Getting Ready to Shop for an ISP

Your first step in finding a service provider is to assess your needs. Before you can choose a provider that meets your requirements, you must know what your requirements are for services and bandwidth. Perhaps that is stating the obvious, but unfortunately it's not unusual for people to look for an ISP with nothing more than the vague idea that they want to "get connected." That's a difficult goal to accomplish satisfactorily; it leaves many questions unanswered because they aren't even asked. Connected for what purpose? To pursue which activities? What cost is considered reasonable?

When you know what you want, you can approach ISPs with a common set of questions and you'll be much better equipped to compare the answers you receive. If you don't figure out what you want in advance, you'll be learning what questions to ask with each successive ISP, you'll get incomplete information, and it will be more difficult to perform a meaningful comparison.

As one part of your evaluation, you might consider making a few preliminary calls to see if you can find an ISP or two that offers an assessment service to help you determine what you need. If the service actually is geared toward helping you specify your requirements (as opposed to being simply another sales technique for pushing services you don't want or need), you may have found a provider with at least one strength?customer service.

Keep in mind as you shop that many organizations that provide services such as MySQL access and Web site hosting do not provide basic connectivity services. You may actually be best served by using two providers?one that allows you to access the Internet yourself and another that hosts your database and Web servers. For example, you might choose a local ISP that provides cable modem, DSL, or dialup connectivity allowing you to connect to the Internet, and a national ISP that focuses exclusively on Web hosting. The following sections that discuss bandwidth and services describe the types of concerns that are most appropriately addressed by each type of ISP.


Providers offer various options, from dedicated lines (faster) to dialup modem connections (slower). In general, the tradeoff is between cost and speed; Fast access costs more. If you're going to shuttle a lot of data through the connection between your computer and your ISP, dialup access likely will be too slow. In certain cases, however, you may be able to get by with a slower connection between the ISP and yourself. Suppose that most of the network activity sustained on your MySQL host is due to other people accessing your database. For example, these might be customers accessing information you provide through a Web server running on the MySQL host. In that case, the majority of your database-related traffic will be directed upstream from the ISP to those people rather than downstream toward you.


The most obvious requirement for any candidate ISP is that it provides MySQL, but the following services might be necessary or desirable as well:

  • An email address. This is essential for communicating with the ISP's technical support staff, and you can use it to join one or more of the MySQL mailing lists. Many ISPs offer multiple email addresses per account, which may be useful if you have employees or are working in collaboration with other people.

  • Access to a shell account. This gives you the ability to log in on your server host and run programs from the command prompt. These programs include standard UNIX utilities as well as MySQL command-line clients, such as mysql, mysqldump, and mysqlimport. You may also be able to install your own software. Access to a shell account typically is provided via SSH (secure shell) or Telnet. SSH is preferable to Telnet because it is more secure.

  • Additional MySQL-related services. These might include Web site hosting and access to programming languages, such as Perl and PHP, so that you can write your own Web scripts.

  • scp or FTP. This is useful for transferring files between your computer and the ISP's machine. (scp uses SSH, so it is preferable as a more-secure alternative to FTP.) For example, you'll likely have some data files that you want to load into your database to populate it initially, or you may generate output from the database that you want to manipulate on your own machine. You may also want to give other people the ability to download files via FTP.

  • Domain name registration and virtual hosting. These services give you email and Web site addresses under your own domain name rather than under the domain of your ISP. This is a desirable service if you want to establish a Web presence under a name that can be readily identified with your organization or business. An email address like is more distinctive than, just as a URL of is more distinctive than Having your own domain also provides more continuity should it be necessary to change ISPs. If your name is tied to your ISP's name, switching from one ISP to another requires you to re-establish your identity as and This works against the stability that people want when they need to reach you or your Web site.