the phone avoiding the frustrating tier 1 tech process that you would normally have to go through. This is due to the relationship that the SI has with the hosting provider. There is a level of trust that is built where the 2nd tier support engineers at the hosting providers know the SI engineers and can skip past the elementary troubleshooting steps. Having this existing relationship can at times shave hours off resolving support incidents, that in turn can save you thousands in lost revenue.

Due to these factors, I would recommend that you go along with the hosting provider that your SI suggests.

In my next post, I will discuss how to evaluate different hosting providers on your own.

Apr 06, 2016

Why Run Your Magento Store On Amazon Web Services?

Shane Blanford

Your Magento store runs on a powerful, scalable platform, but is it suffering from slow response times? You already know that slow response times can have a big impact on your business. Amazon studies have found that every 100-millisecond increase in load time decreased sales by 1%. 40% of shoppers abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load. How about scalability? Do you have a robust enough server set-up that allows easy, seamless scaling as your business grows?

 

Amazon Web Services (AWS) hosting addresses these issues and is a popular choice for large businesses seeking a flexible, secure, scalable and low-cost solution for online retailing. With the right configuration and management, your website will be able to make light work of millions of catalog views and hundreds and thousands of orders, thereby impacting your bottom line positively. Here are some reasons in favor of running your Magento store in an AWS environment.

 

Easy server management

 

Amazon Web Services delivers a great deal of flexibility. Its API offers the ability to create new instances, external database, load balancer and storage on-demand. To get more server space, power, and memory, all you need to do is change the instance type.

 

Data privacy

 

Amazon Web Services offers the basic platform to implement an end-to-end encryption solution without any complexity. SSL connections are used by default, and you can easily and securely manage custom SSL certificates for your applications. Amazon Web Services is compliant with most of the important data protection and privacy certifications your business needs. AWS also conducts regular and comprehensive audits to demonstrate the security of its infrastructure.

 

Fast deployment

 

New servers are usually ready after 5 to 15 minutes. By opting for Amazon Web Services, you can get started immediately and test your new Magento instance instead of wasting time. Shorter deployment times are significant, especially when you want to update your Magneto store or run large-scale promotional campaigns.

 

Top notch performance

 

Amazon Web Services offers excellent speed, which is not a surprise given that Amazon invests millions of dollars on data center infrastructure. Even in the event that you face an issue, your site still stays online with reduced capacity. In the case of a standard hosting service, such a scenario would mean having to deal with downtime. Being able to stay online versus not being available to customers makes a big difference to revenue.

 

Competitive pricing

 

With Amazon Web Services, you only have to pay for the services you use for the time they’re running. There is no need to commit to a long-term contract, spend a minimum amount, or make an up-front investment. On the other hand, you have to lock into a 12-24 month plan with a traditional web host. AWS is especially useful when you want to quickly add or remove resources to applications in order to address customer demand and manage costs.