If you have a website then you have web hosting, but what is it exactly? For your website to be visible to the world it needs to be stored, or hosted, on one or more servers, that are always on and always connected to the Internet. A server is a specialized computer that’s designed specifically to run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
To achieve this, web servers are housed in purpose-built facilities called: data centers.
These multi-million-pound buildings provide space for the servers, power, cooling, fire suppression and, of course, massive Internet connectivity. As you can imagine servers and data center facilities can be very expensive, so buying your own servers, and renting data center space, is probably not practical or cost-effective for most businesses. So the majority of website owners rent the space and connectivity they need from a hosting company, and this is what web hosting is.
There are many different options and price points for web hosting, so it can be confusing and often it can be very difficult to properly compare hosting services from different providers, in order to make an educated decision. So let’s dig a little deeper and we’ll help you to know what to look out for. Now typically, web hosting will either be based on sharing resources with others, or having dedicated resources that are exclusive to you.
There are pros and cons to both approaches. Let’s start with the shared hosting. This is where one or more servers provide a hosting environment for many different websites, depending on the size and number of servers that are providing the environment, there may be hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of websites sharing the hosting space.
This type of arrangement helps to keep costs low, and the cheapest web hosting plans are almost always shared hosting. However, shared hosting is not always cheap and it’s not always at entry-level quality. There are many things that will affect the price you pay and the quality of the service you receive.
Now you might alternatively opt for a hosting plan where you have resources that are dedicated to your website exclusively. This could mean one or more dedicated servers that are just for your use, or you might have dedicated space in the form of Virtual Private Servers – VPS – or via a container in a cloud hosting environment. This is a big topic so we’ll cover these in a separate video.
For now, let’s focus on the difference between shared hosting, and dedicated servers. A simple analogy is to think of your web hosting as the home for your website. So, shared hosting; it’s a lot like an apartment block the tenants each have some of the space to themselves but, they share common resources like: stairwells; elevators; laundry rooms; refuse bins; and more.
It can be a great way to live, but you’ve got no control over the tenants that you share the building with, and they may have a big impact on how well the arrangement works for you. On the other hand, dedicated servers, well that’s more like owning your own house, where all the space and the facilities belong to you for your exclusive use. Again, there are pros and cons to each arrangement.
Sticking with the analogy, the home needs to be suitable for those living in it. Moving a family of five into a one-bedroom apartment may well be possible, but it’s probably not the best solution, so you need to consider: what type of website do you need to host? If it’s a small blog, brochure website, or perhaps even a small e-commerce store, then a cheap shared hosting plan may well do the job. On the other hand, if your website is mission-critical to your business, then clearly, you’re going to need something that’s a bit more tailored. There’s no shortage of web hosting companies offering services from just a few dollars per month, and these services can be perfectly fine, but there are some things to watch out for.
Often cheap shared hosting plans are advertised with huge amounts of storage space and they have huge data transfer limits. Hosting companies do this because they know the vast majority of websites will only use a tiny fraction of the space, and those transfer limits. And for most website owners then, comparing and purchasing hosting plans based on these limits and allocations, is pointless.
Instead, you need to think about what matters most to you; what happens when things go wrong? What support options are available if your website goes offline? Can you pick up the phone and speak to someone? Or will you have to use an email ticketing system, with a slow response? Ask whether or not backups are included in the service, and, how easy is it to restore a backup if it’s needed? There’s been some high-profile failures of mainstream shared hosting providers where customers lost all their website data because no backup services were included in the hosting fee. Now many plans are sold with an uptime guarantee, where the hosting company guarantees that the website will be online say, 99.9 percent of the time, some companies even claim 100 percent.
Be aware though, that this doesn’t mean that your website is guaranteed to always be online, it simply means that the company may reimburse part of your hosting fees if they don’t meet the guarantee. So, the speed with which your hosting provider can respond to any issues should be an important consideration. There are so many variables involved in web hosting, and some of these are completely outside of the hosting companies’ control, so no hosting service will ever be perfect, and there will always be times when your website is down. So, support and backups are important to consider. You may even need to go a step further and enter into a Service Level Agreement, or SLA, with your provider to ensure that you’ve got the cover that you need, and this will of course affect the cost that you pay.
A final word of caution, web hosting is different to email hosting, they’re different services with different requirements, many hosting packages try to combine email provision with web hosting and whilst this may be okay in some scenarios, in most cases it’s the wrong approach – that’s again a subject we’ll cover in another video. So choose your web hosting provider carefully, if you rely on your website for business continuity, then you need a trusted partner who can properly assess your needs and provide a package to suit. Why not seek a recommendation from other businesses in your industry?
Which providers do they use? What’s their experience been like? If your requirements go beyond basic shared hosting, it’s probably unlikely that you’ll find your ideal partner with a quick Google search. So hopefully you now have a good idea of what web hosting is and how to select a provider. You might ask: “How much should I pay for web hosting?” Well, business continuity and your peace of mind are going to play a major role in setting a budget for web hosting. Why not consider how much you spend on other key areas of your business, things like telephone and mobile service, insurance and rent, and how does your web hosting budget compare to those?
Ask yourself: “What will it cost me if my website is offline for an hour, four hours, or half a day? How would I recover from a total failure?” All of these questions will help you to discern whether your web hosting offers good value for money.