Imagine that you need to choose a place to live. Most likely, you’ll consider countries, accommodation types (apartments, private houses), and prices, then weigh all the pros and cons.
Just like a person needs a home, each new website needs its own cozy space on a server to exist and be accessible to users. This space is usually provided by web hosts.
Today, website owners can choose among different types of web hosting providers whose services meet specific business needs. But this choice isn’t easy – no doubt, a web hosting service should powerful, secure, and affordable.
We’ve prepared something of a beginner’s guide to web hosting that addresses the basics of web hosting as well as vital information on web hosting types, service providers, and tricky things you need to consider when choosing the best hosting option for you.
What you should know about web hosting
1. What is web hosting and how does it work?
Web hosting is a service that allows you to display your website on the internet and make it accessible to everyone. However, in order to use a web hosting service, you should apply to a special provider.
Web hosting service providers possess servers (usually huge data centers) that host websites. These servers receive requests for website pages – sent from a user’s browser – and respond to these requests by delivering page data to the browser, which then renders it. In order to see your website, internet users should type your website’s address (domain name) into their browser’s address field.
[How web hosting works]
Domain names are offered by many web hosting service providers. Some, including Bluehost, iPage, GoDaddy, and SiteBuilder, even offer free domain names as part of their hosting plans.
But to figure out which web hosting service provider suits you best and what hosting plan to choose, you should first find out what types of web hosting exist.
2. Different types of web hosting services
The modern web hosting industry offers a rich variety of services. With so many different offers from web hosting providers, every website owner can find an option that’s right for them. But how can you choose the most suitable hosting for your website?
Before choosing a web hosting service, you should consider your requirements, think carefully about what you expect from your website, and consider what type of site you’ll be hosting (social network, marketplace, blog, portfolio, or something else). We’ll talk about other important things a bit later.
Let’s take a look at the main types of web hosting to help you find the most suitable one.
This is the most common type of web hosting because of its low cost. However, you should consider that with shared web hosting you’ll have to share a server with other websites. And you should be ready for a situation when your website’s performance is influenced by more popular websites running on the same server.
It’s also worth mentioning that with shared hosting you don’t have access to server configurations, since shared web hosting is managed by a system administrator. You can only control part of the space given to your website.
If your website is relatively small and doesn’t attract a lot of traffic, shared web hosting may be a good option for you. Shared hosting can be used by personal blogs, portfolios, brochures, and other small websites.
Some examples of shared web hosting providers are FastComet, A2 Hosting, SiteGround, and TMDHosting.
With a dedicated web hosting service, you rent a physical server that’s located in a hosting company’s data center and have full control of the computer. You can install and configure operating systems and software. However, as a renter, you’re responsible for providing your own technical support. In this case, you’ll need to hire a team of in-house specialists (or pay the hosting company’s engineers) to support and maintain your server.
Some of the best dedicated web hosting services are Hostwinds, InMotion Hosting, and HostUpon.
Dedicated web hosting suits websites with a lot of traffic that simply can’t share the same server with other websites. However, a dedicated web hosting usually lacks the ability to quickly scale a server. In addition, your development team should always monitor the physical state of your equipment (such as RAID drivers) not to lose important data, which may be killing for your product. But if you have a small project aimed at a select audience, this option isn’t for you.
Managed web hosting is similar to dedicated hosting. With managed web hosting, a client can rent a physical server in a hosting company’s data center. But the client isn’t responsible for maintaining the computer as the hosting company manages it.
Managed hosting doesn’t give customers full control over the server, however, as the hosting company is responsible for basic settings. This is how the service provider can guarantee the quality of their hosting service. Clients can manage their data via File Transfer Protocol (FTP) or other remote management tools.
Managed web hosting is usually used for sites built with WordPress. Bluehost, FatCow, and iPage are some of the best examples of managed hosting.
This is the most expensive type of web hosting. With colocation hosting, website owners don’t share or rent computers. They locate their own servers in a hosting company’s data center, which means that they have full control over settings, updates, software, data storage, and so on.
A hosting company just provides the physical space for servers, physical server security, and necessities such as electricity, internet access, and cooling.
