Note: This is a guest post written by Brian Flores
Choosing the right web hosting provider is a crucial decision that web developers, designers, administrators, and independent webmasters have to make from time to time. In many situations, Internet professionals may not wish to “keep all his or her eggs in one basket,” meaning that they will have an interest in a variety of web properties that need different types of hosting. The sales and marketing departments of web hosting providers often tout specs and statistics like server uptime, high availability and speed to entice clients before moving on to their different plans.
Over the years, the web hosting industry has settled into a number of options which are essentially variations of shared hosting, virtual private servers (VPS) and dedicated hosting plans. These major plans are also known as shared server, VPS and dedicated server programs. They offer a variety of different features and share some characteristics to accommodate the budgets and needs of web professionals, as well as the diversity of their projects.
Since many web hosting providers are likely to carry the three main plans these days, web developers and designers usually begin evaluating potential providers in terms of customer service, overall cost, reputation, and reliability. Professional hosting providers realize the intrinsic value of keeping loyal customers who not only choose to keep their web properties hosted by the same company, but who will also consider hosting future developments on the same servers. For reasons of ease and convenience in billing and customer service, a webmaster may choose single provider to host all his or her websites, but under different hosting plans according to the desired outcome.
Hosting Plan Definitions
In brief, a shared hosting solution places a website into a server environment where it resides with hundreds or thousands of other websites. This is similar to keeping a lot of apps together in the same smartphone or tablet computer. In this case, the websites share not just physical server space, but also a certain level of IP addressing and even RAM.
VPS hosting follows the paradigm of cloud computing. A web professional is assigned a partition which resides in a shared server that follows certain individual assumptions such as the choice of OS, dedicated IP addresses, storage space, and the ability to add domains. A VPS works in a similar fashion as renting an exclusive server that resides in the cloud and which can be remotely accessed.
Dedicated hosting allows webmasters to lease a physical web server with a choice of OS and installed software. A dedicated server plan offers the most privacy and flexibility in terms of programming and management. This is the closest a web developer gets to buying a server and keeping it at the office or at home.
Hosting Plan Features
Most web hosting providers have narrowed down the difference in features among the major hosting plans to: cost, email server options, platform control, security, performance expectations, and levels of customer service. A web developer must first consider if the features they require for a particular project are provided by the hosting plan.
For webmasters on a budget, or for simple projects that do not require sophisticated functions such as a dedicated email server, sharing a server makes the most sense. Most providers only charge a few dollars per month for shared hosting, and some even offer a reasonable level of customer support. As long as the web project does not call for too much in the way of server customization, disk space or RAM requirements, shared hosting is a sensible idea. But once traffic increases, it’s better to look at other options.
- Email Server
Electronic mail is still the most widely used component of the Internet. The World Wide Web and online social networking may have grown at a staggering pace in the last few years, but email is still seen as an old and reliable stalwart. Many web hosts do not offer email server solutions at the shared hosting level, and the few that do warn their clients about the shortcomings of email as a shared resource.
- Platform Control
Shared server plans do not offer much in the way of control. Some offer their own version of a dashboard or control panel that can be managed from a web browser, and nothing more. With VPS and dedicated hosting plans, clients have a choice of OS, and they enjoy the freedom of being able to install just about any compatible software. Depending on the provider, some popular software such as cPanel, Fantastico and LAMP may come pre-installed and ready to be configured.
Firewall customization and control over the content that certain users get to see on a website are features almost exclusive to dedicated hosting. Webmasters who have sensitive requirements such as databases that hold confidential information should strongly consider dedicated hosting or at least VPS over shared servers.
- Performance Expectations
Web developers can be assured that their chosen provider will do its best to ensure uptime and availability on all hosting plans. But when it comes to serving up streaming media and other content that requires lots of bandwidth, dedicated hosting is the only reasonable choice. Webmasters who are certain that one of their websites will experience immediate vertical growth should not even bother with shared hosting.
- Customer Service Levels
Even the most inexpensive shared hosting plans offer a certain level of client and technical support, but their sheer simplicity almost guarantees that service calls will probably be negligible. VPS and dedicated hosting plans will often require a higher level of customer service, and to this extent different hosts will make various options available. Webmasters who expect around the clock expert technical support can expect to pay a higher price for their dedicated hosting.
Shared vs VPS vs Dedicated Hosting – Conclusion
Dedicated hosting solutions are usually recommended to web developers who have complex projects that require major amounts of resources. Most webmasters will initially choose either VPS or the shared server plans, but the ultimate goal is to draw enough attention and visitors to the website that a move to dedicated hosting will be required.
Note: This guest post was written by Brian Flores who works for a virtual private server company based in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter @WHHG_InMotion or @BrianAFlores.