Shared hosting, dedicated server, virtual private server, cloud hosting, where do you fit in?

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hosting plansSince my long experience with various hosting providers (since 1997), I thought it would be useful to share my knowledge related to setting up a video or audio portal. This article is also useful to compare various options for regular websites. There are 5 main methods to host your website:  Dedicated Server, Real Private Server(RPS), Virtual Private Server(VPS), Cloud Hosting and Shared Hosting.

I start with Cloud hosting in a nutshell because it is especially useful to serve videos and audios and it can be used in combination with the other hosting solutions  explained below:

Cloud hosting

Cloud hosting is basically a network of powerful dedicated servers spread all over the world. As said before, it is excellent to serve heavy content, like video, audio and images because they are downloaded from the server closest to the visitor. This speeds up downloading considerably, especially for an international audience.
It is also possible to develop all sorts of applications on a cloud platform, but this requires expert knowledge, so we will not go deeper into this subject.

The most popular services are AWS Amazon, Rackspace, Softlayer, Google and Firehost.  (Here is a list of the 20 top most popular cloud hosting services according to Cloud Tweaks.)
There are many hosting providers which use the services above to offer a custom framework to make life easier for website owners, because setting up a site on Cloud Hosting is not that easy.  Reason is that there is no infrastructure of software like you find on the other hosting plans. In order to run a website on a server, you need server software to configure the web space, databases, e-mail, etc…

AWS Amazon has a couple of advantages over the other cloud hosting companies in a sense that they make streaming video and audio very easy. I wrote several articles on this issue already:  http://www.miracletutorials.com/category/s3-amazon-cloudfront/, but I mention this again because the AWS Amazon service is excellent to combine with the other hosting plans to compensate for the speed of downloading. For example, you could have a shared hosting plan and upload all heavy files for download on a Cloud hosting account. Even if you have a site for a local audience, this can make a difference, especially with shared hosting and VPS. Keeping that in mind, let us now consider the popular hosting options:

Dedicated server

A dedicated server is a computer connected to the internet. The easiest way is to rent a server via a hosting provider. It is possible to set up a server at your own office but this involves renting a high speed connection with an ISP provider.  Governments, universities and other large organizations prefer this method, but it is very expensive. Therefore we will not discuss this option any further and concentrate on rented servers.
Dedicated servers have the advantage that you have full control over the server. You can tweak the configuration in any way you like. Websites on dedicated servers are generally faster than the ones running from RPS, VPS and shared hosting because you do not share the available bandwidth with other website owners. Therefore, this option is no luxury if you have a traffic intense site, with 200,000 page requests per month or more. Another reason to use a dedicated server is when you have specific needs that are not available on the other hosting plans. To name a few:

  • The ability to increase the maximum limit for uploading files via content management systems (like Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, custom CMS,…)
  • Intensive use of databases via forums, live chat, etc…
  • host traffic intensive sites for customers

However, this option comes at a cost:

  • You are responsible for the maintenance of the software and security.
  • Dedicated servers are more expensive and if you do not have the knowledge to run it, you need to hire a server master.
  • When the server goes down, you carry the responsibility to re-launch the machine and repair eventual damage, like corrupted databases, files, etc…
  • Sometimes, dedicated servers are shut down by the hosting provider when hackers take control of your server.  This is a big issue these days because of the extraordinary amount of hacker attempts which seem to increase daily.

I’ve always been happy with my dedicated server, and so far, I used it for my own sites and those of my customers. But lately, I tend to place sites of customers on shared hosting because of the problems with hackers.  I found that I spend more time and money on repairing problems then I earn, not to speak of the aggravation consoling the clients when the server is down.
That said, I keep my own sites on the dedicated server because they are traffic intensive.

Real private server (RPS)

Real Private Server is, like a dedicated server, a server running on its own, but is shares its hard drive with other RPS on the network of the hosting provider. My experience with RPS is that it runs fine on the frontend, meaning the sites respond fast to page requests, but uploading files via FTP is generally very slow. This can be an annoyance, especially if you are in a hurry to update your site.
The advantage of RPS is that the hosting provider is responsible for the security of the server software. So, if there is a problem with a hacker, you are not alone, provided that the hacker did not access the server via a security gap in one of your websites.

Virtual Private Hosting (VPS)

This option is great when you are sure that your site is going to become popular in the future but not just yet.  It is also suitable to host sites of customers because in general, you can set up a lot of websites, create e-mail accounts, etc… With VPS, you share a server and bandwidth with other users on the same server but you have more freedom than with shared hosting. Up to a point, it is possible to tweak the server software.  It feels like having a dedicated server, but the security is handled by the hosting provider, giving you some peace of mind.
However, because you share the server with others, it is slower than a dedicated server or a Real Private Server. But it has the advantage that uploading files is much faster than RPS, provided you have a good hosting provider, that is. 😉
I used several VPS plans in the past and experienced problems with the cheaper services. Therefore, select your hosting provider with caution and don’t go for the cheapest deal. VPS is more or less the same pricing as RPS, depending where you are located in the world.

If you need to share heavy files with your visitors, like large PDFs, images, video and audio, you can combine this option with Cloud hosting. You upload all heavy content to cloud hosting and link in your site(s) from there. It compensates loss in download speed considerably.

