Understanding Website Hosting Options and Packages

web-hostingThere are many different hosting packages and plans available from many hosting providers, which can make choosing a provider extremely confusing for anyone looking to host a small business,hobby or personal site.

What is Website Hosting? -Web hosting is a service that allows individuals and organizations to make their website available on the Internet.

Web hosting services are provided by companies that provide space on a server located in a data centre that is permanently connected to the Internet.

What is a Server ?

A server is a computer and requires two main components

  • Server Hardware –
  • Server OS (operating system) Linux or Windows

With a server you can install and run applications like databases, file server software, web server software, email server software etc.

Generally the critical parts of the server are:

  • CPU and Clock speed
  • Memory (RAM)

Disk space tends not to be an issue.

What is a Web Server?- Web Hosting Components

A web server requires three components.

  • Server Hardware
  • Server OS (operating system) Linux or Windows
  • Web Server software- Apache, IIS, nginx etc

The most popular combination is Linux + Apache.

Web Hosting Options -Brief Web Hosting History

To understand the rather confusing array of web hosting options and packages it is useful to look back at the origins of the web hosting industry, and see how hosting as evolved.

The original server hardware utilised the same machines that were found in many offices and small business at that time.

As the web hosting business grew these moved to rack mounted servers. However they still utilised the same processor and memory chips as were found in desktop and server computers.

The two hosting options available were:

  • Shared hosting
  • Dedicated server hosting

Shared Hosting

Because sever hardware was expensive, but powerful , shared hosting became the predominant form of hosting offered by hosting companies, and the main choice for small businesses.

Shared hosting allows multiple websites to share a single IP address and web server.

As an analogy think of a collection of restaurants that share a common kitchen.

This arrangement is cheaper for the restaurant owners but can cause problems if one of the restaurants is very busy as it impacts the other restaurants.

See this video – understanding shared hosting

Most hosting providers provide a selection of shared hosting packages and plans.

With shared hosting you can only run websites and other Apps that are provided with the hosting package. You cannot normally install and run your own applications.

Dedicated Server

With dedicated server hosting, a single website uses a single server.

Because of the cost of the hardware this was an expensive option and only used by large organisations.

However a critical thing to note is that with a dedicated server you aren’t just restricted to web hosting.

You are free to utilise the server to host other applications.

Another important point is that you are usually responsible for the management of the server.

This means that you will need to install and configure the necessary applications yourself.

You see this type of service described as root access.

Because managing your own server required a considerable amount of expertise this lead to the development of managed server services (see later)

As the speed of processors became faster and the cost of memory fell a new type of hosting called virtual server became possible.

Virtual Server

A virtual server is created using virtual machine software which means that a single piece of hardware can run multiple operating systems.

Virtual servers share the underlying physical server hardware but have their own Server operating system.

This means they are basically the same as dedicated servers from an administration and management perspective.

Note: Although dedicated and virtual servers are sold as web hosting solutions you don’t have to run web hosting on them. You can use them for any services you want.

ROOT Access and Managed Servers

Dedicated server and virtual server plans and packages are usually offered as either root or managed server.

Root access.

If you choose this option then you are responsible for installing and maintaining your own software and server.

Managed Server

Because installing software and managing your own dedicated server or virtual server requires a good deal of technical expertise hosting providers provide managed server were they will install and manage the server for you.

It is basically the same as shared hosting except you don’t share the server with anyone. Here is the 1and 1 description.

managed-server

Website Hosting Costs

Hosting costs vary considerably.

Most websites use Shared hosting.

Shared hosting is relatively inexpensive hosting option costing about $7 per month, and is the best hosing option for personal websites, and small business sites.

Most hosting providers structure their hosting into packages,and there can be a considerable difference in the package costs of a single provider.

Video- Website Hosting Costs Explained

Website Hosting and Domain Names

I would recommend that you use the hosting provider for the web hosting, and for the domain name registration, especially as most hosting companies provide a free domain name with the hosting package.

