Do you know where websites live? The answer “on the Internet” is too general and not exact. You may be surprised, but websites have their own homes. These homes are called servers, and technically these are huge and extremely powerful computers that host the websites.
The living conditions can be quite different. Some websites have to live in a dormitory with shared amenities, while the others enjoy fully independent apartments with a pool on the roof.
So, if you are about to build (or are already building) a website, it is high time to choose the appropriate home for it. This decision is very important for the website since the host stores all the data (including sensitive data) and is responsible for security, speed, and performance of the website.
If your website is already online, this article will also be useful to you. Hosting isn’t something you choose once and use forever. Upgrading your hosting is one of the first steps to improve the speed of your website you can take. You may need to find new solutions as your business grows, to be able to provide your visitors with the right service.
How do you choose the right home for your website? Which options are on the market? Are the expensive solutions better than the cheap ones? Let’s find the answers to all these questions together!
What is web hosting and how does it work?
Web hosting is a service that offers a server (or a part of it) to your disposal to store all your website data and make it available to other users.
Some companies prefer to store website data on their own servers, but this approach involves additional expenses to keep the hardware fit and to hire a professional with expertise in running web hosting.
Most website owners still choose to outsource web hosting services. What they get through outsourcing is quite satisfying: significantly lower prices, established infrastructure, and no need to maintain the hardware. With the other words, web hosting companies can provide any website with a ready home, according to budget and needs. And there are several options to choose from.
Shared hosting is the simplest and the cheapest option you can find on the market. Though, in exchange for the low price, it has a lot of limitations.
Shared hosting is kind of a dormitory for websites. You have your own space, but have to share the amenities (like kitchen, bath, etc.) with others. When your roommate invites someone to visit him, you have to share with this person as well. So, when your roommate has too many visitors, you barely have a place for yourself.
The same happens to your website. The hosting provider rents one server to many website owners who have to share RAM, CPU power, and storage which are of course limited. As soon as other websites on the server start to grow and attract more customers, the risk is high that your website will suffer from lack of resources.
On the other hand, shared hosting doesn’t force you to perform server maintenance. There is a housekeeper, whose main task is to keep your website’s home clean, fully equipped, and in working order.
What are the costs of shared hosting?
As already mentioned, shared hosting is the cheapest option to get your website online. Some shared hosting providers offer free plans or free trials which seem like a good way to start. But, be sure to check out everything before signing a contract. You may be disappointed to find out that you were attracted to free cheese in a mousetrap.
The usual range in cost for shared hosting is between $2 and $20 per month.
When to choose shared hosting?
Shared hosting is good to start with. When you are just about to take the first steps with your website, it isn’t likely to attract many visitors and generate real value. Shared hosting is a compromise.
- Cheap (free and up to $20 per month)
- Includes server support and maintenance (no technical knowledge required)
- Shared resources (CPU, RAM, storage)
- Performance depends on other websites on the server
When you notice that your website is getting slower and the performance decreases, it is time to upgrade your hosting. And the next level after the shared hosting is the virtual private server.
Virtual private server (VPS)
VPS is pretty similar to shared hosting. Again, multiple websites live on one server. But, one thing is different. The server is divided into separate parts so that every website has reserved memory, CPU, and RAM. As a result, the performance of your website won’t depend on other websites on the server.
If we return to our comparison of a hosting and a home, then a VPS will be like renting an apartment. There is one big house with several families living in it. The difference from the dormitory is clear - every family has its own isolated space, its own apartment. No need to share the amenities with the neighbors as you are the only one eligible to use the resources of the apartment. Besides, you feel more confident and more secure in a separated space, and this is exactly what your website is experiencing on a virtual private server.
The approach behind VPS hosting is called virtualization. It uses hypervisors to create multiple isolated virtual environments. Being independent one from each other, each single environment is able to fully use all available resources to run the websites.
Hypervisors directly affect how the virtual server will operate. The most popular solutions for Linux-based servers are KVM and Xen. Just like Linux, they are open source, and the servers using these technologies are usually cheaper. Hyper-V can create virtual machines on servers running Windows.
