Different Types Of Web Hosting Explained
- Adam Douglas
Selecting the right web host is not easy even for the more experienced. There are so many types of web hosting let alone other factors that this can become quite frustrating. I’m sure a lot have done the common search of “best web hosting”, then begin reading the search result articles to only come back with more confusion, more questions and just ultimately left with questioning yourself, “how do I choose and why?”.
I cannot explain everything on the subject of choosing a “web host” but let me at least contribute to explaining the different types of web hosting such as how they work, pros and cons and who they may be best suited for.
What is Web Hosting?
Let’s first clarify what web hosting even is. When you go to view a website using your web browser or browser (e.g. Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, etc.) it connects to a server to download the necessary files and then displays it for you to read. The server is just a specialized computer and software that is configured to handle requests like the request to a view a website and provide you with the necessary files to do so. The company or person that owns the server rents it out to people like the owner of a website along with additional services such as automatic backups, email, server management, technical support, etc. So with that said the company or person providing the infrastructure for others to use is called web hosting. The hosting provider is the company or person who provides the web hosting.
Explaining The Different Types of Web Hosting
Web hosting is not just one thing but encompasses many features and services. The hosting provider breaks it all down by a plan, package or specific service that has a set amount of features, limitations, overage fees and cost. Some even charge based upon usage rather than a flat rate. The range from the lowest to the highest plan or package can vary drastically. Let’s try and break this down to a more basic level and look at the technology used for the server since that part determines quite a lot of factors such as performance, security, scalability and level of work for you.
We will begin looking at the most common types of hosting, platform/SaaS hosting, shared hosting, VPS hosting, dedicated hosting, cloud hosting, reseller hosting, colocation hosting and cluster hosting.
These type of hosting services are referred to as a platform or software as a service (SaaS). You are renting the specialized software to help in development of a website using a web based graphical user interface (GUI). In return, you receive storage space and bandwidth to host your website. The big selling factor for some is the fact that they can build a website quickly and easier for themselves without much technically knowledge or assistance. The platform provides all the necessary software as a service (SaaS) to make a website (website builder) and host it. This type of software at times come with Shared Hosting. Commonly though to the general public they most likely hear of it as a separate service such as Shopify, Squarespace, Weebly, Wix or WordPress.com. There are other common options such as GitHub Pages, GitLab Pages or even Neocities however these are similar but not exactly the same as they do not come with a complete package of software to help you along the entire process. I should note that GitHub and GitLab are services primarily for developers however for some they enjoy using Pages service to host their website.
Platform/SaaS Hosting can be very cost-effective especially when money is limited. It’s great to use for beginners or those that don’t enjoy the process of making a website. However, all this does come at a disadvantage and this varies between which hosting provider you look at. With software doing most of the work for you this brings limitations of control, creativity and even ownership. Since most of the responsibility is being looked after that can mean that they don’t have the best interest for you and your needs. In regard to ownership, more often than not if you choose to move to a different hosting provider you are not able to take your entire website with you. When you design a website using Platform/SaaS Hosting it requires that system in order to function. Each hosting provider offering Platform/SaaS Hosting has different implementations therefore they are not compatible.
I should be noted that some offer free plans, just remember even though it maybe free that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost you something in other ways. I’m not saying to not use such a service just giving you something to take into consideration. This maybe a cost-effective solution, but not in terms of overall features and capabilities compared to Shard Hosting.
- Ease of setup
- Easy to build websites
- Limited technical knowledge for some hosting providers
- Limited features
- Limited options for expansion
- Limits possibilities due to lack of capability
- Ownership, can lock you in to a specific hosting provider
- Very limited control
As the name “Shared Hosting” implies, you are sharing a piece of the pie per se of the available resources with many other customers. Depending on the hosting provider this can be a few customers, hundreds or even thousands of customers. Think of it as an apartment building, everyone shares the building but each of you have your own private area. Just in this case you share all resources, CPU, RAM, hard drive space, network bandwidth, etc. Being that you are sharing resources the bill is split amongst other customers providing you with a cost-effective choice for entry-level or small websites. You can go as cheap as $3/month CAD but averages around $5 to $15 CAD. Sharing though isn’t always a good thing as other websites can use up resources causing reduced website load time or even cause downtime (website not reachable). As an added feature of shared hosting some providers offer a one-click install system for web applications (app marketplace). This makes it really easy to set up say WordPress within minutes. Just keep in mind that this just helps with the installation process and not with the configuration. As well at times I’ve found these web applications are quite out of date. Your experience may vary.
This is an excellent option for beginners, those on a limited budget or just don’t have demanding requirements. Even for small businesses this can work to give you an online presence. Common attributes to using shared hosting, development, low traffic, none critical, personal site, static content and testing.
- Ease of setup
- Limited technical knowledge
- Limited scalability, if more resources are required they may not always be available
- Performance issues out of your control
- Sharing server resources with other websites
- Slower loading times and downtime
The Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting can provide a balanced solution but keep in mind it is still considered a shared environment just with a different configuration. A VPS shares one physical server but with separate virtual machines. Each virtual machine is a server system that is running in software rather using multiple server systems to achieve the same thing. Each virtual machine is given a dedicated amount of RAM, CPU, storage, etc. As a result the demand on the server is greatly reduced since you are sharing with a small group of other customers. The major gain is getting more of the resources for just you to use without others being able to exceed their limit and having a negative effect on your website. Since this service is controlled by software it is quite easy to allocate more resources by your hosting provider when required. This all of course is not without additional cost and resources are not limitless.
