Types of web hosting

Types of web hosting

Updated: 26/04/2019.

I’ll try to explain some of the most often used (and advertised) types of hosting with their pros and cons: shared, reseller, VPS, dedicated, managed and “cloud”. When comparing, it is understood that each hosting type is served properly, by a good quality hosting provider – doing otherwise would be like comparing a Ferrari with a broken engine and a VW Beetle and concluding that the Beetle is faster! A separate post explains how to compare hosting offers: Web Hosting offer catches (small print). Unrelated to hosting choice, make sure Your website is well optimized, because even the best and the most expensive hosting can’t help if a website isn’t well made. Some of the links provided here are affiliate – which means I’d get some money if you buy anything using them, while the price is the same for You (if not even cheaper).

Contents:

  1. Introduction
    1.1. Managed – explained
    1.2. Cloud – explained
    1.3. Combinations 🙂
  2. Shared hosting
    2.1. Managed shared hosting
    2.2. Cloud shared hosting
  3. Reseller hosting
    3.1. Cloud reseller hosting
  4. Dedicated server
    4.1. Managed dedicated server
  5. VPS (Virtual Private Server)
    5.1. Managed VPS
    5.2. Cloud VPS
  6. Short overview, pros and cons


1. Introduction

Disclaimer: I am by no means a hosting expert. All the info and claims given here are: “the way I have learned, understood and experienced – to the best of my knowledge”. Any additions, or corrections are more than welcome. Take it all with a grain of salt – like most other stuff (found on the Internet).

Important note: things change quickly in web hosting industry. Providers change owners and/or business policy. Those that are good today, might be poor in a year, or two (and vice-versa). Most providers offer discounts if You pay in advance for a whole year, or two-three years. Don’t do this. If it turns out that hosting is bad, or it becomes bad in six months time, You’ve practically wasted the money. Even with good hosting providers paying for more than a year in advance is risky (three years in advance even more so). On top of all this: discounts given for paying in advance by good hosting providers are usually symbolic (range of 10% for year in advance, 15% for two years…). Oni koji daju veće popuste su po pravilu loši provajderi.

Rough and simplified division of hosting types:

  • Shared
  • Reseller
  • VPS (Virtual Private Server)
  • Dedicated

Many of these can be offered as managed (sever/installations are maintained by the hosting provider), or not.

On top of all that, most can be implemented using cloud technology.

Managed and cloud don’t exclude each other – depends on hosting provider’s offer and system setup.

Each hosting type has its pros and cons. I’ll stress again: only good executions by good hosting providers will offer advantages of each hosting type. Bad hosting providers should be avoided because, in addition to the “inherent” flaws of each hosting type, You are likely to face a lot of other (un)expected problems.

Noted prices are just for explanation of hosting type differences. Real prices and resource offered with those prices differ from provider to provider and also change in time – with lots of stuff written in “fine print”.

1.1. Managed – explained

When any hosting type (shared, reseller, VPS, or dedicated) is offered as managed, it usually means the following:

  • Hosting provider takes care of server maintenance (for shared hosting they help with the site as well). Security, updates, operating system setup – it’s all taken care of.
  • Software needed for running a server, websites and backup is installed and included in the price.
  • Price is a bit higher than for not-managed.

No harm in stressing out: quality of “management” varies, with good hosting providers offering top class management and (technical) support.

1.2. Cloud – explained

For a full explanation of cloud technology I must refer the readers to Google. Here I’ll just give a brief and (over)simplified explanation of basic principles that are important in terms of hosting.

Cloud system consists of many separate computers/servers connected over the Internet. Basic postulates of cloud technology are redundancy and scalability:

  • Redundancy: i.e. doubling/tripling up. If any server “falls”, there is a copy of all the data on another, connected server, that is working.
  • Scalability: thanks to the fact that a large number of servers are interconnected, if You need more resources (and faster performance), a few more servers can be “added” to your package. Same goes for reducing the available resources (and subscription price).

Just like with hosting and “management”, cloud setup differs a lot from provider to provider. Some will just advertise “cloud”, without the redundancy and scalability being implemented and functioning (I’d call this “lying”). Some implement it poorly, so that failure of one server causes the entire network (“cloud”) to “fall”. So, at the cost of being boring and repeating myself: choose good quality hosting providers (yes, they do cost a bit more).

Note: redundancy does not mean that one shouldn’t do backups. Educational thread from WebHostingTalk forum about (otherwise very good) MDDhosting total outage. It happens even to the best that an error, or a malfunction creates a problem.

1.3. Combinations 🙂

Managed and cloud aren’t mutually exclusive. That is, most types of hosting (whether shared, or VPS):

  • “Not-managed” and “not-cloud” to put it that way.
  • Managed and not-cloud.
  • Not-managed and cloud.
  • Both managed and cloud.

Though dedicated servers aren’t available in cloud setup – since cloud relies on resource virtualization and sharing at many different places.


