How Web Hosting Works
In order to understand the different types of web hosting plans that you can find out there, it is essential to first get an appreciation of how web hosting works. You are probably here because you have been carrying out research on the best companies with which you can host your website, right? Along the way you have probably come across companies such as DreamHost, Bluehost, HostGator, Network Solutions and GoDaddy. These are the big names in the web hosting and related services field.
- Web hosting services providers run businesses that allow you to get your website online. Companies such as HostGator and Bluehost specialize in the provision of the technologies; both software and hardware, that allow you to publish your site on the Internet. (You can read our head to head review of the two companies.)
- These technologies include servers; computers and computer programs that allow for simultaneous access by multiple computers.
- Web hosts play host to your site and allow other computers to have access to it. When you sign up for any of their plans, you, on the other hand, are essentially renting space on their servers for use by your site. You pay a monthly fee for the privilege of having your website hosted.
Types of Web Hosting Plans
For beginners, understanding the differences between the available types of hosting plans can be difficult. Things are not helped by the fact that each of the types can have sub categories. Web hosting services providers have adopted arbitrary naming standards when it comes to hosting plans. Whatever name companies such as Bluehost, HostGator, DreamHost and GoDaddy have given for their products, traditional web hosting comes in three basic types:
- Shared Hosting
- Dedicated Server
So, what differentiates these hosting plan types and which one is the best for you?
As mentioned earlier, when you sign up for a hosting plan with a company such as Bluehost, you are essentially renting space on their servers. It is the nature of the space that you wish to rent that determines the type of hosting plan that you end up choosing.
- Shared hosting, as the name implies, involves the shared use of computing resources by a wide number of sites. One thing that you need to understand is that servers are huge, when compared to your computer.
- In fact, most of the web hosting companies have what are called server farms; a large number of computers that have been grouped together in a single location.
- When you sign up for a Shared Hosting plan, what it means is that your website will essentially share space on a single server with many other sites belonging to other people.
- One server can, theoretically, handle thousands of websites. However, that does depend on the level of traffic on each of the sites.
Shared hosting is, arguably, the most popular web hosting plan type across the globe. This popularity can be attributed to the fact that it is also the cheapest. At Bluehost, the plan starts at $2.95 (for 36 months.)
- The low prices can be attributed to the fact that the costs of running a communal server are shared among hundreds, if not thousands of people.
- It is only natural for beginners to gravitate towards this option and it is usually good enough for most websites and blogs.
You don’t have to worry about setting up and securing your site
- With Shared Hosting, you mostly never have to worry about setting up and securing your site. Most of the things that you need in order to do so are provided by the web hosting company as part of the plan. Security is also provided, even though you do have to pay, in most cases, to have it activated.
- Another advantage that comes with the Shared Hosting option derives from the fact that it also offers the fastest and simplest path for you to get your website going. Everything that you need in order to get started comes already pre-installed, and all that you need to do is pay for it, upload your files and you are good to go.
Sharing a server with thousands of people may be the cheapest option, but it is not always the right one. To those who do not wish or are not able to share server space with other people, Web Hosting Services Providers offer Dedicated Hosting.
- A dedicated server is a server that has been reserved for use by a single website or by an organization. Dedicated hosting is the most expensive of all the types of web hosting plans. However, it is also the most flexible. With dedicated hosting, you get your own server, which you can customize in ways that are not possible with Shared Hosting.
- Dedicated hosting is also comparatively reliable and has an unsurpassed uptime. Part of this reliability is due to the fact that dedicated servers have less congestion and are, thus, able to operate more efficiently.
- With a dedicated server, visitors to your site will notice an increase in the speed with which pages load. The advantage here comes from the fact that the server that you get has been set up in such a way that it is able to meet your specific needs. This eliminates congestion and helps increase speed.
Virtual Private Servers (VPS)
Virtual Private Servers are sometimes referred to as Virtual Dedicated Servers. Virtual Private Servers are servers that emulate dedicated servers. As with Shared Hosting, VPSs are still housed on shared physical infrastructure.
- However, unlike Shared Hosting, if you sign up for a virtual private server, you get your own space that resembles that of an actual physical dedicated server. Having a Virtual Dedicated Server gives you the kind of flexibility that would not be available with Shared Hosting.
- You get, as an example, to install your own software, and are assigned a dedicated IP address. In simple terms, you get super user status, and can manage both your files and domains without having to involve the hosting company.
- Virtual Private Servers are a cheaper option when it comes to web hosting, since management of the servers is still shared among a lot of people. A VPS plan thus has all the advantages of both dedicated and shared hosting plans.
Which option should you go for?
As mentioned at the beginning, the choices that you make with regards to a web hosting plan type will depend on your unique needs. Beginners often make the mistake of choosing the cheapest web hosting option that they can find without caring much about the effect that that will have on the performance and delivery of their websites. While it is not possible for us to prescribe which particular web hosting plan type is best for you without knowledge of what your specific needs are, we can go over each option in detail:
- Shared hosting offers the cheapest way for you to get your website online. It is also the easiest way, mainly due to the fact that setting up is relatively easy. With most things coming already pre-installed, all you have to worry about, in most cases, is management of your site. The core software side is handled by the host.
- It should be clear, based on this analysis, that Shared Hosting is best for those who are working on limited budgets and whose sites are not that complicated.
We have already discussed how dedicated hosting gives you an unparalleled level of flexibility. With it, you are free to manage your site however you want. You should, therefore, have the relevant technical skills to be able to set up and manage a dedicated server.
- Clearly, dedicated hosting works best for those who are looking to run more sophisticated websites. It also works for large corporations that have teams of web developers and security experts on standby. The cost factor also discounts those who wish to run small, low revenue generating sites.
Virtual Private Server Hosting
Virtual Private Hosting strives for a place somewhere in the middle between Shared and Dedicated Hosting. It offers all the benefits of having a Dedicated Server, including the flexibility that comes with having your own virtualized server environment.
- However, the physical infrastructure is still shared, which helps make it more affordable. So, who is best suited for Virtual Private Hosting?
- Small to medium sized businesses are probably the ones which would benefit the most from having their VPSs.
- The VPS option could also work for individuals. However, the costs per month remains high when compared to having your website hosted on a shared server.
- It should be said that Virtual Private Servers still require a certain degree of technical knowledge that is not necessary should you choose the Shared Hosting Option. However, the existence of the Managed VPS option, which comes with the necessary hosting software already installed, makes this an accessible option for almost everyone. As an example, HostGator offers both fully and semi managed VPS solutions. The fully-managed option comes with cPanel, which should be welcome to most people.
And to the question, “Which web hosting plan type is best for you?” The answer is, as it is with many things, “It depends on what your needs are…”