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If you want to build a website or start a blog, you’ve probably discovered by now that you’re going to need some form of hosting.
You might have even checked out a few companies to see what you can expect, at least regarding costs.
And you might be very confused. Don’t worry, though, because you’re not the only one. Even experienced developers can have a tough time figuring out hosting at times because there are so many variables involved.
In this article, we’re going to look at the various types of web hosting services available, and even give you a few pointers so you can more easily figure out what the best option is for your needs.
Understanding How Hosting Works
To better understand types of hosting, it’s essential first to understand how hosting works in general.
When you check out a website online, what you are actually looking at is a bunch of code that your computer, via the browser, translates into something visual. It’s like when someone uses sheet music to play a song. The sheet music is the code, the player is the browser, and the song is the website you actually see.
Now, all the code that makes up a website is stored in a number of different files, and those files need to be kept somewhere people can access them. That’s where hosting comes in.
Hosting, essentially, means that a website’s files are being stored on a server that is connected to the internet so people can access, download, convert, and read those files via their browser. A server is the same thing as a computer, but much more powerful, thereby allowing lots and lots of people to access the same data at the same time.
If we’re going to get really pedantic, a host is the company providing you with access to the server on which you store your website’s files. Alongside access to the hardware, they also often provide additional services such as server management, backups, website building, malware scanning, and more.
Types of Web Hosting Services
Before we take a look at the different types of hosting available, it’s important to understand how types of hosting can be categorized. One way of categorizing hosting is based on how the servers are set up and the amount of access you have to those servers. Thus, the result is the following types of hosting:
- Free web hosting
- Shared hosting
- VPS hosting
- Dedicated hosting
- Cloud hosting
- Colocation hosting
- Self-service hosting
Another way to categorize types of hosting is according to the level of management the hosting company provides. Like any computer, a server needs to be maintained and upgraded. Though most hosts offer managed hosting, you can find hosting companies that offer unmanaged packages. This means you’ll be doing all the maintenance and upgrading yourself, but you’ll have more flexibility. Of course, you can find packages that offer different management services, so it’s not really an either/or situation.
Hosting types can also be categorized according to the additional services provided. Some of the additional services include backups, malware scanning, SSL certificates, degree of support, site creation, and so on.
To take a very basic approach, these are three elements that make up a hosting plan. For example, you can have a shared hosting plan with full server management, SSL certificates, backups, and other additional services. Of course, the more services, the more expensive the plan will be.
So, now let’s take a look at the different web hosting options
1) Free Web Hosting
There’s no such thing as a free ride, and though you think you are getting free hosting with these services, this is not actually the case. With a free web hosting service, you are not technically creating your own website, but creating one or more pages on someone else’s website.
For example, WordPress allows you to create a free site or blog on their wordpress.com website. However, you’ll find that your website is actually a subdomain of their domain. In other words, instead of www.yourwebsite.com, the URL will be www.yourwebsite.wordpress.com. They do give you the option to drop the WordPress bit, but you have to pay for the privilege. In other words, it’s free only as long as you don’t mind having WordPress in your URL, or ads splashed across the page.
When to Use Free Web Hosting
If you’re only interested in hosting just because you want to start your own blog to express your personal thoughts, then free web hosting is probably more than enough for your needs. There are quite a few great options available, and they make things as easy as possible. They offer all the tools you need to get your site up and running quickly, including free templates, community support, and some level of customization (not too much though).
However, if you’re looking for a website for a business or for professional services, then free web hosting will make you look unprofessional. You can find hosting for as little as a few bucks per month, plus the annual cost of the domain, which is rarely much more than $10. If you opt for free web hosting, you’ll be telling everyone that your business is in such dire straits that you can’t afford to spend $100 per year to make a good impression.
2) Shared Hosting
Shared hosting is the cheapest option you can find where you get your own domain. It’s generally best suited for small websites without much traffic. To understand why you need to understand how this type of hosting works.
When you sign up for a shared hosting plan, your website will be sharing space on a server with other websites. To make things more efficient and so they can offer cheap hosting options, hosting companies put multiple users on the same server. Some servers can have over 1,000 users. When you take into account that every user can have multiple sites, depending on the plan they signed up for, you’ll quickly realize that one server can have as many as 5,000 sites.
