Types of Website Hosting

You’ve found a domain name.  You’ve decided what your website is going to be about, whether it’s a niche site or a brochure for an existing business.  Whatever the case is, you’re going to need a place to save your website.  Much like you would save a photo on your computer, a website consists of files (and other things) that are saved on a computer somewhere called a web host.  If you’re not familiar with how the internet actually works, then Web Hosting can be more than a little daunting.  So let’s jump in and hopefully clear things up a bit so you can make the best decision for your online presence.

Shared Hosting

By and far, the most popular form of website hosting is shared hosting.  What is shared hosting?  Shared hosting is when you’re sharing a website server (the computer where your website exists) with hundreds if not thousands of other websites.  So what exactly does this mean to you?  I think the easiest way to help you understand what each of the types of hosting has to offer is to break each section down into pros and cons, and then I’ll add any additional notes after the table.

Pros Cons
  • Inexpensive
  • Small learning curve
  • Typically includes E-mail, domain name, unlimited space, unlimited domains
  • Potentially slow performance

Let’s get into a little of the details here.  I highly recommend using shared hosting when stating out for the reasons listed above in the pros.  Shared hosting can be had for as little as five dollars a month – 5 DOLLARS A MONTH!  For the price of less than a happy meal, you can have your very own website – this includes everything from paying for your domain name (your dot com) for a whole year, to having an email address for that domain, to the website itself.  For that little monthly amount, you will literally have everything you need to get a website up and ready for people to view.  The small learning curve comes from the tools that shared hosting providers invest in so that you can quickly and easily get a website and email up and running.  If you’ve never done a website before, stick around and in some future posts and videos, I’ll show you how easy it is to get your online presence rolling.  The other huge advantage to using shared hosting is that you get EVERYTHING you need – email, domain name is usually included in the price, unlimited space for your files, easy to use tools, etc.  One thing that many people don’t even know is that with ONE shared hosting account, you can add as many websites as you want…what?!  That’s right – other than having to buy additional domain names for roughly ten bucks a year, you can host ten or one hundred websites on your one $5/month hosting plan!  Again, I’ll cover that in future posts, but I just wanted to point that out so you know the power of inexpensive hosting.

Now, I’ve told you all the wonderful things about shared hosting – there has to be a downside, right?  Well, the answer is yes.  Think about check out lines in your local super market.  If there’s 100 people and only 10 cashiers, you’re going to have to wait before you check out.  The same thing happens with a web server.  If there’s 1,000 websites on the same server and there’s 10,000 people trying to view those sites at the same time, your webpages are probably going to slow down.  At busy times during the day, your pages might take 5 seconds to 15 seconds to load.  If the server isn’t being bogged down, your site could load in under a second.  So the tradeoff is that you’re getting a whole lot of features and giving up some speed.

Is it right for you?  In my personal opinion, I think shared hosting is the only way to start out – it will be the least frustrating of all the options, and while you might experience some slow page loads at times, overall there’s not a better low cost option around.

Virtual Private Server – VPS Hosting

VPS Hosting is immensely popular because it’s still fairly low cost but gives you a performance boost over shared hosting and still offers many of the tools that makes shared hosting so enticing.  So what is it?  VPS hosting is still a form of shared hosting except you have your own dedicated resources on the server.  Let’s say the server has 16 Gigabytes of RAM and a Quad Core processor (if you’re not familiar with these terms, just bear with me here) – essentially what happens in a VPS environment is each user pays for their own dedicated resources – it might be that each user gets 1 Gigabyte of RAM and 25% of a processor core to themselves.  In other words, each user is getting 1/16th of the use of the server.  Your usage will never affect others on your server because you’re capped at whatever you paid for.  Think if your car could only go the speed limit posted on the road – it wouldn’t matter how hard you pressed that gas pedal, you’d be stuck doing 55 even if there was nothing but open road in front of you.  The same is true for your VPS hosting – no matter what other sites exist on the same server, they’ll never encroach on your processing power or memory you pay for.  This is a definite upgrade over shared hosting in that you’re not sharing ALL the resources on the server with everyone else, rather you’re just sharing pieces of the server.

Pros Cons
  • Inexpensive
  • Increased Performance
  • User friendly tools still available (may be an extra charge)
  • You’re still sharing resources with other users on a server
  • Typically have limited space
  • Might require a bit more technical expertise

Looking at the table above, the only thing to really point out is that the tools on VPS might actually run you an additional monthly fee.  The price is usually pretty small, but where it’d be included with shared hosting, you might actually have to spring for it yourself on VPS – and if you’re not a server admin, it’s probably worth adding on!

