HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT WEB HOSTING.
Getting the right hosting package for your business.
What is Web Hosting and why do I need it?
There is a lot of confusion around what web hosting is, why you need it and why you have to pay for it. Before getting into the various types of hosting available let’s just clarify what web hosting is and why it’s totally essential.
In essence web hosting is renting an amount of space on a computer (server) that is connected to a very high speed internet connection 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is always on, always available and it’s sole job is to display (serve) your website to user when required. It’s also very common for your emails to be hosted in the same place (unless you are using a 3rd party for emails such as Office 365 or a hosted exchange server).
There is obviously quite a lot of work going on behind the scenes to make sure that this is always the case including the very high speed internet connection, hardware maintenance on the server, software maintenance and upgrades, security maintenance etc. Whilst it’s technically possible to do all of this yourself for very small sites with small numbers of visitors the vast majority of businesses use a hosting provider, either directly (self-hosted) or via their web company (managed hosting).
These providers specialise in looking after very large banks of servers and ensure that everything runs smoothly including sorting out any issues that occur at any time. Costs don’t need to be high and unless you are determined to satisfy your inner geek there is simply no sane reason to host a site on your own PC (which would then have to be left on 24/7/365) although it can be a fun learning experience if you are that way inclined 🙂
What types of hosting are available?
There are many types of hosting configurations available but if you just want to concentrate on the rest of your business and let someone else worry about making sure your website and emails are working then you can skip straight to the Managed Web Hosting section.
We are going to break hosting down into 2 types – self hosting and managed hosting.
As with many things on the internet hosting is rapidly evolving and prices and details may change quickly. It should also be noted that there are a huge number of hosting providers out there and some are much better than others. Spending some time asking questions is usually a good idea to get a feel for how helpful they will be. As a general rule they will all provide some technical support to you but ultimately this is at their discretion, especially if the issue is with the website coding.
It’s also worth a brief mention that there are other approaches that are possible such as using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to provide a faster delivery of the ‘heavy’ files website use, especially images, videos and pdfs but that’s beyond what we will discuss here.
This does not mean hosting a web site on the old PC that you have in the spare bedroom. What it does mean is that you pay a monthly or annual fee for space on a server with a hosting provider. You will be provided with a control panel and some login details and you everything you need to run a single or multiple websites from it.
There are a lot of options depending on what you need with the main factors being how big the site is and how popular it is.
(The type of coding the site is written in is also crucial – the majority of sites (including WordPress) are written in languages that generally lend themselves better towards Linux based hosting but some sites (such as Kentico and MojoPortal) use coding that needs a Windows based server.)
Below is a list of the main options for self hosted sites including some idea of price and suitability.
The important thing to remember on shared hosting is that you will be fully responsible for ensuring any sites on there are kept up to date and secure – not least as it has a potential knock on to any other users also using that server.
This is the lowest option for hosting (there are some free options around but they usually have some kind of serious drawback so are being ignored here).
Shared hosting essentially means that you pay for hosting space on a server along with many other sites – a single server may have hundreds or even thousands or users and hundreds or thousands or websites on it. This means that whilst you have your own space on the server the server resources are being shared across all of these sites.
in practise this isn’t as problematic as it may sound. The vast majority of the sites are likely to be fairly small with small amounts of traffic and therefore aren’t placing big demands on the server. However, if there are any very big of very popular sites it can start to stress the server quite a lot and you might start seeing timeouts or other problems when loading your site – at the very least you will see a marked slowdown. Most (certainly the better ones) hosting companies do place restrictions on and controls though and sites that are constantly over using resources are asked to upgrade to one of the other options below.
If you are just starting out then shared hosting is usually a great place to start – it’s a low cost solution and you can upgrade your hosting setup as your site grows where needed. There are many, many companies to choose from but someone like Siteground would be a good place to start with costs starting as low as £2.75 per month for a small site.
Virtual Private Server
If your site grows and you find you are getting very high volumes of traffic you may notice that it starts to slow down. At this point you might want to start looking at some more powerful hosting options that can better deal with your increased demands – nobody (including Google, likes waiting ages for sites to load).
A Virtual Private Server (VPS) is generally the next step up from shared hosting. A VPS is where several virtual servers are installed on a single physical server. They are all run separately from each other and are given much more resources than is available to a shared hosting account – you can choose the configuration of the server upon purchase and will be advised by the hosting company.
