What is Web Hosting?Publisher: Psychz Networks, January 05,2015
THE BASICS OF WEB HOSTING
In (very) simple terms, the internet is an enormous interconnection of websites, all of which offer some sort of information or online experience. Every one of those websites, once it is created, has to be stored somewhere so that it can be accessed by visitors. The process of storing websites and making the information available to visitors is called web hosting.
But What Is Web Hosting, Exactly?
The concept of web hosting is easy to understand if you take things step by step. A website is stored on a computer, in almost the same way that your personal files are stored on your home computer; the only big difference is that a “website storage computer” is connected to an extremely fast network so that it can quickly and easily display websites to visitors. Computers which house websites are known as “servers” (because they serve information to visitors) and the company which maintains those servers is called a “host” since it is usually a home for many different sites and servers.
Of course, the web servers also need to be maintained, software must be installed and updated, connections to the internet have to be set up, optimized, secured and monitored, and clients need to be assisted as needed. So web hosting doesn’t only involve providing the computers to house websites; it also involves all of those other technical and support functions.
It’s certainly possible to host a website from your home or office without the help of a web host. However, it’s a somewhat complicated process and requires constant attention to ensure that the website remains available, and in most cases, the website’s speed and performance wouldn’t come close to that of one residing on a webhost’s servers. For that reason, almost all individuals and businesses with websites utilize web hosting services.
Different Types Of Web Hosting
A family with one child doesn’t need a minivan to take him to and from school. On the other hand, a family with six children probably wouldn’t find a two-seat sports car particularly useful for daily transportation. In the same way, a company (or person) who needs web hosting needs to choose the proper type of hosting package.
There are six major categories of web hosting: shared (also known as virtual), dedicated, VPS, reseller, colocation, and cloud. Here’s a brief look at the similarities and differences.
- Shared (virtual) hosting: this is the “lowest level” of web hosting, suitable primarily for small websites. As mentioned above, most servers are home to many websites; it makes sense to house many sites on the same machine because most simple sites don’t take up much storage space or use a lot of computer resources. When you buy a shared hosting package, you’re sharing the server – and the cost of owning and operating that server – with all of the other customers whose sites are also located on it. Shared hosting packages are available at various levels of bandwidth and storage, depending on your needs. The primary benefit of shared hosting is that the price you pay is quite low, often less than $10 per month. The potential drawback is that there’s only a certain amount of power and bandwidth available for the server, so if your neighbor sites use a lot of those resources, your site’s performance could suffer as a result.
- Dedicated hosting: this is the “high level” of web hosting, and it’s mostly for companies with either a very busy website or a number of smaller ones. You don’t own the machine itself, but you “own” all of the storage space and resources, so you can use the server however you’d like without worrying about other customers hurting your site’s performance by using up storage space or bandwidth. Dedicated hosting can be configured to your needs in terms of machine memory, storage, and bandwidth. The primary benefit is that you can set up and operate your server exactly as you choose, even with complete “root” access if you’d like (that type of access isn’t available to virtual customers, since changing server settings could affect every client with a site on the machine). The potential drawback is price because you’re bearing the total cost of the server’s operation, maintenance, and bandwidth which usually runs more than $100 per server.
- VPS (virtual private server) hosting: this “splits the difference” between virtual and dedicated hosting and is often taken as the next step by customers who want to move up from shared hosting. You are still sharing a server with other clients, but each machine is compartmentalized so that you have your own dedicated share of the computer’s storage and resources which isn’t shared with anyone else. That’s why it’s called “virtual private” – because while it isn’t really a private server, it acts like one. The primary benefits are better performance (since you’re not likely to have neighbors affecting your site), more control over the way your VPS is set up, and a lower price than a dedicated server. The potential drawbacks are that a VPS may still not be enough for your needs and that you still don’t have the full root access you get with a dedicated machine.
- Reseller hosting: this is basically a virtual hosting account designed to let you resell some of your space to others. Companies offering reseller hosting usually provide you with tools to make it easy to position yourself as your own “hosting company,” including online systems to set up and manage each client’s account on the server, bill your clients under your own name, and make it appear that you are really their host.
- Colocation hosting: with all of the above plans, you’re “renting” servers from your host. If you want complete control over your web servers you can purchase your own machines and hardware, and then “colocate” them at what’s sometimes called a server farm. In that case, you’re renting space and all of the necessary support for server operation (such as cooling, power, connectivity, and security) but you are responsible for the hardware itself. It’s usually important to colocate with a company that’s close to your base of operations since you must do the technical work on the machines (although some hosts will provide technical support for an added fee). Colocation is primarily an option for large firms with major online operations and on-staff engineers; companies choose it to avoid the need for their own in-house data center.
