When it comes to choosing web hosting for your business or personal use, the range of options available can seem pretty complicated. That’s particularly true at the business end of the market, where the technology terms can seem like the territory of an IT expert, but it’s actually remarkably simple when you go behind the buzzwords. If you want to understand even more, here’s a guide which shows you the web hosting options you can take, along with some comparisons of owning your own hardware, versus using a hosting provider.
Free, Shared and Reseller Hosting:
Starting with packages most suitable for personal use or the smallest businesses, we’ll start with the Free Hosting option.
Free Hosting is generally offered as an advertising-supported service and is limited in functionality. Given the low cost of paid hosting, it’s hard to recommend for anything more than basic experimentation, although it’s still possible to build up a blog or media website which starts on a free service such as Blogger or WordPress.com, which do include free hosting to get you going. You’ll still have to invest in a domain name, or put up with your url including .blogspot.com or .wordpress.com.
Shared Hosting is probably the most common package available for websites, which means your site is put on the same server as potentially hundreds or thousands of others, sharing a common pool of resources. This means you benefit from a low price, but you’ll rely heavily on the hosting company rolling out updates, improving functionality etc. If you intend to go outside common software such as WordPress, you may have to shop around to ensure you have the right server setup available.
Reseller Hosting basically allows you to become a web host yourself, and in theory, you could be using any of the hosting models listed below for businesses, along with Shared Hosting. This can either be a way to recoup some of your hosting costs on a small scale, or can grow into a sizeable business offering your own level of technical support on top of your provider’s hosting services. Before jumping into offering your own re-branded hosting, it’s worth considering the time and effort you may have to provide for technical support and when things go wrong, especially if you want to cover your costs or make a profit – but it can be very useful to have available as an upsell for a web design agency, for example.
Owning your hardware: Home/Office Servers and Colocation:
These are the options if you want to have as much control over your hardware as possible. You’ll buy the equipment, set it all up, and keep it running.
Home and Office based hosting is the model many businesses used in the early days of the internet. You buy your server, put it somewhere in your home or office, and then try to ensure no-one unplugs it by mistake. Home use has declined, particularly as some Internet Service Providers will actively try to block home servers from being used due to the potentially high traffic and usage.
For business use, setting up servers in your office involves additional infrastructure costs such as making sure servers stay cool, are secure, and don’t get unplugged by the cleaner at night. It also means investing in more servers and upgrades as your business grows.
Large businesses can find themselves paying a high amount of building costs for their server rooms – if you’re located in an expensive area for space such as Central London, would you rather fill a floor of your building with servers (Including the costs for power, fire safety systems etc), or people that could be earning you more money? Home or office server hosting is not really advised for most.
Colocation hosting attempts to solve that issue for you. You still own your own server, but it’s physically located in a hosting company building, which will provide electricity, internet access and storage facilities. You’re still responsible for all software and hardware upgrades and updates, and in many cases will need to travel to the hosting location to perform those tasks.
Cloud Hosting and Dedicated Servers:
If you want to avoid hardware costs and hassles, then there are still options for you to choose from depending on your budget and ambition.
Cloud Hosting allows you to benefits from scalable and reliable hosting which is based across multiple (clustered) servers. This means that if one piece of hardware fails, other servers should automatically compensate. It also potentially lowers the cost of your hosting, as you are only billed for what you’re actually using at any time, and a rapid surge of popularity can be accommodated by rapidly assigning more resource to your business. Regulations and perceptions around Data Security and Privacy are both potential reasons why cloud hosting isn’t right for every business.
Dedicated Servers and Virtual Private Servers are the final two options. A Dedicated Server allows you to have full control over a web server owned by your hosting company, which means you have full administrative access, responsibility for security and maintenance, but no hardware costs. The Virtual Private Server achieves the same effect, but uses software to do this across multiple physical servers, which means a lower cost, and the ability to move and scale resources quickly. There is also a middle ground available from some providers which gives a ‘Private Cloud’ by offering non-shared infrastructure with the same cloud-based functionality.
Choosing the right web hosting:
Making the right web hosting decision is actually fairly simple with a little thought about what you are hoping to achieve.
For personal use I’d recommend staying away from free services for a number of reasons, especially as shared hosting is so affordable. Unless you’re extremely worried about where your information is stored, there’s little reason for a home server, and you’ll be able to download and backup your data from a shared account as much as you like.
For business use, the main question will be between owning hardware and letting someone else handle the cost of both the equipment and maintenance. For most businesses, it is far more cost effective to let a company dedicated to hosting handle as much as possible, using Cloud and Virtual Private Server options to be as flexible and scalable as possible. The key is to find a provider which you can build a trusted relationship with, and can demonstrate effective procedures for those rare occasions when something goes wrong. It’s rare, but given previous cases of floods or even trucks crashing into server buildings, it’s worth investing the time and money into a company which inspires peace of mind, rather than always going with the cheapest option. And you’ll still save money over the cost of maintaining and managing your own hardware, which is rarely required or beneficial for a huge majority of web-based companies.