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Hosting, Servers, and Planning For Growth
HarvestingRainwater.com Wash Have you ever been to parts of Arizona or southern California that have odd looking empty riverbeds?

For those of you not familiar with them, they are "washes" that help protect you and your property from those few times a year when the storms and floods come. Once you learn what they are for you might think they are overkill. They are sometimes quite massive and often completely dry. The idea is that the time and expense has been put into planning ahead for the next time a heavy rain rolls through.

This same idea applies to your website. Most of the time your online store gets a consistent amount of light traffic. As word spreads your site will get a lot more interest. The hosting you use can probably tolerate this normal traffic just fine. But then one day you decide to offer a special on your site. The goal is to drive more traffic to your store which will require the server to keep up. If you simply announce the special and it's good for a month then that increased traffic will be spread out over that time. The server can probably deal with this extra load. If you are seeing slowdowns at this point then you may be in for a surprise if things get any busier.

Where things get really surprising is if you do a very brief sale, such as announcing ahead of time that a sale is only good while supplies last and start at a specific time. Then you have set yourself up for something that could cause your site to go offline completely. This is similar to an online auction where lots of people are interested in that one item and the auction ends just minutes from now. Lots of people are watching this auction by reloading the web page over and over again. This "hits" the servers very hard.

Even the huge online sites are not immune to this type of traffic. See this excerpt about the recent attacks on Amazon.com:
Anonymous makes its attacks not through hacking, but merely by directing a giant traffic surge to the targeted website. That's called a DDoS attack, short for distributed denial-of-service -- and it's hard for most websites to defend against. The attack itself isn't sophisticated. It's the equivalent of simply hitting the "refresh" button on a website thousands of times, which attackers use automated programs to do.
This excerpt refers to something called a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) which is often unintended in the case of sudden increased exposure or running an extreme sale.

Amazon set themselves up for another outage with their 99¢ Lady Gaga album deal when it overwhelmed their servers. The entire store was completely unreachable for an extended period of time.

While Amazon.com has their own armies of servers and datacenters to mostly withstand this type of traffic, most companies cannot. Here are some more examples of this effect: The adage "you get what you pay for" definitely applies to website hosting. Sure, you can easily find hosting companies competing for the bottom-of-the-barrel $5-10 per month. This hosting is fine for the most basic of websites. But if you are serious about your online business and selling products then the cost of hosting should not be your primary concern. However, you can make smart choices by spending a little more to put your website onto a high quality hosting company.

If you are using X-Cart, then the first place to start is with an X-Cart-recommended hosting company. The one we recommend is Hands-on Web Hosting. We have been using Hands-on for a long time and have nothing but high praise for their quality of servers and service. You can even start with a typical high-quality shared server then easily upgrade to something bigger, yet still affordable, when you get more popular.