The downsides are you’re still sharing a server and some of the “unlimited” options offered with shared hosting are stripped away here.  You’re likely going to have a fixed amount of disk space for storing your web files, email and other items. You may also have to pay for other things that are bundled with shared hosting that are not included with VPS plans.  Probably the most important thing to consider though is how comfortable you are with working on a dedicated type server.  Items that are typically handled on shared hosting for you may not be as easy to work with on VPS – when you’re set up with a VPS, it’s almost like having access to your very own computer.  Whereas shared hosting is typically shielded from you by the tools they provide, with VPS hosting you can log into your machine much like you log into your own computer, so your level of control is higher, and with that comes the ability to modify a number of things directly on the server.  This is nice yet dangerous and potentially frustrating if you’re not into setting up your own server.

Dedicated Server

Just as the name implies, a dedicated server is yours to do what you will with.  If you’re reading this page, chances are you’re not to the point of needing a dedicated server, but just in case you’re interested, I’ll go ahead and provide some information about them.  First and foremost, this is not for the faint of heart, or for those without a background in server management, or at least know someone who will do the work for you for a fee. Just about all dedicated hosting providers offer managed services meaning for an hourly rate, you can pay their professionals to set up your servers and manage them.  Depending on your needs, the initial setup will probably require several hours and then you’ll likely be looking at a few hours a month afterwards to make sure your server stays up to date with security patches, software upgrades, etc.  Before you start looking at dedicated server hosting, you should be making good money and see a need to scale up because your sites aren’t responding and you’re losing business.  Dedicated server hosting gives you more power and control, but it comes at both a monetary price and potentially large investments of time.

Pros Cons
  • Full control of server
  • Great performance (dependent on hardware)
  • Price includes server, internet connection, power, etc.
  • Expensive
  • Much more complicated to use and manage

Cloud Hosting

A relatively new option for website hosting is what’s referred to as Cloud Hosting.  In a nutshell, cloud hosting is similar to dedicated hosting in that you get a huge boost in performance but the biggest difference is rather than having your own dedicated server, you’re running on a virtual server, similar to what’s done in VPS hosting.  So what’s the difference between VPS and Cloud Hosting?  On a VPS, you’re paying for the right to use a certain amount of memory, processing power, disk space and other resources that are divided up on a single computer.  In Cloud Hosting, you literally get to choose what kind of processing power and memory you will need, the amount of disk space required, and then you typically only get charged for the actual usage of that machine!  So let’s say that you have a site that only gets used 1 hour a day but you set up a beast of a Cloud Server – let’s say you have 16 Gigabytes of RAM, a quad core processor, and however much space you need – you couldn’t do this with a VPS as they typically don’t offer such beefy specs, and with a dedicated server you would likely pay hundreds of dollars a month for a setup like this.  With Cloud Hosting, because you’re charged by your setup and actual hours used, this might cost you $3/hour of usage.  If your server is only being used 1 hour a day and we’ll assume 30 days a month, then you’re only going to pay $90/month for this monster – that’s going to be a fraction of what you’d pay for a dedicated server with those same specs. So now that you have an idea of what it is, here’s the thing.  Cloud Hosting is similar to dedicated hosting in that you’re pretty much responsible for managing the servers that you create so if you’re not comfortable managing your own server or if you aren’t willing to pay someone to do it, then you might want to go back up and look at the VPS option.  There is one really important distinction I want to make about Cloud Hosting that is both interesting and a little less of a barrier to entry – when you look at Cloud Hosting options such as AWS (Amazon Web Services), there are companies out there that create “packaged” servers that you can get up and running with pretty quickly.  What this means is a company took the time to set up a server environment with pre-installed software packages and services so that you can get up and running quicker, and typically the companies that build these packages offer support forums and wikis to help you out with how to use their bundled servers.  Setting these up is usually free to do, but you’ll typically pay an increased hourly rate for the operation of that cloud server.  For instance, let’s say that if you had set up a particular server configuration on your own, you might pay $0.50/hr for your “from scratch” configuration.  If you used someone else’s pre-bundled server with that same type of setup, it might cost you $0.60/hr.  The one you set up from scratch might have taken you 20 hours to do on your own, if not longer, whereas the pre-configured is up and running in minutes.

