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Choosing between shared hosting or a virtual dedicated server

In today’s modern society, having a website for your business can be quite simple and very affordable. A lot of the time however many businesses choose the wrong package for their online presence. It is quite cheap to obtain registration for a .com or a .com.au and find budget hosting for what is essentially the online store-front for your business. It pays however to be quite savvy when choosing the solution and understanding the technology and limitations you may face depending on the solution you choose.

There are many differences between web hosting solutions, Some of these key differences are in storage space, reliability, control, website and server speed and the technical knowledge required to drive the solution. This article will bring you through the differences between Shared Hosting and Virtual Dedicated Servers.

Shared Hosting

To put it simply, Shared Hosting is like being in school and every student in the school has to share the available facilities with everyone. It’s the cheapest of website hosting solutions, but the quality between providers can differ greatly.

When purchasing shared web hosting, the hosting provider will be renting you resources on a physical or virtual server that they own and allow you to have an allocation of disk, memory, CPU, bandwidth and disk I/O to provide your web presence. The majority of web hosts these days use technologies such as Cloudlinux to ensure that the resources allocated to each account cannot be exceeded so as to impact on other users on the server. The majority of shared web hosting is provided with a control panel of some sort (usually cPanel, Plesk or a custom control panel the host has developed) with most common settings easily available so that the client is able to provide self-service within the environment.

Advantages

Price is often a factor when deciding which web hosting provider to choose. Shared Hosting is, as a general rule, cheaper than that of Virtual Dedicated Server (VDS) and you don’t require a high technical knowledge to operate the service as the base system administration is taken care of by the hosting provider. Shared hosting provides easy-to-use, web-based control panels for their users to effortlessly configure their sites to work. The whole process makes it simple for users to upload their websites, create email accounts and add databases. It is nearly always the preferred method of hosting a smaller sized website.

Often the hosting provider will provide ‘one-click’ installations of popular CMS engines such as WordPress or Joomla as part of this control panel to further enhance the end-user experience of deploying a functional CMS.

Disadvantages

A lot of the time shared hosting can be a lucky dip. The vast majority of the time you will not be provided the hardware specifics of the server you are being hosted on or the amount of other accounts the hosting provider has on the same server. For providers who mainly compete on cost, this can lead to chronic overcrowding of accounts leaving the server to be under a high load and consistently slow for end-user experience trying to access the sites hosted on the server.

Often shared hosting can be under-resourced for larger websites, especially those that have an E-Commerce focus. If the account is under-resourced for the websites requirements ‘508 – Resource Limit Reached’ errors can be generated, preventing your website from being viewable, sometimes when there are only two or three concurrent visitors. If your business ever does promotions that can drastically increase the amount of concurrent visitors to your site (radio advertising, tv advertising) then again, shared webhosting is only going to cause you headaches.

Shared hosting also restricts clients from installing any non-standard applications on the server which can prevent third-party integrations from being able to function. The server is serviced and secured in a way that suits most of the clients’ needs, but the majority of providers will not make exceptions to their built to allow for custom applications to be installed or run on their shared webhosting service.

Virtual Dedicated Server (VDS)

VDS hosting splits a physical server into virtual servers with their own physical resources and Operating System. This provides the web application, or multiple web applications to be deployed on to the machine using the technologies of their choice in order to provide an optimized environment for the application to function in. Each Virtual Server will come with different physical resources allocated to it (Disk, vCPU, Memory, Bandwidth), of which you will have less restrictions imposed on you when compared to shared webhosting.

As you can choose the Operating System on a Virtual Server, you can also choose whether or not you would like to host your application within a control panel environment or if you would like to run it using a custom built ‘web stack’. The most common of these being LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP). Using a web stack can allow for a higher level of security on the server for your site but can often lead to misconfiguration for those who are new to the Linux’s CLI (Command Line Interface).

One of the biggest things to consider when it comes to running a Virtual Dedicated Server for your website or sites is who is going to look after the environment for you? Many virtual server providers will provide a managed solution and many providers will only provide unmanaged environments.

Advantages

The ability to configure the environment to suit your exact requirements is one of the biggest advantages to running your own Virtual Dedicated Server. With the use of the right server side daemons (technologies such as NginX, HHVM and Varnish) you can often get far greater performance and site speed than you ever could on a shared webhosting server.

An isolated environment means that there is no multi-tenancy on the machine and you can also make security enhancements over and above that of shared webhosting.

It is in the majority of cases a lot easier to scale a Virtual Server as you grow than it is to scale a shared webhosting account. If, all of a sudden, your business expands and the traffic to your website(s) experiences large growth, the majority of providers can provide additional dedicated resources to your machine making it able to handle more concurrent visitors than it could previously. This can often be very handy if your business is undergoing a marketing or advertising campaign and you need to scale up the resources for the duration of the campaign.

Disadvantages

Technical knowledge of running a web server is required to make proper use of your server and to ensure that systems administration tasks are being performed on a regular basis. This however can often be outsourced to the provider of the virtual server for a small monthly fee.

Ease of use can often be less when using a dedicated environment as shared webhosting providers often pack in a lot of software packages in to their shared hosting environments that require licensing for general use. This could be as much as a control panel or as little as a one-click installer or a security plugin.

Monitoring your own virtual server environment is a must as often the provider will not complete this for you. If your server crashes in the middle of the night who will be notified and resolve the problem for you? Again, most service providers are willing to provide this as an option for you as part of their management fee, or alternatively there are many third-party SaaS monitoring tools which can provide this for a small fee per month. We recommend clients use both.

Summary

Both Shared Webhosting and Virtual Dedicated Servers are great products and the technology surrounding them has improved drastically over the past decade. Shared hosting is a lot more stable than it was prior to the advent of Cloudlinux and Virtualization technology has become a long way with the advent of ‘Cloud’ and a more mature competitive marketplace.

If you are choosing between the two options, one of the best things you can do is to ask a professional who deals with both environments on a regular basis for their input as to what you need and the advantages your business will get out of choosing the right solution and to research your provider thoroughly before committing to a solution.

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