Generally, VPS hosting is able to give the webmasters the advantages of a dedicated server without the need to pay a high price. The disadvantage is clear; although isolated, your website still has only a part of the possible hosting features. The specifications are limited. You also have to care for server support and maintenance by yourself, so some technical background is required. Otherwise, you will need to hire someone to manage the VPS server.
What are the costs of a virtual private server?
VPS is usually more expensive than shared hosting. The prices start at around $20 and can reach $50 or even $100, depending on the parameters of the hosting you receive.
When to choose VPS?
Webmasters usually switch to VPS hosting when their website based on shared hosting starts to grow and needs more resources to run. The main features of virtual private servers compared to shared servers are described further:
- Secure Shell Access (SSH)
VPS enables SSH, which is a secure terminal access that allows you to interact with the server with the help of text commands instead of a usual graphical interface. SSH is preferred for advanced tasks and gives you the ability to install and update software on your server, which is impossible in shared hosting.
Other websites on the same server don’t affect the speed and performance of your website.
You always have the ability to increase the parameters of your server as soon as the website requires it.
- Better security
Since the server is isolated, the data on it is harder to access from outside.
- Ability to host multiple websites on one VPS
You may host as many websites as you want on one VPS, until they exceed the server specifications.
- Responsibility for the server setup and support
When choosing a virtual private hosting, you have more access to your server and are responsible for its setup, support, and maintenance, which usually requires time and money.
- Higher price for VPS hosting
The cost of VPS hosting starts with $9.95 and can reach hundreds or thousands of dollars per month. Although, you may find some very basic VPS hosting plans starting at just $5.
A virtual private server can satisfy the needs of small to large businesses. But in some cases, a dedicated server hosting is a better solution.
Dedicated hosting provides the chance for your website to live in a private house. The whole building belongs just to you. Do you feel that the house is becoming too small? You can build one more room to let your website grow.
A dedicated server is rented by one single company. It is a chance to finally forget about sharing the server resources with others. Additionally, you can host several websites on your dedicated server. The specifications of the server are also up to you. You have to define the expected CPU, RAM, and storage, and the hosting company will build the server with these parameters for you.
Besides, you will have full control over your server, including root access, which enables you to access and edit even system-critical files, to install or uninstall programs on your server, and to perform other tasks. This also means that you will have to hire a person with extensive experience in server administration since the productivity of your server will be highly dependent on his or her skills.
Price range for dedicated hosting
The price for dedicated hosting starts at $100 per month and can be higher depending on the features. Don’t forget to include the salary of a system administrator in calculating the cost; otherwise, you might experience problems with your server infrastructure.
When to choose dedicated server hosting?
Dedicated hosting is a solution for big businesses and e-commerce websites. The first reason for this is the high price. The owner of a starter website likely cannot afford such a solution. Secondly, a beginner website won’t even utilize all the possibilities of the infrastructure available through dedicated hosting.
E-commerce websites heavily rely on the server stability since every delay in website loading or every server crash can result in dramatic losses for the company. So, for the businesses that generate their revenue mainly through the website, dedicated server hosting is an option to consider.
Actually, physical servers have a strong competitor from the future. Over the last few years, cloud hosting has been strengthening its position.
Cloud hosting is a hosting service that is run on a group of servers. Several computers are connected to each other to build one huge server, which is then divided into smaller parts with the help of virtualization software, similar to VPS.
The difference is that VPS is a part of a physical server while a cloud server isn’t attached to any physical computer at all. It is just a part of a cloud environment.
So why is cloud hosting becoming so popular nowadays?
Cloud hosting allows to duplicate data and store it on multiple machines at the same time. As a result, you don’t have to fear a server going offline. Your website will be still available for the users through a different server. They won’t notice the difference at all.
- Scalability and flexibility
When your website starts to demand more resources, cloud hosting can provide you with it immediately. There’s no need to rent a bigger server or physically upgrade the existing one. You just get a bigger slice of resources that are available in the cloud environment. At the same time, if the traffic on your website goes down, you can reduce the amount of resources used by your cloud server and save money.
Cloud servers host multiple websites at the same time, but due to virtualization they don’t affect the functionality of each other.
- Reasonable pricing
With cloud hosting, you only pay for what you use. You don’t have to prepay for resources you’ll never need. Besides, thanks to the economy of scale, cloud hosts tend to offer lower costs for the service along with increasing number of clients.