I’m literally just scratching the surface of what Cloud Hosting is and what some of the features of it are, but it’s definitely the future of hosting for companies that need heavy computing power and don’t want to have to maintain the hardware in-house like has been done for so many years in the past.  One last note on Cloud Hosting – because it’s a “virtual” computer setup based off the computing requirements you have, Cloud Hosting is the easiest way to scale up or down depending on your computing needs.  If you find that your site is going down because you have too much traffic, all you have to do is go back up to your setup and bump up the memory or the processing power.  If you find that you’re not getting that many visitors or that maybe you’re only using 2 Gigs of your 16 Gigs available, you can scale back on that and save some money.

Pros Cons
  • Can be tailored constantly to fit your needs
  • Ultimately scalable
  • Can be fairly inexpensive depending on your needs
  • Can be quick to setup with pre-built packages
  • Can be super expensive depending on your configuration
  • Can be difficult to manage
  • Sheer number of options can be daunting – won’t know where to start

Cloud Hosting suits such a number of business cases that it’s hard to say whether you should go this route or not.  Depending on your configuration, this could be as easy to use as VPS or shared hosting (typically at a higher rate but with better performance), or, if you don’t know what you’re doing, this could be an absolute configuration nightmare.  If you want to go this route, I would speak with someone who is knowledgeable on the particular type of environment you need set up and take some guidance to make it as smooth as possible.

Self Hosted Sites

The last option I want to touch on is hosting a website yourself.  This, much like Dedicated Hosting and Cloud Hosting can be a daunting task, but if you have an old computer lying around collecting dust, and you have a decent internet connection (I’ll get into that in a second), then this might be something worth looking into doing.  I won’t get into the nitty gritty details here as there are way too many to mention, but if you have a computer that runs just fine, you could easily throw Linux on that machine and have a server that would run faster than most Shared Hosting servers out there.  How could it be that your old computer would be faster than a server you’d pay for?!  You’d be the only person with sites on the box!!!  Believe it or not, you could have a 5 year old computer that would choke on new application but would run perfectly fine as a web server!  Even if you have an old Windows computer lying around, you could put IIS or Apache on there and have a legitimate web server up and running given a little time and effort!

There’s really only two things you need if you want to try this out for yourself (other than the computer):

1. You’ll need a good internet connection – download speed doesn’t mean a thing – you’ll want a connection with at least a 1 Mbps upload speed – you can check your speed at www.speedtest.net – one thing to note about this – you’ll want to check with your internet provider as many now have data caps and if you’re on a residential plan they don’t guarantee uptime.  So if you’re running a server and you call to complain that your internet is down, they’ll tell you that you shouldn’t be using a residential plan for a business activity.

2. You’ll need either a static IP address (you can typically get one with your Internet provider for anywhere from $15-30/month), or you can get a service such as www.dyndns.com where you have software running on your computer that constantly lets their service know if your IP address changed.

Besides those essentials, you’ll have to learn quite a bit about how DNS works, what a web server is and how it operates, and you’ll have to do all the software installation and configuration yourself.  Again, this is not a quick thing and you can find that you’ll quickly have dumped hours in trying to get your own personal server up and running.

Pros Cons
  • Can be inexpensive
  • Increased Performance
  • More difficult to manage
  • Not as reliable as paid hosting (power outages, internet down time, etc.)
  • Requires more intimate knowledge of how DNS and the internet works

My Suggestion

If you are just getting started and want to get a website online, I wouldn’t look any further than Shared Hosting, especially if you have no experience with web servers and configuration.  Shared Hosting is by far the easiest to start with, it’s cost effective, and the performance is typically adequate enough especially to get started.  Below are my recommended hosting solutions if you want to get up and running quickly:

If you’re outgrowing your Shared Hosting solution, then my next suggestion would be to look into Virtual Private Shared Hosting plans and maybe even Cloud Hosting plans.  VPS’s will offer you the same level of ease that the shared hosting plans do at a slightly increased price and with improved performance.  If you want to take a leap to even more performance, I would skip over the Dedicated Hosting and go straight to Cloud Hosting solutions as Cloud Hosting can work identical to Dedicated Hosting but can be scaled up or down to meet your business needs.  Just make sure that if you choose to go this route that you yourself either have an intimate knowledge of what you need done or you know who you can contact to get everything set up exactly the way you need.

Wrapping Up

I hope you’ve found this information helpful (if not a bit long).  If you walk away with anything, walk away with this – it’s worth doing a Shared Hosting plan to get started just to get your feet off the ground and after you start making those strides forward and you see that traffic coming in, then revisit the idea of jumping to a bigger and better platform.  The most important thing you can do though is to move forward.  For less than the price of an average lunch out, you can have your very own website and domain name and start your online adventures!

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