As you recall, a server is like a computer, but more powerful. Even so, it still has limited resources, such as RAM, CPU speed, and hard drive space. And in a shared hosting environment, those 5,000 sites are using the same limited resources.
Then there’s the traffic. For every visit, the server has to “work” to send all the data being requested by each visitor to the site. The amount of data varies based on how the site is set up, and whether that person is a first-time visitor or not. However, if you take an average of even just three visitors per day, that’s 15,000 requests, which then have to be multiplied by the number of files being downloaded. Yes, those available resources can get eaten up pretty quickly.
There are also other issues to consider.
For example, one site might get massive amounts of visitors, which means it will end up hogging a large portion of the server’s resources, thereby slowing your own site down.
Or one site might have problematic code, which could lead to it using up 60% to 70% of the server’s RAM, leaving the other 4,999 sites to work with only 30% to 40% of the server’s resources.
So, you might find your site is running at a snail’s pace. Worse is that you won’t even be able to tell what the problem is because you don’t have access to the server to check what’s going on.
Now, in all fairness, most hosting companies try to keep things running smoothly by identifying problematic sites, or those with high traffic, and either working with the owner to fix the issue or temporarily disabling the site. Unfortunately, though, these options rarely work over the long-term, and though it’s not the fault of the company, it still won’t help your website load properly and at a decent speed.
If you do find that your website is running slowly and have eliminated all other potential causes, you can always ask your host to move your site to another server. Some might help you, some might not. But it’s worth a try.
Remember, though, that with a shared hosting plan, you’re probably paying between $5 and $25 per month at the most, depending on the plan you chose. Do you really think it’s feasible for a company to have their customer support team spend hours fixing a problem for someone who’s only paying them $5 per month? If you said no, then you’re quite right.
When to Use Shared Hosting
While shared hosting does have problems, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good option. If you want a website to host a personal diary, or are a business just starting out, then shared hosting is a good option until you start getting a constant stream of steady traffic. Likewise, shared hosting is also good if you want to test a website, or as a base for your website while it’s still in development.
Of course, shared hosting is also a good option if you’re on a shoestring budget. Not everyone can afford a VPS or a dedicated server, and shared hosting allows businesses to expand their client bases on a global level at an affordable cost.
Some good options for shared hosting plans are provided by SiteGround and Bluehost.
3) Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting
Virtual Private Server hosting is the next step up from shared hosting. It’s quite a popular option for website owners looking for an upgrade from traditional shared hosting because it is quite balanced from all points of view, including cost.
A VPS server still requires you to share space with other users on the same physical server, but the way this is achieved is entirely different to traditional shared hosting.
Firstly, with a VPS server, you are rarely going to have more than 20 users. The advantage, of course, is that there’s less overall stress on the machine from the get go. The real benefit with a VPS, though, comes in the form of a virtual machine monitor or hypervisor.
A hypervisor is a piece of software that allows you to create and operate multiple virtual machines (also known as guest machines) on a single computer (also known as the host machine). It’s like having multiple virtual computers on the same server, each with their own amount of dedicated CPU speed, RAM, and HDD space.
With VPS hosting, what happens is that a guest machine is created for every user. So, if there are 10 users on a server, that server will be split into 10 guest machines, with each machine getting an equivalent amount of RAM, CPU speed and HDD space. If the server has 32GB of RAM and 1TB of hard drive space, for example, each user will get 3.2GB of RAM and 100GB of hard drive space.
The advantage to this is that a user cannot hog more than the amount of resources they’ve been allocated, thereby ensuring the other websites don’t suffer. So, if another user’s website hits their resource limit, their site might go down, but it won’t affect yours in any way.
Virtual private servers are also much more flexible, allowing you to configure your own environment. You can’t do the same thing with traditional shared hosting because any changes you’d make to the server would change everyone else’s environment as well. However, with a VPS, you have your own virtual machine, meaning that you can configure many more things without affecting anyone else, which is something developers are sure to appreciate.
Another benefit of VPS hosting is that it’s easy to scale up. Your site is being hosted by a virtual machine, which only uses a percentage of the server’s resources. If you need more resources, it takes a few minutes, at most, for the provider to modify the settings and grant you the resources you need. This is excellent for any business owner who wants to make sure their site thrives without any embarrassing downtime that could affect their potential.
