What is web hosting?
Web hosting is a service that provides storage for the files that make up your website and the software, physical hardware, and network infrastructure that makes your website available to others on the internet.
Web hosting service providers offer a variety of hosting options, ranging from expensive to inexpensive. The cost is essentially determined by the following:
The amount of storage space and computing capacity allocated specifically for your site.
The degree to which your site shares computing resources with other sites or is isolated from the impact of other sites sharing the same resources.
The additional capabilities and services offered (e.g., number of email inboxes with your domain name, blogging capabilities, etc.).
The degree of control and flexibility you have (e.g., which operating system (OS) and/or content management system (CMS) you can use, support for special web applications, etc.).
The extent to which you manage your web site or have the service provider manage it for you.
Common hosting options
These are the three most common hosting options, ranging from least to most expensive:
In shared hosting, the hosting provider hosts your website and several others (co-tenants) on a single computer—you share the CPU, memory, storage space, and the web server software (the software that delivers web content to browsers that request it).
Because you’re sharing these resources with owners of other web sites, you pay less for them. However, even though the single shared computer is usually very powerful, unexpectedly high traffic to one of the hosted sites can rob the others of resources and slow them down dramatically. Additionally, if one site is victimized by a virus or security attack, the other sites on the server could be vulnerable.
Shared hosting is a good choice for personal web sites, personal blogs, small non-transactional business sites (e.g., a creative portfolio) or non-business sites. For more information about shared hosting, see “What is Cloud Hosting?”
Virtual private server (VPS) hosting or cloud-based VPS
In VPS hosting, your site gets its own dedicated virtual server. As with shared hosting, you do share the hardware resources of a single computer (in most cases), but you share them with far fewer co-tenants, and their problems—security breaches, crashes —are much less likely to impact your site.
With a VPS you typically have complete control over your OS, CMS, and other software, which makes it a better choice for hosting custom web applications or web-based software (Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS). As you might have guessed, VPS is more expensive than shared hosting.
While VPS hosting shares resources among fewer websites, as each site grows and attracts more traffic, they can strain the resources of a single computer. For this reason, many hosting providers offer cloud-based VPS hosting, in which each site shares the combined resources of multiple computers in a single data center (or even in different geographical locations). This makes it easier to scale computing power, storage capacity, and bandwidth as needed and provides additional resiliency in the event of hardware problems or natural/man-made disasters.
VPS or cloud-based VPS hosting is ideal for the majority of business web sites.
Learn more about virtual private server (VPS) hosting.
Dedicated hosting gives you exclusive access to your own web server hardware. You get the same control over system and application software that you get with a VPS, but because yours is the only site using the hardware, your site runs faster. You are also completely immune to performance or security issues on other web sites.
Dedicated hosting does have some drawbacks, however—it’s the most expensive option because yours is the only site using the hardware. If you don’t have the talent on staff to manage the server yourself, you’ll need to pay additional fees for the provider to manage it for you. Dedicated hosting also can’t scale on the fly because someone has to physically upgrade the server with more RAM, storage, etc. when needed. As a result, dedicated hosting is typically worthwhile only when performance and security considerations justify the additional cost.
The term “bare metal servers” is sometimes used interchangeably with “dedicated servers,” but bare metal servers typically add cloud-like benefits like provisioning in minutes (vs. hours), billing in hourly increments (instead of monthly billing), and higher-end hardware.