If the budget is tight this many not be the solution for you. Average VPS cost is around $20/month CAD to $200/month CAD, but it can get into the hundreds. With more power comes more responsibility. This level may require educating yourself further. VPS can be scaled, but it has its limitations due to hardware. You can only have so much storage, RAM, CPU power, etc. For those that have the money it is an excellent solution, however as long as your requirements warrant to do so.
- Dedicated server resources
- Flexibility to make custom configurations
- Higher reliability
- More cost-effective than dedicated hosting
- Higher Cost
- Not as easy to set up than shared hosting
- Scalability is limited by what you can control
- Sharing server resources with other websites
This solution should be more clear, as the name really says it all. You get a dedicated server for you and only you to use. You have more benefits such as uptime and faster website load times which gains peak performance. Unfortunately though this comes with a few catches, cost is expensive and almost complete responsibility of the server. Think of it as owning a house, you get completely control if you want a fence, plant tress and flowers, build a shed or renovate the kitchen, almost everything is up to you. How much you can do, varies somewhat depending on options you choose and what the hosting provider offers.
Typically, this type of web hosting is revered for large websites to even enterprise level that have more than 100,000 monthly unique visitors. At this stage usually one would be bringing in plenty of revenue. As it sounds this level does require a lot of knowledge. You can get varying management levels to have some work looked after for you but of course not without additional cost. Overall this is for advanced users that enjoy doing it and require a much higher level of resources. Two reason you may choose this solution is if you have specialized hardware requirements, or you want a lot more control over data privacy.
- Complete control over the server
- High security
- No sharing server resources
- Peak performance, fast load times and high uptime
- High responsibility
- Requires technical knowledge
This type is very similar to VPS hosting. The major difference is you are a part of a whole network of servers in which one can pull the resources dynamically as needed. This option is used a lot, so much so that people may not even realize it. How you are billed can get complicated since you are charged by what resources you use. Therefore, it’s not always fully predictable what you may pay from month to month. Cloud hosting providers usually work with a mix of fixed pricing and pay-as-you-go fees. So if you have a spike of traffic one month you may have a huge bill to pay, but that may mean you’ve made higher revenue that month to make it worthwhile. As an added bonus since resources can increase or decrease automatically this can aid in better handling from attacks. Cloud hosting simply put are amazing, and they do allow for far more scaling of your website than traditional systems. It is likely that eventually cloud hosting may replace shared and dedicated hosting as technology progresses.
At this stage if you are looking at VPS or cloud hosting there are not a lot of differences between the two generally speaking. So much so many hosting providers have already replaced VPS hosting with cloud hosting or cloud VPS.
- High Security
- Low downtime
- Scale resource up or down on demand
- High responsibility
- Pricing can get complicated
- Requires technical knowledge
- Unpredictable costs
Becoming a reseller is like being the hosting provider with some support. View this as you subletting a portion of your house to multiple tenants. Giving each tenant a piece of the pie to allocate resources similar to Shared Hosting just the major difference for you is you’ve become the landlord. You even get control over what your plans offer to your potential customers.
This is definitely an option for those advanced users that enjoy doing this type of work or are in the industry of making websites (web developer) and this just supplements their services. To me there are no pros or cons in this area as this is a very specific web hosting type for those specifically seeking it. Yes you can host your own website however the focus here is more to do with hosting your customer’s websites.
A very specific service for the advanced technical user, as this takes things to an extreme level where you no longer rent a portion of resources but rather rent space within a server rack. This typically means you are proving your own server hardware and the host provides the power, storage facility and Internet connection. You are responsible for hardware failures and hardware upgrades. This is not something you normally would get to solely host just a website. Most would be better off using another hosting solution.
Clustering is where you take multiple servers that operate together and act as one server. This provides hosting load across multiple physical servers (nodes) which in return increases availability and decreases the chances of one service affect another. The difference between cloud hosting and cluster hosting is it is done over a smaller area instead of spread throughout the world. Just as it sounds this is another solution for the technically advanced user and is not fitting to host just a website on. You requirements at this stage would be quite complex.
Which Type of Web Hosting is For You?
I unfortunately cannot say exactly which one is best suited for your circumstances as it can be difficult to decide, and it does take a lot of consideration. Just like anything else when you first start to learn something new it can become daunting but if you break it down into chunks, as you go it becomes easier and easier. Hopefully I’ve helped you understand the different types of web hosting so you at least know what you are now looking at.
For those just starting out it’s completely fine to use Shared Hosting or Platform/SaaS Hosting to start out and then transfer to a more powerful setup. However, only upgrade when your current hosting type is no longer able to meet your needs.
From this point I would suggest researching out multiple hosting providers to compare features and costs to you requirements. At the end of this process you should have 2 or 3 you like. If you can’t decide you can try to contact those hosting providers to help answer your questions, so you can choose one to go with.
I admit this isn’t for everyone, so there is no harm in contacting a consultant like myself to assist in the process. Consulting usually costs money but having someone with experience can be very valuable and aid in getting to the end goal faster and freeing your time to focus on other matters.
I personally use Cirrus Tech Ltd. located in Canada. If by chance you decide to use Cirrus Tech, do consider using my affiliate link when you go to make a purchase to help support me.
I’m publishing this as part of 100 Days To Offload. You can join in yourself by visiting https://100daystooffload.com.
- Bandwidth (computing), Wikipedia
- Cirrus Tech Ltd., personal affiliate link, hosting provider, Canada
- Computer Cluster, Wikipedia
- Question Mark Pile Questions, qimono, published July 11, 2017
- Server (computing), Wikipedia
- Virtual private server, Wikipedia
- Web Browser, Wikipedia
- Web hosting service, Wikipedia
- correct name "Square Space" to "Squarespace"
- add cirrus tech affiliate shortcut link
- correct grammar
- correct spelling
- remove tags builder, hosting, web
- change topic