Which Is the Best Web Hosting for Your Site?

Server

For small businesses looking to connect with today’s e-savvy customers, a smart and engaging website is essential. Yet before you hang out your electronic shingle, you must choose the right web hosting solution for your business. Depending on your needs, you’ll most likely choose a host from among the four most popular hosting options—dedicated, shared, virtual private server (VPS) and cloud.

Dedicated Hosting

If you are particular about the hardware and software, or simply want exclusive and direct control over the server hosting your site, then dedicated hosting is for you. Since your site receives its own server, it won’t need to share resources or processing power with anyone else’s site. You can configure the setup with whatever operating system (OS) and security features you like, without having to worry about adjusting your content or code to fit a cookie-cutter mold.

As you might imagine, all this exclusivity comes at a price: dedicated hosting is the most expensive option, and might be outside your budget if you’re just starting out. As you’re effectively paying rent on the hardware you’re using, in addition to the cost of whatever bandwidth you purchase, expect to pay $100 or more each month. Also, while dedicated hosting provides a more stable hosting experience than shared hosting, going it alone means you’re on the hook for any software and hardware maintenance (including upgrades and repairs). It also means, should your server fail, your site will be inaccessible until you can rebuild the server and restore your files.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is the most popular method of hosting in use today, and the most affordable as well. When you purchase shared hosting, your website is allotted space on a server along with several others. You can choose from among several plans scaled to suit your budget and needs. HostGator, for example, offers three levels of shared plans, starting with “Hatchling” at around $4 a month (offering support for a single domain, unlimited bandwidth and basic website building tools, along with unlimited email addresses) and climbing to “Business,” which costs three times as much at $12 a month but offers support for unlimited domains and adds a toll-free number for your business into the bargain.

As with dedicated hosting, you have control over your own content, but because you are just one of many companies using the same piece of hardware, you don’t have to worry about maintenance or repairs to the software and hardware (of course, you won’t have a say in choosing the operating system, port configuration, or updates to system software, either). Also, sharing the server means sharing resources, too. If another site on your server draws a lot of traffic, every other site hosted on that same machine may slow down (or even crash) if the server can’t handle the load.

All that said, shared hosting remains a solid option for businesses with smaller budgets or those just getting started on the web. Think of shared hosting as the equivalent of renting an apartment rather than owning a home. You’re paying a lot less each month, and you don’t have to worry about keeping up the place, but you also can’t control your neighbors or tack on a new wing whenever you like.

VPS Hosting

If your website draws moderate to heavy traffic and want to control every aspect of your server and site configuration, but you’re wary of spending hundreds of dollars each month on hosting, VPS might be the solution.

Bridging the gap between shared hosting and dedicated hosting, VPS hosting provides the advantages of a fully-customizable server at a (relatively) low price by creating virtual machines (VMs) that share space on a single powerful system. You’re sharing space, but because each VM runs in its own isolated memory space and receives a predefined partition of system resources, your “server” is protected from crashes or heavy traffic on other VMs, and can be configured with whatever OS and other software you like. Plus, because everything is software-driven, your server can be cloned on the fly, meaning server downtime issues are (if you’ll pardon the pun) virtually nonexistent.

With no hardware to lease, VPS hosting can be had for as little as $20 a month. Virtual hosting company VPS.net offers a basic plan at that price with a dedicated 1.2 GHz processor, 376 MB of dedicated RAM, 10 GB of storage space, and three TB of network transfer. As with shared hosting, the options scale with your budget. Seriously power-hungry users can purchase a dedicated VPS with literally ten times the power, space and transfer of the basic plan for $140 a month.

Cloud Hosting

Much has been made in the media of late about “the cloud,” the ephemeral and yet ubiquitous place in the electronic ether that stores our music, backs up our files and, thanks to advances in multi-source processing and file management, hosts our websites. It might sound more like a nebula than a nexus, but what we call “the cloud” is in fact a decentralized network of computers working in concert to process, store, and serve up information. In other words, much of the cloud is the Internet itself, or at least the massive processing and bandwidth capabilities it provides.

Hosting services in the cloud combine the features of the other three popular services. Because it’s totally virtualized, it doesn’t have hardware costs, and as with a VPS, you can back up, clone, move, or delete your content on the fly without your users ever being the wiser. Scalability and pricing are extremely flexible; hosts like Rackspace offer managed hosting for $100/month (plus use) or  “pay-as-you-go” plans that save you money by charging you only for the storage, processing and bandwidth you actually use. You only pay for as long as your server exists, and most hosts will be more than happy to customize your configuration to meet your needs and budget.

But it’s not all laserbeams and pixie dust in the cloud. The same virtualization that makes this option so flexible also limits its power. While moderately priced cloud servers can match or even exceed low-end dedicated servers, they still lag behind their pricey super-powered silicon-and-steel brethren in terms of raw processing power.

Decentralization might provide a hedge against system failure, but it’s hardly a guarantee. If the cloud system hosting a variety of services fails, it can create a cascade effect, taking down anything and everything it hosts (cloud-loving behemoth Amazon learned this lesson the hard way in the summer of 2012). And, while having a server that’s easy to manage, clone and configure from just about anywhere is a definite plus, putting all of one’s eggs in the cloud basket means trusting that you’ll have reliable access to that basket. It also means trusting whoever’s holding the basket not to drop it, lose it or—worst of all—give away your eggs to anyone who comes asking.

Choosing the Host that’s Right for You

In a hurry? We’ve created this chart to help you sort through your options and find the right hosting solution for you.

 

SERVICE

PRICE

PROS

CONS

BEST FOR

Dedicated Hosting

$$$$

• Total control

• Flexible OS and security configuration

• Lots of power

• Expensive

• Maintenance and Upgrades are user-funded

• May not have an adequate backup without additional investment

Power users with lots of traffic and large web sites.

Shared Hosting

$

• Cost-effective

• Scalable plans

• Security, maintenance and upgrades included in price

• Performance is limited by shared resources

• OS and other software may not be user-configurable

• Vulnerable to crashes due to shared resources.

Businesses new to the Web or with modest budgets.

VPS Hosting

$$/$$$

• Affordable dedicated hosting

• Scalable plans
• Flexible OS and security configuration

• More powerful than

traditional shared hosting

• Costs can approach dedicated solutions with upgrades

• Dedicated service on a shared server remains susceptible to system-wide failures

Businesses looking to move into dedicated hosting without spending a lot of money.

Cloud Hosting

$$

• Affordable, scalable and flexible hosting

• Offers traditional and “pay-as-you-go” payment options

• Server downtime and backups virtually eliminated thanks to decentralization

• No upper limit on costs with some plans

• Not as powerful as high-end physical servers

• Dedicated service on a shared server remains susceptible to system-wide failures

Businesses looking for affordable, powerful hosting with flexible payment options.

Also see this guide to choosing the best host for your needs, or compare hosts & read our more detailed overviews of the four most popular hosting options: dedicated, shared, virtual private server (VPS) and cloud.

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