As mentioned above, there is no component that can be considered the most important, but if there was, is would probably be your web hosting choice. Your web host is the foundation of your web site, your message and your brand. Much like with a house, if you do not select the best web hosting option, you’re building your house upon a foundation of sand.
Is your web site going to be fast enough? How reliable will it be? Can it handle massive traffic? How good is technical support in order to get you back up and running? Are backups automatically done on a regular basis? Is your web hosting option scalable as your web site grows in popularity? Is your web host compatible with software packages you will need?
That’s a lot of questions but if the answer to any of these questions is no, you could be setting yourself up for a great fall. It is hard enough to get a good start in your venture, but nothing could be worse than to have your site/project/campaign/brand catch fire only to see the web site crash. Thus planning and obtaining the best hosting package at the right price is the first (and perhaps most important step for you to take.
Let’s look at some different options.
OK. Now, if you are just launching your small web site, do you need a server as powerful as Amazon.com or eBay.com? Probably not and you certainly don’t need to take on the expense and prohibitive learning curve associated with purchasing and hosting a server on your own. Therefore you have three real options (with many flavors available) – renting/leasing a Shared Server, a Dedicated Server or a Virtual Private Server).
A shared server is simply a server system where your web site resides along with web sites belonging to a number of other customers. Think of a shared server as an apartment building. In each apartment, you can do what you want and when you want, but you do still have neighbors who might have parties at all hours, who might tie up the washers of dryers endlessly or who might flood the whole floor with an overflowing bathtub. Now this isn’t even considering your neighbor smoking in bed and accidentally burning the whole apartment building down. A shared hosting plan is much the same as you have to be concerned about what goes on with your “neighbors” web sites. For instance, what if one of the other web sites on the same shared server is featured on cnn.com or mtv.com and gets a gusher over traffic (say one million visitor in one day). Will your shared server be able to handle all of that traffic and still be able to allocate sufficient resources to your web site in order to assure that you page loads with lightening quickness (imagine the parking lot of your apartment building if a million visitors showed up. When your Aunt Millie came to visit you, would she be able to reach your apartment? This is how a shared server works, where you will be sharing the same hosting space for your web traffic, email and ftp traffic. A shared server can be the perfect solution for those just starting out with their web presence. They are generally easy to use.
Now, at the same time, if you are new to being on your own and all you have is a bed and a couch and a tv, an apartment might be a perfect fit for you, where you share many of the common expensive necessities (heating and cooling systems, washer and dryer, etc).
So just as an apartment is great when you are just out of high school or college, as you grow, you might want more control over your surroundings. A shared server is a great entry level tool for new web sites or sites that don’t need vast resources.
Shared server Pros:
a. inexpensive (there are many, many options here, and with so much competition the prices for shared server really is dirt cheap).
b. generally, very easy to use.
c. sufficient for most new or smaller web sites.
Shared server Cons:
a. their ease of use stems from the fact that there are less options and less flexibility.
b. because the server space is shared, not all of the server resources are being allocated to your web sites.
c. on occasion, the actions of other “shared” client might adversely affect your site.
A Dedicated server is a great option if you need a faster, more robust server that is “dedicated” to your needs and your use. Dedicated servers can be leased in many different configurations and can often be tailored exactly to your liking. They are flexible and expandable.[frame align=”left”][/frame]In general, you can install any software packages on the server you need. However, like most anything that is bigger, faster, more powerful and under your control, a dedicated server will cost significant more than a shared server. Also, while technical support is available for a dedicated server, there is a certain amount of oversight which you will need to provide for your server and while you can have almost any software package you want on your server, you will have to install it, unless you are will to pay technical support to do it.
So look at a dedicated server as you would having a house. With a house, you have much more space than in an apartment, you can paint the house whatever color you want, create a garden, use the washer and dryer whenever you want, never worry about parking and play your music as loud as you want. Sounds great, BUT, you have to pay a lot more for a house, you have to pay someone to come in when an appliance or air conditioning or heating unit goes bad, you have to upkeep the lawn and the house, pay property taxes, etc.
So, when would you want to use a dedicated server. Well, there are many conceivable reasons, but here are a few.
Dedicated servers are usually expandable meaning that if you need more web space, more RAM or even more bandwidth, you can pay for it to be installed or increased, without having to move all of your web sites to a new machine.
Dedicated server Pros:
a. very flexible, allowing for expansion and customization in terms of software packages that can be installed.
b. because they are dedicated to your use, you never need to worry about your service being degraded by other users.
c. Can be customized to exactly your usage needs and specifications.
Dedicated server Cons:
a. relatively expensive. Much costlier than shared plans and can called for you to have to pay for certain technical support services.
b. some of the server management responsibilities will fall on you.
c. a small to medium learning curve involved.
Virtual Private Servers act as a sort of hybrid, matching the best attributed of shared and dedicated servers. VPS packages basically work like this. On a high performance server, a certain section of the machine is partitioned such that your web sites can be placed within that partitioned space and act independently from any other clients that are on the same server. If a web site crash occurred within one VPS, it would have no effect on a different VPS operating within the same server.
Think of a VPS as a townhouse. In a townhouse, you are still connected to your neighbor (like in an apartment) but you have the autonomy of living apart and not having to share resources (like a house).
A Virtual Private Server would be appropriate when your needs and budget lie somewhere in between what is available with shared and dedicated servers.
So, as you begin to make your decision on what type of hosting package you want to pursue, ask yourself the following five questions:
1. How fast and powerful of a server do you need?
2. Is it compatible with the software packages you will need?
3. How scalable is the server in case your site really takes off?
4. How good and available is the technical support team?
5. How easy is the server for you to understand?
You will notice that I didn’t mention the price involved. The price often dictates which kind of package is chosen but it is important to realize that sometimes the opportunity costs lost by next having enough horsepower can far outweigh the savings from going cheap on the server space. For a beginner, you may want to start with a quality shared server plan and use your first year to evaluate the growth of your site and plan accordingly for that growth and the accompanied expansion.