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Web hosting types – cloud, shared, VPS…

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).

Se a separate post for my hosting recommendations.

Contents:

  1. Introduction
    1.1. Managed – explained
    1.2. Cloud – explained
    1.3. Combinations ๐Ÿ™‚
  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 veฤ‡e popuste su po pravilu loลกi 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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:

โ€œThereโ€™s me!โ€ :) One of many โ€“ analogy of a website hosted on a shared hosting server Picture 1
โ€œThereโ€™s me!โ€ ๐Ÿ™‚ One of many โ€“ 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.

In a separate article I wrote in more detail about shared hosting and busted some common myths related to it – see: Shared hosting explained.

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:

โ€œMy part of the parking lotโ€ โ€“ reseller hosting analogy Picture 2
โ€œMy part of the parking lotโ€ โ€“ 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.

For more information, see my article: Reseller hosting – explained.

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)! ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 โ€“ many users on one server, but strictly separated and each has dedicated space (which may vary, unlike in this picture)! Picture 4
VPS hosting โ€“ 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. I wrote here in more detail about: is VPS better than shared hosting?.

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.

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. ๐Ÿ™‚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).

8 thoughts on “Web hosting types – cloud, shared, VPS…”

  1. Thanks, one of the best explainer articles I have found so far. And all that useful info without trying to sell an EIG hosting provider like most articles tend to do. What are your thoughts on Cloudways? Is it shared cloud or managed cloud VPS in opinion? I want to try cloud hosting, do not have the interest to learn and skills required to set up Vultr, DO, Linode server on my own. Do you know any PaaS like Cloudways that offers managed Upcloud? Or may be any other managed cloud hosting provider you have tested and recommend? Preferably in EU jurisdiction.

    Reply
    • Had to take a look and see if I’ve explained “cloud” hosting in this article. OK, I have, so that’s out of the way – going straight to the point: ๐Ÿ™‚

      With a disclaimer that, same as all the articles on this site, this should be taken as “to the best of my knowledge,” and “in my (personal) opinion.”

      One of the very good (WordPress) developers and a great guy I know started working with Cloudways a few months ago. I’m saying this without being subjective: from what I could gather they have a decent quality support team. That’s a big plus in my book.

      What it is? You get a DigitalOcean droplet (which isn’t really cloud as defined in this article, for all I know), or an AWS instance (which is “the real cloud”) – and it gets set up and managed through/by Cloudways.
      They provide decent server management, with a well designed, user friendly, management software (haven’t tried it myself though, so take it with a grain of salt).

      Customers (you ๐Ÿ™‚ ), pay for their pays ๐Ÿ™‚ on top of the DigitalOcean, AWS etc. prices.

      I personally think that it’s worth paying someone else to manage a VPS. My first choice would be KnownHost (that’s an affiliate link! ๐Ÿ™‚ ), or Hetzner if looking for 100% self-managed (can’t beat their prices to resource ratio, great reliability, and it is Ger… EU jurisdiction), but those are not “real cloud” infrastructure solutions.
      KnownHost also offers an EU location for their “Managed VPS” hosting, but not for their “Cloud Managed VPS” hosting – the latter having the advantage of limiting resources per website, if several sites are run on the same VPS (using CloudLinux), but not being what I’d call “the real cloud infrastructure”.

      All this can still not be very helpful, if you really need the cloud infrastructure (with redundancy and scalability). I think Cloudways with AWS can provide that – thanks to AWS, while Cloudways provides user-friendly way to configure SSL/TLS, web-development staging environment, and other practical stuff. And, of course, they manage the AWS instance. But if you really need both infrastructure scalability and redundancy, I’d double check with them about those details before paying any money.

      My “thinking out loudly:”
      Having said all that, the “real cloud” infrastructure is not really needed for most projects. It often suffices to just have an extra failover server, with DNS based dynamic load balancing. That gets one very close to 100% availability/uptime.

      When it comes to building stuff based on Amazon’s cloud services: oblakoder.rs is another place where I’d ask for help (and the price quotes ๐Ÿ™‚ ). I hadn’t done any business with them, only some inquiries, but I met the managing director Mr Branislav Papulin, on a WordPress meetup, and he seems OK and knowledgeable.

      Final notes:
      It’s only fair to stress: I hadn’t used Knownhost personally, but I did get a lot of very positive feedback from the people who’s knowledge and experience I value.
      Hetzner is not the most beginner/user friendly service, but if you know what you are doing, they are very good and professional on their end.
      I haven’t got enough feedback on Cloudways to confirm that service is good, nor any real complaints to deduce they aren’t. Haven’t used it myself.
      Great place for any hosting, and infrastructure related questions is the LowEndSpirit forum.

  2. Hi Relja, thanks for the kind words ๐Ÿ™‚

    I believe Relja explained everything, you need zero knowledge to run VPS and youโ€™re being charged at the end of the month for the previous month, what is great, you donโ€™t have to set up SSL, Backups, Caching everything is built in.

    So you can pick any of the 5 most popular providers and pick any data center, also itโ€™s quite easy to migrate the whole server to another data center activate cdn etc.

