Web Hosting Explained

Introduction

If you’ve just bought a domain name, you might be wondering what your next steps should be. You’ve bought yourself a domain name, designed your website (or had it done for you). How do you actually put your new site on the web?

A lot of people new to the process don’t realise that buying a domain name is only the first step. The domain name is a bit like an address, when you type in a URL, such as “http://www.delftsolutions.nl", your browser sends out a request, and get directed to a server, which is just a computer that houses the various files the browser needs to access to show you the resource you requested (in this case, our homepage!). Buying web hosting is the second (and slightly more complicated) step in putting up a new website.

10 Downing Street, London

Your domain is like an address, it needs to point to some storage space!

Without web hosting, you don’t have a website, you just have a bunch of files you need to actually put somewhere. Web Hosting services are provided by a range of companies house your files and serve them to your clients when they look up your domain name. Paying for hosting is a lot like renting a storeroom for a physical business.

However, when you look up your options for hosting, you might well find yourself confused. There are a lot of options to choose from, at different price points and with different pros and cons. In this article, we are going to help you make sense of your options by going through the three types of web hosting solutions you’re most likely to come across, and explain how you can decide which type might be right for you.

Types of Web Hosting

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is the most popular option, by a long way. Here clients will share a single server (as the name suggests), along with its resources, such as RAM, diskspace and the servers CPU with hundreds, or even thousands, of other websites. The popularity of this solution can be put down to to the fact that its the cheapest of options available, it’s easy to set up, and it has a very small learning curve (you won’t need system admin skills).

Shared hosting platforms tend to provide you with a control panel, some email addresses, and can come with free, useful applications installed (such as WordPress, or PHP). The learning curve for using one of these is generally very low, but the trade off is that you get a much lower level of customisation, you’re limited to a certain set of pre-approved tools. If you later find you would prefer to use something else, you’re stuck.

There are more drawbacks: depending on what service you buy within this field, the website you build could be slow. Your sites ability to serve clients will also depend on the traffic your “neighbours” on the server receive. If they get a large amount of traffic, the server might not be able to handle enough requests to serve your clients as well, as the server shares its resources equally between users. This means that the bandwidth available to any single user is always changing, and each user has a limited amount of control over how much bandwidth is available to them at any given time. Finally, if the server crashes, your website (along with all the others on the server) will go down until your provider fixes the problem.

Server Racks

Racks of servers in a storage facility

VPS-Virtual Private Servers

Another option would be to rent what is known as a VPS, or virtual private server. This is when physical servers are split up using virtualisation software, each “virtual server” potentially running different operating systems with entirely different configurations on the same machine . They are an excellent way for small businesses to gain more flexibility than is offered with a normal shared hosting package, without paying the amount of money required for a dedicated server, or having to handle managing the server’s hardware.

While VPS and shared hosting both share a single server’s resources. VPS offers you much more control and customisation options — including control over your data and bandwidth usage. When you choose a VPS plan, you select a package that allows you access to a maximum amount of RAM, bandwidth, and server space, which will be yours to use at all times.

VPS services can also negate the problem of your site going down when the host server experiences an issue, as you can often purchase “High Availability” cloud formation plans, where your information is stored on several servers to avoid such interruptions. They can also be upgraded and downgraded on the fly, making them extremely easy to scale. If your site is suddenly getting lots of traffic then you can just upgrade your package to handle the additional traffic.

The Downside of this option is that you do need some system administration skills. A VPS behaves like an independent server, so you need to configure and install your own operating system and other applications. You will need to know how to manage things such as performance monitoring, running kernel updates and how to monitor (and patch up) the security of your server.

Dedicated Servers

The third, and most expensive option you might want to consider would be to rent a dedicated server. This would essentially mean that your website has a physical server (that you could see and touch) all to itself. This is the solution you want if you really need a specific configuration to run a highly specialised application. Dedicated servers really shine when it comes to configuration, since you have near complete control of the machine (being the only user on the system). With your own server you can do whatever you like, including modifying the hardware.

Dedicated servers also also thought to be slightly more secure than VPS, because there is a tiny chance that a virus that attacks one virtual machine on the shared server could spread to all the others. But, the chance of this happening is small enough that it’s not worth thinking about too much when making your decision.

On the other hand, they can give your web service a single point of failure, as when your server goes down, your site will too. There are solutions to help prevent this, but they come with additional costs.

Dedicated servers share a lot in common with VPS. In both cases you,or someone on your team, will need system admin skills in order to manage the server.The choice between a VPS and a dedicated server ultimately depends on your needs for configuration and performance.

If you have to use a server with a very specific hardware configuration, or you want to tune your hardware to make your software run as efficiently as possible, A dedicated server might be what you require.

Conclusion

In this article, we touched on the difference between a domain and web hosting, and had a look at three of the main options you’d look at when starting a new site or web project.

The option you choose is really going to depend on your project, how involved you want to be with the management of the server space you rent, and the performance/storage demands of your project.

Thanks for reading, and good luck!