Introduction to Web Hosting Types

When searching for a web hosting provider, there are a variety of types to choose. It seems like every month, a new and innovative hosting type is released to the internet consumer accompanied by numerous promotions and deals. With so many available types, the customer is often left confused with many questions about which is best for them.

The most common types of web hosting found in market include:

•    Free hosting
•    Shared hosting
•    Dedicated hosting
•    Co-location hosting
•    Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting

Free Hosting

As the old adage goes, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” and the same is evident for the web hosting industry. Although a hosting plan may have zero cost, specific functions for large sites may be lacking. The hosting company offers free services as a small taste of their products. Therefore, as your site advances beyond the basic requirements, the host will offer upgraded services for a fee.

However, free web hosting is not something that should be avoided as it is excellent for start-up businesses, personal websites, building a small site for an experiment, a hobby site, test platform or backup of another site. Typically, these will not incur a large amount of traffic. If your site grows, more resources will be allocated to your account for a monthly fee.

There are three advantages of free web hosting which include:

•    Cost
•    Experience
•    Small site usage

The first advantage of free web hosting is the cost – it’s free! There are many web hosting providers available that delivery a high quality service with some extra features like databases and scripting. These are common features found in paid hosting so free host’s that offer these should be reviewed.

The second benefit is experience. Free web hosts are a great way for beginners to get their feet wet. This way, new web owners will learn the basics of control panel usage, databases, scripting and other functions. The third pro is free web hosting favors small sites that have a small budget and do not consume a large amount of resources.

Since there is no such thing as a free lunch, there are drawbacks to this type of web hosting. There are a few downsides to free web hosting which include:

•    Forced advertising
•    Lack of professionalism
•    Limited resources
•    No custom domain names
•    Lack of additional features.

Almost all free web hosting services automatically place advertisements all over the website. This is one method for the hosting provider to recoup their costs and turn a profit. The most common types of advertisements include, banners, pop-ups, text links and pop-unders. These advertisements make the website appear to be unprofessional. For personal sites, this is irrelevant, however, for those running a business, this can be a major hindrance for increasing customers.

Another shortcoming is the host typically limits server resources, such as storage space and bandwidth transfer as well as the type of files placed on the server and the content. Furthermore, the company restricts the size limit of files being uploaded to the server. In addition to limited resources, the free hosting provider does not allow for custom domain names which eliminate any type of branding strategy.

Finally, most free web hosting providers do not apply advanced features to their free plans. These attributes usually make the website more functional and attractive to customers. Common advanced functions include, shopping carts, databases (in some instances) and scripting (in some instances). These features are almost always available with paid hosting.

Shared Hosting

The most popular type of hosting is shared hosting which involves hundreds of users planting their website on a single server. The more each account holder pays the more resources they receive. This type is so popular because it is the perfect balance between cost, resources and number of features provided.

There are many advantages to using shared web hosting including:

•    Price
•    Performance
•    Features
•    Choice of operating system

When searching for a web hosting provider, most customers look first at the price. Next to free hosting, shared is the most cost-effective type. Since the provider hosts hundreds of websites on a single server, they can pass the savings on to the customer.

Many customers feel the performance on a shared server suffers due to the number of accounts consuming the resources. While this may have previously been the case, with hardware components constantly decreasing in price and software maximizing the efficiency of the equipment, performance is becoming less of an issue with shared hosting.

Additionally, shared hosting plans are typically chalk full of additional features like shopping carts, scripting, databases, applications, add-ons, unlimited email accounts, multiple domains and much more. Since the industry is so competitive, companies must differentiate from one another through the number of features provided.

Finally, shared web hosting gives users the option of selecting the server operating system they wish to use. Depending on specific company need, this adds a great deal of flexibility by choose between Windows and Linux.

Unfortunately there are a few issues with shared hosting and may not always be the best solution. These limitations include:

•    Resources
•    Software requirements
•    Security
•    Potential for less uptime

For those websites that consume a large amount of resources like RAM, CPU, bandwidth and storage space, shared hosting may not be the ideal option. Since the server is being shared among many accounts, there are only a limited number of resources available. Also, if your website requires any special software, upgrades, applications, scripts, drivers or plugins, shared hosting may not be for you. The hosting provider must find the most general option for all customers on that server.

Another downside is security. Since there are often hundreds of websites hosted on the same server, it is easier for those with nefarious intent to hack into other accounts. Although most providers have systems in place to prevent these actions, hacking is definitely still feasible. This compromises your customer’s information and your data. Finally, since the equipment is shared, there is a highly likelihood of downtime as a result of the amount of resources being consumer during high traffic times.

