Web Host - Types

Shared Web Hosting

Shared web hosting (also called virtual hosting) is the most common type of hosting service used. As the word implies, shared web hosting means that you are sharing one server (CPU time, memory, OS, applications, bandwidth, etc) with a number of clients of your hosting company. The webhost manages the server to ensure uptime, upgrading hardware and software. The cost of shared hosting often depends on the number of clients being hosted on a server as the hosting company tries to maximize profits per server. You will have no control over the server but full control over your website through a control panel.

When shopping for shared web hosting, you must check the terms of service to see if there are any scripts or types of software that aren't allowed by the host. Since all the resources are shared, it is important to ensure that no one user is hogging the pooled resources. Server software like Apache or IIS allows the administrators to localize any errors or unusual CPU utilization so as to not affect the other users, but there remains a possibility of a problem occuring and all the websites on a given server going down.

Shared or virtual web hosting has several things going for it. The main being price - they are usually the cheapest and most affordable solutions for an online presence. Since the company hosts tens of websites on one server, they are able to pass the savings to the consumer. Performace could be a downside, but with hardware getting cheaper and software getting better, this aspect might not be relevant for everyone. Take for example web storage space. Hard drive sizes continue to increase (over 100 GB is now common) and prices fall, allowing providers to give the end-users a better deal. The same holds true for CPUs and other components; dual CPU, RAID, ATA-133, and SCSI based computers are common in the web hosting world. With respect to softare, better management tools have allowed virtual hosting clients to have much of the functionality of their more expensive counterparts.

Even though a lot of websites run on shared or virtual hosts, this type of web hosting is not necessarily the best solution in all cases. If your web application requires an excessive amount of CPU, RAM or other resources, or you need special software plugins and drivers, a shared hosting environment may not be for you. The hosting company has to consider all the clients hosted on a computer and would not appreciate someone hogging the resources nor will they install foreign software as it could have a detrimental impact on their other clients. If your web site needs to have guaranteed or very high rate of uptime, you wouldn't want to take chances in a shared environment as it might be possible that other clients hosted on the computer could cause problems for everyone.
  • Usually the cheapest web hosting solution.
  • Good for small to medium size sites and email domains
  • Can be used for emergencies or as a backup hosting solution

Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting

A Virtual Private Server (VPS), also referred to as Virtual Dedicated Server (VDS), provides the features of a dedicated server for multiple web hosting customers in the form of "virtual computers". At first blush it sounds somewhat contradictory - how can you have a dedicated server if it is being shared by multiple users? Isn't that a regular shared or virtual hosting environment? It is true that with a Virtual Private Server you still share system resources like the CPU and RAM with other users but the resources are allocated in such a way that you cannot tell that the system has anyone else on it, much like a dedicated server. So resources are usually setup in such a way that each hosting client is only allowed to use an allocated percent, meaning that resources assigned to you will always available to you. Each virtual server looks and acts like a dedicated server.

Most hosting customers would rather have complete control of their server environments. They don't want to be hosted on a server with tens or hundreds of other users, who could easily use up all the resources or cause the server environment to be unstable. But at the same time most websites don't need a dedicated server. The Virtual Private Server (VPS) alternative is a very attractive niche hosting solution for a fairly large chunk of web hosting clients who would like the stability of a dedicated server but on a smaller scale. With the resources setup in such a way that each person can only use what is allocated to them, your site will be more consistent because it will always have the same amount of access to the CPU, memory, and bandwidth. Virtual Private Servers are also more secure since even as you share the memory and CPU time, you are allocated your own file system. If a website on the server is hacked, the hackers will only have access to that particular file system and would not harm the other websites. A VPS is also much cheaper than a dedicated server.

