How to: Choose a Web Hosting Solution

Introduction

There are several different types of web hosting solutions to choose from, in which determining the best suited for you will be dependent on your requirements. To make a sound decision, you’ll want to have a grasp on the pros and cons for each service type. So, let’s begin by building an understanding of the different solutions and some of their respective advantages and disadvantages.

Web Hosting Solution Types

Popular web hosting solution services include the following: shared hosting, virtualized servers (cloud instances, virtual private servers, etc.), dedicated servers, and colocated servers. Each solution differing with the level of customization and access you are granted to each of its components.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is considered an entry-level service that is best for those who want to “get their feet wet”. It provides an easy way for inexperienced users to quickly get started managing and hosting websites. For those new to web hosting, the most appealing feature of shared hosting is its removal of a common obstacle for many: knowing how to setup and configure the majority of components. Instead, this solution only leaves the most basic components for you to setup to your liking and leaves the most involved decisions to be made by the host.

All shared hosting services include access to a control panel, which enables the simplification of managing various web hosting components. For instance, FTP users, SSH access, email accounts, SSL certificates, and DNS records are several common components you’ll have access to manage. Additionally, to ease the process of starting a website, one-click installers for common website scripts such as WordPress, Joomla, PHPBB, and Drupal are often enabled (using addons such as Fantastico Deluxe/Installatron/Softaculous etc.).

Due to its limitations, this service type is generally not well-suited for high traffic websites, more experienced users, or those seeking to expand their knowledge beyond the basics of web hosting. Those fitting the aforementioned categories will likely want to investigate other options instead such as cloud/vps instances, dedicated servers, and colocated servers. However, it may still be a cost-effective solution if you have minimal traffic and few requirements.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • – The only other solution with comparable pricing being low-end cloud/vps instances. However, with cloud/vps instances the cost of a control panel is typically not factored into the pricing whereas it already is with shared hosting.

  • Managed
  • – No system administration skills are necessary as the host takes care of security updates, software installation, etc.

  • Simplified access and control
  • – Access to only the most basic components essential to running a website with an easy-to-use control panel.

    Cons:

  • Shared resources
  • – All hardware resources are shared with other clients, which can become problematic when another customer consumes too many resources.

  • Limited control
  • – Custom software/module installations are typically not permitted as the shared hosting environment often is as is.

  • Unscalable
  • – Should you outgrow the shared hosting plan, you will have to migrate to another solution that can handle your growth.

  • Shared IP addresses
  • – IP addresses are shared with other customers by default meaning that any issues caused by another customer on the same IP address inherently becomes yours as well (eg: blacklists). However, a potential workaround to this being the purchase of a dedicated IP address at an additional cost.

    Shared Reseller Accounts

    A sub-type of the shared hosting account is the reseller account, which enables the possibility for you to resell shared hosting to your own customers. Its costs being similar to that of a regular shared hosting account, but this solution differs slightly with its access to some additional control panel features. These additional features are what allow you to create your own shared hosting accounts for resale within the limitations of the resources (disk space, databases, email accounts, etc.) allocated to your account.

    Pros:

  • Ability to create custom shared hosting accounts
  • – Allows you to resell your own web hosting services.

  • Cheap
  • – The only other solution with comparable pricing being low-end cloud/vps instances. However, with cloud/vps instances the cost of a control panel is not factored into the pricing whereas it is with shared hosting.

  • Managed
  • – No system administration skills are necessary as the host takes care of security updates, software installation, etc.

  • Simplified access and control
  • – Access to only the most basic components essential to running a website with an easy-to-use control panel.

    Cons:

  • Shared resources
  • – All hardware resources are shared with other clients, which can become problematic when another customer consumes too many resources.

  • Limited control
  • – Custom software/module installations are typically not permitted as the shared hosting environment often is as is.

  • Unscalable
  • – Should you outgrow the shared hosting plan, you will have to migrate to another solution that can handle your growth.

  • Shared IP addresses
  • – IP addresses are shared with other customers by default meaning that any issues caused by another customer on the same IP address inherently becomes yours as well (eg: blacklists). However, a potential work-around to this being the purchase of a dedicated IP address at an additional cost.

    NOTE:

    The solutions below are typically better suited for anyone that fits the following criteria: you have one or more resource intensive web applications, you have an inclination to learn/practice system administration skills on your own accord, you have high volume traffic websites that may require accompanying management services, or you have previous web hosting experience and simply want more control over your web hosting environment.

    Cloud Instances

    Essentially, a cloud instance is a virtualized dedicated server. Virtualized meaning that the instance’s operating system (OS) is running on top of another OS with its physical resources allocated as virtualized resources. Cloud instances are an extremely flexible solution as well as the easiest solution to scale since resources aren’t dependent on a single server.

    Pros:

  • Pay for the resources you use
  • – For pennies on the dollar, you can be up and running within minutes and have control to stop the billing of your instances as soon as you’re done using them. Therefore, only being billed for the hourly usage and not for an entire month or more.