2. Shared hosting

Price range is around 6 $ per month, though if You are happy with a bit lower performance (for low traffic websites), there are options for half that price.

This is generally the cheapest type of hosting. You get a user account (usually with a cPanel) on a server with thousands of similar accounts. Picture below shows a shared hosting analogy:

“There’s me!” :) One of many – analogy of a website hosted on a shared hosting server Picture 1
“There’s me!” 🙂 One of many – analogy of a website hosted on a shared hosting server
Picture 1

All the users are sharing the same server and resources (RAM and CPU power). Good hosting providers make sure that none of them can overdo it – so that one user takes all the resources and others can’t function normally. They also mind the security (say like hiring a guard of the public parking and occasionally check the car owners if they are doing something “shady”). You can also expect to get some sort of backup performed by the host, as well as some (at least rudimentary) backup solution for downloading Your own website, database, or complete cPanel account backups. All the software licenses are shared and paid for by thousand users, so the hosting ends up cheap for each particular user. Finally, You get to use the host’s nameservers, so others can find your website on the internet, without having to pay for a DNS service (or use Cloudflare – though I’d recommend it).

Each user is given some RAM and CPU resources – sometimes it is advertised as an equivalent of (virtual) “1 GB RAM and 1 CPU core” for example, but real CPU and RAM are still shared. This is less common though, CPU and RAM resources are often not stated, since they are shared. Provider will do their best to not place the sites with peak visitor numbers at the same time of the day (or a day of the week) and try to minimize one site’s affect on others.

Still, your website will be influenced by other websites – more, or less. Also, a thief could “steal a car” (hack a website) and trash a few others.

This does not happen every day, of course, but if it is important to have certain resources available most of the time and to have a higher level of security, shared hosting is not the best option.

Advantages of this system is a low price (because many users share server costs) and the fact that hosting provider worries about everything (server management takes time, knowledge and experience).

For small and medium sized websites, good quality shared hosting is probably the optimal choice.

Shared hosting can be “upgraded”, up to a point. That is, for a higher price, You can get 2, or 4 virtual CPU cores and RAM GBs. This can help if a website gets more visitors and starts working more slowly because of that – up to a point, when you will eventually need to go with a different hosting type. As I said, this is less common (stating RAM and CPU resources for shared hosting). Upgrade is often performed by moving the user to a server that is less crowded.

Good hosting providers using CloudLinux are an exception and can offer some serious performance on shared hosting accounts – still being cheaper than a (managed) VPS.

2.1. Managed shared hosting

Prices going around 20 $ per month.

Usually advertised as “WordPress (managed shared) hosting”. Provider helps you with installing and managing a WordPress website. Takes care of updates, security patches, blocks installation of plugins that are known to be problematic etc.

Compared to “ordinary” shared hosting – You are paying more, for someone to help if there are problems with the website.

To avoid confusion: all the shared hosting packages are managed in terms of provider managing the server. But when selling “managed shared hosting”, providers usually mean helping with the website functioning as well, not just keeping the server alive and kicking.

2.2. Cloud shared hosting

Prices around 10 $ per month.

Shared hosting that uses cloud infrastructure (with its scalability and redundancy). In short: it should all work more stably (in case one server is “down”, others take over instantaneously) and easier increase of available resources (up to a point, it still is shared hosting).


3. Reseller hosting

Around 20 $ per month.

You saw picture 1 for shared hosting? Now look at picture 2:

“My part of the parking lot” – reseller hosting analogy Picture 2
“My part of the parking lot” – reseller hosting analogy
Picture 2

With reseller hosting you practically get 10, or 100 (or more, depending on the price) shared hosting accounts that you can sell on (at any price You arrange), or use for hosting several websites. Usually the main limitation is the amount of disk space and CPU/RAM resources per “sub-account”. Apart from the opportunity to sell on, this type of hosting enables You to:

  • Get a bit more resources for the money paid, compared to shared hosting.
  • Set up several websites so that each has their own cPanel. This provides some more security and stability and can make any particular website migration a bit easier.

So, even though the name says “reseller”, this type of hosting is good for those who have several (small, or medium size) websites. Though, if you any of the websites requires even more resources, it will have to be moved to an “upgraded” (cloud) shared hosting, or a VPS.

Reseller usually doesn’t come as managed, since it is understood that the “reseller” will take care of everything – whether they are re-selling to other clients, or using the package for several of their own websites. Though it can be cloud, just like cloud shared hosting.

3.1. Cloud reseller hosting

25 $ per month.

Reseller hosting on a cloud infrastructure. Similar to cloud shared hosting in terms of pros and cons, You just get reseller resources.


4. Dedicated server

Price is around 100 $ per month.

