When we discuss hosting options, we’re talking about different ways to accomplish the same thing. While most users tend to take the internet for granted, every web page, email, picture, video, spread sheet, database, and file that comes to your computer has to be stored on another computer somewhere for retrieval. The job of a host is to provide the actual, physical location for that data. When a person or a company decides they want to launch a web site or start backing up their files offsite, the first thing most people look at is their hosting options – and there are a number of them.
The most basic hosting packages offered by hosting companies are the shared hosting options. With a shared web host, a client is given space on a server along with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of other users. The server is managed by the hosting company, but the client is given a control panel, FTP access, options on what type of operating system to run, and their host usually sets up things like a limited number of email accounts, support for common scripting languages such as PHP and Java, a limited number of MySQL databases, and free traffic monitoring tools.
The advantages of shared hosting are many. For starters, it’s always the least expensive hosting option a web hosting company will offer. From a cost benefit perspective, shared hosting plans are quite attractive. For most people and small businesses, a basic shared hosting plan is more than enough for hosting a web site, a blog, email, and basic offsite file backups. The last thing to keep in mind about shared hosting is that these plans are also almost always the easiest and least technical solution. Because they’re cheap, effective, and easy, shared hosting plans are by far the most popular hosting solution available.
There are two major downsides though. Firstly, because a user shares a server with other users, there is a limit on the space and resources you’re allowed to use. These limits vary from host to host, but always include a cap on bandwidth (how fast and how much data that can be exchanged with the server), and hard drive space (which will limit the amount of data you can have hosted). There are usually ways to purchase upgrades to shared hosting plans, but there will always be some kind of limit to how much activity you can perform with the account. For most users, the limits are high enough that they never become a problem, but if you host a major web site or have to back up a lot of data, a shared host may not be practical.
The second problem with shared hosting is a lack of control. If all you need hosted is a web site or email or files, they’re a perfect solution. If, however, you are using more obscure programs, have issues with specific versions of software, have to have certain operating system updates but not others, or require non-standard software to be directly installed on the server for your applications to work, shared hosting probably isn’t for you.
For most people though, shared hosting is definitely the way to go.
If you really need more control over your host, but you aren’t pushing the limits on server or bandwidth resources, you need a virtual hosting solution. Having a virtual host is like having a computer within a computer. Like a shared host, a virtual host has many users physically located on the same server, but each user is given control of a virtual machine – effectively giving the user control of the operating environment in which their site is run. Virtual hosting is a great option for those who need control of a server without the sheer power of a completely dedicated server.
The term “cloud computing” is something of a buzzword, but it generally describes a type of virtual hosting solution that emphasizes scalability and flexibility. A cloud server is actually a cluster of servers running a specially designed operating system capable of creating and shifting virtual servers to different physical locations to ensure that a maximum amount of usage is attainable from the smallest amount of physical resources. In many ways, cloud hosting options are quite similar to virtual hosting plans, but they are far better situated for dealing with sudden shifts in traffic, have greater redundancy, and are actually more eco-friendly than traditional servers thanks to their ability to consolidate functions into fewer, less energy intensive servers during low traffic periods.
The best part about cloud servers is that you pay as you go. If you need only the most basic of plans one month, and then your traffic goes through the roof, you only have to pay for the resources you’ve used. You get the cost effectiveness of a virtual server when you don’t need a big expensive plan, but when you need more power, you can get it by simply pressing a few buttons. You don’t have to spend the money on a dedicated server and then only use a fraction of its potential for most of the time. You can pay for what you need when you need it and save money when you don’t.
Cloud hosting is the ideal solution for companies that have seasonal shifts in their traffic, startup companies that don’t need a lot of room now but will probably see an explosion in growth, or anyone who wants to make sure they have plenty of flexibility built in to their hosting plan.