    Reply
    • Man – thanks for the super fast response. ๐Ÿ™‚

      So I didn’t give any wrong info? If/when you find the time – couple of more questions for my own curiosity:
      Does Cloudways also have “one-click” staging environment creation (and if yes, is it exclusively for WP, or most other db-powered CMS-s)?
      Can, at least AWS instances, be scaled up, and down, based on load/requirements? If yes – does it work on monthly plans (at least to a degree) or only with the hourly pricing plans?

      I googled and looked at Cloudways knowledgebase, but getting a “1st hand” confirmation, or correction, beats those by a long shot. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Edit / PS:
      I’ve still got more than a year on HostMantis bargain price reseller hosting plan – and it satisfies my requirements perfectly for now. But I did look into Cloudways when considering cloud based solutions – primarily in order to avoid any management/security based chores. (Un)fortunately, all my products are still relatively small-scaled, and don’t really need “the cloud” – for now at least. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Ha of course I’m super fast, you should see my bicycle and the broken shoulder ๐Ÿ˜€

    * Does Cloudways also have โ€œone-clickโ€ staging environment creation (and if yes, is it exclusively for WP, or most other db-powered CMS-s)?

    It does regardless of which app you have installed from the popular ones.

    *Can, at least AWS instances, be scaled up, and down, based on load/requirements? If yes โ€“ does it work on monthly plans (at least to a degree) or only with the hourly pricing plans?

    Yes, a user can do both scale up and scale down in AWS and Google CP only.
    In other providers(DO, Vultr, and Linode), only scale-up is possible, if you want to scale down, you would need to clone the server to a smaller one, so it’s not kinda out of the box solution.

    *If yes โ€“ does it work on monthly plans (at least to a degree) or only with the hourly pricing plans?

    You have like predicted monthly cost which actually depends on scaling up and down for AWS and GoogleCP and for others you actually have that fixed monthly price unless you scale up the server during the month.

    Reply
  4. Thanks for the fast and detailed reply. If Cloudways had Upcloud (from Finland) as one of their choices, I might have signed up already. Finnish and Polish data centers are really close from here and it would be kind of nice to have both – platform (Cloudways is registered in Malta) and the infrastructure provider within the EU jurisdiction. I did quite a bit reading lately on reddit, forums, blog comments, have seen several complaints about blakclisted DO ip addresses.. So I guess I have 2 lower price choices left with Digital Ocean – Vultr or Linode.

    Reply
    • I’ll answer from what I know – hoping that Aleksandar (WPAleks) will chime-in on this. I had messaged him yesterday to take a look and provide some answers when he has the time – both to provide you with the more accurate info, and for the selfish reasons of satisfying my own curiosity. ๐Ÿ™‚ To not forget – If you are looking for a budget solution, I would recommend creating an account and asking on LowEndSpirit forum as well – that’s a rather positive place where some real experts are happy to share advice, especially when it comes to the solutions “on the budget” (I really should write an article on that forum, it deserves it).

      Answer to the question: I really don’t know.

      Longer answer:
      EU jurisdiction
      The legislators themselves aren’t really sure what and how they are legislating here. Technically, any website using Cloudflare has their, and their visitors’ data free-for-view on Cloudflare servers around the world (brief discussion on CloudFlare privacy issues). Having said that, regardless of any “technical legislation requirements,” it does make sense to choose at least the hosting server location in a jurisdiction where one expects their rights to be best protected – not many people consider this, until it’s too late.

      IP address reputation
      Unless there’s a very good reason not to, I would recommend using Cloudflare, both as a DNS, and as a “security & CDN” service. Setting up the latter (setting the DNS records to “proxied” as explained in Cloudflare DNS setup article), hides the hosing server’s IP address, so its reputation becomes irrelevant. Even for the emails, I much prefer using a separate email service – so they take care of IP address reputation, warming up, and any delivery related problems (see the pros and cons of using a hosted email service).

      In addition to that, website IP reputation is… won’t put it into one sentence, to avoid any “SEO ninjas” taking it out of context and trolling, so I’ll just link to a couple of paragraphs where I had mentioned its relevance: “What does Google like?

      HetrixTools (affiliate link) does monitor IP address reputation of the hosting servers I use, but with Cloudflare and an external email service, that info serves me just for knowing how vigilant shared hosting providers are with kicking spammers and “hackers” customers off the (shared) server.

      Vultr vs Linode
      I’d say either of the two is not a bad choice. Would prefer either of those to DigitalOcean!
      Of the two, if I had to choose, I’d go with Linode. Why?
      Again, a disclaimer: I hadn’t used any of the two services personally, all I can “work with” is feedback from the experts I trust. And I hope Aleksandar will also provide some info on this.

      Linode have been in the business a lot longer (almost 20 years now), they are an independent company (as much as a company can stay independent these days), and most “VPS geeks” seem to prefer it (though Vultr isn’t really criticized either). This particular dilemma looks like a perfect thing to ask on the LowEndSpirit forum – so you can get 1st hand info from the people who’ve used those services, and even perhaps a few laughs at this reply on mine (I’m not a VPS expert). ๐Ÿ™‚

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