Making sense of the dozens of web hosting options - Cloud, VPS, Dedicated or Shared?
15th March 2012

Web Hosting used to be a lot simpler a few years before. You had limited choices, you basically chose a Linux or Windows server and just went with it. If you had more than one site you bargained a good package from the hosting provider. Nowadays hosting companies come at you with a confusing range of options - Cloud, VPS, Dedicated or Shared?

Basic Primer - Types of Hosting Solutions

A. Shared Hosting - When your website  is one of the hundreds of websites on a single  server sharing the servers resources between you and the other web owners.

  • Most basic and cheapest type of hosting
  • All server resources are shared among the websites
  • Very limited control over server settings
  • Ideal for static or small websites not requiring a lot of resources to run.

B. VPS - Virtual Private Server - A single server is made to behave like multiple servers with resources being shared amoung the 'virtual' servers.

  • Server resources are divided among the various 'virtual' servers
  • More control and flexibility in allocating resources to individual websites within a VPS division.
  • A cost effective solution for owners with multiple sites who need good resources.
  • Ideal for web design agencies and application developers with multiple sites.

C. Dedicated Hosting - A single physical server specially allocated for you and you alone.

  • Most expensive solution but good for high traffic volume websites.
  • Complete control over the server and allocation of resources
  • Upgradation has to happen through physical upgrades or shifting to another server.

D. Cloud Hosting - No server exists by itself but resources from various servers are pulled together to provided the required resources for the website.

  • Based on a take what you need A'la carte model of hosting.
  • You  choose from a menu of hosting options spread across the cloud.
  • Resources allocated can be scaled up or down as per need or can even be on a pay as you go model.
  • Restrictions in overall control of the hosting as no physical server exists by itself.

 Between these four types of hosting almost all requirements can be covered from a modest corporate website to large portals with millions of visitors.

Some tips of choosing and using the correct web hosting for you

  • Don't just look at the hosting space, also look at the bandwidth requirements (the amount of data traffic to and from your site in GBs). Many hosting companies offer attractive space packages but kill you on bandwidth costs.
  • As far as possible separate your domain registrar from your host provider. This way if you wish to switch hosting you need not have to transfer the domain. All you have to do is change the DNS settings of the domain to the new hosting provider. Also in case of a dispute with the hosting company the domain name does not remain hostage.
  • For any website hosting, service is crucial. The more complex the website, more you will need customer support. Ensure the hosting provider has a good 24?7 support on email atleast. Tickets should be answered within a 12 hour period atleast.
  • Ensure that the hosting provider has backups as part of the service agreement. Also take regular backups of your files and database at your end. Do not rely on hosting companies during emergencies. Have your own backup ready to restore.
  • Do not tolerate downtime, poor server speeds or any other such inconveniences. Change your hosting provider pronto. A poor performing websites costs a business much more than what you might loose in hosting fees.

In my experience, most hosting companies are quite comparable in performance and service. Since hosting has become a commodity business there is not much incentive for any of them to provide superlative service. Usually they provide the best service  at the best price possible. So don't expect the moon from any of them.


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