Choosing a Hosting Provider: Shared vs Dedicated vs Virtual Dedicated vs Managed Hosting

Hosting a website can be intimidating for even savvy technical users. There are many options for hosting, and those options continue to grow each day. The most common are: shared hosting, managed hosting, dedicated hosting, and virtual dedicated hosting. This post will help guide decision making to select the appropriate product for a website or application.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting plans typically have limited space and a very restricted feature set for the languages supported. These restrictions help to minimize the number of server-side security issues that may compromise client data, the server, or inadvertently grant access to files of another client sharing the server. Shared hosting is suitable for sites that do not utilize the complete range of a language's features and when the site owner prefers not to deal with server maintenance. The company providing the shared hosting will ensure the system is up to date on patches and perform general non-website related maintenance.

The primary downside to shared hosting is that other clients sharing the system can potentially impact website performance by performing operations that consume significant resources. For a site with some static pages or some simple dynamic pages, this may not be an issue, but a client running an ecommerce store that requires quick responses for page requests should seriously consider other options. Another limitation is that due to the security restrictions on the supported languages and lack of system access, it can be easy to attempt to utilize features that are restricted for security or performance reasons.

An example of this type of hosting are the offerings provided by GoDaddy and others that typically run less than $20 per month. Using control panels, there are still a great number of settings that can be modified to customize the client's site management experience, but the underlying operating system and final say about all language features that can be enabled is up to the hosting provider and can be changed at any time.

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated hosting is a server that is totally dedicated to the client's website; everything from the power cord up is only running what is hosted on the server. This gives the client complete control over all aspects of the operating system and its configuration. These plans are perfect for clients looking to host their own website who can provide their own system administration and tweak the feature set of the language(s) being used.

With the power to have complete control of the system comes a great amount of responsibility. It is up to the client to configure backups and ensure that the system is updated and secure from external attacks. The hosting provider will typically provide some assistance if the system gets misconfigured to be inaccessible, but any support for issues beyond that type are up to the provider's discretion to support. If any hardware failure occurs, the client's system may experience downtime or data loss (depending on the failed component) until replacement can be performed.

Hosting of this type typically runs from $400 and up based on the specifications of the desired system.

Virtual Dedicated Hosting

Virtual dedicated hosting is nearly identical to dedicated hosting except that the client's machine is a virtual machine rather than a fixed piece of hardware. This gives much more flexibility for the hosting provider to perform maintenance on the underlying hardware without causing any downtime for the clients, but the drawbacks for the client are the same as the dedicated hosting.

AWS and Rackspace are examples of virtual dedicated hosting. Depending on the provider, rates will vary. Providers such as AWS and Rackspace have a pay-per-hour-used charge while others may have a fixed rate similar to dedicated hosting based on the specifications of the virtual machine.

Managed Hosting

Managed hosting is a combination of shared and dedicated/virtual dedicated hosting. In this situation, the provider provides all configuration for the server with whatever features are required and performs system updates. The client may have some access to the server to make minor edits, but primary management of the system and applications running on it are the realm of the hosting provider. This type of hosting combines the system administration benefits of the shared hosting with the performance benefits of dedicated/virtual dedicated hosting. Managed hosting is optimal when the hosting provider knows the application and actively support the client's application.

Pricing for managed hosting varies by provider. Smart Software offers managed hosting for all our clients on a pay-per-spec pricing scheme to provide the best value while giving the client complete flexibility on system specifications.

Careful consideration should be paid to the various hosting types when considering hosting an application or website. As always when making major decisions affecting the health of the business, the final choice should be appropriate for the management and performance requirements of the website or application being run.

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