Hosting services are offered in a wide variety of flavors depending on the specific needs of your website. The five most commonly-used hosting environments are virtual shared hosting, dedicated/collocated, virtual private server (VPS), cloud hosting, and custom/distributed systems. You should consult your web developer for the most appropriate and cost-effective hosting service because each type has distinct advantages and disadvantages. Here is a summary of these hosting options:
1. Virtual Shared Hosting
This traditional form of hosting will have your website placed on the same server with many other websites (as many as a few to hundreds). All of these websites will typically share the resources of the server, such as the processor, memory and storage. The features available with these accounts are typically very basic and not flexible in terms of customization and upgrades (for example you might be out of luck if you need additional storage or specialized software installed). This is often the least expensive hosting option that may be suitable for small businesses; however it is not recommended for enterprise-level websites because of the limiting factors. Consider this analogy: virtual shared hosting is equivalent to renting an apartment in an apartment building as opposed to owning your own single-family home.
2. Dedicated / Collocated
This traditional form of hosting has the entire physical server dedicated to your website. You have full remote control over the server; however, you typically don’t own the hardware (you rent the server). Collocated hosting is similar to the dedicated web hosting service, but you would actually own the hardware. There are managed and unmanaged options, where the hosting company will or will not provide monitoring, management and maintenance of the server. This is a significantly more expensive hosting service, as compared to virtual hosting. The advantage is that you have sole domain over all resources of the physical server. The disadvantage is that you are limited by the very same resources. For example, if you need more storage or memory, it would require installation on the server, resulting in additional cost and maintenance downtime. There are several, flexible hosting options available these days; dedicated/collocated servers are only called for in situations that require specialized setups or physical separation for security and compliance reasons. Using the analogy from the above, having your own server is equivalent to living in a single-family home. There is more room and no “noisy” neighbors, but you are still limited to the physical constraints of the house.
3. Virtual Private Server
Virtual Private Server or VPS (also known as Virtual Dedicated Server) divides physical servers into virtual servers, where resources can be allocated toward your website on an as-needed basis. You can think of it as a virtual dedicated server without the constraints of a physical server. Because these servers are virtual, they don’t require physical setup and are much easier to upgrade. Depending on your websites’ growing needs, allocating more memory or storage is done virtually without the need of physically upgrading the hardware. VPS accounts can also come as managed or unmanaged but are typically priced much lower than an equivalent dedicated server. VPS hosting is an excellent choice for large corporate websites because of the scalability and flexibility that it offers. Continuing with the housing analogy, imagine living in a house where you can instantly upsize or downsize your existing space as needed and without having to leave your house while it is under construction. This is the flexibility that VPS hosting offers.
4. Cloud Hosting
Cloud hosting is a relatively new type of hosting that allows unprecedented, powerful, scalable and reliable hosting. Imagine many servers, often across multiple data centers, combined into a massive pool of resources called a “cloud”. Because you’re not limited by the hardware capacity of a single server, hosting your website in a cloud is remarkably flexible, giving you the resources you need at the time. As your website grows, cloud hosting can instantly add extra capacity for website expansion or traffic peaks, as it is required.
Also, cloud hosting is often more reliable than alternatives, since other servers in the cloud can compensate when a single piece of hardware goes down. Because cloud hosting is decentralized, it also provides for better redundancy in the event of power failures or natural disasters. The same lack of centralization may be a disadvantage, as it offers less control on the location data is physically stored, which could be a security or privacy concern.
Cloud hosting companies typically charge only for the resources consumed as opposed to other types of hosting that are billed a flat monthly fee. Cloud hosting is a great alternative to VPS hosting for enterprise-level hosting if data decentralization is not a concern. Imagine hotel living, where you don’t reside in a single location, but have access to residences around the world. You use them as you travel and pay only for the locations you occupy. As in VPS, you can upsize or downsize them or use multiple residences at once without constraint.
5. Custom / Distributed Systems
Websites with huge amounts of traffic and data may require custom setups such as a combination of various hosting types or clustered hosting. Load balancing is used for automatic distribution of incoming traffic across multiple servers in a cluster or clouds. This methodology maximizes reliability, minimizes response time and avoids overloading. All this achieves greater reliability by seamlessly providing the right amount of resources needed in response to the traffic. These types of hosting setups are typically used by popular social networks or online service providers. They can be very expensive depending on your website’s specific needs.