Angelfire. Geocities. Tripod. Easyspace. Stop me if I’m going too far. These are some of the names that consumer level Web denizens learned about Web hosting. I’d offer a link to the first site I ever built, a 5-page mess I built in 7th grade featuring stories about my friends, if I didn’t feel like you would cease to take me seriously for the rest of this post.
My point is web hosting has existed for a long time, and a generation of computer-savvy youngsters was introduced to the awkward, confusing world of Web hosting at a time when our own troublesome clumsiness was difficult to deal with.
I’d like to think that hosting and I have both matured equally. I have a job, drive a car and maintain a serious bonsai garden. Meanwhile, hosting has evolved into a metropolitan industry that has made itself essential to the data-driven world in which we live.
Now, in an era where companies would be remiss to forego a digital presence, a digital metropolis of hosting providers and options has sprung up offering different flavors of hosting for the endless types of web existences there are. If you’re considering what you need in web hosting and weighing your options, here is a basic rundown of what’s at the table.
There are many organizations and institutionalized blogs that run their operations from Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr or any of the other free-to-play blog hosting services. For an annual fee, the domain can be purchased. Ten years ago, it’d be hard to imagine a serious website being hosted on the Xanga services, but the Internet has evolved into an amoebic creature that turns its head toward granular customization. Now there are plugins, integration, OpenGraph API, protocols and all the other jargon that means your home page can be anywhere. This works out well for independent vendors, musicians, budding writers and the like, but if you’re Sears, you probably need a more comprehensive solution.
While it’s hard to say that in-house servers have been the most “popular” mode of hosting, they have certainly been the dominant one over the past 10 years. Large companies with sufficient funds can buy the servers that their sites are hosted on, which is beneficial because it gives them full control over the infrastructure. Server administrators have access to every resource on the server and can apply them where they see fit, whether that’s developing a customer info database, hosting multiple website or what have you.
That control does come at a price. Literally. Servers are not cheap, and neither is storing them, maintaining them, updating them or hiring a team of professionals to do it for you.
A result of that is server rental, wherein a business can pay a company that owns a warehouse of servers to host the site and maintain it for them. This has a lower buy-in rate, and companies can elect how much storage space, bandwidth and whatever else they need and pay for it on a regular (read: monthly, yearly) basis.
The new wave in hosting is the cloud. You’ve no doubt heard the phrase “cloud computing” ad nauseum, so I won’t go into the nitty gritty details, save to say that those who elect for cloud service are treated to a scalable hosting solution. What does that mean? With the server options mentioned above, your site can be susceptible to crashes, limited resources and the general tedium/cost/burden of running a server. The cloud pulls resources from an ostensibly infinite pool to scale to your needs and you only pay for what you use. It’s a more dynamic and flexible server solution for hosting sites or applications that could get very popular or experience substantial flux.
The cloud has been in the consumer market since Gmail went out of beta and now a number of lifestyle applications and websites depend on the cloud’s functionality to deliver the experiences they promise. Does that make the cloud the de facto solution for every company’s needs? Not exactly, but it does offer quite a few benefits for small businesses and enterprise corporations, which is such a large chunk of the market that it’s not likely that we’ll see the cloud evaporate anytime soon.
There are a number of companies that can provide these services (and more!) but my job is simply to let you know what’s available to you; “I can only show you the door…” and all that. The options are many, but the first step is to identify what you want out of your web presence – an e-commerce site? Youtube 2? A collection of retro handheld games remade for the web? Once you know what you want, choose the option that best suits your needs, your price and maybe even where you want to go.