Politics will matter
When GoDaddy came out in support of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in late 2011, they made a critical misstep in judging the attitudes and beliefs of their core client base. The resulting uproar cost the web hosting company dearly in both customers and in that sought-after intangible, public good will. Charges of hypocrisy were also leveled against GoDaddy by some consumers, who noted that the look-alike domain names often suggested by the web hosting company might actually be violations of SOPA. The company eventually recanted, taking a more neutral position, but the damage had already been done to the company’s customer base and reputation. While the full extent of the financial fallout from GoDaddy’s misstep has yet to be determined, it is likely that this incident will prompt potential customers to more closely examine corporate political views and public statements before signing on the bottom line with a particular web hosting company.
Fending off the feds
While GoDaddy came down on the wrong side of its particular issue, other web hosting companies are struggling to ensure that they and their customers remain in compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). While no clear and binding legal precedent has been established regarding the responsibility of web hosting providers in preventing copyright infringement by their customers, 2012 should continue the current trend of providers erring on the side of caution and increased legal actions by various entities seeking to shut down websites and sharing applications that they deem to be in violation of the terms of the DMCA. Additional legislation is also being considered that could block U.S. access to international sites that are deemed to violate copyright restrictions. While many consumer watchdog groups regard this as censorship and believe it is the first step on a slippery slope that will ultimately restrict much of what U.S. consumers can access through the internet, it is likely that some form of this legislation will pass and will place at least minor restrictions on the ability of U.S. residents to access international materials of this type.
The war on spam
Increased federal scrutiny of Internet transactions including unsolicited emails and other large consumers of bandwidth is likely to have a continued impact on the web hosting industry. Many web hosting providers are likely to restrict or ban outright the mass mailing of unsolicited advertisements and other materials via email servers. While this is unlikely to eliminate spam from inboxes, it should help to free up bandwidth for these web hosting services and may improve the overall experience for consumers who maintain their online presence through these service providers.
Saving the world one web hosting solution at a time
Of course, environmental responsibility will continue to be a hot topic in the computing field. Green-friendly web hosting companies will attract new customers and are likely to examine new, cutting-edge ways to save energy and reduce their carbon footprint while offering the same high quality services to customers. This is good news for green-conscious consumers, who will likely see a number of new start-up companies with earth-friendly policies and introductory prices that may be extremely appealing, especially in today’s cash-strapped economy. Customers should be wary of jumping ship too quickly to try one of the newer environmentally responsible companies on the market, however, since many of these may fade as quickly as they arise. Choosing and sticking with a more secure and stable green-friendly option will pay more dividends in reliability and environmental change over the long run.
Up where we belong
As it has for the past few years, cloud computing will continue to evolve and provide new ways for web hosting companies to provide an array of services to their clients. Customers benefit from these cloud computing solutions by paying only for the bandwidth and services they currently use, while maintaining the option to expand their bandwidth and online presence as their corporate needs change and expand. Web hosting companies are the natural source for these integrated cloud computing resources and, as the science and technology behind cloud computing continues to develop in the coming year, customers will continue to demand added features from their web hosting companies including online applications, development tools and overall infrastructure support. A January 2012 survey by InformationWeek bears out this trend and notes that consumers want more than simple online storage from their web hosting provider. As a result of this increased demand, customers can expect greater access to software-as-a-service options from their web host in the upcoming year.
Looking it up
The increased prevalence of web hosting directories and review sites offers customers more objective and current data on their web hosting choices than ever before, allowing them to make a truly informed decision. Some directories provide rankings, while others allow consumers to write their own reviews and leave comments for guests to the site to read at their convenience. Facebook and other review sites will continue to be solid resources for online research as well, with many web hosting providers maintaining a presence on these social networking sites in order to establish a dialogue with current and potential customers. This increased focus on interaction is expected to provide more accurate and complete information to consumers in finding the right web hosting solution for their needs.
Open source software
Open source content management software is becoming more and more popular, but may present serious challenges to traditional web hosting companies unaccustomed to working with these new and adaptable systems. Customers should ensure that their web hosting provider is familiar with the requirements of these configurable software packages and can effectively maintain and manage upgrades and enhancements while minimizing downtime. While these software programs offer unrivaled flexibility and versatility, it may be worthwhile for some consumers to postpone migrating to open-source content management software until these programs become more commonplace in the computing mainstream.
IPv4 vs. IPv6
Some prophets of doom have predicted the end of the internet in 2012 due to the increasing scarcity of unique addresses remaining in the IPv4 system. It is expected that increased use of personal computing devices, expanding populations and the continuing spread of technological advances into new and untapped global markets will exhaust the current supply of addresses sometime in 2012. The doomsayers can relax, however, since the solution to this problem is already underway as more and more businesses and educational facilities switch over to the IPv6 system, which is estimated to produce 340 undecillion (think 1 with 36 zeros following) new IP addresses, more than enough to supply world demand for years to come. Some hiccups are to be expected as this changeover gets into full swing, but it is expected that most end users won’t notice much of a difference. Web hosting providers, however, may be issuing new IP addresses to their customers and this will necessitate some IT work for some end users.
Summing it up
In summary, consumers can look forward to additional federal intrusion into the inner workings of the Internet and potential restrictions on access to foreign websites. Political and environmental issues are likely to become even more important factors in choosing a web hosting provider, with the recent SOPA and DMCA regulations at the forefront of the political debate. The array of services available from web providers both within and outside the cloud will continue to expand, and open source content management programs will become more mainstream as more and more companies opt for these highly configurable systems. Finally, the switchover from IPv4 to IPv6 is expected to begin in earnest during 2012, but the forecasts of doom are likely to be exaggerated and most end users will not even notice the changeover.