Service Level Agreements: Things You Should Know

Running a website isn’t always the easiest thing to do, and there are a lot of things to think about. One thing that some people overlook is the idea of uptime and downtime. People spend a lot of time thinking about their websites and whether they look nice, and how many visitors they but they rarely think about how often their site is accessible to visitors. The truth is that if you don’t have a really good web host, your site may be down a lot more than you realize, and this could be affecting the experience that users have with your site, as well as your site’s reputation among other things.

If you pay for web hosting, chances are that you have an Service Level Agreement or SLA with your web host. An SLA dictates terms between you and your web host, and specifies how much uptime they are expected to provide you with, and if they don’t what will happen. For example, let’s say that your SLA specifies 99.9% uptime. That means that your server has to be working properly 99.9% of the time, otherwise you could make a claim with your web host against the SLA and they’d have to do whatever is specified in the SLA. For example, they may have to issue you a refund for a month of service, or issue you a credit, or do something else. And it’s also possible that they may not have to do anything. This is all determined by what’s actually in the SLA. If you want to make a claim against your SLA, you’ll need some proof to back it up.

One of the best ways to get proof of how often your website is up and how often it’s down is to work with a company that offers some type of SLA management service. Dotcom-Monitor (http://www.dotcom-monitor.com/sla-management.aspx) offers a service like this and you can visit their website and find out more. So does Manage Engine (http://www.manageengine.com/products/support-center/sla-management.html) and you can find out more here. Regardless of who you choose, or how you monitor the uptime, having a third party report is usually better than just randomly claiming that your website was down because the report is coming from an unbiased third party. So if you’re taking the time to watch your website, and holding your web host accountable according to your SLA, you’re taking a good step in the right direction of being a proactive webmaster.

Improving Website Speed: Basic Steps

With average broadband speeds in the United States higher than 20 Mbps these days, Internet users tend to get very disappointed when they run into websites that load slowly. When it comes to delivering a solid user experience for website visitors, page loading times are crucial; for this reason, it is in the best interest of webmasters and site administrators to keep things speedy.

The first step is to determine speed and load time using an online tool, which many website hosting providers provide for their clients. In addition to page loading times, these useful tools will often report on the factors that may be causing websites to display slowly. Here are the most common factors that site administrators can immediately act upon:

1 – Hosting Server Performance

Servers are the hardware foundations of the Internet. It is crucial for webmasters and administrators to discuss bandwidth with their hosting providers when discussing the packages they offer. Inexpensive, shared hosting solutions may be fine for a blogger who only expects dozens of visitors per day due to the lower RAM and CPU demands. Busy e-commerce stores or sites that feature lots of streaming content such as high quality audio may require faster hosting packages or even a dedicated server. One thing that you may want to do to determine the performance level of your current web host is run a speed test and see what you come up with. Pingom – pingdom.com, Web Page Test  - webpagetest.org, and Dotcom Monitor – dotcom-monitor.com/WebTools/website-speed-test.aspx, all have free speed tests that you can run to see a breakdown of the loading time of your page elements.

2 – Keeping Clutter to a Minimum

Website administrators who use content management systems such as WordPress should only use professionally designed themes and only a few essential plugins to publish their contents. Too many fancy, dynamic plugins will result in slower page loading times and even errors when they are not updated. Other plugins such as WP-Cache, for example, can actually improve speed by delivering static pages when possible.

3 – Choosing the Right Web Elements

When it comes to displaying images, GIF files with large color palettes should not be used for photographs; lower-quality JPG images can be effectively used and will always load faster. PNG files tend to be handled a bit faster by most Web browsers.

Other Web elements that help optimize page load times include XHTML instead of coded tables, HTTP compression on the server side, compressed JavaScript, CSS sprites, HTML5 instead of Flash, content delivery networks (CDN), etc.

Web Application Development Best Practices

As with any sort of development, web applications have a few standards that should always be followed. These best practices ensure quality for the end user, as well as making any future development that might occur that much easier. Here are a few rules of thumb to abide by when developing a web application.

1. Comment everything.
It might seem like a simple line of code doesn’t need it. After all, anyone could look at that code and know what it does – right? Not necessarily. Sometimes the code that seems obvious to one person might be completely alien to another. If your web application might be worked on by someone else in the future, make sure you comment each line of code with a decent explanation of what it does. It will save headache for all involved. Part of testing should also include some monitoring in place, even if it’s at an infrequent interval, as long as it’s enough to see if your application is stable over a period of time. Listed below are a few companies that offer web app monitoring services:

Pingdom: http://pingdom.com
Dotcom-Monitor: http://dotcom-monitor.com/web-application-monitoring-tools.aspx
Manage Engine: http://www.manageengine.com/products/applications_manager/

2. Test, test, test.
It works in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Have you tested Internet Explorer? Make sure that when designing a web application, you test it thoroughly across a variety of browsers and operating systems to ensure functionality for a wide range of users. If there is a particular OS/Browser combination it does not work on, include that in the details of the app. Let the users know so they aren’t completely baffled when the application doesn’t load.

3. Ensure you use the most efficient code.
If you’re designing a game-based web application, ensure the code you use is efficient. If it demands too much of the CPU processes, it might be unusable on older systems. Worse, it could slow down the entire browser, leading to a locked computer. All that does is result in negative publicity for the application; remember, the end user should have no problems whatsoever in using it.

4. Is it secure?
If your web application becomes infected with a virus, it will forever carry that connotation. Ensure the application is secure if you want to see continued use of it. Otherwise, users will always avoid it for fear of infecting their own machines.

Following a few basic principles will help you to design a web application that catches the eye and proves useful, no matter what its purpose is. Just make sure it’s high quality.