When to Use Traditional VPS Hosting
If you do a little research, you’ll find that some low-end VPS packages are as cheap as shared hosting, as they start at $10/month. However, a decent enough plan will set you back around $25 per month, whereas the average is $50 per month.
As you can imagine, the difference in price is based on additional services but mainly by the amount of resources you are allocated.
You can go as high as $150 per month, but if you need that much space and computing power, it’s likely your site is doing so well that the cost will be more than worth keeping your site running smoothly.
So, if your budget allows you to spend $15 or more per month on hosting, then it’s advisable to go with a VPS-based plan over traditional shared hosting.
Even on the other end of the scale, you might find that a high-end VPS plan will be a better option than a low-end dedicated server. However, we’ll discuss this a little more in the next section.
Some good VPS package providers include HostGator and Bluehost.
4) Dedicated Server Hosting
With a dedicated server hosting plan, any faulty coding or problematic websites are no one’s fault but your own because you are completely alone on the server. So, right off the bat, one benefit of dedicated hosting is that you don’t have to worry about other people’s sites hogging up your resources, just like with a VPS plan.
When you’re on a dedicated plan, quite a few providers are more than happy to let you customize the server to a certain degree. You might be able to choose how much and what type of RAM to equip the server with, as well as other hardware, and you could also decide on which operating system that server will run on. In other words, you’ll be able to make any changes you need, which could come in handy if you plan on running special software on the server.
If you server technology isn’t your thing and the aforementioned flexibility scares the life out of you, you can opt for a managed plan, but you’ll still have to do quite a few things on your own.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s unmanaged dedicated hosting, where you have to do everything yourself, including installing the operating systems and all the tools necessary for the operation of a server, security, and more. While this might seem wonderful to some, for others it can be a pain.
So, if you really want to go the dedicated route, then your best bet is to hire a server admin to handle all the behind-the-scenes stuff. Even if you are proficient with server technology, hiring someone might still be a good idea because maintaining a server could take valuable time that could be better funneled into activities centered on further increasing the success of your site.
With a server admin on board, though, you’ll find that the degree of flexibility and level of control provided by a dedicated server can be quite beneficial. For example, you can set up your applications and software to run as efficiently as possible, or you can install a wide range of tools dedicated to speeding up your website.
However, there is one more aspect you need to consider, and that is hardware issues. With a Virtual Private Server, if a RAM module fails, another module will pick up the slack, or the defective hardware is quickly replaced by the hosting company automatically. However, with a dedicated server, the wait time might be longer, especially if you are completely responsible for monitoring the health of the server.
When to Use a Dedicated Server
So, the question is whether dedicated hosting is ever a good idea. To be honest, nowadays, with cloud VPS systems gaining ground, even a massive site wouldn’t really need a dedicated server. While a dedicated server can be better than traditional VPS, it still can’t beat out cloud VPS regarding scalability.
A dedicated server is only really necessary if you have extremely specialized hardware requirements, or you need to have a massive amount of control over data privacy. When you’re on a dedicated server, you are separate from everyone else, which isn’t always a good thing but is unbeatable from a security point of view.
Some good options regarding dedicated hosting plans include SiteGround and HostGator.
5) Cloud Hosting
In essence, cloud hosting is similar to having a Virtual Private Server, but to understand how it works, we need to take a quick look at how cloud computing works.
The difference between traditional computing and cloud computing is a bit like the difference between using your laptop on battery and plugging it in. When you’re running your laptop just off the battery, you can use it until the battery runs out of power. If your laptop usage is light, say only browsing a website or two, or using the word processor, then the battery power will last longer. If you’re playing a graphics-heavy, resource-intensive game, the power will run out faster.
Once you plug it in, though, you can use your laptop as much as you like because it’s pulling power from the main grid. So, no matter how heavy your usage is, your laptop will keep on running for as long as you want it to because it’s receiving power from a huge network.
Cloud-based computing is similar in the sense that you gain access to a massive network of servers, and can use those resources based on your needs with no interruption to service. In other words, with cloud hosting, you are never going to find yourself running out of resources, regardless of how gigantic your site gets.
While a traditional Virtual Private Server can be scaled up, there is a limit. The maximum resources you can get with a VPS are the equivalent of what the server is equipped with.
