Web hosting explained: The differences between Shared Hosting, Virtual Private Servers and Dedicated Servers

internetAre you thinking about creating a self-hosted blog or website but find the various options in web hosting to be extremely confusing?

I know just how confusing it can be when you visit a hosting company’s website and are faced with choosing between a Shared Hosting Plan, a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or a Dedicated Server.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to clear it all up for you in this post.

In a nutshell, there are three primary types of web hosting plans for you to choose from. Here is a quick explanation of how they work and the primary differences between them:

1 – Shared Hosting

If you decide to host your blog or website on a Shared Web Server, it will have to share the server’s resources with all the other websites that are hosted on that server. And trust me, there can be a lot of them!

You can think of Shared Hosting as being very much like renting a booth in a flea market. Every seller in the flea market (website/blog) is either directly or indirectly affected in some way by the presence and/or actions of the other sellers.

For example, if the building is packed with as many booths as the owner can possibly cram inside it, the hallways are likely to be quite narrow and extremely crowded as customers try to make their way from booth to booth. This congestion slows everyone down, frustrating the customers (website visitors) and reducing access to all the sellers’ booths at once (reduces the amount of server resources available to each website).

And if one or more of the sellers does something illegal or otherwise earn a bad reputation, that bad reputation can spill over to the other sellers at the flea market, causing a drop in business and profits for everyone as many visitors ultimately decide to avoid that flea market in the future (i.e. your site’s search engine rankings will possibly drop).

Another issue with many flea markets is how the floor space (disk storage), utilities (CPU time and RAM), and entrances/exits (data transfer bandwidth) must be shared by everyone. The more sellers there are, the more customers (website traffic) they are likely to draw to the flea market. And the more customers there are, the fewer resources will be available for each seller and customer to use.

As you can see, renting space in a flea market (opting for a Shared Hosting Plan) comes with a number of potential disadvantages. But all of that being said, Shared Hosting does have one big advantage over a VPS or Dedicated Server, and that is cost.

Since the hosting company can place a lot of customers on a single web server, they can offer each customer a very low price. That’s why a shared hosting plan can sometimes be a great deal.

If you choose a good hosting company that tries to limit the number of customers they allow on a single server and quickly drops any customers that cause problems, you can save money and still have a fast, reliable website. Just remember that as your site grows in size and traffic, you’ll likely reach a point where you’ll need to move off of Shared Hosting and onto a VPS or Dedicated Server.

Some of the best and most reliable Shared Hosting plans are offered by Hostgator. I’ve been hosting some of my websites with Hostgator since 2003, and overall I have been quite pleased with them.

2 – Dedicated Server

Hosting your website on a Dedicated Server is pretty much the opposite of using a Shared Hosting Plan.

Renting a Dedicated Server is much like renting a stand-alone building for your business. Since your business is the only business on the premises, you and your customers have exclusive access to (and total control over) the building and all of its utilities and amenities.

Also, by renting your own building instead of setting up in a flea market, your business can avoid being negatively affected if your neighbor does something illegal or unethical.

With a Dedicated Server, instead of sharing your server’s resources with a bunch of other users, they all belong to you and your own website(s). Your site(s) will be fast and super-responsive because they will have at their disposal ALL of your server’s CPU time, RAM, storage space and data transfer bandwidth allotment.

The only real disadvantage of going with a Dedicated Server is the cost (yep, exactly opposite of a Shared Hosting Plan).

But even with the relatively high cost, a Dedicated Server can be a good deal if your site gets enough traffic to justify using one. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to have your website succeed beyond your wildest dreams, there will likely come a day when you have no choice except to move it off a shared server and onto either a Dedicated Server or a quality VPS (which will be explained shortly).

I’ve been researching Dedicated Server plans of late, and from all the info and reviews I have read it appears that a great choice would be Bluehost. I have never been a Bluehost customer, but the next time I need a Dedicated Server I’m going to give them a try.

3 – Virtual Private Server (VPS)

As you now know, a Shared Hosting Plan is very affordable but comes with a number of potential issues while a Dedicated Server offers the best hosting experience but at a much higher price. Luckily, there is a middle ground that gives you the best of both worlds.

A Virtual Private Server (VPS) is basically a cross between Shared Hosting and a Dedicated Server. In many ways a VPS is a lot like renting a storefront in a strip mall.

Renting a unit in a strip mall is more expensive than renting a flea market booth, but it’s usually less expensive than renting a stand-alone building. And while you’re sharing space with other businesses under the same roof, you have full use of your own utilities as well as your own entrances and exits.

Although all hosting customers that share a VPS must share their server’s resources, each customer is guaranteed a certain percentage of those resources at all times.

And just as important, each customer’s websites are isolated from everyone else’s sites. If one of your neighbor’s sites hangs up or decides to hog resources, your sites won’t be affected in the least. They’ll just keep humming right along!

In short, a VPS gives you many of the advantages of a Dedicated Server at a lower cost.

I used to host RicksDailyTips.com and a few of my other sites on a Dedicated Server because they simply receive too much traffic to make a Shared Hosting plan viable, but about two years ago I moved them onto a Site 5 VPS. I can honestly tell you that that’s the best move I have ever made.

My sites seem to perform just as well on the Site 5 VPS as they did on the old Dedicated Server, but I’m now paying about $70 per month less. That’s a savings of $840 a year with no noticeable reduction in page load times or reliability.

Bottom line: Choosing a hosting plan for your website/blog doesn’t have to be difficult. If your site is new or doesn’t currently receive a lot of traffic you can easily start off with a low-cost Shared Hosting Plan, then move it to a VPS or Dedicated Server when the need arises.

I hope this post was a help to you in understanding your choices in web hosting plans. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. I’m always happy to help whenever I can.

Note: The links in this post are affiliate links.

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