Web hosting: where to start

Web hosting is one of the most competitive industries in the world, but with thousands of companies all vying for your business – how do you know which one to choose?

Most websites get somewhere between 50 and 5000 pageviews a month, and that means that they can be hosted comfortably with most shared hosting environments, but as site’s grow larger there are various options available. The first thing to work out when looking for a web host is exactly what you plan to do online. Are you looking for web hosting for a basic small business website, or are you looking to become the next Buzzfeed with millions of pageview per day?

What sort of hosting is available for your website?

Shared hosting

A shared host is essentially where multiple (10s or 100s) websites are hosted on the same server with shared resources, and this means the costs can be kept very low. Good shared web hosting setups start at around $5 (£4) per month, and should provide you with plenty of web space and bandwidth for a small website.

Virtual Private Servers (VPS)

If you plan for your website to be somewhat larger than this with 30,000 pageviews per month or more, then the next step up would be a virtual private server. With a VPS, multiple websites (normally 2-20) are still hosted on a single server to keep costs down, but you have dedicated access to resources such as RAM or CPU cores and better access to the server configuration. Fewer websites per server and dedicated access to resources means more power for your website, and VPS setups can work for websites with 100,000 pageviews per month or more. The cost of a VPS starts around $50 (£40) per month.

Dedicated servers

Once you outgrow a VPS, then the next stage is either to move to a full dedicated server. This means you simply “rent” the server and network capacity and have full access to resources to do with it as you want, with powerful servers able to handle millions of pageviews per month without surprise overage charges or fees. As you have full control over the server, you can also create a unique software environment that is designed specifically for your server setup. Dedicated servers start at around $150 (£120) per month.

Cloud hosting

Cloud hosting means that your website is hosted with thousands of others in a huge bank of servers, with resources dynamically shared between them. Because your site is hosted on multiple servers, there should be less downtime and when your site ends up on the frontpage of Reddit it can handle the million pageviews in a day you get with its ‘burstable’ capacity. While the prices have come down significantly in recent years with fierce competition between the likes of Amazon’s AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure, the biggest downside of cloud hosting tends to be the cost, especially when you see unplanned spikes in traffic. Cloud hosting means your site will run just as fast with 10 concurrent users as 20,000, but at a significant cost – you might get a surprise bill at the end of the month to cover the overages.

Managed WordPress hosting

WordPress is the most widely used content management system on the web and power around 40% of websites, so it is no surprise that some firms have created hosting environments designed to get the best performance from the platform. A managed WordPress host will tend to take care of core and plugin updates for you, and have better caching tech available on the server, which should make your WP site load faster. These headaches will be taken care of for you, but that comes at a cost – namely a significantly higher price than a similar setup on a shared or VPS environment and often slightly less freedom plugins you can run on your site.

Webspace and bandwidth – “Unlimited” maybe not what it seems

A basic business website will generally take up under 500MB of webspace and use under 10GB of transfer per month. If you host a large number of images or videos this can go up significantly, but it is a good place to start.

Many shared web hosts offer “unlimited” web space and bandwidth, and while this maybe true in theory, it does not mean that you can run a huge 100GB website that gets millions of visitors per day for $10 per month. These hosts have simply decided that it is better to limit their hosting packages by other resources like CPU cycles rather than webspace or bandwidth – it does not mean you have unlimited resources.

Do your research

Each level of hosting varies wildly from firm to firm, depending on the hardware and software they use and the number of websites they allow on each server. It is useful to do a search on forums likes WHT to see what others are saying about a host before making the jump with all hosting options.

Photograph by FreePhotosART

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