Professional Web Hosting

Okay, so you want to set up your website.  So how do you wade through the variety of webhosts available and choose the right one?  If you’ve already decided a free host is not for you, this page talks about professional webhosting.  If you’re going to pay for your host, you should be able to choose that host wisely.

If you’re doing professional hosting, there are generally three options for you to go with: shared hosting, dedicated hosting, and cloud hosting.

Shared hosting

Imagine the server that your website is hosted on.  Now imagine it has its own little room on that server, and surrounding it are many other rooms of many other websites.  That’s what shared hosting is.  It’s when there are a lot of websites on the same server—you’re sharing your server.

The upside?  You’re a collective of websites.  That means you share the cost for maintaining that server you all live in (it’s cheaper). In addition, the webhosting company takes care of the server in general, which means you get less headaches, but also means you have less control over the hardware and options.  Another disadvantage is that, since there are a lot of websites on one server, your website may take longer to load since the server is dealing with many different sites at once.  You’re also more vulnerable—another website on your server could mess up the whole system, and you get the consequences.

When you sign up for a shared server, there are pre-defined limits, like the amount of disk space your website can take up, and how much data you can transfer a month.  If these requirements go up, you’ll probably be asked to upgrade.  Thus, shared servers make a lot of sense for small projects or first websites.  If you’re going to be handling a lot of traffic, you should check out dedicated hosting.

Dedicated Hosting

This is when you lease an entire server for yourself. Instead of a bunch of rooms with different websites, you’ve got one huge room all to yourself.  You can choose your operating system, your hardware…you have control.  However, depending on the host, this control may mean that you may have to manage everything, such as updates, technical support, etc., by yourself.  Dedicated servers perform faster than shared servers—since there are less websites for the server to handle, it can give full attention (and therefore speed) to yours. There’s more protection from system crashes, since you’re the only one dealing with the system and don’t have to worry about another user messing it up.  (If you are that person…well, this is awkward.)  Dedicated servers are more expensive, but also give you more control, flexibility, and power on your website.

Basically, dedicated servers are more expensive, but allow you more autonomy, making them a wise idea if you have a bigger website with more traffic.  If you don’t know what your traffic situation will be, you might like cloud hosting.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud computing is the newest kind of hosting, and it addresses the problem of “what happens when my website needs change, and change suddenly?”  Shared and dedicated hosts have pre-defined limits on your website’s amounts of data storage, bandwidth, etc.  Practically, this means that if all of a sudden your site gets successful and receives many more visitors than originally, you will have to take time with your webhost to switch to a more powerful server.  Meanwhile, your many new visitors are sitting, waiting for your page to load, which can’t, because there’s too much traffic that the server can’t deal with.

Cloud hosting aims to solve this problem by the following method: instead of your website living on one server, it really has access to a “cloud”—a network—of many servers, on demand.  This means that, if your traffic goes up, your website can access more servers/computing power as needed.  And this happens almost immediately, as opposed to with shared and dedicated hosts.

Here’s a fantastic explanation of the cloud:

Like the video says: with dedicated and shared hosts, you pay for your server all the time, even when it’s not running.  Cloud hosting charges you like an electric bill: when the server is running, you are charged.  If it needs to expand to deal with more traffic, you’re charged for that during the time you use it.  When you need less power because your traffic has gone down, the host instantly removes all of the extra power and charges you for what you’re using.   This attribute makes cloud hosting great for merchants with busy seasons, or anyone who wants the capacity for a lot of traffic unexpectedly.

Cloud hosting makes a lot of sense; indeed, Google and Amazon certainly think so. However, since you’re not actually sure where your data is physically being stored, oftentimes arguments and concerns come up in regards to its security.  Bear this in mind if you’re thinking about going with cloud hosting.

Other Factors

Once you’ve narrowed down your needs to one of these three, there are still a lot of choices to choose from.  Two quick things to consider:

  • Environmental Policy—Do you want your webhost to use only wind and solar energy, like greengeeks.com or thinkhost.com?
  • Branded Reseller Program—Would you like your website to sell webhosting under its own name?  Many webhosts allow you to re-sell their hosting under your name, and pay you commission.

There are a lot of web host review sites to guide you along your way as well.  Check out Jury Host, Web Hosting Secret Revealed, or Web Hosting Geeks for some opinions.  For personal accounts of webhosts, see our blog about our experience with Fatcow and some things to watch out for, and the philosophical conclusion of Shaun Boyd at Life Reboot on paying too much for webhosting.