Jul 12, 2012
“I am getting ready to put a website together for my business, and I’m having trouble deciding between shared hosting vs. dedicated hosting. I understand that dedicated hosting is faster, but it also seems to cost ten times as much. Is dedicated hosting something that I really need, or will I get enough performance out of a cheaper shared hosting plan?”
When you shop around for a Web hosting plan, the three types of hosting plans you’re most likely to see are Shared Hosting, VPS Hosting and Dedicated Hosting along with a less common type called Application Hosting. My hosting provider, HostGator, offers all four of these and I’m quite familiar with each. If you want the short answer, go with shared hosting unless you believe your website fits one of the exceptions below. As long as you go with a good hosting provider that doesn’t oversell its servers and cause them to run out of resources, the vast majority of websites will have excellent performance characteristics on shared hosting plans.
If your website falls into one of these categories, you may want to consider a VPS or dedicated hosting plan instead. In both of these cases, the load may be a bit too much for a shared hosting server to handle, and you may experience less than ideal performance.
- You expect to receive more than around 100,000 visitors per month.
- Your website will host a great deal of rich media content such as software, music or videos.
Servers and Internet connections are faster now than ever before, and these factors have really driven down the cost of shared hosting in recent years. These days, you can expect to get a shared hosting plan with “unlimited everything” for around $15 per month, which is really an amazing deal. With a shared hosting plan, you share the same server with other customers who run websites of their own on the same machine. Because websites are mostly images and text, a server can easily send an entire webpage to a visitor in a fraction of a second. Thus, Web servers spend most of their time waiting for requests rather than actually processing them, and dozens of websites can reside on the same server without a discernible performance hit. A shared hosting plan is all that the vast majority of websites will ever need.
Things to Consider
- Get a shared hosting plan with “unlimited everything” — there should be no limits on traffic, storage space or the number of websites you can create. But…
- You have to be considerate of other customers. If your website receives hundreds of thousands of hits each month or you try to store a terabyte of information on your server, the hosting company may politely ask you to upgrade your plan. Read the hosting provider’s service terms carefully before you open your account, because in most cases there are no hard and fast rules about this. An “unlimited” account is generally unlimited so long as it doesn’t cause a performance problem for other customers.
- Watch out for hosting providers that cram as many customers as possible on their shared servers to maximize profits. Shared hosting only offers great performance to a point, and if a hosting provider oversells its shared servers, you’re going to be very unhappy. You can learn a lot by reading forums, but even then you have to look out for people posting from shill accounts in an attempt to earn affiliate commissions.
- You won’t know who you’re sharing a server with until after you create your shared hosting account. Some of those people may run websites containing unsavory subject matter, and those websites will resolve to the same IP address as yours. From a search engine optimization standpoint, I don’t know if this could hurt you although most people seem to agree that it doesn’t. However, some shared plans may come with a dedicated IP address. HostGator offers this with “Business” shared hosting plans. In this case, you wouldn’t have to worry about your website ending up in a “bad neighborhood.”
- Look for a shared hosting plan that offers a quick install or easy install feature for applications. This allows you to install popular software such as WordPress or phpBB automatically, which can save you hours of work.
VPS hosting — or Virtual Private Server hosting — is a type of hosting plan in which one physical server uses virtualization software such as VMware or Microsoft Hyper-V to emulate several virtual servers. For example, suppose a server machine has two 2-GHz dual-core processors and 4 GB of RAM. This server could be used to create four VPS servers, each with a 1 GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM. You could expect to pay a little over $30 per month for a VPS hosting plan such as this. The difference between shared and VPS hosting is that with shared hosting, the full resources of the server are available to all customers. If one customer installs a script that’s badly designed and starts to run away with the server’s system resources, all customers will experience slowdowns until the hosting company handles the problem. With a VPS hosting plan, the resources you pay for are yours alone. In some cases, VPS hosting may actually be slower than shared hosting because the dedicated resources you pay for are actually less than what you would get with a shared server. Here again, it can be wise to get some opinions from customers before you buy. VPS hosting is essentially the halfway point between shared and dedicated hosting.
Things to Consider
- With a VPS hosting plan, you can usually upgrade your virtual server at will. If you’re not happy with the performance or are at risk of running up against your storage or transfer limit, simply upgrade your plan and the hosting provider will handle the rest for you.
- Unless you have prior experience with Web development, make sure that you select a managed VPS hosting plan. A managed plan will come with a graphical front-end such as cPanel or Plesk, which makes server management a snap even for novices. A managed hosting plan also gives you the ability to perform “quick installs” of applications such as WordPress.
With a dedicated hosting plan, you are essentially paying a monthly fee to rent a high-end server computer and have full access to its resources. For example, a typical entry-level dedicated hosting plan might include a computer with a quad-core Intel Xeon processor, 2 GB of RAM and 500 GB of storage space for a little under $200 per month. A dedicated hosting plan certainly isn’t cheap, but it’s ideal for someone who needs complete control over a Web server and expects to receive massive traffic.
Things to Consider
- Do you really need a dedicated hosting plan? In most cases, the answer is no. According to a 2003 Harvard study, more than 87 percent of all websites were hosted on shared servers as of December 2002. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, you are most likely to need a dedicated hosting plan if your website(s) would cause poor performance for other customers on a shared hosting plan.
- Will your website generate enough revenue to justify the cost? If you’re thinking about a dedicated hosting plan, it’s because you want your website to make money. You should have previous experience with Web development and know what it takes for a website to be financially successful. Otherwise, start with a shared hosting plan and upgrade to dedicated only when your website outgrows its current hosting arrangement. It’s a lot easier to feel great about your new online business when it starts to pay for its own hosting costs, which is very realistic when you’re only paying $15 a month. If you’re paying $200 for a dedicated hosting plan, you may find yourself in the red for a long time.
Single-application hosting, as the name implies, is a type of hosting plan in which the server only runs a single application. The most popular type of single-application hosting is probably WordPress hosting, which HostGator offers for as little as $3.96 per month. For $6.36 per month, you can even run unlimited WordPress websites on your application hosting plan. As low as this price is, I’d suggest considering a shared hosting plan instead unless you are certain that you will only ever want to run a single application. After all, shared hosting is only a few dollars more per month. The increased flexibility seems worth it to me, especially if you have no prior experience with Web development and don’t know which content management system will work best for you.