For the money You get one entire server – just for Your website(s)! 🙂 If shared hosting is depicted as a crowded public parking, dedicated hosting is like renting a separate garage, that You can fill and set up as You like:

Dedicated hosting analogy Picture 3
Dedicated hosting analogy
Picture 3

Looks nice, but, apart from the price, there are other catches. Operating system installation, setup, security patches – it’s all down to You. And that’s not all. 🙂 cPanel used with practically every shared, or reseller hosting is not free – it costs from 15 $ per month upwards, depending on the package type. Protection from viruses and “malicious” scripts – yes, it also costs money. OK, at least DNS can be free today, if using Cloudflare.

It is clear: dedicated server requires knowledge, time and money to run well.

Advantages? It is known exactly how many resources are available. Plus the isolation from other users/websites is as good as it gets – the whole physical server (computer) is “only Yours”.

4.1. Managed dedicated server

160 $ per month.

Some hosting providers offer dedicated servers that their technicians maintain and that come with installed all the “standard” software needed for work and protection.

5. VPS (Virtual Private Server)

Prices start as low as 15 $ per month, but read on.

In some hosting offer hierarchy, VPS hosting would go before the dedicated, as a “weaker one”. The reason for placing it last is because I think that it’s easier to understand what a VPS is if one already knows what a dedicated server is.

The “Virtual” in the name is because one (powerful) physical server is “divided” into several smaller virtual servers. One VPS has strictly allocated resources and can’t affect other VPS-s (as is the case with shared hosting user accounts). The closest analogy is like in the picture 4:

VPS hosting – many users on one server, but strictly separated and each has dedicated space (which may vary, unlike in this picture)! Picture 4
VPS hosting – many users on one server, but strictly separated and each has dedicated space (which may vary, unlike in this picture)!
Picture 4

This is the best picture I could get, but it needs explaining. The bottom line is that any problem with one virtual server (VPS) does not influence the others. Same goes for resources: each is given strictly the amount of resources that is agreed on (and paid for) – (virtual) CPU cores, RAM etc. The main difference from dedicated is that they share one physical server.

Another similarity with dedicated servers is that here too You have to install, set up and maintain everything, pay Yourself for any software used etc… Server maintenance takes knowledge, experience, time and money.

5.1. Managed VPS

Prices are from 50 $.

These packages offer full “separation” and full availability of paid resources, but with the following advantages:

  • Hosting company takes care of installations, security and server maintenance.
  • Software (cPanel, Softaculous, Litespeed, R1soft backup, ConfigServer eXploit Scanner etc.) is all paid for by multi-user (corporate) licenses and the monthly price is shared by many users – so it ends up being a lot cheaper.

If you have no ambitions to (learn how to) manage servers, managed VPS is a lot better choice than “ordinary” VPS. Very good text on the subject of un-managed VPS at digitalfaq.com: The Myth of VPS Hosting: Reasons to Avoid It!

5.2. Cloud VPS

From 100 $ per month.

VPS using cloud infrastructure. It is usually also managed. Perhaps the “most powerful” type of hosting. It can be scaled up to great power, with great reliability (thanks to cloud infrastructure).


6. Short overview, pros and cons

Short overview of the most important information. Marks given are from 1 to 5 range. It is all given as a rough average, just for comparison. For “cloud variants” I won’t repeat myself with the basic advantages of cloud infrastructure – it is understood for all the “clouds”.

Hosting typeProsCons
SharedCheap, simple to start.Limited performance, not enough separation from other server users. Good hosts using CloudLinux are an exception and can offer serious performance!
Shared managedGood support for website setup and management.More expensive than shared, with all its cons.
Shared cloudStill rather cheap, with a bit more resource scaling options than shared.Still not the best separation from other server users and highest performance is still not possible.
ResellerMore resources than shared, with many separate user accounts – so one of your websites won’t easily affect others.Limited performance and it costs more than shared.
Reseller cloudSomewhat better resource availability compared to reseller.A bit higher price than reseller.
DedicatedYou have a whole server just to yourself.Expensive. You worry about installations, maintenance and buy all the software.
Dedicated managedHosting provider manages the server for You, installs most software and its cost is shared by many users.Costs more than dedicated – You are paying for the management.
VPSAlmost like dedicated, but a lot cheaper.You pay for all the software and manage the server.
VPS managedAlmost like dedicated managed, but a lot cheaper. 🙂Costs a lot more than VPS.
VPS cloudVPS managed on a cloud infrastructure. Probably the most powerful and versatile type of hosting.Costs even more than a VPS managed.

What to choose? I’ll give recommendations based on my knowledge and experience:

  • Small, or medium sized website: shared, or shared cloud. If you need help with website setup and management, then go with a managed variant.
  • Several small, or medium websites: reseller, or reseller cloud.
  • Larger website: VPS managed, or VPS cloud.
  • Security requires maximum separation from other users: VPS managed, or VPS cloud.
  • You need a custom installation/setup for application development, or deployment: VPS, or dedicated.
  • You need powerful resources, but with a lot of freedom server setup customization: dedicated, or dedicated managed.

For help with hosting offer comparison, see: Web Hosting offer catches (small print).

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