Types of web hosting

Web hosting is part and parcel of making a website available online. It's not a matter of if you need it, it's more a case of which one to choose. This can seem an insurmountable task for someone shopping for a web host. There are dozens of different hosting options out there, sold by thousands of companies, all making similar promises, and it’s easy for a layman to be lost.

Questions you might have can include:

  • What are the differences between shared hosting, dedicated, and VPS services?

  • Do you need a dedicated server?

  • Does an “unlimited” plan truly offer an infinite amount of storage and bandwidth?

You may already have a hosting plan and are thinking about a change. As a website’s traffic grows and the user-base becomes more engaged, an upgrade is likely a necessity.

It's easy to feel a bit confused by the different types of web hosting plans and services and the hundreds of companies offering them. Fear not! We’re going to break down the options available to you in plain English.

The hosting plans in this article are listed to align with the growth of most online businesses, starting with shared hosting and moving to cloud servers. We’ll cover the most common types of web hosting plans, clarify differences between them, and give you information that helps you determine which one will serve your web hosting needs.

Why are there so many hosting types?

Let’s start by differentiating between a host and a hosting plan. There’s no shortage of companies providing hosting packages to business owners. There are three basic types most have in common: Shared, VPS and Dedicated.

These hosting types are best compared via three factors:

  • The type of technology used.

  • How much management from the user is involved

  • Extra services on offer such as backups.

Breakdown of web hosting types

First let’s take a look at the three main hosting options available: shared, VPS, and dedicated.

Shared hosting - cheap and beginner friendly

In a shared hosting environment, you share one server with other customers. These plans include the physical server and the software applications within the server. Each server works similarly to a bulked-up version of your home computer. It has hard drive space, a central processing unit (CPU), and RAM.

In a shared hosting space, the host puts hundreds or even thousands of users on a single server. It’s likely that each user has more than one site, and that means one shared server can house thousands of websites.

  • How does it work?

    These services are affordable because the costs to operate the server are lower. The host shared the cost between you and these other owners. There are, however, some downsides. The main drawback to using shared hosting is that you are sharing all the servers resources with the other websites.

  • Who’s it suitable for?

    If you are on tight budget, shared hosting is a great option. More conscientious hosting companies put measures in place to detect sites that can affect other users, whether their faulty code is using too many resources, or if they’re experiencing a comparatively high level of traffic. The hosts then work with site owners to help them move to a more appropriate hosting plan.

  • How much am I going to spend?

    $1 - $20 per month.

VPS hosting - more power

A virtual private server is when one physical server is shared, but it acts like multiple, separate servers. This style of hosting is the most popular service to advance to after a website has outgrown shared hosting. It's the hosting style between shared and getting your own dedicated machine.

  • How does it work?

    Each VPS shares hardware and resources. The difference between this is a standard shared hosting setup. Each user is allocated a dedicated slice of the computing resources. This allows VPS hosting to avoid the bad neighbor effect while helping users save on the cost of a dedicated server.

    VPS servers usually host fewer users than a shared hosting server does. Having fewer sites sharing the servers decreases the stress on resources. VPS server accounts are segmented according to each user’s account requirements.

    Let’s say that you have ten users on a system with 10GB of RAM and 200GB of hard drive space on the server. Each user is allocated 1GB of RAM and 20GB of space. Once someone using the VPS hits their RAM limit, their site may go down but the other sites won’t be affected. They remain stable because of the hypervisor, a piece of management software or firmware that maintains the integrity of the system.

    An added benefit of VPS servers is that they are highly configurable, providing website owners with a lot more flexibility than they experience with shared hosting. On shared hosts there isn't much chance to modify your environment due to limitations in access levels. In VPS your account is contained within a virtual machine that lets you make changes without affecting others, something that developers are happy about.

    Another strong reason people jump to VPS is how scalable it is. Since you are running a virtual machine which takes some percentage of the resources available to the server as a whole, the number of resources you are allowed to use can be increased without much hassle.

  • Who’s it suitable for?

    VPS services are ideal for anybody who has the extra budget for hosting that is more flexible. As a VPS performs in much the same manner as a dedicated one, it’s also better-suited for those who can manage their own platform or have access to technical resources.

  • How much am I going to spend?

    VPS hosting plans in general range from $20 - $100 per month. At Namecheap,we offer plans at two price levels: $19.88 and $38.88. As you can imagine, the resources made available to users usually rise to match the price, but take the time to compare companies to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

Dedicated hosting - for high traffic sites

Dedicated hosting is where a single user rents the space of an entire server. Since you have the entire server to yourself, you have complete control over the server settings and most hosting companies allow you to take complete advantage of this. Dedicated hosting also features a wider range of setup options, such as the amount and type of memory included, OS installed, total storage space, and more. You are alone on the server which negates all bad neighbor effect.

  • How does it work?

    In a dedicated hosting environment, you are renting one physical server from a hosting company. Dedicated hosting plans mean no more sharing with other website owners. Dedicated servers offer the highest level of server attributes you can get which fits when a website or online business grows and is getting a significant amount of website traffic.

    Dedicated hosting comes with many clear benefits, but also comes with a few downsides. Since the server is yours alone, you are entirely responsible for the cost of using it.

    Dedicated servers naturally cost much more than shared hosting, so it should only be considered if your business can handle the expense.