The only thing you have to keep in mind before switching to cloud hosting is security. Any cloud service isn’t the safest place for your data. So, if you are going to store some truly sensitive information, choose your service provider carefully.
For example, HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, sets the standard for protecting sensitive data of patients. According to this standard, the websites and apps that involve any health information have higher requirements to server security. Amazon Web Services is one of the cloud hosting providers that are HIPAA compliant.
Cloud hosting service providers
Despite the fact that the market of cloud hosting is relatively young, competition is already getting tight. You may be surprised, but you definitely know the names of top cloud hosting providers.
Factors to consider before making the final decision
So, you are ready to choose one of the four types of website hosting, but what about the provider? This choice might be even harder, but we have several tips to help you select the one that will definitely fit your needs.
- Hosting resources
This is a critical factor since the hosting resources are the actual reason for renting a server. You should pay attention to the following: maximum RAM (depends on how many programs you are going to install on your server), maximum storage (where all the other data like your website files and images will be stored), and CPU (need depends on the complexity of the calculations your web app intends to process).
The security of the data on the server is an important factor as well. Find out about the technologies your potential hosting provider uses to minimize spam, and to save you from hacking attempts, viruses or other factors that put your website data in danger. Keep in mind that you will have to pay more if you really care about your data security.
- SSH access
Using SSH to access your server is another security concern. SSH stands for “secure shell” and is cryptographic network protocol which ensures a secure channel for accessing the server over an unsecured network. SSH works perfectly with Linux-based servers and has quite limited power for servers with Windows.
- Linux- or Windows-based server
As we already mentioned at the beginning of the article, servers are very powerful computers and computers can run different operating systems. Linux is a preferred OS since it is open-source and allows the hosting costs to be a little bit lower. Moreover, there are a lot of apps for Linux that are also free to use. Windows is not that popular among website owners since you need to pay additionally for the license. But if your website requires running programs that are designed for Windows only, you’ll have to accept it.
- Managed or unmanaged hosting
Shared hosting plans always come with included server management, most of the VPS include this service as well. But when you decide to switch to a dedicated server, you will need to hire a professional to setup, run, and maintain your server. Managed hosting is usually a bit more expensive but ensures that your website works well in its new house. If you choose unmanaged hosting, there are two options: either you as a webmaster also have skills in server management and are ready to do this work by yourself, or you will have to hire someone for this job.
- Customer support
In case of any technical issues you will have to contact support. Try to find out the reliability of the technical support of your potential hosting provider. Will you receive immediate professional help if the server crashes on Friday evening or will your website be offline until Monday? Usually, you can find feedback from other clients of the hosting provider online and make your conclusions.
- Trial period
This is one of the best things in every online service, isn’t it? A trial period isn’t just a marketing trick, it is a real opportunity to try out the service with no financial risk. We recommend you to always start with a free trial. Some companies offer a trial period of one month to up to one year. In this time, you will definitely find out whether the service is a good match for your website or not and whether it is a good value for the money.
Web hosting is an irreplaceable component of a successful website. The choice in hosting will directly affect your website’s performance, customer satisfaction, and security of your data. Too many options sometimes make the choice difficult, but here are the main aspects you should remember:
Shared hosting. This option is preferable for small businesses. Low costs and no technical background required; these are the reasons to choose this type of hosting. But poor performance caused by other websites on the same server force website owners to upgrade to the next level soon.
VPS. Due to the virtualization method, a virtual private server has the advantages of the shared hosting but minimizes the negative influence of other websites on the server. The server parameters are reserved for one user but are still limited and cannot cover the needs of large businesses and e-commerce websites.
Dedicated hosting. For quite a long time it was considered as a perfect solution for websites with huge traffic. Though being quite expensive, dedicated hosting offers complete independence from other websites and gives full control over the server. Nowadays, it is being beaten by the advantages of cloud hosting.
Cloud hosting. This modern solution can replace all types of hosting as it enables small websites to benefit from exceptionally quality hosting for a reasonable price. The security, flexibility, and reliability of the server make it a great option even for huge e-commerce websites. The client has to pay only for the resources he or she is actually using. Due to the advantages, cloud hosting is becoming more and more popular.
Even though physical servers are still a widely utilized solution, cloud hosting is the technology of the future.