How to Choose the Right Hosting Scenario
Choosing a hosting scenario is more complicated than ever. At the end of the day, any hosting provider will get your website online, so what’s the difference? The truth is that choosing a hosting provider has implications that go beyond whether or not the website is online. Hosting directly affects how your site is served, as well as its security and performance. With so many options out there, it can be overwhelming, but there are some key differences between options.
We will go over the five different types of server scenarios you can wind up on and the implications that come with each. You will also learn about some of the areas that hosting affects your website. By the end of this, you will be well equipped to find the perfect hosting scenario for whatever situation your website is in.
Shared Hosting: Your website shares the same space with hundreds of other sites.
The big difference between shared hosting and other options is that you cannot make server-level changes. For example, if you need to reboot the server, you must contact your hosting provider. And due to the sharing of space, server-level changes are not isolated to just your site but rather the entire community of sites.
This means that server-level changes are difficult or impossible to make.
- Go With Shared Hosting If: You have low traffic, are budget conscious and do not have the personnel or a vendor to administer server management.
- Stay Away from Shared Hosting If: You have a website optimized for performance that you want to be competitive in the digital landscape
Managed Hosting: Managed hosting takes away much of the customization that some other hosting solutions provider. Rather than giving you direct access to a hosting platform such as cPanel, you are provided with a simplified third party interface that limits your options.
Managed hosting providers will take care of all the heavy lifting for your website, leaving you little control beyond basic tasks. Managed hosting companies to take care of server configuration and security. However, this is done with little transparency, which means that you will have to put full faith in them.
- Go With Managed Hosting If: You have a website, do not have the personnel to actively manage hosting, but want a bit more control than a shared hosting scenario.
- Stay Away from Managed Hosting If: You want optimal performance and security and you are willing to either do it yourself or work with technology professionals who can handle these tasks.
VPS (Virtual Private Server): A virtual private server will host your website through a virtual space. This will allow you to have server access to make changes and optimizations that you could not touch in scenarios such as shared and managed.
With full server access, you can optimize web servers (Apache and NGINX), change server configurations, and manage many other things. In the instance that the server needs to be rebooted, you will be able to manage that without support from the hosting service.
- Go With a VPS If: You are ready to start getting serious about performance and security.
- Stay Away From a VPS If: Technology intimidates you and you have no resources available to help you configure your VPS.
Cloud Hosting: Cloud hosting has changed the landscape of hosting since it came on the market. In this scenario, your website is hosted on the cloud. By having access to all of the resources that the cloud provides, there is much less of a chance of things going wrong. In the old days, if there was a power outage for the physical machine your site was on, you were toast! Now, if a machine goes down, other machines can pick up the slack.
You are also not as constricted by sharing space with other machines. This option is largely scalable and can grow with your company as you require more and more out of your website.
- Go With Cloud Hosting If: You are poised for growth and your website is serving an essential function to your business.
- Stay Away From Cloud Hosting If: You do not have technical assistance. Cloud hosting requires a certain level of technical knowledge to manage effectively.
Dedicated Server: A dedicated server is a physical machine that belongs exclusively to you. This machine is usually located at the hosting provider’s physical location. This is the heavy artillery; you typically get the best performance, but at a high cost. And, with great power comes great responsibility.
If you pay the big bucks for your own dedicated server without having a team to actively support it, you can expose yourself to security vulnerabilities. And without proper configuration and optimization, your performance has the potential to be lackluster.
- Go with a Dedicated Server if: You have IT professionals or System Administrators who can dedicate time to work on the server.
- Stay Away From a Dedicated Server If: Your website is low to medium volume and you do not have the budget to maintain a dedicated server.
Want to know more about priorities for successful hosting? Read on…
Now that you know the differences between different server stacks, it is important to know where adjustments can be made and what they will do to your site.
The security of a website starts at the server. You may think “We do not have personal information, financial statements, government secrets etc… who would do anything to us?” But even small to medium sites can get a shocking amount of spam and attacks.
For example, we have experienced a distributed credit card validation attack on a website that had an online donation feature. Hackers were trying to process credit card numbers until they found one that worked. We isolated the IP to a different continent and banned it from the site before they were successful. But still, a little scary, and a good example of why security matters.
There is a multitude of possibilities when it comes to security breaches, such as Brute Force attack, Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attack, or others. However, you should not worry. In the server administration world, there are streams of new solutions to keep the threats at bay. This comes in the form of thought leadership in the open-source community or new software and patches.
It is possible to have a secure hosting environment; it just takes time. Setting up security parameters upon launch is important. Staying on top of software/plugin updates as well as current trends help ensure that your security never fails.
To write a post about the importance of servers and not talk about performance would be a disservice. However, these topics affect all server scenarios whether you are on a shared hosting plan or a dedicated server.
One important point to bring up is that no matter how refined your server setup is, performance will never be optimized unless the website itself was built with performance in mind. What we are talking about here is making sure properly sized images have been uploaded, your code files have been cleaned up (concatenated, minified, etc.) and lazy loading is implemented.
Server health makes it high on the list of important topics to mention in regards to performance. This takes shape in the form of proper load balancing, reevaluating every few months to see if you have outdated or inactive modules.
Caching policies may be one of the more recognizable words in this list. If proper cache configurations are implemented, your server will have to work a lot less to load a site for repeat visitors. If your cache policy is not set up properly, it means all of your resources will load every single time a visitor lands on your site.
Compression is another important aspect of server performance. This is essentially sending a zip file rather than a large document. Just think whenever you are sending a vacation album of pictures through email, sending a zip is better than 200 files. Your server sending files to a computer should be no different.
HTTP2 is the new and improved HTTP network protocol. Basically, it is a more efficient computer language. By now, almost all modern browsers support this language and if they do not, they will soon.
Server stack and modules sound intimidating, but you do not need to know the intricacies to realize the importance. A module to a server stack is similar to an extension in your Internet browser. These modules serve a very specific purpose but if there are too many (especially not necessary ones) it will eventually bog down the performance.
As mentioned previously, these aspects of server performance are applicable to all levels of staging. Optimizing these variables comes down to either your hosting company or system administrator, but they are extremely valuable to website performance.
How do you choose?
As you can see, the number of options available is overwhelming, especially if you are new to the game. Your best bet will be to talk to someone involved in the industry and see what they suggest for your specific scenario. With how many variables go into a hosting decision, it would be impossible for us to recommend one as a blanket solution for all.
As your web presence matures and you partner with outside vendors, then it is time to see if they offer hosting options. If they do, I hope this article has provided you with the proper ammunition to screen them.
- “What type of hosting options do you provide?”
- “What additional security features do you implement besides a firewall?”
- “If my site is attacked outside of business hours, what will happen?”
- “Have previous clients seen improvements since switching to your solution?”
- “Do you monitor and tweak after the initial setup?”
The list really could go on and on. Now that you know a little bit more about hosting, do not shy away from these conversations. Choosing a proper hosting environment could be one of the most important decisions you make about your website.