The preceding section gives you a way to assess an ISP's general capabilities. This section discusses criteria for evaluating an ISP more specifically with regard to MySQL and related services, such as Apache, Perl, and PHP.
What MySQL-related services does the ISP provide?
What version of MySQL is installed?
What is the ISP policy on updating MySQL?
Are there known problems with MySQL on the ISP's operating system?
Can you install your own software?
Is the ISP concerned about privacy and security of your database?
Do they help you get started?
What kind of MySQL-specific technical support is provided?
How many of their customers use MySQL?
Let's consider each of these questions in more detail.
What MySQL-related services does the ISP provide? The provider should have MySQL installed already, as well as any other related packages you need. The exception might be that you've already got an ISP with which you're otherwise satisfied but that doesn't have MySQL. In this case, you might want to simply ask whether they'd be willing to install it for you. You'll probably need to make some sort of business case for doing so, and you may have to agree that any such installation is done with the understanding that MySQL is not supported at the same level as email or Web hosting.
Visit the ISP's Web site. Do they provide information in any detail about their MySQL services? Does it sound like they have any technical understanding, or is the site strong on the marketing language? Is the site easy to navigate? Do they provide an area with answers to common questions customers have about using their services so that you can look up information for yourself?
What version of MySQL is installed? Is it a recent version, or is it some really old release that hasn't been touched since its installation? Check the change notes appendix in the MySQL Reference Manual to see what features have been added after the version the ISP runs. Do you require any of those additional features?
What is the ISP policy on updating MySQL? The ISP has to balance the need for stability and known behavior with existing MySQL applications against customers' desire to take advantage of new features in recent releases. This isn't necessarily an easy issue to resolve, so don't treat an ISP's concerns about it as trivial. But you will want to know that there is at least some possibility for upgrades, perhaps on a separate host devoted to test purposes. If you offer to serve as a guinea pig for newer releases, you may be able to reach a cooperative solution because you'll be providing your ISP with a valuable testing service.
Are there known problems with MySQL on the ISP's operating system? Check the installation chapter in the MySQL Reference Manual to see if there are limitations that may affect you. Often there are workarounds to circumvent these problems.
Can you install your own software? This allows you to enhance your own MySQL capabilities with third-party software or programs you've written yourself.
Is the ISP concerned about privacy and security of your database? In addition to the ISP's general measures to protect customer data, does the ISP take any steps to protect MySQL data in particular? Do you get your own MySQL server? This is better from the customer's point of view because you can control who gets to see the contents of your database. But it's more work on the ISP's part, and it puts more of a resource burden on the server host. The same considerations apply to the Web server. It's more secure to have your own than to share one, but more of a processing load. You may be faced with a tradeoff between shared database and Web servers that cost less and your own servers at a higher cost.
Do they help you get started? Don't expect the provider to teach you SQL or to show you how to write your queries, but you need to be able to connect to the MySQL server. Do they tell you what you need to know to make a connection? Do you get a sample script you can run to verify that you can access your database?
What kind of MySQL-specific technical support is provided? I've heard a number of stories from people having ISP-related difficulties getting MySQL to run properly, and I've noticed that it's fairly common for ISPs to point a finger at the customer as the source of problems. As in many disputes, there often is fault on both sides of the issue, but sometimes its clear that an ISP has little idea how to deal with MySQL and is just guessing how to solve the problem. For this reason, it's important to determine ahead of time that an ISP candidate has administrative or technical staff with a decent grasp of MySQL. Question them about their level of technical expertise. The ISP should be familiar with the material in Part III, "MySQL Administration," of this book. Ask if they have a MySQL support contract (that's an indication that they take MySQL seriously and stand ready to assist you with problems that may arise) or do they just say, "Go ask the mailing list?"
You'll need to assess the technical support provided against the control that the ISP gives you over your resources. If you want complete control over your MySQL server, and the ISP gives it to you, it's reasonable for the ISP to expect you to be capable of administering the server. In this case, you'll want the ISP to allow you to provide a script that will start your server at system boot time so that you need not do it manually each time the machine is restarted.
How many of their customers use MySQL? If MySQL is used actively by many customers, there's a better chance that the ISP will provide good support for it than if just one or two customers use it.
Beware the Absentee Administrator
Watch out for ISPs that simply install MySQL so that they can add it to their list of services to attract customers. You don't want the kind of administrator that tries to get away with knowing as little as possible in performing administrative duties.