Web hosting services first became available in 1991. Back then, you needed to own a server in order to host a site. Things rapidly changed from 1991 to 2008 as web hosting became increasingly accessible and cheap. Just about anyone can build a site in minutes and even sign up with free web hosts.
Samples of popular free web hosts are WordPress and Blogger. As of 2011, there are 2.1 billion web users all over the world. The industry is shifting towards cloud hosting which is designed to be mobile, fast, and less expensive.
While you aren’t necessarily sharing the website itself, you are sharing the server when you take this kind of approach. You will have a shared hosting account, and your site will be located on a server that hosts a number of other websites, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of them. This may seem like a drag, and there are certainly some downsides, but the upside is that you will be splitting the cost as well, so a shared web hosting service can work well for entry-level website needs and small businesses.
The major disadvantage is that all websites on the server are sharing the same resources, so the activity on the other sites may affect the user experience on your end. Shared hosting is most common for those with tight budgets or for those who don’t get a lot of traffic. Prices for a shared server range from $5 – $20/month, sometimes getting as low as $2.
Reseller Web Hosting
A reseller hosting service takes a similar approach to that of the shared server, but with a few additional perks. Account owners in a reseller approach have the ability to essentially sell resources, such as hard drive space and bandwidth, to third parties.
In this scenario, the reseller will typically purchase services from the host wholesale and sell them to those who are interested. In some cases, you can make a profit doing so, and these reseller packages typically give account holders greater technical control. For example, you might have access to free website templates, technical support, billing software, and private name servers, among other things.
Typically, prices for a reseller package range from $15 – $50/month, but if you aren’t interested in selling web hosting, a shared service would be more ideal.
Cloud-Based Web Hosting
More and more things are happening in the cloud, and this includes web hosting. In different contexts, “cloud” can mean different things, but this often refers to a setup where many computers are working together to run applications using combined resources.
Essentially, your computer is a part of an entire network of computers, from which it pulls resources. In this setup, you will use resources on an as-needed basis, and you will only pay for what you use. How good this will work for you will depend on your website traffic and your service provider, as you will run into varying pricing models that include both fixed prices and pay-as-you-go fees.
The big upside is that you aren’t limited by hardware, and you can typically get as many resources as you need. Cloud-based systems also mitigate the effects of certain security breaches, specifically DDoS attacks. In a cloud network, these attacks are spread out across different computers, mitigating the effects.
Virtual Private Server
A VPS (virtual private server) is sort of a hybrid hosting service. This is essentially a shared hosting environment with a few changes that make it more beneficial to certain individuals and businesses.
Every site on a VPS will share one physical server. The difference is that this server contains a number of separate virtual machines, meaning each website is, more or less, hosted on its own dedicated server, giving the owners more control and stability. A VPS set up often has limits in terms of how many websites can be on it, and all resources are split evenly across each website. This reduces demand and prevents one website from using up all of the resources.
Often, a VPS will give owners greater flexibility and a greater ability to customize the environment. Your website is contained within a virtual machine, so the changes you make don’t affect other websites. Granted, this type of website hosting can come with greater costs, but if you have the funds, this set up could potentially work out better for you.
Dedicated Web Server
The ideal option for any business is maximum control and minimal worry, and that’s what you get with a dedicated server. However, due to the high costs, not every business can afford one.
You are the exclusive owner of a dedicated server, which means your website is the only one that is stored. You will have complete access and control over everything that goes on, including security and operating system. With a dedicated server, you are completely eliminating the risk of losing resources to competing websites, and you will have the ability to customize your site extensively.
With that in mind, it’s also important to note that dedicated servers require the owner to be familiar with computers and server technology, as there will be a lot that owners have to do on their own. Individuals and businesses who have specialized needs or who desire more control are the primary users of dedicated servers.
Sites such as GoDaddy also offer dedicated servers for a higher price than their shared plans, and their prices are probably on the lower end of the spectrum.
