At a very basic level, web hosting is the home for your website. Just like your business might have an office, a shop or a warehouse, your website needs somewhere to call home.
All of the content – images, files, databases and software – that power your website is stored on a server. This server ‘hosts’ all of this information so that your site can be accessed online.
Don’t confuse hosting with your domain name though, because these are two very different things. Your domain name merely points the visitor to the location of your website on the server and, kind of like keeping your number when you change mobile phone providers, you can point your domain name to a different server should you decide to move hosts.
The key features of web hosting
There are a couple of things that you’ll need to be aware of when picking a hosting package, and it will depend on the type of site you have, what it’s primarily used for, and the amount of visitors that you expect, as to what the best options will be.
If you actually plan to manage more than one website from your host server, then you’ll need to make sure that your package allows for additional hosted domains to be added.
This is the amount of data that you can store on the hosting account, and it will depend on a variety of factors as to how much you will need. Images and video, for example, take up a lot more disk space than text, so if you have a gallery based website focused on images, you will probably need more space than a text-based blog.
This is also referred to as ‘bandwidth’ by some hosts, and it refers to the amount of data that can transfer between your site and the visitor. The more people who come to your website, the more data is transferred through the server. This is a measurement that you’ll want to monitor as your site grows.
You’ll most likely want to have your @mywebsite.com email address, maybe an autoresponder for out of hours emails, perhaps even spam filtering or virus protection. If you want to have multiple addresses, like john@ jane@ and info@, then you will need to make sure that you have enough email accounts for all of the staff members or aliases that you want.
There are, of course, lots of other features to web hosting packages, but these are a few of the most important ones for you to consider if you’re looking at new packages.
The types of web hosting available
As well as the details of your hosting package, there are a few differences in the types of hosting that are available to you. These also play a key role in helping you choose the best one for your site.
Sharing a server with other websites is where most websites start out. The costs are relatively low, so they are ideal for a personal site, blogs, small business websites, e-commerce stores, etc.
You are, however, sharing all of the resources of that server with all of the other websites hosted on it. There could be fairly low allowances of disk space or data transfer, you could also experience issues during peak times or if there’s a sudden spike in traffic.
Virtual private server hosting
Whilst your website will be still be sharing the same physical server as other sites, a virtual private server (VPS) creates a separate space for your site. This is ideal for a site that needs to have specific software installed, not always possible on a shared hosting package.
The VPS is a great option for growing businesses or more complex sites that can’t afford to fully share the resources of a server with multiple other websites. Because the VPS designated a certain percentage of its processing power and memory to your website, you are less likely to be vulnerable to surges of traffic elsewhere on the server.
Dedicated server hosting
Just as the name implies, this type of hosting gives you an entire physical server of your own. You’ll never need to worry about someone else’s traffic affecting your site.
Having a dedicated server means that you can have it set up however you want, so your hosting provider should be able to discuss your needs and offer you a server designed specifically for your needs.
Whilst your website won’t actually be floating around in the sky, cloud hosting uses the power of multiple physical resources to act as your server. This provides great redundancy as if one part of the network fails, the others will take up the slack and your site remains unaffected.
Cloud hosting is also scalable, as you can vary the amount of resources you need, so it’s great for growing businesses or those that might experience fluctuations in traffic.