I am in a similar situation and the very first thing that you have to do if considering a hosting service is get the blessing from your management and/or IT department for having your company's data "in the cloud" and not stored on-site (their own hardware). This has additional implications if dealing internationally, as I am. The laws governing access by government agencies vary between here in Canada and the USA where a number of well-known FM hosting providers are located. We went internal.
Just a heads-up
Last year my school used a locally-hosted database, but the users this year became enough that the server and our network couldn't handle it. I went to a hosting service and love it. They system I use is fast, reliable, and easy to get my database up and down from their network. I have a site license of,FM which includes server, but right now we won't use it.
Thx for the feedback. I don't have any political or regulatory issues that muddy up the decision one way or another. I'm more interested in the topic from a performance point of view.
Hosting your own server at your location clearly gives you fast LAN speeds which are nice. No matter how fast the WAN performance, it will not be able to compete with LAN speeds. But 12 sure does a lot better at WAN performance and I am very happy about it. The biggest advantage of using a hosting service is that they usually are hosted at a server farm with really fast internet. This means it can serve a lot more WAN users than you probably can from your local site since most local internet connections have limited upload speeds (which are very important to a database).
If I had more than say 1/3 of my users accessing FileMaker via the WAN, then looking at a hosting service may be a good idea. Be aware that some inexpensive hosting are inexpensive due to limited bandwidth often by overloading the server with other services or databases. So, getting great WAN performance probably will not mean going with the cheapest hosting service. To a degree, you do get what you pay for and may want to shy away from the real cheap ones. I don't have a recommendation on which ones are best, but Triple 8 and World Cloud were at the Devcon this year. Productive Computing recently started hosting services too.
Another solution is to host your own server at a server farm instead of on someone elses equipment and those tends to be better accepted by enterprise guys who really want total control of the equipment. And while you can spend a fortune on this, there are some pretty inexpensive solutions like www.macminicolo.net.
Another thing to consider is where the users will access the database from. If all of the users will only ever access the files from the LAN, then outsourcing the hosting may not be the best option. The majority of the clients who use our hosting service have multiple offices and/or require access to their databases after hours or while on the road. Other clients use our service because they don't have the skills or expertise to maintain their own server. We also take care of backups etc. so they don't have to worry about it.
If you do decide to use a hosting service, do some checking. Our servers are located in a data centre with a fibre connection and really high upload speed, so the data gets to the user quickly. We also keep our servers trimmed back to a bare minimum. They do nothing but host FM databases. There are no websites hosted on them and certainly no e-mail server. We don't even offer IWP access due to the overheads it adds. We also limit our servers to a maximum of 10 solutions so they don't get bogged down. In our testing, even with our basic ADSL2 connection, the databases run just as fast hosted as they do on our own LAN.
There's no definitive answer to your question. You just need to weigh up the pros and cons and decide which option best suits your needs.
Do give a test to the solutions you want to take on WAN - specially if you use content heavy solutions with containers.
From my experience, certain functionallities performing fast on LAN became frustratingly slow when hosted on WAN, even with a quality hosting firms.
FMP12 sounds like a great improvement in that direction, but you may still get unacceptable performance drop while on WAN that your users never saw on LAN.
What's more, most of the hosting firms offer services on a month by month basis making a trial very affordable.
I currenlty host in house as this is where most of the work happens.
The files that will be placed into container fields are things like Excel files, PDFs, and highly-compressed JPEGs, so I'm hopeful that hosting offsite won't be a problem bandwidth-wise.
Thanks, everyone. I think I will give a hosting service a chance at this. Doesn't seem like there is a downside to at least giving it a go. My organization appreciates conservative, incremental progress, so I'll start there, trying not to set expectations too high. Marc, I appreciate your inside-look at how hosting services work... I can understand how IWP support might present a performance problem, so I will keep that in mind choosing a provider.