Colocation Web Hosting
Most servers are kept in-house or at a private data center, but a colocation set up changes things a bit. In this setup, you are choosing to “co-locate” your equipment, and you will do so by renting a space in a colocation center.
One of the biggest benefits is that colocation centers typically provide power, bandwidth, IP addresses, cooling systems, and other equipment that customers will need to deploy their server. Colocation centers are also highly-secured areas. The benefits include economies of scale, low network latency, greater security, flexibility, and infrastructure, among others.
The two major drawbacks of a colocation center are the potential higher costs and the loss of control. While colocation centers provide a lot of assistance, they are still a business that intends to make a profit, and since you are not the owner, there are various rules or regulations that you may need to follow.
Self-Service Web Hosting
Self-service web hosting is probably most the complex and strenuous form of web hosting, and you would go this route if you want absolute control over everything without being bound to a contract from a service provider.
The downsides are the amount of work and money involved in making it happen. Self-serviced web hosting requires you to buy all of the hardware, as well as the data center space, cooling equipment, power, bandwidth, and more.
With a managed service, hosting companies provide all of the technical services, including hardware and software, but they also take care of maintenance and technical support. You are essentially leasing a dedicated server and the associated hardware while your hosting company manages those systems on a day-to-day basis.
There are a handful of different hosting providers out there, and the one you choose will depend on your needs. You will typically find varying levels of managed services as well. Some providers are fully-managed while others are only partially-managed services.
WP Engine is a popular managed hosting service, and you can find out about them here: https://wpengine.com
Free Website Hosting
Believe it or not, there is also some free website hosting options out there, and while these are often used for temporary or testing purposes, they can still be useful for a short period of time. If you need a reliable and permanent website that isn’t plagued with ads, you would typically want to choose a paid service.
If you are looking for a website hosting service, and you aren’t very familiar with the tech side of the things, it’s important that your service providers offer ongoing technical support.
You rely on your website for business, and you are also paying for a service, so you want to know what issues are going to be handled properly and by a professional. Ideally, this is should be more than just someone who answers phone calls. In the case of a managed service, especially, there should be somebody constantly watching the sites to correct issues as quickly as possible so that you can remain functional and efficient.
The idea of losing all of your data is extremely frightening, which is why you want to pay for a service that includes backup services.
Backup services ensure that all of your website content, customer data, financial data, and inventory records, among other things, are protected and continuously backed up. Typically, these things are stored remotely on different servers, so even if your server goes down, your backups will still be available.
You may also want to find out if the servers themselves are backed up. This way if the server goes down, you can be confident that there is a backup for that, as well.
Managed services not only may include technical support and backup services, but they also include comprehensive site management.
Your managed service providers will make sure that your server’s operating system is functional and updated. Managed services are even more important and available as you migrate over to the cloud, so the level of managed services you receive may be limited by your set up. However, many service providers allow you to customize your plans so that you only get exactly what you need.
Other hosting services will offer security features to protect your site and server from hacking and other malicious threats. You will need strong firewalls, email scanning, spam removal, SSL encryption, and intrusion prevention, among other things.
When you need to move from one web host to another, it’s easier if there are migration services in place. If this is the case, your host will move your website for you and make sure that everything continues working after the transition.
When you want to be able to grow at a pace that suits you, and you want to have extra resources to cover spikes in demand, it’s important that your host can offer scalable resources. These typically come with an as-needed payment system, which means that you don’t have to permanently upgrade to a larger package. You will be able to cover spikes in demand in a cost-effective way.
Hosting services typically come with emails, and while this gives you the ability to send and receive, you should also make sure that these emails are protected. A good host will watch for spam and other threats, but you should also make sure that they provide adequate storage, mobile access, file sharing, and other things that are typical of emails.
Ability to Move On
There are some hosts out there that make it difficult to move on from their services. These are sometimes referred to as vendor lock-ins. In this scenario, either the terms and conditions are restrictive, or the system is not easily migrated. This can make it extremely frustrating in the future, so you want a host that offers flexibility in this area.