Unless you intend purchasing hundreds of domain names the cost differences between providers is so small that it doesn’t make sense to shop around.

Website Hosting Guidelines

In general, hosting providers provide several service package levels.

One of the most common question you see is what is the best hosting in the UK.

Because of the huge array of offers it is impossible to compare them all, and to make any firm recommendations on which one is best.

Therefore what I will do is to list the basics that you require, and some do’s and don’ts.

  • In general I prefer Linux hosting over Microsoft hosting unless you are intending to use a web application that requires Microsoft hosting.
  • In general I would always advise you to go for the basic option and upgrade if you need to later, unless you are sure you need a service offered in a more expensive package.
  • Always choose a provider that lets you upgrade your package and that lets you cancel your package, and get a refund if your not happy. That is, look for a good guarantee.
  • Use the same company to host your website, and register your domain name! Therefore when comparing prices you need to take both into consideration.
  • Don’t go for the provider just because they offer everything- you probably ( almost definitely) don’t need it all anyway.
  • Be aware of any special offers as some introductory prices make the provider look very reasonable but when the normal price comes into force they can be expensive,

Website Hosting FAQ

1. Linux or Windows- What is the Difference?

Both Linux and Windows are operating systems. You are probably (unless you use Apple Mac) are using Windows at the moment as it is used by the majority of PCs and laptops. Because of this many may feel that Windows hosting is better and more popular.

However the opposite is actually the case with Linux being used by the vast majority of websites.

Linux is the recommended hosting platform and mandatory if you are intending to use WordPress.

2. WordPress Hosting

WordPress requires Linux based hosting with PHP and at least 1 MYSQL database.

I use a UK host ( 1&1-UK) for my UK sites, and Bluehost for all other sites.

Note:– Almost all hosting providers even with their most basic packages will support WordPress.

For ease of install look for a provider that supports scripted installs. Both Bluehost and 1&1-UK do but so do many other hosting providers.

Many hosting companies provide managed WordPress hosting.

With Managed WordPress hosting the provider takes care of upgrades, backups,security and site speed.

They also tend to provide scripted installs and dedicated customer support.

This type of package is suited for a business website that receives a reasonable amount of traffic (1000s visitors per day).

It is considerably more costly than standard shared hosting.

Both ( 1&1-UK) and Bluehost offer Managed WordPress Hosting.

3. What is Shared Hosing and is it suitable for a Business Website?

The majority of small business websites use what is known as shared hosting. Some hosting providers actually state this others don’t.

Shared web hosting is the most popular and the least expensive form of web hosting on Internet, and used by more than 99% of all websites.

However many new potential website owners are often put off by the term “shared hosting” as they think it means a inferior form of web hosting, when in fact it really doesn’t

Shared hosting utilises the fact that web servers are so powerful that they can host multiple websites simultaneously.

If you use a shared hosting plan then in reality your website is sharing a web server with many other websites.

It is very similar concept to renting a shop in a shopping complex.

There are limitations in using shared hosting but in reality these limitations do not affect 99.9% of websites.

Although you share the physical server with other websites the management of the website is completely separate, and you can only manage your websites and not other websites on the shared server.

Shared Hosting explained video

Managed WordPress hosting as discussed above also uses shared hosting.

What is dedicated Hosting?

With dedicated hosting you probably have dedicated hardware but more likely today you have a virtual server with dedicated resources.

This means that you are unaffected by the load placed on other websites.

4. How to Choose the Best Web Hosting Service?

There really is no such thing as best. Most hosting providers are good with only a few being really bad.

Price is however a big consideration, as if it is really cheap then it is probably best avoided.

Also choose a provider that specialises in hosting, and not one that seems to do lots of other things as well.

5. What is a Managed Server?

A managed server package gives you access to a dedicated server which you can load software onto.

Generally the server isn’t shared but can be if you have a virtual server package.

These types of packages are used for online shops (medium sized), and when you need particular software that isn’t installed on a shared host.

It is effectively like having your own server but it is located at the hosting providers premises.

