How to Select a Reliable Outsourcer

Lately, I've heard a lot about outsourcing Web services. And here's theway it often works: One day you show up at work and a manager or bean counter has decided that you should relocate one or more of your Web servers to a hosting company. I've been involved in several situations like this, and I can tell you that not all outsourcers are created equal.

Outsourcing might be a good thing for you—the Web server administrator—if IIS is only one of several applications someone wants you to run on a single server. Alternatively, outsourcing could be a bad thing if supporting that server is your only job requirement.

Before you update your online resume, however, you should consider a few things. An ISP might offer hosting as a canned IIS service, while a full-fledged application service provider (ASP) guarantees that your applications run. Some companies offer Web hosting as an add-on service; for others its their bread and butter.

If you're lucky enough to be pulled into the evaluation process, you should ask some serious questions. Based on the answers you get, you might find value in outsourcing, or you might realize that outsourcing isn't for you.

Ask potential outsourcers what types of staff they keep on board. Be sure to talk in terms of full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. How many FTEs are Web masters and certified in IIS? How many are dedicated to the hosting environment's security? Is the data center staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? How does your outsourcer notify you when a problem arises?

How will the outsourcer securely move content to your Web site? Does the ISP or ASP have a disaster-recovery plan? Ask to see the plan's details; make sure it entails more than just grabbing the backup tapes from the storage cabinet.

You'll probably want to make an on-site visit. Outsourcers are used to these requests; they know how important customer confidence is. Be sure to note things such as dedicated, redundant power sources and secure computer rooms with restricted access. Does the outsourcer have a redundant location in case a disaster strikes the main hosting location?

Some outsourcers have geographically dispersed locations that let clients connect to the Internet from the closest location; this proximity can make your Web site even faster. Other companies have made it a business to host bandwidth-hungry multimedia content while you maintain the rest of the site.

Outsourcing relationships can be a little scary at first. But even outsourcing just portions of your Web site can be a positive thing, seriously improving your site's overall speed and letting you get a little more sleep at night.

Until next time,

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