I just want a website. Why do I need hosting?
A website is just a collection of files, some HTML, a few scripts thrown in for good measure and maybe a database or two to collect and server the correct files via a web browser, that is smart enough to know how all these pieces fit together. So why can’t you just set up your website on your local computer and call it good?
Technically, you could. All you need is a properly configured computer running Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP (LAMP architecture) or comparable Windows computer with, Apache, MySQL and PHP –(WAMP architecture) or IIS, SQL Server, ASP.net. Upload your files, make your computer publicly accessible, configure your Domain Name Server zone records to point to your publicly available server IP address and then make the website files public. Of course you still need an Internet provider and your computer needs to be able to run 24 hours a day, 7 days per week without interruption or corruption or needing to be rebooted.
If your website is important to your business goals, then you will want to ensure your server has some built in redundancies, like dual power supplies so if one fails the other can take the load. You’ll want to consider what happens to your server and your site if your power goes out. Ok, so add a battery powered backup or gas or diesel generator to kick in to provide the electricity to run the server.
What happens if your hard drive fails? Add a second hard drive and mirror all of your files and data onto the second drive so that if one fails the other will still operate until you can replace the first drive. And you probably need to figure out how to make your drives hot swappable so that you do not need to shut down the server to change the drives. While you are at it, don’t forget to add a second power supply to your computer.
Now that your site is up and running, you may want to contact your Internet Service Provider to make sure you are not exceeding your bandwidth usage. Every connection to your computer from a visitor generates bytes of information that must go both ways from a visitor’s browser requesting information to your server and from your server to their computer delivering the requested information. If you have a number of people connecting at the same time, you need a way to manage all of those requests and data being sent back and forth. If your computer system does not have the capacity to handle multiple connections and request, your system will slow and eventually crash. If your ISP data plan is not sufficient to handle the traffic, your ISP will likely suspend or slow your connection to the point of not being able to process any requests.
If people care enough about your site and can find a phone number or email address, you will begin being flooded with support calls and requests for assistance.
Hosting can be an intimidating subject and is not for the faint of heart and in fact, unless your home computer happens to be located in a data center, and you are a Systems Administrator, hosting is best left to the experts.
So what is hosting anyway.
Hosting is simply the service of providing your website to the general public on demand. Think of hosting like you would rent – office or residential. You need a place to stay. You have choices – some better than others. All at different prices and amenities. Hosting is a place for your website to reside. The amenities or services will vary based on your hosting provider and their service offerings and your needs and willingness to pay for what you need.
There are many forms of hosting. We’ll discuss a few of the more popular offerings here.
First at the low price point are shared hosting. Shared hosting providers advertise a low monthly or initial fee. You know the ones I am referring to, that advertise a low monthly or initial fee for the first year, then with substantial increases in the second and subsequent years. This is somewhat similar to renting a room in a boarding house with shared bathroom facilities and no kitchen. It may work for your site, but you will be sharing the space with lots of other renters as well and services are limited and you may have to wait in line to use the service. It is not unusual for these providers to load up a single server with hundreds of sites all sharing the same resources. Just based on the allocated living space, your security risk is higher with everyone sharing the same resources.
Virtual Private Server (VPS)
VPS hosting is a form of shared hosting, but you have fixed piece of a single server with dedicated resources that only your slice can use. You share the server with a much smaller number of sites typically less than 20. Because you hold a much larger portion of the server’s hardware, you have more resources available. Think of this as renting an apartment or townhome. You have your own space and facilities, including all the necessities like your own bathroom and kitchen. You even have separate sleeping spaces. Your doors and windows have locks. You are in a much safer place. And you can decorate as you see fit.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of VPS hosting is the increase in performance over shared hosting. With VPS hosting, you have more control over how the dedicated resources are allocated. Internet users expect fast loading pages – frequently 2 or 3 seconds or less. Significant bounce rates are experienced by sites that exceed 3 seconds to load. With that in mind, you’ll want a hosting plan that can handle large amounts of traffic, without compromising website load times.
There are also 2 other types of hosting we’ll discuss in a minute in more detail but for now, we’ll just list them as dedicated server and cloud hosting. But before we discuss those, it is important to discuss the two most common forms of VPS hosting: Self-managed and Managed.
Self-managed is as the term describes. You rent the space and it is up to you to manage how you use it. You are in charge of updating the operating system and keeping patches applied on a timely basis. It is your responsibility to upload and manage your files and applications. The hosting provider is simply responsible for the infrastructure and hardware.
Managed Hosting is where we spend all our time. We manage the hardware, software, update the operating system, web server apps, scripting languages, website applications and all server updates and maintenance issues. We manage and maintain everything we install on the hosting space for the client. We do provide the flexibility for clients to upload their own files and applications and will assist wherever possible, but do not support natively those applications.
Managed hosting plans are for companies that depend on their web presence and recognize the importance of the website as the foundation of their marketing efforts. Generally, they do not have the technical expertise to trouble shoot server related issues and even if they do have that knowledge on staff, they have other tasks so these clients leave all the technical issue to our expert level technicians to monitor and maintain their sites in top working order.
Dedicated Server/Cloud Hosting
The final two options in hosting include dedicated server and cloud hosting. Dedicated servers are exactly what they sound like. You purchase or rent an entire server configured exactly the way you want it configured specifying types and number of drives, amount of memory, number of processors, etc. You then get to optimize the server to best fit your individual needs. Because of its total customization dedicated servers are the most expensive but are one of the best choices when you need to optimize your website resources to provide the best user experiences. Dedicated servers are used by companies that exceed the capacities of VPS servers and need highly customized resources to optimize their site load times and functions.
Cloud-based hosting provides all the benefit of dedicated with the added benefit of being able to reconfigure your resources on the fly, even temporarily. You have maximum flexibility in adding resources for an expected temporary spike in traffic due to mention by Oprah or some other influencer. You can start with one configuration to meet you needs today and add additional resources as you scale your business.
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