Choosing the right Web Hosting package for you can be a bewildering task. With so many packages, prices, terms, conditions, companies and countries vying for your business, it’s important that you understand what you need, so you can choose a company who can give you what you want.
So here’s a list of the major types of Web Hosting available on the market – what they are, and what they’re suitable for. And to make it a bit easier, we’ll follow the career of Dave*, a budding web entrepreneur making his first forays into the world of Web Hosting.
Free Hosting is exactly that, and although the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ doesn’t exactly apply – as you are getting something, after all – Free Hosting is not recommended for anyone with any kind of serious aspirations for their site. Of course we offer Web Hosting so we would say that, right? Well, the two main things to consider when looking at Free Hosting are 1 – someone has to pay for it, and 2 – what happens if something goes wrong.
With regards to the first point, it’s often the case that your Web Hosting is paid for by advertisements on your site, and as that is what makes the Web Host their money, they could well be as interested in advertising on your site as they are in getting you to use their service so they can have more adverts. This leads on to point two – what kind of support do you think you will get from a company that is giving you something for free? What kind of guarantees can you have that your Web Hosting is reliable or secure?
It is also common for Internet Service Providers (ISP’s), amongst others, to offer Free Hosting as part of a package with other services (such as Broadband or Digital TV). These are better solutions as they obviously come attached to a reputable (well…) company, and will be able to provide support. Again, though, remember that it is their other service that pay for your Hosting – the Hosting is an enticing extra. Support may well suffer, too, if the company specialises in other products and services.
Some companies, for instance Blogger, will offer free online spaces for specific sites (in Blogger’s case, you get a free online blog). However, you’re limited to what you can do with the templates they give you, and you won’t be able to expand your site or even have your own domain name. So, only go for Free Hosting if you are completely satisfied that the company will be able to provide you with what you want. We wouldn’t advise choosing Free Hosting for a business-related site in any circumstance!
In Dave’s instance, he has been given some Free Hosting as part of a deal with his ISP. Dave’s never made a website of his own before, and he’s certainly never had any Web Hosting. He’s interested but a bit lost, and manages to build a basic, personal site with only a few difficulties. He stumbles across WordPress and finds that he doesn’t get any databases with his Free Hosting. As the Hosting is part of his package – and free – his ISP don’t have any facility to upgrade his account. Dave decides he wants his blog on the Internet, and after talking to one of his friends on Blogger and thinking dreamily about maybe starting an online business, Dave contacts some Web Hosting companies to see what is available to him.
This is the most common form of Web Hosting available. A company sets up one or more servers to be used for Web Hosting, and their customers in turn pay for a portion of that server and share it with other customers. So a server may be responsible for several hundred web sites at a time.
Shared Hosting has many advantages. It is the cheapest form of commercial Hosting, as the cost of the server can be offset by the many customers who can use it at once. They don’t require advanced technical knowledge to use and you only need to administer your account – at no point do you have anything to do with the server. As it is a paid solution you will have access to customer support, a contract, uptime guarantees and so on.
The disadvantage is that, as you are sharing a server with other customers, you are also sharing the resources of that server. The server, just like a home PC, has only so much memory, CPU and disk space available, and if other customers are using it heavily – or if the Web Host has put too many people on the server – or even if the server isn’t particularly fast in the first place! – you may well find that your web site appears to be slow.
You will also find that Shared Hosting doesn’t allow a lot of the advanced, powerful features that higher end options present to you. There is a slight increase in security risk, too, as you can never be sure how secure your ‘neighbours’ are – but bear in mind that the server will be very secure in the first place, and the risk is not something to be alarmed about.
So our friend Dave starts out with a very simple Web Hosting package, with a little web space and a database. He installs WordPress and starts to blog seriously, and then decides he wants to start his online business. With his basic account he commissions a Web Design Company to build him an eCommerce site, with his blog built in as one of the features. As his store grows, he finds that he can expand his site fairly easily, without having to worry about any limits like he had with the ISP.
Shared Hosting is the ideal solution for most sites and users. With a few exceptions, only people who want their own server and/or control over the contents of it will need anything else. So Dave, like many people, is perfectly happy, until he decides to quit his day job, and go full time with his eCommerce site. At this point, Dave, who is a bit more knowledgeable about Web Hosting now, considers if there is anything he can do to improve his site.
Reseller Hosting is a generic term that applies to several different kinds of Web Hosting. It isn’t a definition of the kind of Web Hosting on offer, as such, as the kind of person offering it.
A Hosting Reseller purchases a larger Web Hosting account from a Web Hosting company, and in turn sells portions of their account to their own customers. They are essentially providing the services of a Web Hosting company, without having to set up and finance the expensive hardware and the maintenance of it themselves. This kind of Web Hosting is popular with, for example, start-up Web Hosting businesses, companies with a large portfolio of sites, and Web Design companies wanting to offer Hosting to their clients.
A Hosting Reseller may be offering Shared, VPS or Dedicated solutions (see part two). Customers tend to benefit from cheaper Web Hosting as a Reseller often purchases their Web Hosting at a discount. The only major drawback with Reseller Hosting is that the Reseller is also a customer of the company they have bought their Hosting off of in the first place. The more advanced the Hosting they are offering, the more support the Reseller can give you directly – but as a customer of a Reseller, it is possible that you will contact the Reseller about a technical fault, who will then in turn have to contact his or her Hosting company.
Reseller Hosting is only of use to Dave if he decides to sell Hosting to other people, or expand his business with a large portfolio of other sites. If he wasn’t looking to do either of these he’d probably stick with Shared Hosting – as it is the most common form of Hosting it is also the most popular, and he’d get more use out of it. For now though, Dave thinks he is happy with a single site, he would just prefer to have more control and performance as his site is getting quite busy and he has a few demanding redesign plans in mind. So, in the second part of this article, we’ll look at some of the more advanced Web Hosting options available to Dave (and you, of course).
*Dave is not real. He is just for illustrative purposes only, and any resemblance to any Dave or any events that have happened to any Dave, living, dead or otherwise, is purely coincidental.