So, if the server has 32GB of RAM and 4TB of hard drive space, you are never going to be able to get 64GB of RAM and 6TB of space. You won’t be able to even get 33GB of RAM (yes, we know it’s not possible, but we’re just making a point) and 4.01TB of space because it doesn’t physically exist.
However, with a cloud-based VPS, you don’t have the same restrictions. It’s a bit like the reverse of a traditional VPS system. Where the latter cuts up a physical server into multiple virtual machines, cloud-based hosting takes a bunch of servers, combines them into one massive virtual machine, and then turns it into a VPS-like system but splitting up that massive virtual machine into multiple small ones.
Besides scalability, another great advantage a cloud-based hosting system has is that it is more efficient at protecting your site against DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. With a DDoS attack, a massive influx of requests is made to the server hosting the site, thereby overwhelming and crashing it, which means a DDoS attack is not a security issue in the strictest sense. This type of attack is used to bring a website down for various, often malicious, reasons.
At the moment, the best defense against these attacks is a combination of blocking as many requests as possible and spreading the remainder throughout a big network. With a cloud-based system, the network is at your fingertips and will be better able to face up to a large attack than a system using a single physical server.
When to Use Cloud Hosting
Cloud hosting is a great option for anyone looking for a scalable option that goes beyond traditional options.
However, it should be noted that a lot of hosts are switching their traditional VPS systems to cloud-based ones anyway because of the benefits they derive as well, including easier maintenance and less work.
So, even if you are shopping around for a regular VPS, you might still find yourself with cloud-based VPS hosting because so many companies are making the switch, with the majority imitating Google and Amazon’s cloud-based architectures.
6) Colocation Hosting
With colocation hosting, you buy your own server, rent space in a data center’s rack and use their bandwidth. It requires you physically taking the server to the colocation provider and installing it, though some providers offer managed services and can handle the installation and maintenance. You then use the bandwidth, IP, and power given to you by the provider.
Colocation hosting is similar to having a dedicated server, except that you own the hardware. So, the advantages and disadvantages are similar, except that since it’s your own server, you can do whatever you like without restriction, including upgrading the hardware.
On the flip side, if hardware fails, you will be the one responsible for the replacement, at least regarding cost.
Colocation can be more expensive than other forms of web hosting, especially once you factor in the investment in hardware. It should also be noted that the cost can fluctuate wildly as it is generally connected with the amount of data traffic. So, one month you could have a reasonable bill, while another it can be sky high.
You might also have difficulty physically accessing the server, depending on where it is located. If something happens on Christmas day, for example, you’re probably going to take a little while to find someone to go to the server and fix the issue, whereas, with a regular web host, they’ll have a backup plan to ensure nothing goes wrong.
When to Use Colocation
If you want a simple blog or a relatively small website, then colocation is not worth the hassle. This is also true for any individual or business who doesn’t have the expertise to set up and maintain the server, despite the managed services available.
On the other hand, it is a good option for small to mid-size businesses who want to have a large web presence but don’t want to deal with the hassle of a regular web host.
Also, if you need a more robust solution than is available from a web host, colocation might be a good idea for you.
However, it’s still a good idea to at least look into cloud hosting before you opt for colocation, especially since the cost of a decent server can be quite high.
7) Self-Service Web Hosting
As the name implies, this is a completely DIY form of hosting. You buy the servers, install and configure all the software, ensure backups are made, provide cooling to keep the servers from melting down, and so on and so forth. Depending on your needs, you’re essentially building a mini data center, which will require space, hardware, and staff to operate.
It’s pretty much like having your own dedicated server, expect that the sky’s the limit regarding resources. Or, your bank account is at least. You can buy as many servers as you like, building your own cloud architecture, like Amazon or Google.
When to Use Self-Service Web Hosting
If you have a massive site that generates a lot of revenue and very deep pockets, then self-service web hosting is definitely an option. This is especially the case if the huge amount of revenue you generate is dependent on your site running smoothly and never having downtime. With your own network in place, there’s no one else to blame except yourself if something goes wrong.
However, it’s expensive and only really worth it for large companies, especially when you also take into account the number of things that can go wrong.
Again, consider looking into cloud-hosting if you really want to scale up your website, and come back to the idea of self-service hosting once your website is so big it rivals Amazon. At that point, it might be worth investing in your own data center.
