Why do database driven websites cost more?

DatabaseBasics down; A website can be 'static' or 'dynamic'. In a nutshell, a 'static' site looks the same, and the content never changes, until it is updated by the owner, while a 'dynamic' site can collect and process information, and update content automatically as a visitor interacts with it. Clever stuff!

Databases are usually required for dynamic websites because they support advanced features like medium-large shopping carts, discussion forums, membership, registration or booking systems, or anything else that requires a lot of information to be stored safely and in one place. Secure databases are also excellent for storing sensitive data.

Needless to say, database driven websites can provide hefty storage solutions and some pretty fancy functions, so it goes without saying that they use fancier programming than static sites. It should therefore come as no surprise that they also cost more money to setup, run and maintain.

In this article I will talk about the costs associated with;

Web host database provisions

Depending on the type of web hosting, a database allowance may or may not be included as part of your hosting package. A lower-end web package might not provide a database allowance at all, or the web host might only provide a Ticksingle database as part of a basic hosting plan. Paying more for a higher-end web account will typically allow for multiple databases, provided they do not extend beyond a certain capacity or quota.

At the end of the day, databases cost money. A web host will need to employ dedicated server administrators to manage and maintain their databases and related resources, and they'll need to purchase extra hardware to house the database software. Of course, if your website uses these services you should expect to pay for the privilege.

Using a lower-capacity database is fine in the early days of a small-medium business website's life, but if all goes well, and your website increases in size and popularity, the day will eventually come when you need to upgrade your hosting account to accommodate a higher database capacity. See "Upgrades (higher database capacity and/or dedicated hosting)".

Custom designed platforms vs off-the-shelf platforms

Many database-powered platforms can be sourced and bought 'off-the-shelf', and these will use a generic table structure that may suit a business perfectly well without further manipulation. Such platforms might include an interactive help forum or an online store and product catalogue.

There are times, however, where a ready-made solution is simply not feasible, and your business will require a custom database design that is built specifically to your needs and requirements. This is where the cost of database design can rise quite dramatically as the fee will be greatly influenced by business assessments, and data gathering processes that ensure efficient data structure, functionality, development and finalisation of the end product.

If you're lucky, your web developer might be able to manipulate an existing database product, but again, costs will vary depending on the complexity of the task.

Database connectivity and custom functions

ConnectivityOnce the database has been designed and built, additional codes must be prepared that will allow a website to communicate with the database - to interact and perform calculations or actions based on given input-criteria, and to manipulate or retrieve dependant data in the back-end. These are vital processes that make a website 'dynamic' and include things such as an internal search engine that recommends related products, or a booking system that calculates room fees based on a multiple-person tiered pricing structure.

Costs largely depend on the complexity of these interactions and the skill and experience of the developer who is working on the project.

Non-technical administration and data manipulation

In addition to visitor interaction, there is also a back-end administration aspect to consider.

A ready-made platform will probably have a pre-configured admin area where, depending on the software, you can do things like monitor sales, generate reports and send bulk emails to customers. The ready-made features will certainly save development time and costs, but be aware that there will either be a further expense on your part to either learn how to use the admin area yourself (which can save money in the long term) or pay your developer to perform regular administrative tasks on your behalf.

A custom platform will almost certainly need to have an administration area designed along with the database and front-end website codes, and that can be more complicated than designing the actual database itself. Indeed, a custom administration area will require its own set of custom written interactions and database communications in order to make reporting and data manipulation possible by a non-technical user - assuming you'd rather generate a report by conveniently clicking a button instead of manually running coded queries directly in the database software. Of course, you could choose to bypass this step if you're happy to pay your web developer to generate reports directly from the database, but it depends on the system required.

Initial database population

DataRegardless of whether the database platform is pre-built or a custom design, you could be faced with the considerable task of initial database population. This will be the case, for example, if you are setting up an online shopping cart - product details, technical specifications, photos, price-breaks and delivery charges, all have to be accounted for during setup.

If your web developer is taking on the data-input role, you can help the process along by providing all the information upfront, in a digital format they request. Having all the information present and correct at the start is easier in any case, but with a custom build, it may be possible to import the majority of data in a bulk upload, rather than program products individually. But, as this is not always the case, please be prepared to set aside extra money and/or man-hours to fill your database with the required information.

Backups (extra storage space and online vs offline storage)

Some people think backups are unnecessary - that is, until they lose something important to them. Regular database backups are your safety net when something goes wrong. And things do go wrong, even with the best intentions (a server goes down, a table crashes, data becomes corrupt, accidental bulk deletions or incorrect data-entry). It can take several fraught days, or even weeks, to manually reconstruct and repopulate a database - and just think of the time and money-making opportunities you could have lost during that time. Restoring from a backup can take between a few minutes and a few hours, and saves much heartache and upset in the long run.

But backups come with a cost and you typically won't rely on just one. Depending on the update frequency, and complexity of your databases, your web developer will schedule a number of backups to run automatically, every day, week and month, that can be downloaded onto hard drive or burnt to DVD for safekeeping.

With regular backups you will pay for online backup storage, and a fee for offline media storage. There will also be a charge for man-hours taken to perform these tasks.

Upgrades (higher database capacity and/or dedicated hosting)

UpgradesAs time goes on, your database will inevitably grow in size. The rate at which it grows will depend on a combination of how popular your website is and how much information is fed into it.

Once your database reaches maximum capacity you will need to buy more space to allow growth and functionality to continue, which could simply mean an account upgrade with your web host at a few extra pounds per month.

Sometimes however, database capacity itself might not be the reason for an upgrade. Often, the processes involved with running back-end administration can be the limiting factor, for example, there may be a cap on memory usage limits on your current web hosting plan that are exceeded during database backup procedures. This would mean that although the day-to-day usage of your database and website could quite possibly be unaffected, your background safety net would suddenly develop a gaping hole. If you chose not to upgrade at this point, and something were to go badly wrong, you'd risk losing all of your data simple because there wouldn't be a backup to restore from. A scary thought indeed.

In any event, increased quotas, capacities, memory limits and usage allowances could all point to an exciting boost for your business, and also some necessary 'next steps' for your website's continuation on the web. Website upgrades past a certain point typically mean a move to dedicated hosting on private servers, which will raise the cost of your website more significantly in the long term.

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