As is expected the cost is also much higher and you may also be expected to maintain the server yourself – install software updates etc. Once you get into this level you’ll also often find that the generally nice, user friendly control panels may disappear or be a paid for extra. You can purchase fully managed VPS solutions for around £40 per month from established companies like Vidahost.
This solution is generally one step up from a VPS and is a stand alone server that only you have the use of. A Dedicated server with a high specification will quite happily deal with all but the most demanding of website and traffic volumes. As with the VPS there tends to be a managed and un-managed option and unless you are reasonably familiar with servers I’d suggest the managed options. Also as with VPS servers you will probably need to pay separately for any control panel system or be happy to work directly with the setup (Apache, NGINX, IIS etc).
As you have an entire server at your disposal this option is again much more expensive, Siteground servers start at around £150 per month.
Cloud hosting covers a wide range of options and usually means that multiple servers are ‘joined’ together and their resources and files pooled. There are many ways to setup these kind of systems but the idea is that if any server in the group has a breakdown then the other servers will seamlessly take over. As the files are replicated frequently / constantly then it provides a very robust solution. It also means that if one server is extremely busy the other servers can often help out.
Cloud system can cover all options from shared hosting which is usually reasonably cheap (£5 – £20 per month) through to cloud based dedicated servers which may cost £thousands per month.
On the assumption that you are still with me you might be thinking that the above seems rather complicated and an awful lot of hard work, time and most likely frustration when really you want to be spending that time working on your business and leaving someone else to worry about all that?
In this case then looking at Managed Hosting solutions will be ideal for you. Whilst managed hosting options are fairly widely available in the WordPress ecosystem we will also include any platform managed for you by a third party.
Again I’m going to divide this group in 2 sections roughly grouped as Partly Managed Hosting and Fully Managed Hosting.
Partly Managed Hosting
This is some form of the hosting mentioned in several of the areas above – for example paying for a VPS where the VPS itself is managed for you – server software is updated, hardware is maintained etc.
In the WordPress environment partly managed hosting is also commonly offered by companies in the form of them keeping your WordPress install up to date (and sometimes plugin as a configurable option) as and when new releases are available. This ensures that any known security issues are addressed as soon as they are available and also means that you won’t need to worry about keeping WordPress up to date.
However, there can be some drawbacks to this and whilst (thankfully) reasonably rare they do still happen. Sometimes when WordPress is updated and a security issue is fixed then depending on the details it can cause other things such as plugins and themes to break. If this happens to you then you can try to update everything else on the site (if it is accessible) and if that still doesn’t fix it then you’ll need to get in touch with a web developer to help you sort it out.
Prices vary widely but generally start around £20 – £30 per month for a single site.
Aside from any area (such as WordPress, server maintenance) that is managed for you it’s important to realise that you are responsible for all other updates including important security updates.
Fully Managed Hosting
Finally we have the fully managed option which is the preferred option of the vast majority of the clients we build websites for – simply put they don’t want the hassle of dealing with their own hosting and just want their sites and emails to work!
Although there are a lot of companies that offer fully managed hosting including some quite large one, especially in the WordPress ecosystem such as WP Engine each company offers it own service so check carefully what is offered. In some cases using managed hosting can mean restrictions on what you can and can’t do – certain plugins might not be allowed etc.
The other key thing to consider is just how fully managed your site will be – are they just updating WordPress, updating WordPress and all plugins, updating WordPress and all plugins and checking that the updates haven’t broken anything on the site etc. etc.
Again prices vary widely, partly depending on what is offered, but generally start around £25 – 40 per month, just be clear what you are getting with any package you choose as to what is being covered.
Swell Pixel offers fully managed web hosting as standard. For any websites that we’ve built this means that we will ensure they are kept fully up to date and resolve any issues that arise from the updates as part of the monthly fee. For websites we haven’t built that we take over this has to be reviewed on a site by site basis as we need to look at how the site has been put together, potential quality issues etc.
As discussed above there is a large choice of hosting options available for your website (and email). In our experience most clients tend to prefer the fully managed hosting solution unless they have a fairly good level of technical knowledge, time and aren’t too worried if their website and email stop working for (hopefully) brief periods of time.
If you want to discuss your hosting requirements or need any help or advise, please get in touch.
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