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Is it a better option to host a web portal in the US if my target audience is likely to be international or cross-continent? Likewise, if I were to target region specific audience, I should find hosting that is located in the region? BTW, how do I find out where the servers of the web hosting companies are located physically (given the question that I am raising here)?

Thanks in advance

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2 Answers

As your audience is unlikely to be uniformly spread around the world, it's hard to answer the first question. But to answer the second one, yes, it's better to have servers located in near the audience, as the physical distance will mean that your site is more likely to be more responsive. So if your worldwide audience turns out to centred on a continent then use servers there.

However a better solution is to use a content delivery network (CDN) which serves content from the nearest server to the audience.

To find out where the web hosting companies servers are - ask them! Often it says on their websites, as they are proud to say what good facilities they have.

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Does the CDN solution works for SaaS-based web portals or does it work only for more static data like images etc? –  LC Yoong Sep 27 '11 at 9:24
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No, it's designed for static data. For dynamic content you need to have geographic load sharing, which is quite a big topic! –  paulmorriss Sep 27 '11 at 9:28
    
So, I guess the hosting plan should be monitored (and changed) on a periodic basis and depending on the shift (if ever) of the user geographical distribution. –  LC Yoong Sep 27 '11 at 10:01
    
Yes, if you want the best performance. –  paulmorriss Sep 27 '11 at 10:08
    
Thanks for your insight Paul –  LC Yoong Sep 27 '11 at 13:13
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While paulmorriss' answer is mostly correct, CDNs are typically pretty expensive, and especially if you need a CDN that handles application hosting. So this may not be worthwhile for everyone. It may be better just to:

  • Pick a good, reliable webhost, location be damned. A well-designed site with proper use of caching can still be accessed from the opposite end of the globe without too much slow down. The average latency between Tokyo and NYC is something like 170ms. It's not great, but back in the Counter-Strike days, I could still easily whoop ass with latency in the mid 200s.
  • Concentrate on your primary audience (in terms of business value, not necessarily traffic). So if you have a global audience, but 66% of your revenue comes from the U.S. then just get a U.S. webhost.
  • Concentrate on 2-3 regions and have your site mirrored across 3 locations using location-aware load balancing or GeoDNS.
  • Certain cloud hosting networks also have their own CDN. For instance, Google App is already used by a lot of people as a free CDN for their static content. And Rackspace Cloud Files is already integrated with Akamai's CDN, which is why previous tests showed their performance to be much better than Amazon CloudFront.

If money is no issue, then certainly just go with a solid CDN with application hosting. Otherwise, you should weigh the costs and benefits of different options (and different providers). Though with many cloud-based CDNs, the cost of using a CDN is certainly dropping.

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