Shared hosting

Startups definitely may start with this type of plan. It requires little knowledge of website maintenance and it is the cheapest option available. On general, websites on shared hosting load slower than the other plans. But it depends on the hosting provider. The cheaper you go, the worse the result.

If you need to share heavy files with your visitors, like large PDFs, images, video and audio, you can combine this option with Cloud hosting. You upload all heavy content to cloud hosting and link in your site(s) from there. It compensates loss in download speed considerably.

 

General expense of the plans

  1. Dedicated server plans are undoubtedly the most expensive in terms of monthly/yearly rent plus maintenance. Pricing may start from $50 to $600, depending where you are in the world. In general, dedicated servers are cheaper in Europe than in the US, but it depends on the hosting provider.
    OVH is a well-known hosting provider located in France, offering cheap plans. However, they are difficult to deal with and the support is not that great. Pricing increases in relation to support and features. Softlayer is a good example of a high quality service, charging fees according to your needs. Siteground.com (affiliate link) is an excellent choice if security is important to you, especially when you run WordPress, Joomla, Magento or Drupal.
  2. Virtual Private Hosting is the second most expensive option. Pricing vary wildly, though. Best use a hosting provider with a good reputation, like GreenGeeks.com (affiliate link), siteground.com (affiliate link), Softlayer.com.
  3. Real Private Server is priced in between VPS and shared hosting, starting from $15 onwards.
    This type of service is getting outdated in favor of cloud hosting. Several hosting providers announced to discontinue this type of plans, which is a shame because it is a cheap[p way to get acquainted with dedicated servers.
  4. Shared hosting is the cheapest option. Pricing varies a lot, depending on features and support. Generally, shared hosting is cheaper in the US compared with Europe. Popular cheap hosting companies are Bluehost.com, Dreamhost.com (affiliate link), GreenGeeks.com (affiliate link), one.com.
    GoDaddy and 1and1.com are cheap as well, but I would avoid those hosting providers since they impose many limitations and restrictions.
    If security is important to you, you may consider siteground.com (affiliate link). They take special security measures on server level for CMS like Joomla, Drupal and WordPress.  Since these CMS are favorite targets of hackers, these measures make a big difference. It stands to reason that sitegound is therefore a little more expensive then the services mentioned previously although they offer basic hosting starting from $3.99/month. Their support is very good and they react within a couple of hours to support questions. It is the only hosting provider who called me to ask if everything was fine, 48 hours after I signed up with them. A refreshing experience.
  5. Cloud hosting is generally very cheap, especially if you only use it to link to files. AWS Amazon and Rackspace are commonly used by all main hosting providers as an additional option to serve videos, audios and images, but you can create your own account and handle this yourself. It turns out to be the cheapest solution and it is not that difficult. In fact, I would not recommend uploading videos and audios directly to your web space because this can seriously influence the performance of your website. Use cloud hosting for this type of files.

Word of advice

Although there are hosting providers which remain stable for a long period, they are sometimes bought by other companies and as a result, the support policy changes or they make shortcuts in this or that service. Therefore, do not expect to remain with the same hosting provider forever.
I once rented web space with WebFusion, a UK based hosting provider.  Service and performance was good until it was bought by another company of which the name escapes me (too long ago).
The service remained reasonable but support became a little slack. Then it was sold again, this time to HostEurope, and from then on everything seemed to tumble down. At that point, I decided to move on.

Since a couple of years,  I use several providers at the same time, using various solutions depending on the specific needs of the websites. I also find it convenient to spread sites over various providers with the advantage that if one service goes down, the others are still alive and kicking.
This does not mean you need to follow my example, I’m after all a web developer, among other (visual) occupations. But if you are in my situation, you want to consider this strategy.

If you just own a couple of sites, it is not really necessary to use this measure, but if you rent a dedicated server, it is wise to rent a secondary server in case your main server goes down and stays down for more than 3 days. For example, if a hacker has the opportunity to send spam using your server, the hosting provider may decide to block your server for a short period of time. If this happens again, the blocking period becomes longer.  In that situation, you only need to change the name servers and within a couple of days, you are up and running again.

Another thing you need to consider is a firewall on site level. Most CMS have firewall plugins that can prevent hackers from the most common attacks. Popular firewall plugins are: WordFence (WordPress) and AdminTools (Joomla). There are of course other plugins as well and you may want combine various plugins. All CMS have a repository with security extensions.

My favorite hosting providers

Below follows a list of hosting providers I use:

  • Siteground.com (affiliate link) for dedicated and shared hosting for  Joomla and WordPress sites, because of the security protection,  great support and good performance.
  • Softlayer for dedicated servers at an affordable pricing. Support and performance are fine, although not as good as Siteground.
  • GreenGeeks.com (affiliate link) for shared hosting because of the great price/performance and their concern for the environment.
  • Dreamhost.com (affiliate link) for cheap shared hosting. It is not that fast, but if you combine it with AWS Amazon for heavy content, it is acceptable. I use this service primarily to host lightweight US based sites. It is also excellent as a test server.
  • OVH is the most popular dedicated server provider in Europe, mainly because of its pricing. Support is not that great and they tend to shut down your server without warning if a hacker gets in overnight. But if budget is an issue and you are experienced with server security, this is definitely an option to consider
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