  • Easily re-install
  • – If you decide that you would like to start over or use another operating system, you can have this completed within a very short span of time versus a half-hour or more with a dedicated server.

  • Highly scalable
  • – Should you outgrow your cloud instance’s resources, you can easily increase the amount of resources allocated to the instance or scale your applications across several cloud instances.

  • Template creation
  • – Allows you to create an identical setup by spinning up a new instance with a template that you created previously.

  • Fault tolerant
  • – Should a problem be detected, a cloud instance can automatically be migrated to other available hardware.

    Cons:

  • Resource Limitations
  • – Instance resources are often defined by the available packages set by the host.

  • Limited OS selection
  • – Operating system choices are limited by the host as they determine which are available to use. Fortunately, this is a non-issue for those that can adapt to any number of popular OS choices should you normally utilize a more obscure choice.

    Dedicated Servers

    A dedicated server, or bare metal server, provides you with the added benefit of hardware customization. Projects that require a larger amount of resources greatly benefit from this option as they can be upgraded and customized to your unique requirements. The only resource limitations being those that you choose for hardware and what the motherboard can support.

    Pros:

  • Dedicated resources
  • – No hardware resources are shared.

  • Upgradeable
  • – Should you need to add hardware, you can likely add as much as you require (so long as the motherboard supports it, and it fits in the chassis).

  • Complete control
  • – There are essentially no limitations on what can be installed on the hardware. The only limitation being the operating system you choose to install must be supported by the hardware you’re utilizing.

  • Free Hardware Replacement
  • – Should a piece of hardware fail in the system, it will usually be replaced at no cost per the SLA (service level agreement).

    Cons:

  • Costly
  • – Pricing can vary significantly depending on the level of customization you opt for when selecting your dedicated server.

    Colocated Servers

    Colocation services allow you complete customization of your hosting environment down to the hardware level and datacenter location. It enables those that have purchased server and networking hardware to rent only rack/cabinet space, power, and network connectivity in a datacenter of your choosing.

    Pros:

  • Hardware is entirely customizable
  • – Choose exactly what hardware you’re using.

  • Dedicated resources
  • – No hardware resources are shared.

  • Upgradeable
  • – Should you need to add hardware, you can likely add as much as you require (so long as the motherboard supports it, and it fits in the chassis).

  • Complete control
  • – There are essentially no limitations on what can be installed on the hardware. The only limitation being the operating system you choose to install must be supported by the hardware you’re utilizing.

  • Choice of any datacenter
  • – The availability of specific hardware is not limited by the location you choose as can be the case with a dedicated server.

    Cons:

  • Costly
  • – Pricing can vary significantly depending on the level of customization you opt for when selecting your dedicated server.

  • Increased Responsibility
  • – Hardware issues are entirely your responsibility.

    Additional Service Options

    Server Management

    Depending on the solution you choose, whether or not maintaining the server will be your responsibility or the host’s will vary. Shared hosting and reseller hosting include management as part of the service by default as limited control is provided. However, all other services types do not necessarily include this additional option by default.

    Management services are generally bundled with your service or can be billed as required. The scope of this service is defined by the host and is typically limited to specific elements such as security updates, software installation/upgrades, and basic troubleshooting.

    Control Panels

    If you select any solution other than shared/reseller, then you won’t necessarily have a control panel included by default. Control panels provide a web interface for managing all aspects of the web hosting environment. Their usage simplifies the many facets of the web hosting environment and makes a good starting point for those new to hosting websites.

    There are several different control panels available with cPanel being the most comprehensive and widely used in the industry. Pricing for control panel licensing ranges from free to monthly recurring charges with popular choices for paid solutions being cPanel, Plesk, Interworx, and DirectAdmin. Popular free alternatives being Vesta, Webmin, and ISPConfig to name a few.

    Domains

    Unless you intend to limit the accessibility of your website to an IP address, then you’ll want to register a domain. A domain is a unique identifier for a resource hosted on a network and a key component of the DNS protocol. Domain registration is often offered by the host with a nominal fee for registration being paid annually.

    Choosing an OS

    If you decide to go with any option other than shared hosting, then you’ll have to choose an operating system to run your web hosting platform on. Choosing an operating system is at you discretion as everyone’s web hosting requirements will vary. However, those that are unsure of what to choose will likely want to select a popular choice such as CentOS, Ubuntu, or Microsoft’s Windows Server Edition as support will be easily accessible.

    Backups

    One commonly overlooked option is the backup solution. The rule of thumb for maintaining any data of significance is to always have multiple backups. A solid backup solution is absolutely necessary in the event that something catastrophic were to occur such as hardware failure of the disk(s) storing your data. Occasionally, hosts provide backup solutions at no additional cost but they may not always be able to accommodate your needs. Be sure that you investigate and research your chosen solution thoroughly to ensure your data is indeed protected sufficiently.

    Written by
    on June 30, 2015

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