By Patrick Foster, Ecommerce Consultant at Ecommerce Tips
It isn’t inaccurate to say that an ecommerce merchant can rely on self-hosting, because they technically can—the problem is that their store can’t excel on self-hosting (unless, of course, they happen to own a massive server farm, which is somewhat unlikely).
Even if you start off with a small store and grow it gradually, success will come with increased performance and reliability demands that your hosting will simply not be equipped to handle. This is why cloud computing is the way to go. As demand grows, your available resources can scale to meet it, and whenever interest dips, they can ebb to cut your costs.
But when you get to the enterprise level, how can you choose the most suitable cloud host? With much stricter performance demands and much greater risks inherent to everyday operation, you can’t afford to lay the foundation of your business on shaky ground.
Here’s what you should be aiming to do when you look at potential cloud hosts for an enterprise-level ecommerce operation:
Find a support team you can work with
Something that often gets overlooked when considering web hosts is the critical importance of the support team. No matter the strength and stability of a cloud host, there will always be the potential for things to go wrong—everything from natural disasters to update issues (though even the former can be mitigated)—and that’s without even factoring in the value of being able to engage in general consultation.
When they do think about support, merchants looking for cloud hosting will often take hosting providers at their word: viewing it as a matter of comparing options on paper before choosing whichever has the best stats. The problem with this is that there’s more to a support system than hours of availability.
Think about it this way: a support team can be available 24/7 across a range of channels yet prove distinctly unhelpful, which another support team can work standard hours through a ticketing system and get everything done in a timely fashion. Everything else being equal, you should certainly look for extended hours and communication options, but be sure to actually talk to your prospective host before you commit. A simple conversation with their support representative should give you a much better idea of how reliable they might prove.
Look for stability and a forward-thinking model
Once you get established on a cloud hosting platform, you’ll want it to be a settled matter (if possible)—that platform will be the home of your store for the foreseeable future. Accordingly, you’ll want it to remain as viable as it is now for as long as you use it. You won’t want to use it for several years only to see a precipitous drop in its quality.
When looking at possible hosts, think about how long they’ve been around, what their finances seem to be like, and what their plans for the future might be. Do they intend to continue focussing on enterprise-level ecommerce, or do they want to branch out to other things? Branching out isn’t inherently bad, but it might suggest a susceptibility to being distracted.
Choose a CMS that suits your preferences
There are plenty of cloud hosts that will support any CMS you care to use, but if you really want your host to possess optimal expertise in your system, you’ll need to find a cloud host that provides a CMS and move to it (or build a fresh store for it). One of the reasons that Shopify Plus has such a strong reputation for enterprise ecommerce is that it offers an exceptional package: a strong CMS, robust hosting, and an industry-leading support system.
Magento Enterprise Edition similarly offers a well-supported CMS with a lot of room for extension, though it is significantly more complex. Not all enterprise-level merchants will want to deal with that kind of setup process, but then perhaps it’s perfect in your case (you may aspire to massively customize your store). If you can decide which CMS is the best fit for you, it will be much easier to choose a suitable cloud host.
Know how platform transitions are handled
I already noted that you’ll want your cloud hosting platform to be a settled matter, but what happens if something goes wrong? The performance falls to an unacceptable level, or the company starts moving in a direction you’re not happy with, or you encounter a major problem with the selected CMS and wish to move elsewhere.
In anticipation of such an event, you should know how transition works for that platform: how you can move to it in the beginning, and how you can move from it if necessary. Some hosts make it easier than others to migrate—they may present charges that seem excessive, or make it such an inconvenience to move away from them that you feel incited to stick around despite no longer being happy with what they offer.
Learning this right away (consulting them directly if you can’t find a clear answer elsewhere) can save you a lot of time, effort, money and frustration in the long run. It’s really just a box to be a ticked in the event that things go horribly wrong—the type of precaution that might feel like overkill for a tiny business but is absolutely mandatory for something enterprise-level.
Ecommerce Tips is an industry-leading ecommerce resource dedicated to helping you make your ecommerce dream an ecommerce reality. Find the all latest tips, hacks, and advice on Twitter @myecommercetips.