What is web hosting?

service2In this post we’ll go through from the basics of web hosting to the more complex issues and look at what you need to find in your web host to suit your requirements.

If you want the rest of the world to see your website you need someone else to ‘host’ your website so it is accessible to the public via the internet. In very simple terms this is what a web server is, a computer that is always on and connected to the internet. Hosting is just companies that rent out servers.

When someone puts in the web address for your website it points towards that server and hey presto, your website is served. (DNS is also involved here and your domain name registrar but that is another post) But not all hosting services are equal and certainly not all servers are. A server can range from, at the lower end of the spectrum, a repurposed desktop machine which is converted to a server (this is more common than you might think and is a viable solution for less critical infrastructure) to dedicated high-end servers and cloud services. To give you a idea with one provider you can rent some basic hosting for under a dollar a month and with another host you can rent a dedicated high-end box for over $300. So how exactly do you pick what you need?

I must declare a very big warning here- as the saying goes “pay peanuts and you get monkeys” and this is so true in the web hosting environment. If you choose your web host purely because they are the cheapest then you run the very real risk of ending up in a “bad neighbourhood” This is a server which spammers have also dumped their sites on for short term goals. Once they have trashed the “neighbourhood/server” they then move onto other cheap servers and give them a bad name- which reflects on every other website on the same server- so don’t say I didn’t warn you. This is only me saying this Google does as well!!!

Shared VS Dedicated VS Cloud VS Specialist

service3These are the four main environments in which your website may be hosted and each has it’s own pros and cons. Let’s address these individually, as each is suited to different applications.

Shared hosting

Most sites don’t need a whole server to themselves, and because of economies of scale it’s a lot more cost effective for hosting companies to have fewer large servers than more smaller ones.
You rent a space on a physical server and a virtual server is created within that space. So you still have your own dedicated environment, but it exists alongside lots of others within a single physical server.
By creating a virtual environment it means that you get a set share of the resources on the server and someone else doing something stupid with theirs shouldn’t affect yours. It’s a good option for small business or where you don’t require tons of resources.
Your host will take care of server requirements, not your website security requirements (again another post) but the server security needs.

Dedicated hosting

This is where instead of your own space next to everyone else as in a shared hosting setup, you rent an entire server. If you’re dealing with critical infrastructure or high volumes of traffic, this may well be the best solution for you. You can either rent a whole server with an environment already set up for you or you can opt to rent just the box and deploy what you want on there.

In reality unless you’re a developer or sysadmin specialist, renting just the box is not going to be the right solution. Even having an entire physical server is overkill for most sites, unless you have very high bandwidth, security and infrastructure requirements. Cloud based solutions have increasingly becoming a better fit for these requirements as well.

If you’re going down the dedicated hosting route you should be aware of the maintenance responsibilities. Unlike shared hosting where it’s the responsibility of the hosting company to keep the physical machine up and running, on a dedicated box monitoring is often left to you.

Cloud services

Cloud hosting is closer to shared than dedicated hosting in that you’re renting a virtual environment. However instead of having a set share of resources you have a ‘pay as you go’ model. You pay for the resources you use, scaling instantly.
This is the best fit for those businesses with dynamic requirements that require very flexible solutions. You can use a small amount of resources and then scale up massively for peak periods.
Because of the sheer scale needed cloud services are generally only offered by larger or specialist hosting companies. Amazon Web Services is one of the most well known. As the cost of storage comes down more and more solutions are appearing, but this is still one of the most expensive forms of hosting as that kind of flexibility doesn’t come cheap.

Specialist hosting

There are also a few specialist solutions out there with hosting services tailored to more niche markets. A good example is WordPress hosting, where it’s a hosting company that just services WordPress sites.
Generally specialist hosting isn’t the cheapest in the market, however it is usually still very cost effective and you should find a good plan for ~$30 a month.

So how much bandwidth / storage and everything else do I need?

service1Good question 🙂 This can be a hard one to estimate. Bandwidth is a bit of a misused term within hosting as well. Instead of meaning the amount or volume of traffic that can be handled (as in how much traffic can it handle at once) hosting services tend to mean the amount of data transfer allowed. A bit like the download / upload limit on your internet connection that you need to consider when looking at plans.

The speed of your hosting is important as well, however this is a bit harder to work out in advance. Because so many different factors will affect the connection speed of both you and your audience to the website. This can be vary massively from person to person depending on everything from connection speed to time of day or how many people are trying to connect at once.

The storage is just that – how much hard drive space you’ll be allocated. If you have a giant database and tons of media files you’ll need more storage. You may well need to search around for something to fit if you’ve got high storage and low bandwidth requirements as the two usually scale directly together.
Also be aware if you are going to leave your email on the server such in the case of imap email accounts then this is going to add to your storage space requirements.

A note on unlimited hosting

You’ll find that lots of services offer ‘unlimited’ hosting, meaning it’s all you can eat storage and data. Of course it’s not really unlimited – otherwise Google would be hosting their data centres for a few dollars a month 😉 All of these unlimited solutions will have some actual limits and fair usage policies.
Most will start throttling your connection after you reach a certain point, you may have to do some digging with different providers to find out where that point is. Like any unlimited service they rely on the majority of people underusing the resource available and capping those who overuse. But something will definitely be limited and this will mean that you will be up sold to a more expensive plan. The limiting factor could be the number of files, bandwidth, storage etc- buyer beware!!

So what’s best for you?

Really this depends on what you’re looking to host. If you’re just starting out look for a provider who offers great support that you can actually talk to either via phone, email or live chat. Test out any potential new hosts by emailing them and seeing how long it takes for them to reply to you. If they take forever to reply to a presales question there is a good chance they will take even longer to reply to a support issue.
When you are starting out go for a small package – you shouldn’t be looking to pay more than $30 a month for whatever you choose. You’ll find you can always upgrade and generally providers on shared hosting are good at monitoring and letting you know if you’d be better off on a bigger plan (this is how they make their money after all, they won’t have any problem with upgrading you to something more expensive).
Remember, hosting services will always be happy to scale up your solutions, so start with what you think might be just enough and upgrade as you need.

You can talk to us at UAC Infotech if you want get a great hosting plan that can grow with you 🙂

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