Shared vs Dedicated Hosting
If you have a website then you have a Web host. Subsequently, if you have a Web host your website utilizes either a shared or dedicated hosting package.
In the shared-hosting scenario many websites are placed on one server. This option is beneficial to the host because the overall costs and maintenance are distributed among many website owners. Website owners gain because the cost of hosting in a shared vs. dedicated environment is usually much less than if the entire resources of the server were dedicated to hosting a single site. The site owner also benefits because server maintenance and administration are handled by the host. In some instances, the site owner has the option to manage several aspects of his or her site via a control panel which is essentially a web-based interface simplifying common website management tasks such as creating subdomains as well as adding new website and email accounts.
While there are obvious advantages to shared hosting there are also important downsides to consider. Let us start with the number of sites hosted on a single server which typically ranges from approximately 10 sites to more than 1,000 in some instances. The result of overloading a server with too many sites is the impact on performance caused by increased competition for the server resources. Another issue faced by many site owners who are hosted on a shared server are the limitations placed on the amount of disk space, data transfers, email addresses and domains that they can have. There are also restrictions related to running scripts and databases that use quite a bit of CPU (processing power). This type of disk activity makes for reduced performance for all sites on the server.
A third issue to consider is general stability and security. If your site happens to be hosted on a poorly managed server a busy or rouge site could conceivably dominate the server’s resources and cause an outage for all sites hosted on the server. The same is true if one site on the server is subject to a cyber-attack which can impact all customers. Finally, if a site on a shared server is compromised that security breach can pose a serious risk to the other sites too.
Dedicated hosting is the polar opposite of shared hosting in that the entire server's resources are ‘dedicated’ to hosting the customers' site(s). This option effectively eliminates most pitfalls associated with shared hosting. With dedicated hosting a customer purchases the use of the whole computer and some bandwidth -- the amount of data your server can send or receive within a given month.
Hosting a website in a dedicated environment is valuable to the website owner because it offers much more flexibility than shared hosting. The key difference is that website owners typically have a choice of hardware, operating system, control panel and whether they want managed or unmanaged support. “Support” usually comes in the form of a ticket submission system where the host manages and monitors the server. Managed support generally results in additional fees. Essentially, dedicated hosting requires site owners/Web managers to take complete responsibility for the configuration and management of the server where their site resides.
Another benefit is that the host is responsible for replacing failed hardware and addressing any issues not associated with your access to the equipment. Such issues include ensuring that client accounts on the server are housed in a secure environment and that there is sufficient backup power available if a power outage occurs. Such ensurance would help confirm that the network connections are reliable.
Just as in shared hosting, there are pitfalls of dedicated hosting. First and foremost, dedicated hosting solutions are significantly more expensive. Prices usually range from $50 to more than $1,000 per month. Dedicated servers especially unmanaged types require a significant amount of time and expertise in server management. You have to be comfortable managing a machine remotely and recognize how to do things like installing and configuring the services that you plan to offer from your server such as forums, weblogs, chat rooms, etc. These are often developed in relation to databases as well as respective programming and scripting languages such as CGI or SQL. Most hosts offer a basic setup which might include Web and FTP servers.
For server management, dedicated servers are typically setup with (1) secure shell (SSH) - a telnet-like service that encrypts the data between the computer you use to manage the server and the server itself and (2) a Web-based control panel or (3) if hosting on Windows, Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) or Terminal Services access.
Finally, when choosing to go dedicated for hosting your website, timely support is a critical component. This is true even if you have the skills to manage the server and can afford the high monthly fees. Consider a website owner who runs an extremely busy site. That owner makes a change to his or her server on a Friday evening and it interferes with the proper server operation. Since the server is remotely hosted, the website owner cannot simply walk over and reboot the server. The owner has to open a trouble ticket with the host for them to have an on-site technician do it. There are a multitude of real-life examples of website owners who have had their sites inoperable from a few hours to a few days because they overlooked support availability.
When choosing whether to host a site on a dedicated server, keep in mind that it depends mainly on your need for support. If you have the knowledge and skill necessary to install and to configure your own services, unmanaged services may be appropriate. If you want simplicity where most server configurations are done for you or with the aid of user-friendly control panels, managed services may be more suitable. Good luck and happy hosting!
Lee Evans owns and operates LeeWare.com (www.leeware.com), a premier provider of unmanaged virtual dedicated Linux servers.