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Opinion

Different types of web hosting

Rich Dean, Creative Director

By Rich Dean on

Supersonic Playground Ltd

An often overlooked but essential part of any website is web hosting. With many different types of web hosting available, choosing the right package can be overwhelming. In this article, I’ll introduce the basics of web hosting, and discuss the three main types: shared hosting, virtual private servers (VPS) and dedicated servers.

What is web hosting?

Put simply, web hosting is the physical space where websites live. A website is made up of files such as HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP and more. These files need to live somewhere that is accessible to the public, and this is where web hosting comes in. When you buy different types of web hosting, you’re buying space on a special piece of computer hardware called a web server that has been specifically designed to host websites to the public.

It is possible to host a website on a normal home or office computer, but it’s not for the faint hearted and we wouldn’t recommend it. We don’t host websites ourselves. Instead, we work with a handful of carefully selected providers who have the infrastructure, support and specialist expertise to handle it for us.

What about domain names?

Domain names are actually separate to web hosting, but they usually go hand in hand. A domain name simply points to the web hosting when someone types it in their web browser. You can even have your domain with one company and web hosting with another.

The different types of web hosting

Shared web hosting

As the name suggests, with shared web hosting you’re buying a small share of a web server that has been setup to host many websites. It’s usually the most cost-effective solution as the cost of the hardware is being spread across many customers. The web server will probably have been configured in a generic way to work with most website types, so you’ll have limited control over how the web hosting is configured, but it’s ease of use makes it attractive for those with limited technical knowledge. Because it’s a shared resource, shared web hosting tends to be slower than higher-priced alternatives.

Virtual private servers (VPS)

A virtual private server or VPS is a cost-effective middle ground between shared hosting and a dedicated server. Like shared hosting, you’re paying for a share of a larger web server. Only this time, you’re getting an isolated ‘virtual’ instance of a server. This is achieved using virtualisation software that is running on the main physical server. The virtual server can be configured to run its own operating system and software, giving the VPS owner complete control of the configuration, but at a fraction of the cost of buying the physical hardware.

Dedicated servers

At the top end of the scale are dedicated servers. Here you’re paying for the actual hardware itself, meaning you get the full control and security of having your own web server with none of the downsides of sharing it with other users. This privilege comes at a cost, so be prepared to pay a hefty price.

Other types of web hosting

Cloud web hosting

Whereas traditional web hosting is restricted by the physical hardware it resides on, cloud web hosting utilises an array or ‘cloud’ of interconnected computers. This means that the web hosting can be scaled up and down depending on usage, which gives a level of flexibility and reliability that traditional hosting cannot match. If one resource fails, there’s no downtime as the connection is simply rerouted to another resource. If more resources are needed, the supply is simply scaled up. Because of the flexibility it brings, cloud web hosting usually works on a ‘pay as you use’ basis, which means it can be harder to estimate how much you will spend compared to traditional fixed-cost web hosting.

Managed web hosting

Web hosting can be complex and time consuming, especially if things go wrong. With managed web hosting, you pay an additional fee to the web hosting company to manage your web hosting for you. Managed web hosting doesn’t usually apply to shared web hosting as the web servers are usually managed by default, but if you’re considering a VPS or dedicated server and don’t have the time or knowledge to manage it yourself, it’s probably a good strategy to invest in managed web hosting.

In summary

Web hosting can be confusing if you’re unfamiliar, but it’s really just a case of finding a solution that suits your business objectives and level of technical knowledge. Hopefully you’ve found this article useful and have a better understanding of the different types of web hosting, but if there’s anything else you’d like to know, drop us a line at hello@supersonicplayground.com.

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