Now that you have read the pros of a VPS you are probably thinking that this is the best thing since sliced bread. Well, almost - as is the case with every other type of hosting service, not all providers setup or define Virtual Private Servers, also known as Virtual Dedicated Servers, the exact same way. You must make sure that your provider guarantees that their setup is robust enough to handle operations at a peak level. A trick used by many providers in the reselling and shared space is 'overselling'. What this means is selling more in terms of services than what physically available, with the hope that the end users wouldn't use up all the service that were advertised to them. In the realm of VPS this can be a bit more serious, since atleast the expectation is that you are operating in a more robust environment and many clients could be running more intensive applications like message boards or custom web applications. A shortfall of resources could end up causing problems for everyone hosted on such a server, therefore negating the benefits of a VPS. In a shared or dedicated environment you might be able to access more resources during peak or spike periods but since the VPS environemnt limits you to to your slice of the server resources, it can be a drawback.

As if the technology rich lingo of regular web hosting wasn't enough, the VPS services add a few new wrinkles. Apart from storage space and bandwidth you must also deal with CPU cycles and RAM. So you will see ads for hosting that might include XYZ Mhz and AB mb RAM to go with the usual hosting related features. It would be a good idea to find out how many other virtual servers are running on a physical server (contention ratio) as this will determine the ratio of CPU time and memory each virutal server can realistically expect. It is somewhat harder to figure out how much CPU time or RAM you might need, so seek out a hosting provider that will provide you with some benchmarks and the ability to upgrade or downgrade the VPS service if needed.
  • Allows complete control of your virtual server and its resouces
  • Allows you to run web applications without adversely affecting other clients
  • Flexible - cheaper than dedicated hosting, more expensive than shared

Dedicated Web Hosting

Unlike shared hosting where tens to hundreds of websites of various customers are hosted on one computer, dedicated web hosting solutions allow a client to lease the complete computer and have access to all its resources to host one or multiple websites. This makes a dedicated hosting solution especially attractive for large high-traffic websites, custom development projects creating complex web based applications, and web sites that require a high degree of uptime and total control of the hosting environment.

Dedicated servers can be based on one of many different types of web appliances, like Sun Microsystems' Cobalt line. These servers are usually low profile machines that are mounted on racks, and are optimized for web hosting. If choosing a web appliance based dedicated server, make sure that it will run all the software and scripts your site might require.

These dedicated servers are regular PCs or server machines, running a Windows or Unix based operating system along with web hosting software.

When you purchase a dedicated hosting package, you have access to the complete server. Dedicated packages are usually tailored to the amount of bandwidth, memory, and hard drive space that you might need and they allow for CPU intensive applications to operate without hindering other sites or being conflicted.

The extra functionality and control does come at a higher monetary costs - dedicated hosting solutions are more expensive than the virtual options. But they are providing you with a lot more in terms of resources. Most dedicated hosting packages will involve some sort of a setup fee as it is more time consuming to setup a complete server than it is to create a hosting account in a shared environment. Most dedicated packages will also require that you as a user (or someone on your staff) have the needed computer knowledge to manage the server on a day to day basis. This would include the ability to do remote problem solving, having knowledge of the operating system, protocols and the software installed on the computer. The hosting companies will replace any hardware componets if they develop problems but might not be willing to meddle with the server setup or the software if you have problems. Or they might have an hourly charge to fix these problems. This aspect is important as it could add unforseen costs to your budget.
  • More expensive than shared/virtual hosting
  • Allows complete control of the server and its resouces
  • Allows custom web applications and higher level of uptime
  • Could require software maintenance and system administration duties.

Managed Web Hosting

Managed or "fully managed" web hosting solutions take the dedicated model to a higher level. We know that dedicated hosting allows the client to have full control of the server but dedicated servers can be difficult to operate technically and require that you have certain knowledge about server maintenance and system administration. The notch above is managed hosting, as it takes the dedicated features and adds extra services like reporting and monitoring, load balancing, security, setup, system administration and software updates. This is the most hands-off solution for the client.