If you have a large business and can afford to hire a system administrator to visit a data center where your server is located, this option is for you. However, if your website isn’t popular yet, colocation web hosting is definitely a waste of resources.
The largest colocation hosting providers are Global Switch, Digital Reality, and Equinix.
Cloud web hosting is the newest type of web hosting. Year after year, it’s becoming more popular among website owners.
Cloud web hosting uses a system of clustered servers. In other words, the responsibility for hosting is spread across multiple connected servers. If for some reason one of these servers can’t respond to a request, another server can respond automatically. Cloud web hosting also includes automatic backups to an adjacent server so you can restore data if needed.
Moreover, with cloud hosting, if your website starts attracting a large amount of traffic, you won’t have to relocate it from one server to another. All you have to do is add more resources.
This type of web hosting is most suitable for startups. When you aren’t sure what traffic your website will have in the short term, you can use cloud web hosting without hesitation.
The most famous cloud web hosting platforms are Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, and Digital Ocean.
What web hosting service providers are popular and which ones we use for our projects
Today, more and more businesses start using cloud hosting to serve their web apps and websites. Its popularity lies in its flexibility and reliability.
Let’s consider some of the most popular cloud computing platforms, such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, Heroku, and Microsoft Azure, which we use to host our projects.
Amazon Web Services (AWS)
Amazon Web Services is Amazon’s subsidiary that offers Infrastructure as a Service. In other words, it’s a cloud services platform that provides computing resources (virtualized) over the internet to host your web apps.
We choose AWS as a primary solution to host web projects we develop because of its flexible, reliable, and secure nature.
AWS has a number of useful features that ease the process of app development, such as Amazon S3 (a special object storage to store, collect, and analyze data), AWS Relational Database Service (a service that makes it easy to set up, operate, and scale relational databases in the cloud), Autoscaling (a service that let developers automatically adjust server capabilities to correspond to the current demand), or Elastic Load Balancer (a service that distributes incoming application traffic across multiple cloned servers). In other words, AWS gives us a perfect basis for building high-performance, secure, and scalable solutions.
Moreover, the service has a flexible pricing model: Every AWS service is "a la carte", meaning that you only pay for what you use. This makes a lot of sense for server infrastructure, as traffic tends to be very bursty. This is especially true for startups, as it’s hard to say when exactly they’ll attract the first huge wave of users, so such a pricing model suits them perfectly.
The AWS service also provides an easy-to-use and convenient Total Ownership Calculator that allows you to produce a detailed cost for running your project on AWS.
The AWS cloud system is based on 16 geographic regions and 44 Availability Zones (AZs). Each AWS region has various AZs and data centers. Amazon is planning to add 14 new AZs and five new regions in the US, China, France, Hong Kong, and Sweden.
[AWS regions and availability zones]
Adobe Systems, Airbnb, Autodesk, BMW, Comcast, General Electric, and other large companies are among AWS customers.
Google Cloud Platform (GCP)
Google Cloud Platform provides an infrastructure and a range of services that let developers build, deploy, and host scalable, globally-available web and mobile applications and websites.
To serve a web app or a website, developers can choose among a number of hosting options provided by GCP, such as Static Website Hosting, Virtual Machines, Containers, and the Managed Platform.
Google provides several tools that help developers and businesses evaluate the costs of using the GCP services. These are the Pricing Calculator and the Total Cost of Ownership Tool, which provide an easy and quick way to loosely calculate what your GCP usage may look like.
You can also check the Pricing Page, to get the basic idea of how pricing works on GCP.
Google Cloud Platform supports three regions: the US, the EU, and Asia. The service is used by a number of popular companies including Coca-Cola, Spotify, Evernote, Philips, and Niantic.
Microsoft Azure Web Apps (MAWA)
Created and operated by the technology giant Microsoft, Microsoft Azure Web Apps is cloud computing platform for hosting web apps, REST APIs, and mobile backend. The platform supports multiple technologies and programming languages, such as .NET, Java, Ruby, Node.js, PHP, or Python.
Using the Microsoft Azure hosting solution, developers can benefit from the services like auto-scaling, load balancing, and automated management.
App builders can also take advantage from Microsoft Azure’s DevOps capabilities, which includes continuous deployment from GitHub, BitBucket, Docker Hub, or Azure Container Registry, and a number of other features like custom domain and SSL certificates.