    Another factor to take into account is the availability of expertise. Unless you have a server admin or sufficient knowledge to do it yourself, dedicated hosting can prove difficult. You need to know above a basic level about computers and server technology to make the most of dedicated hosting, unless you look into managed hosting solutions. With a completely unmanaged service you might need to install the OS yourself, and any tools needed to run a web server including malware removal, security scanning, and so on. To tech-savvy readers, this might not be negative, but it's something to keep in mind when considering a server.

  • Who’s it suitable for?

    This is a good choice for websites that require a lot of system resources or need a higher level of security. It's time to think about dedicated hosting when you have highly specialized needs regarding your hardware, or you're looking for more control over your data’s privacy.

  • How much am I going to spend?

    At Namecheap, dedicated servers start at $58.88 and go up from there. You’ll also need to factor in the cost of system software and hiring a system administrator to take care of the technical details.

Hosting with website builders

A website builder is a hosting service that lets beginners who need to build a website, yet lack the technical skills and knowledge, build one. They provide a web browser-based interface to build a website and host a website.

Often, there are tiered packages to choose from. Basic packages offer enough disk space and bandwidth for personal and small websites. They might also include a free domain for the first year, 1 email address and some extras such as website analytics. Business plans can offer enough disk space and bandwidth to power more heavy duty sites. Extras vary between providers, they typically include multiple email address, backups, e-commerce support, SSL and more. While hosting with a website builder may cost the same at first glance, the lack of flexibility and the price of add-ons can prove to be a burden.

Keep in mind that website builder services specialise in creating simple software to build websites and web hosting providers are experts in web hosting. Given their areas of expertise, website builder hosting isn’t comparable to that of a web hosting provider.

Another issue with website builders is the type of hosting they provide - most offer shared hosting, the most basic form of hosting available. Imagine your website takes off and you need to upgrade to a superior hosting plan such as VPS, cloud or dedicated servers that properly accommodate bigger websites and higher traffic.

If this was the case, you would have no choice but to migrate from the web builder to a traditional web host. Migration can be a complicated process if your site builder doesn’t have the expertise in-house to do it for you. On the other hand, if you use traditional hosting, migrating from one hosting type or another, or even from host to host, is far less complicated.

What’s managed hosting?

All of the hosting types mentioned so far require a certain degree of self-management. Even on shared hosting, when someone might take over handling all your server admin, it’s still your job to take care of managing your own site.

For example, if you have a self-managed E-commerce or WordPress website you’ll be responsible for these types of things:

  • Installation of your website

  • Taking care of software updates

  • Security protection against hackers and malware as well as blocking space and brute force attacks

  • Monitoring themes and assessing plugins for malicious content or new security exploits

  • Site backups

  • If taking member details for site registration, protecting their personal information

  • If accepting online transactions, you must protect users card information

Some, if not all of the above tasks are taken care of as part of the managed hosting service. Managed hosting is also typically heavily optimized for speed and performance. To get it to this degree yourself would take a lot of setup tweaking and expertise. You'd need a VPS or dedicated server. Another reason companies may go with a managed host for their website is because they strive to provide the highest standards of quality customer support.

The perks of managed hosting include:

  • Site management including security and all updates are handled for you

  • Your server will be optimized for speed and performance

  • No server admin with all the advantages of VPS or dedicated hosting level optimization

There are of course some drawbacks to managed hosting. It's one of the more expensive hosting styles, and you're allowed fewer websites per account than with other hosting styles.

Self service hosting

The ultimate solution — you do it all yourself! You buy the servers, install and configure the software, make sure there is sufficient cooling and power in your machine room, and double up everything for redundancy.

Here are a few of the things you'll have to take care of:

  • Space in a data center or elsewhere to hold server

  • Cooling

  • Power, including backup

  • Connectivity to the internet

  • Server hardware

  • Systems administrator

  • Data integrity

  • Backup

Without allowances for the essential ingredients for self hosting as outlined above, it’s not worth considering for the vast majority of websites. Even with the above attributes, self hosting can be a lot of hard work and work out more expensive than any hosting plan provided by a dedicated company.

Wrapping up

It's important that you select the hosting plan that will provide your site with the power to handle the copious amount of visitors you receive so it won't slow down or crash. Assuming you're looking to choose a hosting package, let’s recap your options.

  • Make sure you’re aware of your site’s requirements before you evaluate a host.

  • Shared hosting is the most cost-effective hosting type and is optimal for most start-ups or small sites.

  • VPS hosting is the stepping stone between shared and dedicated hosting. It fits for sites where shared hosting doesn’t provide enough resources, but dedicated hosting is too expensive.

  • Dedicated hosting is the highest, priciest hosting tier and suitable primarily for a site with sizeable resources requirements.

  • Reseller hosting is available from a select few hosts. Doing some research means you might be able to get more resources than a shared hosting account all the while spending less than the price of a VPS.

  • Managed hosting focuses on a specific type of sites like WordPress or E-commerce sites and handles aspects of server management and security on your behalf. It’s a good fit for anyone who wants a site than can run itself as much as possible and has the extra budget over shared hosting.

Once you’re certain of the type of web hosting you need, the next step is looking at some hosting companies and comparing the quantifiable resources; things like RAM, bandwidth, CDN usage and disk space.

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