Managed hosting solutions continue to provide the benefits of a dedicated server, that is you have access to the complete server. Your package would be tailored to the amount of bandwidth and hard drive space that you might need and CPU intensive applications could operate without hindering other sites or being conflicted. Added as well is the management service that would ensure that the server operates at an optimum level by installing the needed software, updating patches, and providing support for any hardware or software issues. But you must make sure that the provider has the specialized people on staff and provides 24/7/365 support.

Managed web hosting solutions are usually the premium offerings of a company and represent the top tier in terms of service. Therefore they usually command the highest prices - managed hosting solutions are more expensive than their dedicated cousins. Managed hosting packages will also likely involve some sort of a setup fee as it is more time consuming to setup a complete server than it is to create a hosting account in a shared environment. Managed solutions could also be an overkill. If you know your way around the operationg system being used and have system administration experience, you might be paying extra for something that you could do yourself.
  • Allows complete control of the server and its resouces
  • Allows custom web applications and higher level of uptime
  • Provides complete server support and system admin
  • More expensive than dedicated hosting

Server Co-Location

In situations dedicated or managed servers provided by a web hosting provider do not meet your needs, it is always possible to custom build your own server and place it in the data center of a provider. Co-located hosting means that you purchase a server from Dell, Gateway or your neighborhood hardware vendor and supply it to the host. The host will in turn plug your server at its data center providing you access to its network and infrastructure. The webhost is reponsible for the network infrastructure and the data center while you are responsible for the server through remote access. This type of solution allows the very customized and specialized web sites to function at peak performance. Many of the ulta-popular websites use a co-location strategy to provide them with the combination of customization and best possible performance. With co-location you would have to evaluate the specific providers to go over their terms of service, the security of their location, their bandwidth providers, backup and power systems. Some co-location hosting providers may also offer seperate management contracts for the day to day maintenance of your server.

Co-location provides the ultimate in flexibility, choice and control. You as the customer know exactly what type of hosting service you need, and if your own custome server is the answer, you can put it together, house it in a data center and manage it as you please. Most providers will include a secure cage that ensures security and will also allow you to use your own specialized components like routers to increase efficiency.

With co-located servers, you as the customer are fully responsible for the equipment. Most data centers will monitor and manage your system, but any problems will have to be dealt by the owner unless maintenance agreements are in force (extra costs). Co-located servers are most likely to contain specialized software or operating systems aswell, which have to be managed by experienced staff or the customer.
  • Allows complete control of the server and its resouces
  • Allows you to use customized hardware and software for hosting
  • Usually the most expensive hosting solution

Reseller Web Hosting

The area of reseller web hosting is an interesting one for those who wish to create an e-commerce venture, selling web hosting and other related services. Reselling web hosting means that you contract with a hosting provider to sell their server space under your brand. Reseller agreements can be based on per signups, that is you sell one of a number of hosting packages and pay a certain amount of the fees to the hosting company. Another option involves a carte-blanche approach where you pay a set fee and receive certain resources that you are free to resell. Yet another option would be to lease a dedicated server and resell the web space, keeping all the profits.

It allows you as a client, to earn a potential income. If you do web design services, you can easily offer your clients a complete package that includes design and hosting. The clients would appreciate the lower costs and convinience of getting all the services under one roof and you can start building a business that brings in recurring monthly income. Another good use of reseller accounts is if you have a network or websites you wish to host. You might not have enough to justify a dedicated server, but too many to pay for individually. Multiple domain hosting can get expensive if you have to get an individual service for each of your web sites. So a reseller hosting plan can either allow you to create your own web hosting business or host multiple domains from one easy to manage place.

If you decide to get into the business of web hosting, you will have certain responsibilites and expenses. For one you will have to provide support for your clients. This could be anything from email support, live chats to phone support if you business grows. Other responsibilites could include ensuring that your clients are adherering by the terms of service and managing the billing cycles. Unless you are reselling from a dedicated server, this is again a shared or virtual hosting service. So all the pitfalls of shared web hosting would apply here.
  • Allows you to earn an income by re-selling web hosting and services
  • Good for multiple domain hosting
  • Usually come with helpful control panels to manage all the sites
  • Can vary greatly in price, but more expensive than shared hosting

Free Web Hosting

There are many times when you are not able to, do not feel like, or don't need to spend money to host a web site. This could be the case for times when you are building a small site as an experiment, a hobby, as a test platform, or as a backup for your other site. In these and other cases, you can look for free web hosts.

