The first thing you need to do is analyze your needs. If you’ve never had your own web host before, you might be thinking, “How do I even know what those needs are?” Here are a few of the first questions you need to ask yourself:
- What is my website going to do?
- Do I expect it to require a lot of files such as images?
- Will I be getting a lot of traffic?
- Do I plan to do ecommerce?
- What’s my budget?
There are three key types of hosting out there: Shared hosting, virtual private servers, and dedicated servers, and this is where your big decision will come in.
Shared hosts are the type you see advertising all over the web with prices such as “$7.95 a month!”. They will offer you what appears to be insane amounts of storage and bandwidth, which looks great on paper, but you need to realize they don’t expect you to ever use as much as they offer.
The reason for this is they are working on the theory that the majority of their users will use just a small percentage of what they offer, so they can oversell their space. Say a host is offering you 500gb of storage (far, far more than your average user will ever approach), and they have 30,000 active accounts, for them to give everyone that true amount of storage, they would have to have 15,000 terabytes of physical storage. That’s a near impossibility for your average web host company.
They are counting on the vast majority of their accounts to use only a few gigabytes of actual storage compared to what they are offering. This allows them to sell far more accounts, and in theory, sell things they don’t really have. It may sound like they are liars, but it’s really just a numbers game like insurance.
The other trick is that they are going to try to cram as many accounts on to each server as they can. While this normally won’t be a problem for must users, if there is someone on your server who is using too many of the resources, it can slow down your site considerably.
This may sound like a horrible deal now that you know the caveats, but these types of hosts will work for most people. If you’re just going to be hosting a personal blog, or a website for a few family photos and the such, there is no reason you can’t go with this type of arrangement, and it’s going to be the most cost effective solution.
Virtual Private Server Hosting
This style of hosting is definitely the middle-of-the-road solution. Virtual Private Servers, or VPS, works on a similar principle to shared hosting of several accounts on one server, it does offer a greater degree of privacy.
A host will take a server, divide it into completely separate partitions, and then each customer gets control over their portion of the server to play with. Each section can be rebooted independently, and it allows for greater security amongst the accounts sharing the hardware.
The downsides are that you will need to have some knowledge of how a server works, something most people do not possess. The cost will be higher than shared hosting, but you will be able to work in a more stable environment.
Now that we’ve covered the shortcomings of shared hosting and VPS, what can dedicated hosting do for you?
As the name implies, this is where you get a sever all to yourself. You will have complete access to the root files, the ability to reboot the server at will, and customize it to your liking. The problem is that all of this comes with a price.
While shared hosting has numerous shortcomings, dedicated hosting typically runs from $100 to $150 a month depending on the amount of storage and bandwidth you’re purchasing. You will also be responsible for much of your server’s daily operations, something that is not for the novice web hosting customer.
So where do you go?
For most people, shared hosting, despite it’s numerous flaws, will do everything you need, and you won’t even notice the problems. As I said, if you’re just going to be putting up a personal blog, it’s all you need. And even if you are putting up a ecommerce site, depending on it’s size, traffic, and if your host offers a secure socket for your shopping cart, it may work for you.
VPS and dedicated hosting are going to be more for the serious web masters out there who aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty messing around in the guts of their server’s operating system. It looks a lot scarier than it is, but considering how important your web site can be to your projects or company, it’s not something you want to jeopardize lightly.
The other thing to remember is that most hosts will let you upgrade for a small fee, most will do it for free, if you decide down the road that you need to go to a larger hosting package. So if you start off with a shared hosting account and you find you are just using too much bandwidth, then you can look into moving up since you are now a proven site that can probably afford a larger budget.
And that brings us to another point in that you always need to read the fine print of any hosting agreement. Just like any contract you enter into, you need to make sure you understand what exactly it is you’re paying for. Recently, DreamHost, one of the largest hosting companies in the world, had to remind their customers that though they offered them a huge amount of storage, that did not mean they were a backup service. Customers got enthralled with the amount of storage they had and started backing up the computers on to their servers. As DreamHost is a web hosting company, they had to remind their customers that files on their system had to be there for their web sites, not as a backups for their personal files.
The final pick
Once you’ve found a host that fits your needs, and their terms of service (TOS) look good to you, how are you sure they are reliable? Like with any major purchase, enter their name in a search engine and see what the results bring you. If they’re horrible, more than likely you’ll find someone writing about them on a blog or message board. Just remember that people who are happy with a service are less likely to write about it than those who are unhappy.
In the end, it’s going to come down to your personal needs. If your a company looking to just inform your customers about what it does, or someone looking to start a personal site, then shared hosting will probably do the trick.