Just like with Amazon and Google, with Microsoft Azure you only pay for services you use. You can visit the company’s App Service Plans page, to understand the niceties of how pricing works for the Microsoft Azure Web Apps service.
[Azure regions and availability zones]
Asos, Marc Jacobs, Daimler, GeekWire, and Frame are among the companies using Microsoft Azure services.
Heroku is yet another cloud platform that is used for deploying and hosting websites and web and mobile apps; the hosting service supports several programming languages, such as Ruby, Java, Scala, Clojure, Python, and Go, which makes it a polyglot platform.
Heroku, however, is a bit different from AWS, GCP, and MA. While the aforementioned services provide Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), meaning that you’re responsible for installing server software, setting up your load balancer(s), configuring databases, and so on, Heroku can rather be called Platform as a Service.
The service takes away all the pain of installing software, maintaining it, monitoring the software for required updates, setting up your deployments, etc. However, in this case you don’t have full control over your project’s infrastructure. Moreover, the service charges additional money for your every move.
Heroku has simple and flexible pricing providing a range of subscription plans that may satisfy the need of every app. Heroku offers Free and Hobby packages, which are ideal for launching small web apps and testing your business ideas. It also has several Professionals packages, which are aimed at more complex and larger products. You can visit Heroku’s official website to find out more about prices, subscription packages, their stuffing, and different ad-ons.
DigitalOcean is a bit more modest but still powerful and secure web hosting alternative to the giants listed above.
DigitalOcean provides a simple and intuitive control panel that eases the process of configuring servers for your development team. The service is equipped with a set of tools for the easy scaling of your website or web app, such as load balancing, Spaces Object Storage (which is Amazon’s S3 analog), and Floating IPs (which is Amazon’s Elastic IP analog).
Unlike AWS, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure, DigitalOcean can easily boast about their fixed pricing model, which makes the cost of development more predictable for businesses. Moreover, being a relatively small platform, DigitalOcean attaches a price tag for the services it provides that is significantly lower than the ones put by its giant competitors. You can start with only $10 a month to deploy your development server.
The services is trusted by companies like Docker, GitLab, Slack, and WeWork.
What you should consider when choosing a web hosting service
Hosting companies offer so many different hosting plans that it can seem impossible to find the right option. Don’t panic. Before choosing a hosting plan, you should know what you need to take into account.
Here are the most important questions that you should ask yourself when trying to find the right web hosting service.
1) What type of website am I hosting? There are dozens of website and web app types: blogs, personal websites, forums, social networks, news portals, digital magazines, Q&A websites, galleries, marketplaces, and others. When hosting a website, you should consider the approximate number of people who might visit the website each day.
For example, if you’re running a personal blog, your website traffic probably won’t be very high (at least not all at once). However, if you’re quite famous in the business world and want to set up your own social network, you’ll likely have a large number of visitors, which means that you would need more server capacity to serve your brainchild.
2) Do I want to share, rent, or own a server? Depending on your choiсe, you’ll get a different degree of control over the server where your website is located. Do you want to change basic computer settings or install and update the operating system and software on your own? Are you ready to be responsible for technical support or to hire someone to do it for you?
3) Where is my target audience? Consider what countries your website targets and make sure that the loading speed is sufficient in those countries. If your website is developed for a German audience, for instance, you should host it on a server in Germany or nearby in Europe.
Many cloud hosting services, however, offer the so-called multi-regional deployment patterns that allow for deploying your web app to multiple geographic regions (think data centers), which enables stable app performance and fulfills legal requirements (like data sovereignty) at the same time. Google Platform’s multi-regional deployment mode is a great example of such an approach.
4) Are fixed or flexible payments more convenient? All web hosting service providers, except cloud hosting companies, offer fixed prices. This means that when you select a hosting plan you know exactly what you’re paying for and what it will cost in advance.
As you might have already noticed, cloud web hosting offers fixed but flexible payment plans so you’ll pay only for services that you actually use. However, you should also consider that if your website becomes popular, you’ll have to spend more money.
As you can see, there are many types of web hosting services. You’re sure to find a suitable option for your website that would satisfy the need of your business.