Newbie Guide to Website Hosting
If you’re just getting started in Internet Marketing or any Web-related activity, you probably have lots of questions about Website hosting. There are many options available and monthly fees range from a few dollars to a hundred dollars or more. And you definitely don’t want to make a choice and then realize shortly after that you should have gone with something different – moving sites can be a pain. So how does a newbie figure out what’s right for their needs? Read on…
The first type of hosting you’ll find is shared hosting. Shared hosting means that you are given a block of hard drive space on a server that houses other accounts as well. You are sharing the server’s resources with dozens or even hundreds of other customers. And if the shared hosting account allows you to host multiple Websites, this means that there can be thousands of Websites living on this one server.
Let’s look at the good things about shared hosting. It is the most inexpensive type of hosting, which is a major plus for those just starting out. It usually includes a control panel (most often cpanel or plesk) which makes it easier to configure things on your hosting account. You often get an assortment of script installers (Fantastico is one of the more popular ways of providing this) which allow you to add a blog, a shopping cart, a guestbook and other options to your Website.
On the negative side, using shared hosting means that your Website is, to some extent, at the mercy of other sites on the same server. If another site is running a script that uses a lot of the server’s memory or processing power, it can slow down or even interrupt access to the other sites on the box. A good hosting provider will usually catch this problem and resolve it with the owner of the offending site, but it can still cause unnecessary headaches. Another potential problem is with spamming. If someone else on your server is sending out a lot of spam e-mail, the server’s IP address (the unique address of the server on the Internet) can be blacklisted by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) meaning that email sent from your Website might not get through, even though you aren’t the one spamming people!
Shared hosting is a good way to start if your Websites will be just HTML pages without any major scripts running, or if you don’t plan to send out a lot of email through the mail server. The pricing can’t be beat, but you have to be aware of the limitations and potential pitfalls I’ve outlined above.
One shared hosting provider I’d recommend is:
Virtual Private Server/Virtual Dedicated Server
A step up from shared hosting is the VPS or Virtual Private Server (also called Virtual Dedicated Server or VDS). VPS hosting is similar to shared hosting in that you share a physical server with others. The big difference is that the server is outfitted with something called virtualization (Virtuozzo is one of the most common solutions used). Virtualization basically splits up the server’s resources into defined and dedicated blocks. Whereas with shared hosting, another user’s site can hog the physical server’s resources and bring all the other sites to a crawl, with VPS you get a certain amount of RAM and a certain percentage of processor usage that is dedicated to your sites. Similarly, each virtual server, or “chunk” of the overall physical server usually has it’s own IP address, thus reducing the potential for your IP being blocked because of someone else’s spam.
On the negative side, the cost of a VPS solution is usually significantly higher than a shared hosting package. Expect to spend about to a month. Look for coupons or specials that will either reduce your monthly cost or increase the level of resources assigned to your account without increasing the cost. And speaking of resources, make sure that you get a minimum of 128 MB of RAM (256 MB is strongly recommended). You also want to look for “burstable” resources, meaning that you can “borrow” unused resources beyond your dedicated limit for short periods of time. Another thing to watch out for is that many of the cheaper VPS packages do not come with much, if any, management of your virtual server. This means that you are responsible for installing any scripts you need (including a control panel in some cases). Unless you are a major tech geek willing to learn a lot about server configuration, try to find a managed VPS service that includes an already installed control panel (again, cpanel and plesk are recommended). It will save you a lot of headaches. Also look for WHM (Web Host Manager), which allows you to create sub-accounts for all of the domains you want to host.
Recommended VPS/VDS providers:
Hosting your site or sites on a dedicated server means that you are the only customer of the hosting company on a given server. You have the entire server and all its resources to yourself. No one else to bog down the server with complex scripts, no one else to get the IP address blacklisted for spamming. Just you. It sounds great, but the cost (0 per month and up) is often prohibitive for many folks, especially those who are new at Internet marketing. Additionally, while you can sometimes find good deals on a dedicated server, there is usually a catch. That catch is that you take full responsibility for the software that is running on the box. You are responsible for updating to the latest version of the Apache web server, the latest version of PHP, the latest version of mySQL, etc. You are also responsible for making sure that security holes are patched so that your server doesn’t get hacked. In short, you probably have a lot to learn before you are ready for this type of responsibility.
That said, there are managed dedicated servers available, where someone at the hosting company takes care of some or all of these responsibilities. Of course, this costs even more money.
I don’t recommend a dedicated server for anyone just starting out, unless you’re a network admin who just quit his or her job to pursue the work-from-home dream that Internet marketing promises. Otherwise, steer clear until you have made enough money to pay for the fully managed dedicated server or to hire your own server admin.
So what should you do if you’re just starting out? I’d recommend starting with a good and inexpensive shared hosting provider until you learn the ropes and get comfortable with Web hosting. Once you’ve got some experience, move to a VPS solution. A smart way to go is to look for a hosting company that provides both shared and VPS plans – they may be able to help you move your sites if and when you need to upgrade your plan. (Both EasyCGI Hosting and midPhase Hosting – see links above – offer shared and VPS plans – check them out.)
Finally, the best tip I can give you is to make sure you understand what you’re getting in your hosting plan. Check the list of features against what you plan to do with your sites. If you are planning to run an ASP script, don’t sign up for Linux hosting – you need Windows hosting for ASP, in most cases. If you are planning to run a PHP application, make sure the plan you sign up for supports PHP (most do, but the point is to be diligent in checking your requirements before you sign up).
A good hosting provider can be a valuable asset to your online business for years to come. A poor one can be a major obstacle to success. Follow the advice I’ve provided here and you should be in good shape.
Kevin Ryan is an Internet marketer and SEO expert who has worked in the Web industry for over 12 years.