Everything You Need To Know About Web Hosting
If you're a blogger, an entrepreneur, a wantrepreneur or a business
owner then you'll need a website in order to create a web presence,
market yourself and turn profits. That means you'll be looking for a web
designer, a digital marketing company, a writer and more. But before
any of that you're going to need a web hosting solution.
What that simply means is that you need to find a company that can provide you with space on a web server so that your files will be brought up every time someone types your URL into their browser. Servers are systems that are constantly connected to the Internet and that store the files necessary for your website and every website needs to be on one to be accessible.
There are many different web host providers, and it can seem overwhelming when you're starting out. You won't have tons of visitors for your new site on day one, so you might not think it matters too much worrying about all the different jargon.
In fact though, your web hosting account is a highly important part of your overall strategy. Getting this right is crucial not only to keep your overhead down but also to make sure that you're able to manage the increase in traffic as your site grows and to avoid down-time and security issues that could otherwise be a thorn in your side.
Different Types of Web Hosting
One of the first decisions you'll need to make when choosing a web host provider is the type of web hosting you need. There are several different kinds, which include shared, dedicated, VPS and cloud among others. Here's a brief overview of the main choices:
A shared hosting
means that your files will be stored on a server along with the files
of many other sites. This means the web hosting company will have lots
of clients and each server will host several of them. Shared hosting is
often the cheapest solution (unless you get free hosting) but it does
have drawbacks, as you'll be sharing resources with others. They tend to
be slower and less reliable, especially if one of the other sites on
that server gets a lot of traffic. It also means you can't install
scripts or make other changes that might affect other users.
This means that you'll get a whole server to yourself and as a result you will benefit from quicker load times (as the bandwidth is all yours), more space and more control over how you use the server. Dedicated hosting can be managed or unmanaged, which we'll come to later.
VPS stands for 'Virtual Private Server' and is essentially a server that mimics a dedicated server but within a shared hosting environment. It does this by having its own operating system, which means that you can install your own software and scripts without affecting other users. In terms of benefits and drawbacks it falls somewhere between a dedicated server and shared server.
Cloud hosting means that your files are stored on not one server but multiple servers. This has the benefit of meaning you experience no down time - because while one server is undergoing maintenance your files can be served up from one of the others. Likewise, it means that your files will be safer as there will be multiple copies of them. Bandwidth can also be shared between servers, which means cloud solutions tend to be pretty quick as well.
Here you actually buy the server
and a third party company simply looks after it for you. You're
responsible for the server's maintenance and can do with it what you
want but you'll need to know what you're doing or hire someone who does.
Script Specific Hosting
There are several hosting providers who provide hosting for specific software or cms only. They are optimized for that specific software only. One good example is WordPress hosting solution from WPEngine. WPEngine's hosting environment is ideal for anyone who wants to host WordPress blogs with better caching, security and optimization.
Managed vs Unmanaged
The difference between managed and unmanaged hosting is whose responsibility it is to look after the upkeep of your server. This only really applies in the case of dedicated and VPS hosting where you'll often be given the option to choose a managed or non-managed solution.
If your hosting is managed, this means that the web host company will be responsible for looking after the regular maintenance of your machine. They'll be on hand to deal with emergencies, they'll carry out routine maintenance and security and generally you'll just have to worry about managing your website. Unmanaged hosting means that it's all on you. While the hosting company will deal with things like failed components and network maintenance, it will be your job to install software, look after security etc. This tends to be cheaper but it means you might experience more downtime and you'll have to spend more time of your own dealing with technical issues.
If your web
host company provides a control panel this will make life much easier
for you as a webmaster. Control panels give you a 'backend' where you
can log in and access many tools that will be useful for things like
managing the files on your server, looking at your stats and
performance, installing things like WordPress and accessing e-mail.
Popular options include cPanel, IPSConfig, VirtuaMin, VesaCP, Parallels
Plesk and more. Each has different features and
benefits and the best choice will depend on your specific requirements.
Do you absolutely need a control panel? Not if you know what you're doing and you use FTP software to upload and download files. That said, they are generally pretty useful and especially if you find yourself away from your computer and wanting to make changes via your browser.
Things to Look for When Choosing a Web Host Solution
When choosing where you're going to host your site, there are a few things to consider. Once you've decided the type of hosting you need and looked into control panels, you should also think about the amount of web space you get and whether that's enough (if you're running a social network or a media-heavy site you might need a lot), the bandwidth you'll get, the number of e-mail addresses you'll be permitted and more. You should also look at the operating system that will be running on the server and whether you want a Windows or UNIX (Linux) server. Apps like WordPress, Magento and Joomla run better on Linux whereas Umbraco, BlogEngine.net and NopCommerce run better on Windows. That said, most Linux software can also run on Windows. You might also need to make sure that your server can support particular programming languages like PHP, ASP.NET and Python.
For many business owners, the server will be
fit for purpose as long as it lets you install WordPress (a platform for
building and managing websites). If you're unsure, then call the
hosting provider or your web design team to discuss.
Of course when choosing hosting solutions you'll also want to take price into account as well as looking at reviews.
Uptime and Security
Servers can go 'down' for all kinds of reasons, whether that's for routine maintenance or because they've overheated. This is a serious consideration for business owners because when a server goes down, it will damage your reputation, potentially lose you business and possibly even hurt your search rankings. Security issues are also a concern, especially if you store customer data.
For all these reasons, it's very important to make sure your hosting provider has a good track record by looking at reviews and reading their policies. For avoiding server downtime, choosing a cloud hosting solution is often a good idea.
Caching for Performance
The speed of your site is also something that can directly impact both user experience and your search rankings. There are many things you can do your end to optimize this but it will also come down to the performance of the server you're on. Sometimes it will be a combination of both as is the case when you use caching.
Caching means storing certain large files like images in high speed memory. This then means that they don't need to be loaded every single time that the visitor lands on the page. Caching strategies vary and the options available to you may depend on your choice of hosting provider.
What is a CDN and Do You Need One?
For big sites with lots of high definition images, media and big traffic and for whom optimal performance is a priority, a CDN can be used on top of your web hosting account to further speed things up.
A CND is a 'Content Delivery Network' which is a network of servers that can deliver cached content from websites to their users based on the location of the user - so that the nearest server will deliver those files. This means lower demands on your main server and faster load times for your users.
As you can see then there are lots of different factors when it comes to choosing the best hosting solution for your website. For small bloggers and businesses that just need basic sites many of these considerations won't be pressing but it's helpful to choose a web host that offers as many features as possible in case you need them later as your business expands.
For larger organizations with specific needs and high volumes of traffic it's worth doing the research, consulting with web hosts and taking the time to ensure you make the right choice that will result in rapid load times, stable performance and a great user experience.