What is web hosting?
Web hosting is a service that provides storage for the files that make up your website and the software, physical hardware, and network infrastructure that makes your website available to others on the internet.
Web hosting service providers offer a variety of hosting options, ranging from expensive to inexpensive. The cost is essentially determined by the following:
- The amount of storage space and computing capacity allocated specifically for your site.
- The degree to which your site shares computing resources with other sites or is isolated from the impact of other sites sharing the same resources.
- The additional capabilities and services offered (e.g., number of email inboxes with your domain name, blogging capabilities, etc.).
- The degree of control and flexibility you have (e.g., which operating system (OS) and/or content management system (CMS) you can use, support for special web applications, etc.).
- The extent to which you manage your web site or have the service provider manage it for you.
Common hosting options
These are the three most common hosting options, ranging from least to most expensive:
In shared hosting, the hosting provider hosts your website and several others (co-tenants) on a single computer—you share the CPU, memory, storage space, and the web server software (the software that delivers web content to browsers that request it).
Because you’re sharing these resources with owners of other web sites, you pay less for them. However, even though the single shared computer is usually very powerful, unexpectedly high traffic to one of the hosted sites can rob the others of resources and slow them down dramatically. Additionally, if one site is victimized by a virus or security attack, the other sites on the server could be vulnerable.
Shared hosting is a good choice for personal web sites, personal blogs, small non-transactional business sites (e.g., a creative portfolio) or non-business sites. For more information about shared hosting, see “What is Cloud Hosting?”
Virtual private server (VPS) hosting or cloud-based VPS
In VPS hosting, your site gets its own dedicated virtual server. As with shared hosting, you do share the hardware resources of a single computer (in most cases), but you share them with far fewer co-tenants, and their problems—security breaches, crashes —are much less likely to impact your site.
With a VPS you typically have complete control over your OS, CMS, and other software, which makes it a better choice for hosting custom web applications or web-based software (Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS). As you might have guessed, VPS is more expensive than shared hosting.
While VPS hosting shares resources among fewer websites, as each site grows and attracts more traffic, they can strain the resources of a single computer. For this reason, many hosting providers offer cloud-based VPS hosting, in which each site shares the combined resources of multiple computers in a single data center (or even in different geographical locations). This makes it easier to scale computing power, storage capacity, and bandwidth as needed and provides additional resiliency in the event of hardware problems or natural/man-made disasters.
VPS or cloud-based VPS hosting is ideal for the majority of business web sites.
Dedicated hosting gives you exclusive access to your own web server hardware. You get the same control over system and application software that you get with a VPS, but because yours is the only site using the hardware, your site runs faster. You are also completely immune to performance or security issues on other web sites.
Dedicated hosting does have some drawbacks, however—it’s the most expensive option because yours is the only site using the hardware. If you don’t have the talent on staff to manage the server yourself, you’ll need to pay additional fees for the provider to manage it for you. Dedicated hosting also can’t scale on the fly because someone has to physically upgrade the server with more RAM, storage, etc. when needed. As a result, dedicated hosting is typically worthwhile only when performance and security considerations justify the additional cost.
The term “bare metal servers” is sometimes used interchangeably with “dedicated servers,” but bare metal servers typically add cloud-like benefits like provisioning in minutes (vs. hours), billing in hourly increments (instead of monthly billing), and higher-end hardware.
What to look for in a service
Which web hosting provider will be best for you depends on your needs, the size of your business, and your technical expertise and resources. It’s important to ensure that you’re not going to be locked into a contract that won’t meet your future needs as your business grows. You’ll also want to consider whether or not the providers you are considering are experienced and reliable and whether their security infrastructures are mature enough to protect your data and that of your customers.
Factors to evaluate include the following:
- Cost (today and tomorrow): Keep in mind that a seemingly less-expensive option can end up costing you more in the long run if excessive downtime results in lost sales or poor performance or inadequate bandwidth means you’re not able to provide your customers with a good digital experience.
- Support: What kinds of technical support are available? Is there a strong online developer community that shares information on using the hosting platform? How long is the vendor’s usual response time to a chat query or phone call?
- Technical details: Does the solution offer the processing power that your site will need? Adequate RAM or storage? Are the operating system and content management system that you’re planning to use supported? Are the configuration options that you need available?
- Security and reliability: Does the vendor have a strong reputation for security? Are the data centers geo-redundant? Are backup or disaster recovery solutions available?
Best options for small businesses
Website hosting service packages can be divided into two categories: those that include website building tools with their service packages, and those that do not. Hosting-only services allow for more customizability, control, and scalability, but require far more technical expertise and design and coding skills than using a website builder.
Hosting services that include website building tools are ideally suited for small business and consumer use. They enable individuals and organizations with few technical skills or resources to set up websites quickly and easily. The website builder tools simplify the process of creating a basic site with standardized, easy-to-customized templates that don’t require specialized web design or development skills.
When choosing this kind of hosting service, do your homework to ensure that the tools and templates enable you to create a website that looks the way you want it to look and offers the capabilities you want to offer visitors.
A few web hosting providers offer a no-cost introductory period or very basic no-cost hosting services. This sounds too good to be true, and it’s up to you, the customer, to determine that if it is the right option for you.
Consider the following questions before hosting your site with a free service:
- Is bandwidth usage included in your free hosting? If not, how is it charged, at what level of usage do the charges kick in?
- What types of customer service or user support are available? Who would you contact if your site went down? How quickly does the provider promise to respond?
- How much traffic can the site handle? If one of your blog posts went viral, could your account be suspended? Would you need to pay an exorbitant fee to accommodate the influx of visitors?
- As your business and site grow, will you be able to purchase additional storage or bandwidth as needed? Will the prices be reasonable?
- If you decide to switch to another hosting provider, how easy or difficult would the transition be? Would you need to rebuild the site from scratch?
- Will the website be secured with a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate? (This protects data that’s being transferred between client browsers and your site through encryption.) Are any other security features included? Does the hosting provider have a strong reputation for security?
Free domain sites and web hosting
Some web hosting providers offer free domain names as an add-on to their shared hosting or other service packages. There are also companies that offer free domain registration if you agree to display their advertisements on your site, use an affiliated subdomain (such as yourname.wordpress.com), or an unusual or obscure top-level domain (such as yourname.cf).
Keep in mind that these practices can make your site appear less professional and even make it more difficult to be ranked highly by search engines. For these and other reasons, free domain sites usually appeal primarily to consumers.
Provider evaluations and reviews
Numerous review sites are available online to help consumers evaluate various providers’ offerings. Research and advisory firms like Gartner offer cross-industry insights to aid enterprise stakeholders with strategic decision-making, while sites like Trust Radius (link resides outside IBM) and G2 (link resides outside IBM) enable you to find top-rated software and services based on in-depth reviews from verified users.
Web hosting and IBM
Connected via the high-speed global IBM Cloud Network backbone, IBM Cloud’s bare metal servers offer reliable, highly customizable configurations of processing power, memory, storage, and bandwidth allocation, making them optimally suited for website hosting. Quick deployment, rapid scalability, and world-class technical support are other benefits.
Sign up for an IBM Cloud account and start exploring configuration options today.