When you first create your website one of the big decisions you make is where will you host it, and how. It’s an important choice impacting the performance of your website for as long as you keep that hosting (you can change later but it’s a lot of work).
So what are the options and what are the major differences in the types of hosting?
There are three types of hosting:
- Content delivery network (CDN)
The two most commonly used for the bulk of websites are shared and dedicated. Whichever one you use, your website will reside on a server at the hosting company’s facility.
In this first of three posts on web hosting options we’ll cover shared hosting.
In shared hosting, you share the server with many other websites – hence the name. Using a technique called virtualisation, hosting companies are able to run many different websites and applications on a single server. The benefit of this is it makes hosting extremely affordable. Hardware, software, security and maintenance cost a lot of money. If you share a server, then those costs are divided up among everyone one who uses it. For just a few pounds a month, you can get your website online and have most of the software available to maintain it provided by the hosting company.
Beyond the low cost though, there isn’t any advantage to shared hosting. And there are several pitfalls.
There’s a queue for one. Since multiple websites are sharing the same computer resources, each has to take its turn in line to access them. For example, say you share a server with an ecommerce store running an amazing sale that just went viral over social media. Thousands of people are now visiting that website and making purchases. Meanwhile you have visitors trying to access your site. What do you think happens? Well, your visitor requests get in line with the thousands trying to access the online store before the sale expires. Your website will load more slowly (and so will the store’s website), and your visitors may grow impatient and leave.
Such frenzy might be too much for the server, and it might crash. Everyone’s website on that server will go down. Or maybe it isn’t a shopping spree, but an innocent programmer working on his client’s site uploads and tries to run a program that has a glitch. Then suddenly the server speed slows to a crawl because it is spending all its resources running the faulty program. And though most hosting companies have protections against this sort of thing, the bad program could actually take the server offline.
Those are just two examples of how other people’s websites or activity on the shared host could affect your own website. Another issue could be that your website is doing so well that you exceed the fair use policies in place for shared servers. Many companies list this sort of restriction in the fine print, but it means they have the right to shut your website down if it is causing problems for other users (the aforementioned examples would also be subject to this rule). You may be doing nothing wrong – just finally getting the traffic and attention you want when the company decides you’re too big for shared hosting and takes your website offline.
Even without issues your site is guaranteed to go down regardless. Shared hosting usually guarantees some level of uptime – less than 100%. For example a 99.9% uptime corresponds to about 8.76 hours down per year. You have no control over when this downtime may occur. If your site goes down for longer than the agreed downtime, you may receive credit to your account, but you can’t get back the visitors that couldn’t see your website.
If you’re not willing to take these risks, there is another alternative: dedicated hosting.
Check back for part two of the web hosting series to find out more about dedicated hosting.