An internet service provider (ISP) connects you and/or your stuff to the internet cloud which accesses the outside world. The purpose of this document is to educate you on the basics so you know what you are asking for.
The best ISP is, who you find that takes care of your needs. Your ISP should be up and running 100% of the time. Should we choose the biggest? We all know the biggest can have some advantages, but the smallest can make it up in versatility. From the largest to the smallest, some are good and some aren't. Find a good fit for your needs. If you count on the internet for your income, a little extra cost could save you money and reputation in the long run.
They should NOT be constantly over-subscribing their services.
Email is one of the most popular services of the internet. Most people have some form of email. It is the one thing that defines us while we visit the cyber world.
If you just have web access, your email address domain will be shared by the ISP. In other words, you are using their domain. If you have your own domain, your email address can be through your own domain.
Email is actually accomplished in two stages. One is sending, the other is receiving.
When you send an email to Aunt Mildred in New Jersey, the sending server (SMTP) first determines where Aunt Mildred's server is located and sends the message to the server in New Jersey. That server in turn, looks at the email address and determines which mail slot to put the message in.
Later, when Aunt Mildred checks her email, she logs into her email server (POP3). The server then delivers her email messages, including yours.
Now, let's say Aunt Mildred replies. Her email server (another SMTP) has to figure out where your server (another POP3) is and send the message to it. Now, your email server must determine which mailbox to place the message in.
Then, when you log in to the email server, you get Aunt Mildred's email message.
DSL, Cable and other Broadband Connections
The old 56k modem was exciting long ago, but now, it just won't cut it. Many newer and better technologies exist. Choices are limited by availability and your needs. If you live in a populated area, you'll have more choices. Phones are getting better as well, but this page is talking more about server resources.
The speed options include upload and download speeds. The upload speed is usually about 10-50% of the download speed. This works great for most people, because surfing involves short requests for larger downloads, then you read. If you are running servers, you'll want faster upload speeds because you are providing those larger documents.
Another aspect of speed is guaranteed bandwidth. If an ISP has 1000k of bandwidth and distributes to 50k lines, how many lines can they sell? Basic math says 20, but since everyone isn't flying full speed constantly, they could increase that number without much degradation. Some ISP's grossly over-subscribe and your bandwidth decreases dramatically (slows down), especially during prime time hours.
Frame Relay is commonly known as a T1, T3 or 56k Frame. These have been around forever and are pretty reliable and expensive. The upload/download characteristics of a frame relay line are usually balanced (same speed). This is usually a phone company option.
The DSL technologies usually ride through regular phone lines, although that is not an absolute. Most DSL's allow you to talk on the phone while you surf. DSL does require your physical distance from the phone company equipment to be within the supported area.
Cable modems require that you have cable in your area. Not all cable providers have internet capabilities. Most cable connections prohibit running servers.
Some areas are using satellite technologies. Rural areas are an ideal target for these. These tend to be a little expensive and sometimes don't work too well during storms. You might even have to sweep snow off your dish in the winter.
Costs vary quite a bit for each of the high speed options. Some options, like DSL you often pay an ISP and the phone company for your lines.
Domain Name Service (DNS)
Domain Name Service (DNS) really is the backbone of the internet. Never heard of it? Good, that means yours is working great! Most people don't get involved with DNS unless they have servers or a web page.
The internet is based on a system of IP addresses. These take the form ###.###.###.### where each ### is a decimal number between 0-255. Every computer has it's own IP address.
An IP system limits the network to 4 billion addresses. As humans, we tend to remember names better than numbers. So the internet uses names like www.amazon.com. The DNS server makes the translation to IP's for us.
DNS is actually an hierarchical distributed database. Now there is a buzz word you can amaze your friends with. Now, let's define it so you can really astound them!
In a nutshell, the term hierarchical in this case means that one controls a few which control the rest. One what?
Let's say you have a company network. Your Network Guy has probably got a map of some kind to define the network. On the internet, each small network is defined (mapped) by the local DNS server. Each machine on the local network is assigned an IP address.
Now, when someone outside calls a resource on this small network, this DNS server is called. This DNS server is known by a ROOT DNS server. Each ROOT DNS server controls a top-level domain such as .COM or .ORG etc.
A central database knows where every ROOT DNS server is and is also the registration clearing house. Control of this huge database was once the sole property of Network Solutions, but, in recent years, control has been distributed to hundreds of companies.
OK, why do we care about all this? Every domain must be referenced by at least two DNS servers. If one goes down, the other must take over. If they both go down, you are lost. Not only can nobody find you, but if you use this ISP for access, you can't find anybody else either.
So you say "I want to make my own web page." You need a home for your files. The web server stores the files and distributes them to everyone who comes along, that wants to see it.
An internet web page hosting service should not only run your HTML files, but should also be capable of CGI, Perl scripts, Php and MySQL. If you have some other specific languages, ask the ISP before you commit to an internet web hosting solution.