Why do I need hosting for my website? 

With a lot of providers offering web hosting packages, all at different prices, it might be concerning to some organisations when they look for the right package.  Once you add in VPS, Dedicated Hosting, MySQL, Apache, VPN, SSL, FTP, BBC, PBS, RSVP and all the other acronyms, you start wishing that everyone would just STFU.

But don’t worry: you’re not alone if you find yourself lost in the whole hosting world.  So many companies are looking for your business and with each of them offering different packages, things can get confusing.

Here at Cocode Designs, we pride ourselves on being able to explain services and products without using language that would make Prof. Stephen Hawking confused.  Whether we provide these services or we don’t, we need to make sure that you understand them too.

It’s our job after all.

So we decided to put together this helpful guide for you to save you from getting discouraged from your online business.

What is a web server? And why do I need one?

The first thing we need to clear up is what a web server is.

Think of a web server like a computer that is permanently connected to the Internet and can be accessed by any computer on the Internet at any given time.  This computer holds all of the files that allow your website or your online application to run and uses a specific type of software to run the files properly.

If you run WordPress on your site, for example, your web server will run the required files, connect to the server’s database when it needs to, and present your visitor with the website you wanted them to see.  A lot of the code in the WordPress application will require things specifically found on web servers, which is why it won’t run properly on your desktop or laptop computer.

Just because it’s permanently connected to the Internet, however, doesn’t mean that everyone can get access to all of your information.  Certain users can access certain areas at any time.  Again, if you use WordPress to manage your site, you need to log in to a specific area before you can add any content or delete any content on your site.  This is cordoned off by a user login screen, which restricts access to the admin area only to those that are authorised to view it.  It knows if you are authorised because you would have a username and password that it recognises, which is encrypted and stored in your database so that nobody can find out what your password really is.  This is done on your web server before it ever reaches your computer because the server uses code that your personal computer wouldn’t understand.

Why not just have one type of hosting?

That’s sometimes just down to good marketing, but more often than not each type of hosting will have limitations to keep costs down.  Some companies want more than the basics, or they want servers that can handle a large influx of visitors, and this costs some money.

Cheaper (or even free) services would be perfectly fine for a start-up business or a local community group, and they would readily fit almost all budgets.  But once you get more people visiting or you need more functionality, you might want to start looking at some stronger equipment on your side.

So here are just some of the most common types of hosting you will encounter from the majority of web hosts.  We’re using Unlimited Web Hosting to demonstrate these products, partly because they are our web host, but also because they have the products we are talking about.  Like with our post about website domains, we are not being paid by Unlimited Web Hosting, nor are we explicitly recommending their services.  There are a great many providers around to get the same products from.

So let’s jump right into this.

Shared Web Hosting

Shared hosting packages are usually very cheap.  You can get what seems like quite a lot for little money.  Unlimited Web Hosting, for example, offers its shared hosting package for less than £5 per month, including taxes.  Some providers may charge more, some less.

But that low price comes with some significant drawbacks and this is where shared hosting gets its name – you are sharing the server with dozens, possibly even hundreds of other websites.  Some providers may even have thousands of websites on one server.  That means the hard drive space, the processor speeds, the memory, everything is shared between all of these websites.

That, unfortunately, means that my hugely powerful web application will use the same basic software that your new startup will.  So, if I require a lot of resources, I’m restricting what’s available for you.

When you’re starting up, or if you’re just displaying a simple basic website, shared hosting can often be enough, especially when it helps to keep costs down.  You won’t see any elements of my website on yours, but you might see a dip in performance if my site uses more of the processor.

Reseller Web Hosting

Reseller hosting packages are essentially shared hosting packages with a few extra tools.  As a standard user, you won’t need to worry about this, but it allows companies to provide their “own” hosting services, branded with their company’s logo and style.  Sometimes, the real hosting company will handle support queries on your behalf.

These usually cost more than standard shared hosting packages, but not always by much more.  Unlimited Web Hosting, for example, offers their Reseller package for about £15 including taxes.

However, reseller packages aren’t really suitable for everyone.  If you’re looking to sell web hosting as part of your business, then it will be perfect for you.  Otherwise, just stay with a standard shared hosting plan.

