Internet, IT and hosting can be a minefield of jargon. There are lots of new suppliers and services to think about, so over the next few paragraphs I will attempt to explain what the important considerations are. If you are thinking of setting up an office in the UK then listen carefully, some of the areas discussed below are particularly important for you.

The first thing to decide is whether you want to manage your services in-house or have them managed for you. The key things to consider here are in-house expertise, security and asset protection, back-ups and the level of connectivity you require for your organisation. In addition to this, you have to think about the IT resource you have available, the capital and operational expense, and, above all, how you will get data off-site as part of your disaster recovery policy.

If you don’t want to manage these issues or are not confident in your resources, then outsourcing your IT and website/application hosting is probably the best way forward. I know I have made this a “black and white” issue, but in practice organizations generally either want in-house control or want the peace of mind that it is all being taken care of by a professional Internet, IT and hosting company.

Two things I haven’t mentioned here are environmental issues and “cloud” computing. A good Internet and hosting company will make the best use of equipment and run it efficiently by centralising IT resources across multiple clients and use virtualisation technology to make sure it reduces the carbon footprint of the managed information. Think of this as the equivalent of one bus versus many cars on the road – by sharing and optimizing resource not only is the cost reduced, but so is the amount of power needed to run it. Highly efficient servers in “the cloud” give better and more efficient performance.

So let’s say you have now decided that it’s time to outsource your internet, IT and hosting services – what issues do you now have to consider? The first is whether you are happy to have your data in a data centre with other companies. Think of where your bank details are kept – they are stored together with other people’s data, so as long as you trust the host and their Service Level Agreement is watertight you should be fine. You will generally find this a much more efficient method of working.

The next question is, do you share services in a secure data centre with other companies or do you want dedicated services just for you? Again, this depends on your business requirements and levels of security. A dedicated server with encrypted data gives you greater flexibility and allows bespoke solution architecture, together with the benefits of higher service level agreements, greater control of data and high-speed connectivity from multiple carriers.

An outsourced Storage Area Network (SAN) based solution using virtualisation software is pretty much the best IT and Hosting platform. It is efficient, shares data across multiple servers – and so is resilient (for example Iconnyx offer a 100% uptime service level guarantee on this type of system) and is secure. It gives you the cost and speed advantages that cloud computing can offer and ensures you will not have problems in the event of a disaster.

Specialist managed hosting and managed IT businesses will lower the cost of building, configuring and maintaining your IT infrastructure. Think of the hassle of procuring equipment and keeping it updated, never mind the long lead-times you have to sometimes endure. If you have an IT department, it will be free from having to deal with breaks, fixes and patches. As it won’t have to constantly monitor the system, it can become more agile, flexible and faster at delivering results that are specific to your business, therefore focusing its skills and experience on developing the organisation, rather than simply maintaining it.

You have to think of what you want as an organization – a system like an e-commerce website needs to be up and running at high performance 100% of the time. A monthly payroll could be required every now and again and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if it wasn’t accessible for a few minutes. Selecting the correct tool for the job is important – lots of organisations just throw speed, capacity and money at the issue but that approach is not efficient in terms of financial and other resources, and for environmental reasons. If you have revenue-generating applications, databases or Web sites, think of how many users there are for each, and how they will use them.

With automation, Web sites are moving from being a company brochure to being a business-generation tool in their own right. You should also consider the throughput of databases and whether you should be using Windows or Linux-based applications.

So what should you be looking for in a provider? First, where is it located as a company, and where is its data centre facility? It should ideally have multiple data centres for backup and disaster recovery, and it should have multiple Internet providers with diverse fibre optic connections. In terms of service levels, you should ensure that your business-critical applications have 100% uptime. Would 99% or 99%+ be good enough? Remember there are 365 days in the year so at 99% you can expect to not have service for up to three and a half days. Check that support is available 24 x 7, that the company has on-site engineering resource and that it offers you telephone support with a documented escalation procedure.

It should offer hardware, – including dedicated servers and SAN equipment – from reputable manufacturers, backed up by accreditations. Ask about the resilience of the hardware architecture. Does its quote match your expectation – especially regarding value for money for the level of service being provided. Finally, if you are satisfied you have selected the right supplier, level of service and resilience, ask if it has reputable reference customers – then speak to the customers and understand their experience.

The key is: do you trust the company and do its customers get a good service?