To be available to their users, all websites need to be on a computer somewhere, connected to the internet and world wide web. You can either organise this yourself, or let a hosting provider do some or all of it for you. The degree to which the provider does this, is what differentiates the types of hosting you can buy.
Hosting for the masses
Most websites aren’t Facebook, Reddit or Amazon, they don’t need their own data centres and 1000s of servers. Even if you aspire to be one of the giants, you need to start somewhere and for most websites that’s virtual or shared hosting. It provides a low cost entry point to the world of hosting websites without the worry of managing servers.
Shared or Virtual?
Well spotted. Traditionally it was called shared hosting, because the server your website is stored on and served from is shared with other customers rather than being dedicated to your site(s) completely. We call it virtual hosting because of the way we keep your sites separate and secure from other customers, but we’ll take a look at that later.
With virtual hosting there’s nothing for you to worry about other than building amazing websites and applications. You don’t have to spend time installing the operating system, configuring it, installing the web server, the database server etc. and keeping them all secure and up to date. Your host will install and maintain all the hardware and server software, pay for all the licenses and they should be keeping up with the latest technology to make your websites fast and secure.
Hosting as a holiday
Imagine for a moment that each type of web hosting is like holiday accommodation, traditional shared hosting would be like an old-fashioned youth hostel and our modern virtual hosting would be like a hotel:
With a youth hostel you’re sharing everything without any controls in place: A communal “bunk room”, shared kitchen, shared bathroom and generally not a lot of privacy. If someone is using the bathroom or kitchen (resources) when you need it, well you’re going to have to wait.
With a hotel you’ve got a room dedicated to you, your own bathroom, you control the lights, you control the aircon and you’ve got a lot more privacy. You’re still sharing some bits, but it’s a lot less, if you need the bathroom then you just use it, it’s there waiting for you and if you need food you go to the dining room and the hotel fairly handles the sharing.
Is shared / virtual hosting right for my website?
Unfortunately it’s not always as simple as, “This website is only 2GB in size, that’ll fit on the Yokto plan, I’ll use that“. There are a number of things you need to consider, here’s our top 5 things to consider when looking at different types of website hosting.
We’ve rated each of the areas out of 5 based on our own services to help you quickly compare the different types of hosting available. As there’s a lot of variation between providers you should always check any assumptions before signing up.
Ease of use
When it comes to hosting, Virtual Hosting is about as easy to use as it gets unless you’re using an opinionated site building service. You don’t need to know about managing servers or database software etc. we look after all of that and provide you with the tools you need to help you manage your website effectively, especially if it’s using WordPress.
Whether it’s disk space, bandwidth, CPU or memory your site needs enough resources to run properly. Some providers will offer you unlimited disk space and bandwidth (but usually with vague conditions attached) whilst giving you low CPU and memory resources which are the main resources most sites need to worry about. As virtual hosting is sharing a server between customers, you obviously get less resources than you would with a system dedicated to you. The amount though varies considerably between providers.
This is another area that differs greatly between providers. With some you’ll pretty much be on your own unless it’s something the provider is in charge of that’s actually broken. With others they’ll help you get your email setup and help you work out why your website might be loading slowly for example and others will go even further and help you with your website – but that usually costs more. For the most part though you can expect a reasonable level of support from providers.
Lots of providers will allow you to customise parts of your web hosting, such as the version of PHP or Ruby for example and their relevant settings but that’s usually as far as it goes with customising software with virtual hosting. As you don’t have sole access to the server you can’t install a different database server, or a custom search engine software for your site etc. although some providers will try and accommodate requests for some tools e.g. You need a certain command-line tool to build your sites such as gulp etc.
Shared hosting is as affordable as it gets. With most providers there’s nothing extra to pay, although some will charge for things such as SSL certificates (to make sure browsers say your site is secure) so you do need to watch out. If you wanted to replicate the same sort of experience as our shared hosting on your own cloud or dedicated server you’d need to pay for licenses for a control panel, operating system, security software, Litespeed Enterprise and more. Even for a small server the monthly cost would be more than our top virtual hosting package per month, so as you can see, it’s great value.
Potential downsides and issues
A key part of our ethos is honesty and integrity, and that means we need to point out some potential downsides to shared hosting. That’s not to say they will be a problem for you, just that they could be depending on circumstances.
As it’s a shared service, your email is on the same server as other customers as well which means if one of these customers sends lots of spam then there is the potential that the server could be put on a blocklist and you might have trouble sending email for a short period of time.
However we work really hard to make sure that this doesn’t happen by having:
order screening to make sure suspicious spam accounts never get setup on our servers
brute-force protection to make sure someone can’t guess your password and login to your email and send spam
outgoing spam filtering as well as incoming spam filtering
multiple levels of malware protection to stop spam sending scripts being uploaded to customers sites
we act and act on any spam/abuse complaints we receive
we monitor our IP addresses in blocklists
Whilst we have a very good track record of not getting our servers listed in blocklists, it isn’t 100% foolproof (more like 99.99%). This issue isn’t unique to shared/virtual hosting though, as we also see this happen regularly with certain email service providers where they haven’t dealt with spam complaints and get blocklisted.
If this is something you are worried about then please book a call with one of our team and we can suggest extra steps that you can take to reduce the chances of this being an issue for you.
Sudden traffic increase
This one isn’t really specific to just virtual hosting, but as you generally get less CPU and memory resources compared to a cloud server or dedicated server the increase in traffic might not have to be quite as big to cause you problems. This could make your website unavailable if you suddenly find your website featured on TV or the front page of Reddit.
Fortunately there are some cost effective ways to deal with this if you’re worried this might happen to your website, often working out cheaper than just upgrading to the next package up (which might not prevent the problem anyway).
If another customer gets a sudden increase in traffic then you don’t need to worry though, our virtualisation technology means no single customer can monopolise all the resources of a server and leave your website with nothing.
Affordable even for small websites
Easy to get started with and use
No server management required
Limited resources compared to larger virtual or dedicated servers
Limited customisation options compared to your own server
Potential problems with email because of other customers
Shared or virtual hosting is ideal for 90% of websites, especially if your provider is one of the more flexible, giving you access to advanced software and the benefits of virtualisation without the expense or the need to manage (or pay someone to manage) your own server.
Our virtual hosting packages aren’t the cheapest you’ll find, but they are amazing value and packed with extras that many providers don’t include that will make your sites faster and your life much easier when it comes to managing your sites – including our experienced technical staff to help diagnose performance issues with your sites.