In the Internet's heyday, when everything was free, web hosting was plentiful and quite reliable and feature rich. As many of the web hosts succumbed to a slowdown in the online advertising market, the number of free web hosts decreased significantly. Further more, those who provided free services scaled them down and switched to paid only models for the extra features. Others innundated their free clients with a bevy of banners, popups, popunders, inline ads, javascript and flash advertising, and more.

The obvious thing going here is the cost of the web hosting - its FREE! There are many free hosts that provide a high level of service, and even more that provide many of the extra features like scripting and databases that are usually seen in paid hosts. These services are an excellent way for novices to cut their teeth and also allow backup sites along with a testing platform for more experienced webmasters.

There is no free lunch, so there must be some drawbacks to free web hosting, and there are. For one, you are usually forced to show some sort of advertising. The web host has to re-coup their costs, they would even like to make money and you cannot blame them for that. Banners, text links, pop-ups, pop-unders and combinations of them are common. Free web hosts also tend to limit the storage space they provide, they limit the type of files and the subject of the content, they usually have size limits on the files you can upload, they don't usually provide features like scripting, shopping carts, databases and more. Apart from that, some free hosts might provide sub-domains and while others might have sub-directories - so no custom domain names. Lastly, hosting on a free web host does not give a very professional impression, especially if the website is an e-commerce or business site.
  • The price is right, free
  • Don't have many features, limited resources
  • Constrain the type of content and files you can have online
  • Does not give a professional impression

Corporate web server solutions, personal web sites, and small business e-commerce sites require very different web hosting solutions. A corporation would definitely want a dedicated web server, that is managed 24 hours a day 7 days a week, by a staff of highly trained administrators On the other hand, someone who runs a casual, personal web site may find that a basic free web hosting service is more than enough for them.

When choosing a web host it is very important that you first consider what your needs are. After you have figured out your needs(after reading the Web Host Guide) you will be able to choose the correct host type. Web host types can be narrowed down into the following categories:
  • Minimal Shared Hosting - Free, very little features
  • Shared Hosting - Most Popular, your web site is located on a server that hosts many other sites.
  • Dedicated Server Hosting U- Unmanaged (little to no customer support), server administration is left to the customer.
  • Dedicated Server Hosting M- Managed (includes customer support), the administration is *usually* taken care of.

Dedicated Servers - Unmanaged

If shared hosting does not give you enough bandwidth, storage, or the features that you require, a dedicated hosting solution may be the right solution for you. With a dedicated server there are no limits on the number of databases and email aliases you can create. Your bandwidth is much greater, with typical dedicated server plans alotting 500-1000GB of bandwidth per month. If extra storage is needed, simply order a new hard drive for your server. The only downside: you must know a great deal about server administration.

Becoming a skilled server administrator requires a great deal of training and computing know how. If you are low on cash and are willing to learn server administration the hard way, prepare for a difficult journey. However, if your budget is large enough, then managed dedicated hosting may be a better solution.

Dedicated Servers - Managed
You have steep requirements for your web site. Shared hosting doesn't work for you, but you do not know how to set up your own web server, nor do you know how to customize it to your needs. You are going to need a lot of assistance to get your server box up and running and you need support when something goes wrong. The solution for you is a managed dedicated solution provider.

Managed hosting is a very specialized market, with a wide range of prices that depend on how much security, reliability, and the level of support you require. When choosing a managed dedicated server provider we recommend that you either get referred to the provider from a trusted associate or do a few hours of research on the web. Whatever you do, do not rush into a long term contract without knowing a fair amount about the service provider.
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