Managed WordPress Hosting
Managed WordPress hosting isn’t technically a type of hosting, but more of a combination of hosting type with additional services. In essence, it’s a type of hosting package, but WordPress has become so popular that it’s worth mentioning, especially for those of you who aren’t all that technically proficient.
So, managed WordPress hosting is a service where the hosting company manages all the techy stuff related to keeping your WordPress site up and running smoothly, including handling things such as speed improvement, security, updates, scalability, and daily backups.
The idea is to make life as simple and easy as possible for you, allowing you to focus on your business, rather than tinkering with WordPress every other hour.
You also get great support with managed WordPress hosting, generally from experts who have plenty of experience with this content management system, instead of having to deal with someone who is reading to you from a manual.
Another benefit hosting is that the servers are set up specifically to run this CMS, which means they tend to be really fast, even if your site gets massive amounts of traffic.
Security is also much better because the security is very tight, and your site is constantly being scanned for malicious code, while also ensuring that all hacking attempts are blocked. So, while no system is completely hacker-proof, you are getting as close to being hacker-proof as possible when you opt for managed WordPress hosting.
Backups are made every day, and the CMS is updated automatically. In other words, you’ll never face having to restore your site from a backup that is a year old because you forgot to make regular backups. You also won’t be giving hackers a way into your site but not installing essential updates.
Like with any hosting package, there are drawbacks too.
Managed WordPress hosting is still shared hosting, in the sense that your website is sharing server space with a bunch of other websites and users, yet the price is a fair bit higher. Shared hosting can be as cheap as $1 per month if you find a good deal, but even when there aren’t sales going on, you can still get shared hosting for $3 – $4 per month. With Managed WordPress hosting, prices tend to start at $20 and go up.
You’re also pretty limited. First, the servers are set up to run WordPress-based websites, so if you want to try anything else, you’re out of luck.
Now, let’s assume that’s why you would opt for this type of package in the first place – because you want a WordPress website – so this wouldn’t be an issue. However, there is another limitation, and that is that not all plugins will work on these servers. The host will block any plugin that slows your site loading speed, which won’t necessarily be a disadvantage all the time, but it can become an issue.
Of course, you also have less control than with even shared hosting. You have very little say in what is changed and what isn’t, which can be irritating, especially if you know at least a little about WordPress.
You might say that you would go for a managed WordPress hosting package precisely because you don’t want to tinker behind the scenes, but there are times when you might not want to make certain changes.
For example, you might be using a great SEO plugin that hasn’t been updated to the new WordPress version yet, though it’s in the pipeline. With a managed package, WordPress would be updated immediately, and you’d be stuck without your valuable plugin (which you might even be paying for) until the update comes out.
When to Use Managed WordPress Hosting
If you’re creating a personal blog because you want to share your thoughts and recipes with the world, then managed WordPress hosting is definitely not for you. You can opt for free hosting or for a small shared hosting plan.
However, if you are a freelancer or own a small business and your site gets quite a bit of traffic, but you aren’t technically savvy or simply would rather not fiddle with the behind-the-scenes stuff, then managed WordPress hosting is a great option for you.
You don’t have to deal with security issues, updates, speed problems, uptime issues and so on. So, if you’re looking for a hassle-free experience with great support and don’t mind the limited flexibility or the cost, then managed WordPress hosting is definitely for you.
Choosing a hosting plan can be complicated, especially when you start looking at all of the additional services available. The first step is deciding on the type of hosting you require, namely the ones we’ve covered in this article, which we hope has made your decision easier.
Once you’ve decided on the type of hosting that’s best for your needs, you can start looking into what additional services you really need. There are all sorts of options, but it’s unlikely you’ll need everything, especially at first.
If you’re a beginner, we advise going with a shared hosting package. It’s the most cost-effective option, looks more professional than a free web host, and still provides what you need at the start of your journey.
When you’ve figured out what you need, research the various web hosts to find the one best suited for you. We recommend checking out our reviews and recommended hosts to find the best deal for your needs. Don’t forget to check out the resources and services they offer and not just the prices.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few companies, it will come down to your personal preference. One way you can determine which you prefer is to give each a bit of a trial run. It might require a small investment of money and time, but it’s the best way to see whether a host is a good fit for your needs.