5 Types of Web Hosts and What They Mean

Larry Alton
by Larry Alton 13 Nov, 2014

Most people simply add on Web hosting when they purchase a domain or Web development package because it's there, it's easy and they're not really sure what the difference is anyway. People love convenience, and some tech businesses capitalize on the fact that this is a geeky realm full of jargon that can be confusing to the average website owner. If you don't know the difference between different types of hosting and servers, now is the time to educate yourself. Otherwise, you might be overpaying for the wrong type of hosting.

"Hosting" means that a server is being used to actually display your website on the internet. There are countless websites which don't see the light of day because they're not hosted yet (or the owner let the hosting expire). In order to host a website, you need a server or access to a server. For the vast majority of website owners, they let someone else manage this costly server in exchange for regular maintenance fees.

However, within the subsets of two types of servers, there are several considerations to take. Here's your ultimate overview of servers for hosting and how to tell which one is right for you:

1. Shared hosting with a lot of sharing going on. By far, the most popular option for a server is a shared server, and it's exactly what it sounds like: A lot of people just like you are "sharing" a single server that's maintained by a Web host. It's like having a timeshare you can opt out of at any time, but keep in mind that the more people sharing a server, the slower your website will be. A server is a resource, and when you're not getting a big enough piece of the pie, you're going to get hungry.

When shopping around for a shared host, ask what their capacity of clients per server is. Seek out the lowest amount of sharers within your budget while also taking guaranteed uptime into account. Every Web host will guarantee a certain amount of uptime, and if they don't meet that goal they need to have a compensation plan in place for you. Ideally, you're guaranteed at least 98.5 percent uptime.

2. Shared hosting with only a few clients. You're going to be paying more if you select a shared hosting plan with a low number of capped clients per server, but many website owners think it's worth it. This means you'll enjoy a faster page load time, might get better customer service (in some instances a team of technicians are in charge of a single server) and are moving more into "dedicated server" territory.

However, make sure that you really need a lightning-fast website because you're going to be paying a premium for it. If you're trying to get your vegan online bakery off the ground, it's a must. If you simply want your own website to wax poetic about your cat, you probably don't need it. Be realistic and stick to a budget.

4. Managed dedicated servers. Once you have more than 3,000 unique visits to your website per day on a regular basis, it might be time to start looking into a dedicated server. This is also exactly what it sounds like: A server that's dedicated just to you and your website (or websites). There's a huge price jump from shared to dedicated, and most people go with a managed option. This means someone else (the Web host) is taking care of managing your server, keeping it safe and you have a dedicated team of professionals in your corner.

Very few businesses will get to the point where they need a dedicated server and have it in the budget. If you're fortunate enough to enjoy that kind of success, bear in mind that going with the managed approach is almost always best. Unless you and/or your team has extensive Web hosting experience yourself, you probably don't have the time, skills or gambling luck to try to take over this tedious and important task.

5. Unmanaged dedicated servers. This is the real deal where basically you are your own Web host, but you're buying the dedicated server and all accessories from a third party. This is just as expensive as a managed dedicated server route, although it may be a little more since you'll need to pick up the corresponding cables and hardware, too. Of course, you won't be paying a monthly maintenance fee to have someone else manage the server for you, but you're also opening yourself up to a lot of risk.

Only a tiny handful of companies are the right fit for an unmanaged dedicated server, and most of the time these companies are equipped with Web hosting experts. If you're in a rich tech field, have thousands of visitors per day, and think your team is the best option for managing your server, then you might consider this possibility. However, it's a big risk because you don't have any support network beyond the one you build for yourself.

If you're just starting to dabble in server and hosting research, remember that more isn't necessarily better. Instead, focus on finding a Web hosting company with a solid reputation and don't automatically go with a company just because you've heard of them before. There are oodles of Web hosting startups that might provide better customer care than one of the big brands, so do your research.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.