You need to have a good understanding of Apache server, and be quite technical to use this type of hosting.

6. What are Most Important Features to Look for in a Web Hosting Service?

It should support MYSQL databases and PHP. It should also provide email addresses and mailboxes ( at least 5).

Unlimited monthly traffic is good to have. Web storage tends not to be a problem unless you plan to host lots of video.

A cpanel control panel is to be preferred.

7. What is the Best Web Hosting for an Online Store?

This is a tricky question as online shops usually require additional software i.e. the shopping cart. The general rule is to choose the shopping cart and then the host.

However for small shops you may not need special software.

Before you choose it is a good idea to acquaint yourself with the various ecommerce hosting options, and understand the advantages and disadvantages of each.

8. Can I Transfer Sites to Another Hosting Provider?

First it is possible, but a bit technical.

If your site has been online for a while and is important to your business then it should only be done if you really understand what you are doing.

9. Is the Location of my Hosting Provider Important?

If your business is local in nature then it can be.

Search engines will take the location of the website and searcher in consideration when returning search results .

How much consideration they give to the site location depends on the actual search they use, and the search engine.

However it is generally considered good practice to host a website in the same geographic location as your target market.

10. What Are FrontPage Server Extensions

FrontPage is a popular web building software package, and it has support for web components that can be added to a web page to provide fancy features.

However these features are non standard and generally requires that the web server supports FrontPage server extensions.

I don’t recommend you use FrontPage web components, and if you follow that advice your server doesn’t need to support FrontPage server extensions.

However they are supported on both Linux and Microsoft servers.

11. What is PHP and ASP Scripting

Web Pages can use scripting languages (PHP and ASP) for
additional functionality.

PHP is my preferred choice and there are thousands of free open source applications that require it. It is only supported on LInux/Unix servers.

ASP (active server pages) is the Microsoft equivalent of PHP and requires windows servers.

See Starting Scripting- A Complete Beginners Guide for more details

12. What is Cpanel

Cpanel is a very popular management interface for managing your hosting package.

I would give preference to a hosting provider that supports this interface as it is very easy to use.

13. Do I need Databases MYSQL and SQL

If you are using a CMS like WordPress then you need a MYSQL database. Many hosting providers will support 100s but you rarely use more than 1 or 2.

SQL databases are found on Microsoft servers.

14. What is Multiple Website Hosting

If you think that you will eventually have more than one site, then you should look at hosting them on a single hosting account, as this will save you a lot on money on hosting costs.

Both Blue Host and 1&1-UK support this feature.

15. Do I get Email With web Hosting?

Almost all web hosting providers provide email hosting as part of the package.

For small business sites look for support for around 5 email accounts.

Most providers will support much more. See setting up email accounts on 1and1 web hosting.

16, Do I need a SSL certificate?

Generally speaking no unless you are creating an ecommerce site, or visitors are submitting sensitive data.

Having said that there is a growing trend to using SSL even on Sites that don’t strictly speaking warrant it. I will slowly be moving my sites over to SSL.

For new Sites I would consider going straight to SSL.

You might find this article useful.

17. Which Web Hosting Provider Do You Use?

I use and recommend ( 1&1-UK-UK) for my UK sites, and Bluehost
for all other sites.

I don’t recommend them because I think that they are the best, as I honestly don’t know. They are the ones that I have used for the last 13 years and I am happy with them.

Hope that helps. If you still have a question then just contact me and ask.

Quick Quiz

Q1– Should I use Linux or Microsoft Windows for My WordPress Website?

Q2– I have a UK plumbing business and want a website should I use a UK hosting provider or can I use a cheaper North American provider.

Q3- I’ve heard that you can get really cheap domain names from company A. I’m thinking of getting my domain name from them but my hosting from company B as they currently have good deal on web hosting. Is this a good idea?

Answers

A1-You should use Linux hosting.

A2- You should use a UK based provider.

A3- No it isn’t as you will have two accounts to manage. Besides most hosing providers include a free domain name in their package.

Questions

Any questions please use the comment box below to ask.

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