If you have an existing website, you may well already know the answer to the question ‘what is web hosting?’. But for those who do not (or who have sub-contracted all IT/website work), this article explains the basics of web hosting and what the different options are.

What is web hosting?

Hosting a website is essentially what enables you to publish your website/web application on the internet.

The files and data that are required for a website to function consistently and effectively have to be stored somewhere – and a web server is this place. The server is a physical piece of hardware consisting of CPU, drives and specific software programs that enable resources, data, and services to be transferred to other computers (known as clients), over a network.

Who needs web hosting?

If you want to have a website, then you will also need web hosting. Some website builders will take care of hosting as part of the service that you pay for. This is convenient for many but will not suit everyone. Similarly, those using WordPress can opt for a specialist hosted service if they so wish.

What are the different types of hosting available?

The main hosting options are discussed below.

Dedicated server hosting

This option involves having your own web server.

There are many advantages to this option. You have total control over the machine, you have direct access to it, you can install whatever software you wish, and you can make changes to the operating system or change any of the settings as you see fit. The level of control this gives you can be crucial if you intend to run enterprise systems or build custom software. Another key advantage is that the server is only being used by you, meaning that the speed and performance of your website will be optimal.

Choosing a Dedicated Server means that you have responsibility for the performance of the server, including keeping software up-to-date, dealing with debugging issues, keeping the server safe from cybercriminals and malicious attacks, and making sure there is a power backup in place.

Shared hosting

This is the most common form of hosting. It is ‘shared’ because your website is not the only one that is using the server and the server does not belong to you.

The advantages to this option are that the costs are shared (so it is much less expensive than a dedicated server), maintenance is carried out by the provider, and there will be tech support available when required.

Virtual Private Server (VPS)

This option lies halfway between shared hosting and dedicated hosting. You are given an allocated space on a server (known as a virtual private server) which means that you don’t have to compete with others for resources but are still able to share costs.

You still have much the same degree of control as with a dedicated server and greater access to server resources compared with shared hosting.

There are fewer security issues and each VPS will have a unique IP address. The performance of other sites that use the same server will not affect your site.

Managed hosting

This type of hosting covers a few different offerings, all of which include some sort of technical support. Some managed hosting plans give you access to either a dedicated server or a VPS – and the hosting company provides extra support. This offers flexibility whilst reducing the need for knowledge in-terms of server administration. Some managed hosting plans are designed to handle specific applications such as WordPress Dedicated Servers.

Summary

In summary, shared hosting is a good solution for smaller organisations, blogs, and so forth but is rarely suitable for larger organisations with a lot of traffic or those that rely entirely on website revenue.

VPS hosting is a great choice for medium to large organisations including online stores. Scalable VPS solutions are available that will be able to handle sharp increases in traffic and significant volumes of website traffic overall.

A dedicated server provides total control but is expensive and requires detailed knowledge.