Cloud Based Web Hosting

Ah, the Cloud.  The wonder child of web technology.  Everyone’s heard of the Cloud, it’s the best thing in the technical world.

It’s also just a bunch of servers connected together, pooling resources and managing them effectively.

Cloud Web Hosting is quite a new hosting technology based on the idea that, as your needs grow, your hosting company can just add more hardware.  Like shared hosting, you are sharing the resources with other providers, but unlike shared hosting, you are usually allocated a specific portion of the resources.

Amazon Web Services is very popular Cloud Web Hosting service.  They provide you with a complete system where you can add modules as and when you need them, and you are charged only for what you use, rather than one set price for features that you might not use.

Occasionally, shared hosting and Cloud Web Hosting services will work together, especially when asking the Cloud Hosting to take over some of the processing power.  Quite often, Cloud Hosting is the next step up after shared hosting.

Virtual Private Server (VPS)

A virtual private server is similar to shared hosting, except you pay one amount per month for a specific slice of a server’s resources.  This is a step between shared hosting and your own dedicated web host.

Even though a VPS will share the hardware resources with other accounts, your account is allocated a slice of the resources just for you.  Your account will not share any of its allocated processing power with my account, so my powerful website won’t bring your site down by overloading the server, and it saves on the costs of a dedicated hosting server.

Unlimited Web Hosting offers two types of VPS accounts: its standard VPS server for just over £10 per month including taxes, or its “Hybrid” server for little over £70 per month including taxes.  This steep jump is because its Hybrid server is split into much larger chunks than its standard VPS offering.  That means you may only have a dozen different accounts on one Hybrid Server, compared to a hundred on their standard VPS server.  This, they claim, gives “performance close to that of a dedicated server but at a lower cost as hardware components can be shared”.

Dedicated Web Server

Dedicated Web Servers are just that: a server dedicated to you and your site.  The hard drive, the memory, the processor, everything on that server has been allocated to running your site.  As well as the dedicated hardware, you will usually have full control over how those resources are deployed in your site.  Because of this, it’s probably best to consider hiring a system administrator to take care of the technical running of the site or get your IT team to look into it (if you have one on board).

Because this hardware is only for your site, it also tends to be one of the more expensive services you can purchase from a hosting company.  Unlimited Web Hosting charges its customers almost £120 per month including taxes for a dedicated server.  However, if you’re at a stage where a dedicated server is required, your company is probably at a point where it can cope with the costs required.

Self-service Web Hosting (aka “Your own server”)

This is the ultimate hosting package, the piece de resistance, the pinnacle of all services – run the thing yourself.  This is different from a “dedicated” server in that this is your own hardware.  As in, you bought it outright.  You literally own this server.  A dedicated server is still owned by the hosting company, but this is yours and yours alone.  Unfortunately, that means any costs incurred for running this server are yours to bear.  These costs would include things like:

  • Data centre space;
  • Cooling mechanisms;
  • Power (ideally with a backup power supply);
  • Bandwidth from a decent Internet provider specialising in web hosting (so not your standard service that you would use for your home or office Internet);
  • Backup systems;
  • Staffing and support;

And much more besides.

Obviously, you would need to shop around for server costs, but if you are a company that would be in the market for running your own server, you would have the funds available to do this already as well as the team available to put it all together.

How do I choose the right one for me?

Naturally, you’re left asking which server is right for you but I am sorry to say that, just like with your domain, the answer is “which one suits your needs?”  A new business could easily get away with a shared hosting package, but allocate funds as early as possible for the possibility that you may need to upgrade after a few years.  Alternatively, if you are running a huge web app, you would want to have either Cloud Web Hosting or even a dedicated web server to effectively cater for your needs.

Also, Unlimited Web Hosting is not the only provider around that offers these services.  Most all major web hosts will offer these services, and some may offer more besides.  Speak with the sales team or the technical support team of your provider for more information.

And that’s it.  Hopefully, you know more about the different types of web hosting available.  If you want more information, then feel free to contact us, or you can leave a comment below to share your stories about using web hosting services and the different providers you would recommend.

Nathan is the Creative Director and Founder of Cocode Designs.  A web designer since 2007, Nathan has had an interest in all things technological for many years.  He has a breadth of experience working in the non-profit sector, as well as working with a few new startups in recent years.

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