Web Hosting Alternatives: Shared vs VPS vs Dedicated
Hosting solutions for first-time webmasters (or even those just used to hosting websites locally) can be daunting: all the services out there seem to have different names and offer different services. Do you want a “Grid” hosting, a “RackMaster”, a “Premium Plus”, or whatever other package the provider is peddling? Chances are, you just want to host a website!
Thankfully, almost all of the hosting packages out there can be broken down into 3 different categories: Shared hosting, VPS, and Dedicated servers. Let’s take a look at the three with some pros and cons!
1. Shared Hosting
Shared hosting is the simplest hosting solution, and also the cheapest: some hosting companies will host your site for as little as two or three dollars a month! What shared hosting means, in essence, is that your website is hosted on a server with other websites; when users enter your website address, they are taken to your specific directory on that server. Generally, management of this server is accomplished through a web-based interface such as Plesk or cPanel, which allows easy, GUI-based administration of services like email, redirects, and SQL databases.
The limits of this hosting tend to be resources; shared hosting offers very little drive space and RAM usage in general, and moderate-traffic websites will outgrow them fairly quickly. In addition, the lack of any command-line interface like SSH into the servers will limit the application of the servers; if you want to run anything other than web-based services you will find it a bit hard to customize your server (though some shared hosting companies now allow SSH access through request).
VPS stands for “Virtual Private Server”, and refers to a virtual machine on a dedicated server. A VPS is, in essence, your own private server; you have root access, you can install whatever you want on it, and no other files except your own are present on it, unlike shared hosting. Your virtual machine tends to be one of a half-dozen or so (the number varies with pricing package and service) on the physical server, and for all intents and purposes the server you’re accessing is a live server: you can install LDAP, RADIUS, or whatever other software suits your fancy, and it’s usually only a little more expensive than shared hosting, though prices tend to range between $10 and $60 a month, depending on the server price package.
The limits of this service are resources: as one of a few different virtual machines on the host server, you are sharing CPU, RAM, and hard drive space with those other virtual machines. While you can get higher-priced packages with guaranteed resources, in the end you are still sharing, and this will impact the ability to handle high-traffic websites.
3. Dedicated Servers
Dedicated servers are the big Kahuna in the hosting world: with a dedicated server, you are the sole administrator of an actual, physical machine in a remote location. You have all the RAM, CPU speed, and hard drive space available to you, and you share nothing with anyone else; even the network bandwidth is often guaranteed, though you may pay a pretty penny for it. It has all the benefits of a VPS plus the added benefit of 100% usage of available resources, and is the type of server someone who hosts locally might immediately be most comfortable with.
Which brings us to a dedicated server’s only real limitation: price. With prices being anywhere from $100 to $400+ depending on your required specs, the pricing structure is overkill for anyone not hosting a bigger website that needs the resources to handle lots of web volume. Other than that, however, there are no real limitations that dedicated servers share with the other alternatives on this list: it has the complete control and speed that both shared hosting and VPSs lack.
In the end, the choice of web hosting is entirely up to you: the choices, however, can be daunting, and I hope this article has helped you to understand the demographics and benefits of the different web hosting alternatives. In general, you want a shared hosting package for ease of use on low-traffic websites, a VPS for moderate-traffic websites that need more customizability, and a dedicated server for beefy websites that need all the speed they can get!