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Hosting options for a small business website: free, shared, VPS or dedicated server?

How do I host my website?

A website “host” is, quite literally, a place that “hosts,” or holds a website for someone else.

There are three basic setups for “hosting” a website:

  1. Free Hosting
  2. Shared Hosting
  3. Virtual Private Server (VPS)
  4. Dedicated Server

Web Hosting Options Overview

* Cost of domain registration is from $5.00-$15.00 / year (free hosting excepted, as your site is based on the host domain)1. FREE HOSTINGThese are sub-domains of the service provider’s domain, such as wordpress.com or blogger.com, so your domain would be mywebsite.wordpress.com. Often these types of web hosting are available from cable and internet providers such as Comcast or Verizon. With free hosting you can get a website up and running without the hassles of settting up accounts and billing.The most common purpose for free sites are personal or blog sites, as these sites don’t have their own domains and other SEO functionalities. They have limited bandwidth delivery, storage and functionality. Their purpose is ease: super quick to set up and run, they’re really great. I use WordPress.com, such as for this blog I put together on a trip to France with my father and son: Bromleys en Normandie2. SHARED HOSTING”Shared Hosting” is  more commonly known by the trade names of the major shared hosting providers, such as “Go Daddy,” BlueHost,” HostGator,” “DreamHost,” etc. Shared Hosting is inexpensive, easy to manage, and has great options for self-building a website.Shared Hosts drive millions of proprietary websites, and their pricing has dropped considerably in recent years. When I first setup a website to promote a book, I paid about $30 per month for a shared hosting account. Today these are generally about ten dollars a month, give or take a $5.99 promotion (be careful as most promotions expire after a set number of months).Easy to set up, inexpensive, and well-supported, shared hosts best serve the self-published, low-knowledge website publishers. Most of these providers (ISP) now offer what’s called “cPanel” controls, which deliver server controls that used to be available only to VPS and dedicated server users. Even the “chron” function, which is the ability to schedule specific, repeatable server requests, are now available on most shared host platforms. I first moved from shared hosting to VPS in order to run chrons.The inherent problem with a shared host is that you are sharing servers with all the other users. When a visitor clicks on your website, the ISP servers respond to that user’s Internet Protocol (IP) address with your content, be it html or server-driven (more on that in future posts). In the shared hosting environment, the visits and clicks must line up on order for server access. The more people visiting websites the longer the queue. Additionally, the more demands your site upon the server, the longer the response. This is why straight html sites which don’t have database interfaces respond very quickly on any platform, while database-driven sites, such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc. that require more bandwidth and server time will respond slowly on shared hosting.There are a number of ways around this, including Content Delivery Networks (CDN), data compression, and other tricks to speed server access and delivery. The trade-off is price and ease versus cost and speed.3. Virtual Private Server (VPS)I went from Shared Hosting to VPS over two issues. The first, as mentioned above, was my need for “chron jobs” in order to run a function my Joomla developer built for us that would have the server scan for emails every five minutes and launch a task based upon them. These days many shared hosts offer that functionality, although I can’t speak for it, as I have only run it on my VPS. The other function I needed is not available on a shared host. To run a whiteboard and audio-video chat system I needed a “Red Server,” which is a specialized program that needed to be installed on my server directly.This highlights the difference between a VPS and a shared host: shared hosts won’t allow you to install special programs on your server because that server is responsible for all of its users. A VPS, however, is responsible only to you, so you can do whatever you want with it, regardless of outcome. So if installing the Red Server screwed up the server, on the VPS it wouldn’t impact other users.So you see the key distinction here: the benefit is that you can control software on your own VPS. The risk there is that it is yours to control.A key benefit of VPS is access to WHM, which is the underlying software that runs cPanel and the server itself. I won’t get into the programs and operating systems, as I don’t know much about them, but I do know that I can basically run whatever I want on my VPS. WHM, however, does it all for me, and with my VPS account I have full access to WHM support, which is amazing.Key to VPS control is the ability to manage your own firewalls and security settings. While a shard hosting server likely wont’ get hacked, individual sites are frequently hacked. With a VPS you can but also need to run protection on both, and you have full control over it, including to, as I do, lock down access to your site and server to specific IPs that you use and blocking all others. Goodbye Ruskie hackers!Another advantage of a VPS is that you can create multiple cPanel accounts for your domains, which allows you to implement different settings for each domain you manage.The core benefits to the VPS is greater speed, memory and disk space, as you have a specific allocation that is not shared.4. Dedicated ServersHere’s for the pros, well, along with buying your own servers and doing it all yourself. The advantage of renting over buying is about the same as a car lease: no amortization and no up-front costs, as well as, unlike a car, no hardware responsibility or management. With your own server you do what you want. I am very interested in a dedicated server to run my own communications system, which I can’t do on my VPS because of the bandwith restraints, but that’s for another time.5. EmailAll but Free Hosting allow for dedicated email management on your domain. There’s lots to do with email, but for all but a major organization you won’t run into email limits on a Shared Host or VPS account. Again, the VPS gives more control than Shared Host, but you can always scale up to it.SummaryIt’s all out there for you, just being a matter of price, time commitment, and expertise. Start small and work you r way up. You can always transfer domains and accounts, so don’t be afraid to get started with the shared hosting even if you feel that you’ll need more later.I’ll leave it here with the simple advice:

  • Starting up? Go with Shared Hosting
  • Need more speed and control? VPS
  • Serious stuff? Dedciated or on-site servers all your own.

Just don’t do go that route if you work for State Department…- MichaelMichael Bromley is founder and President of School4Schools.com LLC and the A+ Club. Bromley is a published historian, teacher, and entrepreneur.  Contact Bromley at (703) 271-5334 or info@school4schools.com

Item Hosting Cost / Month* User Expertise Advantages Disadvantages
Free Hosting $0 / $0 Little Out of the box web building; packaged systems Slow, limited functionality & no direct support
Shared Hosting $5-$25 Low Out of the box web building; packaged systems & limited support Slow, less control, subject to mass-market providers; single IP / cPanel account
Virtual Private Server $40-$100 Med Faster; control of server software & functions (some limits); packaged systems & higher level support; ; multiple IPs and cPanel accounts per domain; WHM access & support Memory and disk usage limits; server not fully dedicated to your site
Dedicated Server $150-$500 High Fastest; total control of server and software (all types) Complex, expensive, expertise required
About the Author

Founder and President of School4Schools.com LLC and The A+ Club, Bromley previously built a $12MM consumer products business, wrote two books and numerous magazine articles on automotive and political history, and has appeared on national documentaries for History Channel, A&E and others. Bromley also teaches a Small Business Startup class and enjoys helping other entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.

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