It’s easier than ever to maintain a web presence today. Whether you’re a hobbyist working on your own HTML coding skills, a blogger looking for a place to publish your content, or you’re running an ever-expanding network of e-commerce sites, getting and staying online is often just a matter of choosing a web hosting service and handing them your credit card details.
Yet there’s one important truth that you need to know about web hosting: it’s never been one size fits all. Depending on the specific needs you have for your website both today and in the future, you’re going to need to choose from one of a number of different options, with the majority falling into three categories: shared, reseller, or VPS hosting. Here’s how to tell which hosting type is right for your needs.
When it comes to the most common web hosting solution, shared hosting is certainly a strong contender. This doesn’t mean that shared hosting is unsophisticated or simplistic; quite the opposite, in fact. What shared hosting is, though, is easily accessible and often highly affordable. This makes shared hosting the preferred choice of anyone who needs their own website up and running quickly without much expense.
Web hosting providers can offer shared hosting at deeply discounted prices because they are extremely cost-effective to maintain. Customers that pay for shared hosting quite literally share storage space on one specific server in the same way that tenants share living space in a high-rise. Everyone has their own space on the server (their own apartment) but they’re all stored on the same physical computer (they all live in the same building).
While it’s a highly affordable arrangement for both hosting company and website owner, there are some disadvantages as well. If one site on a shared server is drawing a lot of traffic, this can affect the other sites by slowing down access speed. Also, if there is ever a physical interruption of service to a shared server, such as losing its connection to the internet, every website on that server becomes inaccessible. This may not be a big deal if you’re simply hosting your own blog, but if you’re running an e-commerce site this may be a major problem!
Reseller hosting has some similarities with shared hosting. Both shared hosting and reseller hosting involve the use of shared servers that are likely to house dozens or even hundreds of websites, but while paying for shared hosting grants you space to host a single website on a large server, reseller hosting involves purchasing access for multiple websites and then reselling website access individually.
If you’re unsure of what use reseller hosting would be, extending the apartment complex metaphor makes reseller hosting easier to understand. Reseller hosting would be analogous to renting out an entire floor of an apartment building and then subletting these apartments to individual tenants, usually at a profit. Essentially, this makes reseller hosts middlemen in the web hosting process.
Reseller hosting is highly situational, as it’s only useful if you’re interested in running a web hosting business of your own without physically maintaining banks of servers. This can be advantageous, as server maintenance requires resources you may not have. Yet reseller hosting has many of the same drawbacks as shared hosting; you’re using only a portion of a shared web host, and that means you have no control over the other websites on that server. You also don’t have any control over things like server maintenance or downtime. A reseller is just another tenant to a web host, albeit one that’s paying for a lot more space than most others.
VPS hosting, the third option that you’ll most often see advertised when it comes to web hosting, is much different than both shared and reseller hosting. It’s true that just about every web hosting service will offer you amenities like custom email addresses, for the most part you’re simply renting storage space on a server without any direct control over how the server works. With VPS hosting, however, you’re given the ultimate level of control over every single aspect of your website.
The secret is in the name itself: VPS stands for Virtual Private Server, and that’s exactly what you get when you pay for VPS hosting. It’s slightly similar to shared hosting in that you’re renting space on a server that likely has more than one website stored on it, but a VPS host server doesn’t have the same limitations as a shared server. There are usually fewer websites sharing a VPS host machine, which means you’ll have more bandwidth at your disposal and more specific resources of the machine for your own use, and each website owner has superuser-level access over their slice of the server. This means essentially full control — down to what operating system you want to install.
VPS hosting is perfect for any website owner that wants to control every single aspect of their website. It’s the most advanced option from a web developer point of view, especially for developers who don’t have the deep pockets needed to pay for a dedicated server (or maintain one themselves). That being said, you’re still not the only kid on the block when it comes to VPS hosting; you might be renting the penthouse, but there are still other tenants. Plus, you’re still at the mercy of the company that physically maintains the physical server your VPS is hosted on, just as you would be with reseller or shared hosting.
Keep in mind that shared, reseller, and VPS hosting all involve some level of sharing with others. However, these three hosting options are infinitely more affordable than either maintaining a server yourself or even paying for dedicated hosting. This makes even VPS hosting a much more affordable option. Are the downsides worth it? You’ll still have to decide for yourself. The only difference is now you know what the differences are!
A web development guru and founder of NoStop Content Services. As the company's leader, Ben brings to the table an innate ability to help small businesses compete with larger competitors through content strategies and SEO. You can find Ben's talents on Twitter at @NoStopContent.