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated hosting is considered the Cadillac of the web hosting world because customers have the entire server, its resources and bandwidth to themselves. Therefore, this is a highly attractive option for large, high-traffic websites and those that require a large amount of resources and uptime. Dedicated hosting gives the owner complete control over the server for unlimited flexibility.

There are many obvious pros to dedicated hosting which include:

•    Complete control
•    Flexibility and customization
•    Performance
•    High level of security

With complete control over the server, you are able to fully customize the settings to cater to your business needs. Software selection, applications, plug-ins and backups are all at the owners fingertips. He has the option to upload and utilize any program he needs while setting automatic backup times in the case of an issue. Also, since there is only one individual on the server, dedicated hosting delivers the highest level of performance possible. Your website is only limited by the resources of the server, not by the number of accounts sharing those resources. The result is quick page loading and downloads by visitors. With the trend of resource-intensive websites, dedicated hosting can handle anything that is thrown at it.

Finally, security is the highest priority of dedicated servers. Once again, since there is only a single account per machine, website operators do not need to concern themselves with hackers who already have an account. Also, there is no potential for other unsatisfactory web sites being shut down by the ISP due to illicit content.

There are a few major cons to dedicated hosting which include:

•    Cost
•    Unforeseen costs
•    Technical knowledge

The first issue is the most important, cost. Due to the luxury of dedicated hosting, the costs can be substantial. Most providers charge a setup fee to complete the server and create the correct hosting environment. This is in addition to the monthly cost. Also, there are a number of unforeseen costs such as the hourly charge the provider may implement to fix any hardware problems. This is an important aspect of the service that must be reviewed prior to signing a contract.

Finally, the website operator must have some type of technical knowledge (or hire someone) to maintain the server on a daily basis. As previously mentioned, most providers will replace hardware but do not assist with software. This usually indicates, upgrades, backups, security and application installation. The customer of the service is required to complete the tasks.

Colocation Hosting

Similar to dedicated hosting, colocation hosting offers the same benefits with the addition of being able to use your own equipment. A colocation facility only provides the racks, space to store the equipment and internet connection, all other aspects remain in the hands of the website owner. Maintenance, upgrades, security and backup is left to the website company.

There are a few additional advantages to colocation hosting such as:

•    Flexibility
•    Control
•    Choice

Since the equipment is the website owners, they have the flexibility, control and choice to customize the server options based on their own personal need. This includes operating system, all software, backup, upgrades and much more. Many organizations opt for this type of hosting for this very reason.

There are also several disadvantages including:

•    Responsibility
•    Technical knowledge
•    Extra costs

Since the owner of the website owns the equipment, they are completely responsible for all maintenance, as previously mentioned. The majority of colocation facilities will monitor the equipment but if a problem arises, it is the responsibility of the owner to fix it. As a result, a high level of technical knowledge is needed to maintain the server. An network professional could be hired, but this will certainly incur extra costs.

Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting

Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting is another form of hybrid dedicated hosting in which the host provides all services of a dedicated system for many customers across virtual computers. System resources are shared by many users, however, the performance is maximized because the resources are pooled. Therefore, to the user, their server appears as being dedicate only to their account.

There are many advantages to this type of web hosting including:

•    Balance between dedicated and shared hosting
•    Affordability
•    Security

VPS provides users with a balance between dedicated and shared hosting. Although several customers are sharing the resources, each user receives the exact amount of RAM, CPU usage, bandwidth and storage space they need for their website. As a result, the customer is paying for only what is used with no extra overage charges making this one of the most affordable types of hosting available.

Additionally, VPS hosting is much more secure since you are allocated your own file system. If another website using the same resources is hacked, it will not affect the other sites on the network.

However, there are a few disadvantages to this type of service which include:

•    Availability
•    Setup
•    Shortfall of resources

Since this technology is fairly new in the past several years, not all web hosting providers are on board. Therefore, if you have a current provider that does not offer the type of hosting, you will be forced to switch. When you find a VPS host, ensure the setup is robust enough to manage the website during peak times of traffic.

Furthermore, in rare instances, the amount of resources cannot support the number of websites across the VPS network. If this occurs, the performance will significantly diminish causing major issues. Although there is no way to prevent this from occurring, always conduct research about the hosting provider you are pursuing.

The aforementioned information discusses the five major types of web hosting. Selecting one of them should be purely based on your current business needs and what they have to offer that will add value to your operation. Once a type is chosen, conduct research on the companies in that category to ensure you are signing up with the most reliable available.