What is Web Hosting?

When you set out hunting for the best hosting plan, you’re quickly bombarded with some of the most confusing marketing in the tech industry. You’ll find boastful lines promising you 99.99% uptime (which comes to roughly an hour of downtime a year) and advanced features like a “game changing” control panel. What you should know is that these details are usually pretty standard across the board.

One thing holds true no matter how you break down Web hosting: there is a computer in a datacenter that is serving the files and data of your website to visitors and their Web browsers over the Web. What separates the different types of hosting is how they’re configured and function in relation to you and the internet.

Relationships between you and your hosting service provider can also vary. Some choose to manage their own accounts and hire professional help when needed while others go through an agency to help maintain their hosting from the top down.

Establish Your Requirements

Before you start your hunt or consult your trusted Web professionals, you should figure out a few things that will help in finding a good fit.

How much traffic should my site be able to serve? Scalability is used to refer to how well a hosting service can flex its muscle when large swaths of visitors come requesting pages. If you’re set up with a small hosting plan, you might be stuck with scaling problems until you pony up cash to have somebody move your site to a beefier hosting account and go through much reconfiguration.

Do I need encryption? If you are interacting with and collecting visitor information such as names and emails, this should probably be a “yes”! It’s not a requirement, but along with the added security benefits is extra trust from your visitors and Google seems to favor sites that use secure connections.

What kind of CMS (Content Management System) are you planning to use? This might not seem like it should matter, but it’s terribly important. There are hosting companies that even cater to specific CMS. Here at Constructive, we have been fond of Pantheon’s ability to help us develop Drupal and WordPress sites so much that we’re now partners.

Where will my email be hosted? The best solution is to trust your email to a separate service like Google Apps or Microsoft’s Office 365 for Email. While some hosting plans will offer email solutions, it makes switching hosting services a tough task down the road.

Will I need help maintaining my hosting services? Hosting companies can and do make it easier to manage your hosting account, but the complexity of Web hosting can be too much for many. Securing maintenance agreements with Web professionals is a good idea for keeping tabs on your website and making good decisions when problems arise.

Shared Web Hosting For the Masses

The most common form of Web hosting is Shared Hosting. You can sometimes get this service for nearly free. As the name implies, your site sits on a “shared” server computer with other hosting customers and might cost you as little as $5 USD a month (or in some cases less). Your neighbors might number in tens or even hundreds.

The quality of this hosting is largely up to how responsible the hosting company is and how much you’re paying. If the hosting company is sponsoring a Nascar driver, they’re overselling resources on their servers in many cases and their technical support is sometimes unhelpful.

Some smaller hosting companies pride themselves on a high quality network setup and keep the number of customers on a server at a responsible level. They’re tough to find, but they’re out there.

One benefit of Shared Hosting is low maintenance requirements. The hosting company handles most of the server maintenance and only requires you to keep your website up to date.

For websites with lower amounts of traffic, Shared Hosting can be a good choice and save money in the long run. However, it is suggested you consult with Web professionals before choosing one of these hosts. They can run the gamut in quality and scalability.

The Ever Popular VPS Hosting

A step up in cost and maintenance requirements is VPS or Virtual Private Server hosting. Medium to large websites choose this option to allow for more customizable server configurations at a lower price than a physical server. Much like Shared hosting, your site is on a server with other sites, but operating as its own independent virtual computer.

Like more expensive Dedicated hosting that we’ll cover below, it can cost time and money to take care of maintenance that you’re expected to handle. The virtual server your site sits on is your responsibility and as such, it requires similar care to an actual, physical server.

A benefit to this type of hosting is the added scalability and convenient resource upgrades. If your server needs more horsepower, a living person won’t have to open up a computer and replace or upgrade parts, but can instead check a few boxes and be off to the races in minutes. Scalability can also be supplemented with other virtual servers and services to make your website more efficient.

Despite all the positives, the maintenance commitment can be significant as time goes on. So it’s important to know if you really need this type of setup or not, or if you need to also consider a management provider.

Some companies that provide this type of “compute” hosting are: Amazon with EC2, Google with Google Cloud, and Microsoft with Azure. Considering VPS hosting has backers like that, it’s easy to see why many medium to large sized customers rely on VPS hosting to serve their websites. We even use VPS hosting for our own website.

Confusingly, this type of service can be branded as Cloud Hosting. While you could argue that there are some Cloud shenanigans at play in VPS hosting, there is another animal that can go by that same name described below.

Making this category even harder to pin down, there is more than one class of VPS service out there. You might be shopping for VPS hosting and among the candidates will be a VPS provider that relies on their own infrastructure to create a virtual server instance for you and a more Cloud-like scenario that not only provides you with VPS service, but offers other products that enhance what you can do with your VPS. Amazon is particularly keen on having everything you might need with their expansive list of Cloud products.

Enter Cloud/Container Hosting

This type of service is relatively new to the hosting scene and is available from only a handful of companies. Some definitely do it better than others! Pantheon is known for using this type of technology. It provides a standardized hosting environment like a Shared service, but the scalability of a VPS service, at a more reasonable cost.

As the name implies, your website resides in a container that has all it needs to work with the host’s server architecture. That container is a constant, maintained by the hosting company – leaving you only keep up your website.

By design, the hosting environment is always up to date (will the real Cloud hosting please stand up) and can scale as high as most websites will ever need. This makes it a great choice for nearly any type of website. Being able to upgrade your plan to access more scalability means you’ll never have to reconfigure your site for an unexpected rush of new visitors. Just a few clicks and you’re handling that huge traffic surge.

If compared to the VPS style of Cloud hosting, you’ll find that a Container based host takes care of the heavy lifting themselves. With VPS, you’re doing work that a container already has done.

The combination of less maintenance, valuable features for your Web professionals and development team, and logical pricing make Cloud/Container hosting an easy choice and many Web developers dig it.

Dedicated Hosting

The breed of hosting that started it all that still exists today is dedicated hosting. It shares a lot in common with VPS in terms of maintenance and technical requirements. What’s different is dedicated servers are physical computers and associated infrastructure that you pay to use and maintain. The raw performance of such a server is unbeatable and can extend past just one server to multiple computers that help make your site as scalable to sudden traffic as you need it, just as VPS can.

Worth mentioning is that these days, dedicated hosting is usually reserved for those that want to do more than host a medium sized website. The cost of using such a service is particularly high as well!

One of the considerations of using dedicated hosting is the necessity to over-provision. Because you need enough resources to handle expected (or unexpected) spikes, you end up buying something too large or in too high a number than you need on a daily basis, and this leaves you with underutilized resources—costing you money you wouldn’t have had to spend with elastically scaling Cloud hosting.

What does all this mean to me and my website?

After covering all this, the one topic that keeps popping up is “maintenance”! Between the cost of ownership and upkeep of your Web presence, it’s easy to see why you should consider what your choice now means a couple of years in the future. Investment in your Web presence goes well beyond your monthly hosting subscription. If you’re lucky, your technical advisors and Web professionals will let you know what’s right for you. It cannot be stressed enough that there’s no one hosting solution that can fit all needs.

Getting rid of all the question marks is key when choosing the right hosting platform. If you’ve got some you’d like answered, just get in touch! We’d love to hear from you.