- Cloud hosting: this is a relatively new addition to the list, and it involves a hosting company using a large number of computers in different locations, acting as if they were one enormous server. The primary benefits are increased speed and redundancy at a relatively low cost. The potential drawbacks are that many hosts aren’t up to speed on the security needed when your sites are hosted across the cloud and aren’t able to provide the same level of support as when they’re dealing with a single server that’s located on-site.
How To Select The Correct Hosting Service
The first thing you need to do when choosing a hosting service is to evaluate your needs and budget. Are you just starting out with a small website, do you have many websites to host, or are you looking to host a large e-commerce setup? Are you expecting just a few visitors, or thousands a day? Do you have a lot of resource-intensive media to store and deliver (such as video tutorials) or are you primarily going to just deliver static pages with information? Are you expecting that you’ll have to expand your site dramatically in the near future? Can you spend “whatever it takes” for your hosting, or do you have a small budget to start? A small budget, a small website, or a “simple” website with static content will usually call for a shared hosting plan, a large site with a good amount of video or visitors may need a VPS plan, and a large e-commerce site or robust full-service site will probably require a dedicated server if the budget is available.
Once you’ve determined your general needs and read our description of the types of hosting available from most companies, you’ll be able to narrow down your choices to the type of hosting you’ll need; that is, whether shared, VPS or dedicated is your best choice.
From there, there are two primary issues to consider: the size and features of your hosting package and the reliability of the company you choose.
Reliability is the first consideration to research. Most hosts will guarantee 99% uptime for your sites, fast customer support, and so on – and they should; anything less isn’t acceptable. But go beyond the claims and do some online checking on your own by getting a feel for the companies. Look at reviews on reputable web hosting discussion boards or testing sites, but don’t let just one disgruntled consumer review sway you. Get a good feel for what a number of people are saying. Even better, if you can find some sites which are hosted by the companies you’re considering, see for yourself how fast and responsive they are. Many people will automatically choose the largest web host they can find because they figure it must be reliable with so many customers on board. However, remember that biggest isn’t always best, particularly when it comes to the responsiveness of customer support.
Now that you’ve narrowed down your company choices, compare the packages they offer for your needs. You’ll want to look at some of these specs and features:
- Bandwidth/data transfer: Be realistic. Most hosts advertise “unlimited bandwidth” for their shared accounts, which is fine for a smaller, simple site. But if you have a very popular video site with thousands of people watching your clips at the same time, a virtual account simply won’t be enough, and your host will end up telling you that you need to upgrade to a higher-level account. If you know in advance that you’ll be consuming a large number of resources, either look for a defined amount of bandwidth you’re comfortable with or choose a VPS or dedicated hosting account where you can select the bandwidth which comes with your package.
- Storage/disk space: The same story as bandwidth; be realistic. “Unlimited storage” refers to unlimited storage for a normal site, which is fine. If you’re planning to compete with Wikipedia, you’re certainly going to need more storage than the entire server possesses. In that case, again look for a VPS or dedicated plan with the storage you’ll realistically need.
- Operating system: A Windows hosting package is sufficient for small and uncomplicated websites, but for anything more robust you should look for a UNIX package.
- Support for common scripts and features: a good web host should provide FTP (and at higher levels, SSH) access, and support for PHP, Perl and other commonly-used scripting languages.
- Domains: Shared accounts will sometimes limit the number of domains you can host on your account. If you’re going to have more than one domain name, this can be an issue.
- Email: Most providers will include unlimited email accounts as well as autoresponders, mail forwarding and the like. They should.
- Control Panel and one-click install: This is how you access your website to make technical changes (unless you’re knowledgeable enough to use FTP or SSH) and the host’s control panel should be easy to use with common scripts like Wordpress installable with just one click. The alternative is using “managed hosting” which means you ask tech support to make changes for you; this is common with some dedicated hosting providers, but can be a time-consuming nightmare unless their support is top-notch, in which case their price will probably be higher.
- Price: This is different than budget, because budget determines what packages you can afford, while price involves choosing the best alternative among those packages. We’ve left this for last because choosing a hosting package based on price alone often means you won’t have “enough hosting” for what you need. After you’ve chosen reputable hosts to consider, and have then narrowed down the possibilities based on the specs and features of their packages, you’re ready to compare prices for similar offerings and make your final decision.