All You Need to Know about Dedicated, Shared, Virtual and Cloud Hosting
The Pros & Cons of Hosting Packages
Which hardware options are important.
There is a massive array of companies offering web hosting, and each of these it seems offers a huge array of options.
We will only look at the physical hardware site of hosting in this article. The various software platforms like Unix, Linux, Ubuntu, Windows, WHM, Centos, Plesk are a subject for another day.
We’ve asked the CEO of web hosting, design and SEO specialists Entrypoint, Waynne Smith for some pointers in choosing the right web hosting solution. They work with all sizes of business with some small sites getting just 30 visitors a day and others getting in excess of 10,000 page views a day.
It is fair to say they’ve tried pretty much every hosting configuration and option out there and are well placed to provide us with some pointers.
Lets look at the primary hosting options, the benefits, drawbacks and then we will look at getting the best value from your web hosting.
Before we look at packages though we should talk about neighbourhoods. Just as you would choose not to buy a home in a less salubrious part of town you should be concerned about your web hosts.
We see many IP blocks blacklisted due to repeated problems from those using the web hosting platform.
Typical causes are hacked sites where harmful downloads have been injected into the web pages, or dubious links to low quality spammy websites. Email abuse also rides high and whole hosting companies reputations have been left in tatters through misuse, abuse, or neglect by a few of their clients.
Look at the hosting contract. If it is strict about spam, has a condition attached that your sites have to be secured and regularly patched with updates and strict limits and rules on sending mail you have found a good potential hosting partner.
You get what you pay for in hosting. Buy cheap and you’ll be in for a whole host (pun intended) of expensive problems.
This is the lowest cost option, and usually the first choice for a new site launch. The cost is low because you share the server resources with lots of other websites. As long as we are only dealing with small, low traffic, low bandwidth sites this usually works out well. You only get a problem if all the sites get busy at the same time.
The server is generally maintained and monitored by the hosting company. Larger reputable web hosts will move the resource hungry accounts to smooth out the load.
Your websites neighbourhood has an impact on your own reputation. Sadly the low costs often attract lower quality clientele and it can create downtime when sites get hacked, are used to attack other sites, or mail servers are overwhelmed. You also have no control over the server configuration and in our experience the latest technologies are usually only applied when the support period for older technologies expires, effectively making the server about 3 years out of date.
For a small business, a family website or a project site a shared hosting provider can provide an ideal solution. Many websites will outgrow a shared host as they become popular and it will be time to migrate to something better.
These allow you to have much more control over the server configuration. A virtual server sits on a dedicated server and resources are split between the virtual hosts. Some companies offer a specified share of resources between virtual hosts, and others may allow you to burst over your allocated resources at peak times.
You will have a control panel and will often have full root access. You can update the server to enjoy new technologies as they are launched and pushed out to the release tiers and you can setup the server as required for your needs.
The downside of virtual servers is that you have to manually configure, update, patch, secure and maintain it yourself. If you have little or no experience in managing a web server then you really need to use the services of a fully managed virtual host or acquire a server management contract from a specialist provider who offers an all in one hosting solution.
Think of these as similar to virtual servers, but instead of just one server there are banks of servers, banks of storage arrays and your virtual host resides across this array of technology.
If the server goes down for any reason another set of resources in the cloud will kick in and take over. This is sometimes seamless and automatic, with some providers a reboot will be required and your websites are back up again.
Cloud servers are also modular and you can, with most hosts, dramatically increase the resources as required, sometimes this is automatic or you can set trigger levels for an upgrade. Memory, hard drive space and CPU nodes are usually configurable and instantly deployable after a reboot.
When hardware becomes defective it is replaced without affecting the integrity of the cloud due to the modular nature of this hosting arrangement.
Again as with virtual hosting, you need to maintain and manage the server yourself but can still configure it as you desire. Alternatively get a server management option from your hosts or outsource the server management.
We find many companies on a dedicated server but this is often overkill. A dedicated server is a server with a fixed amount of ram, hard drive and CPU connected to the internet. You have full control over the way the server is configured and set up.
As you are paying for the full server resources these are not shared with anyone else but it does require that you select your server based on your peak load and need otherwise the site will go down, or respond slowly when under heavy load.
The server reputation is generally entirely down to you on a dedicated machine, so if you keep it secure and patched and have strict mailing policies you won’t experience reputation issues. Other dedicated machines in the same data centre on similar IP addresses can still affect your reputation but it is easier to recover from reputation issues and get your server white listed.
One downside of dedicated servers is the fact that upgrades to ram/CPU or hard drives require the physical intervention of an engineer. When dedicated servers hit issues and are down due to hardware problems you usually have a much longer wait compared to self healing cloud solutions.
Hardware options and configuration
These options are usually available on all of the options outlines above. SSD drives really do make quite a difference to the speed and response of a server. We also recommend you specify as much RAM as you can afford. When you use RAM properly you will have a lightning fast web server and can minimise wear and tear on hard drives over the long term. With plenty of RAM you can employ caching, where chunks of data are held in memory instead of on a hard drive. (RAM also responds more quickly than a conventional SSD drive)
When configuring your server look at getting an OpCode cache installed and configured. This stores a compiled version of your site code in ram saving time in disk reads and avoiding the recompile time. There are a few options around but you’ll find only one or two will be compatible with your chosen configuration. Then you can employ page fragment caching. If pages are compiled from a number of database reads such as with most modern content managed websites like Drupal, WordPress and Joomla you will save much time storing the page or fragments of the page in RAM.
The newer versions of your compiler language and database query servers outperform previous older versions every time. PHP7 employs clever caching and compiling out of the box making is much faster than previous iterations of PHP. But some prebuilt software or library modules will require extensive re-writes to make it fully compatible with php7.
MYSQL has undergone many updates and the later versions are faster and more robust when the server is under load.
Don’t forget to configure the compiler and database settings, such as cache, compiler run time and spawn options. These optimisations, when done right can yield substantial performance gains. Sadly there is no perfect set up to copy from, as it depends very much on the server load, the types of web pages being loaded and the server hardware configuration.
It also requires regular tuning as server demands change over time. Busy servers generally require more child processes but need shorter timeouts of cache files. Light load servers run best with longer cache periods and few child processes. Again a lot depends on whether a server is running the same scripts and loading the same pages or there is a large variation in page requests.
The best method is to try settings, run some benchmarks and see how the server performs and then alter a few settings and rerun your tests to compare the effect.
Getting the settings wrong can cause downtime or slow ups, so get professional help if you are unsure.
By maximizing your servers performance you can often save the cost of upgrading your hosting package as your site grows. You also minimize downtime, problems, issues and you reward your website visitors with a super fast experience, which has a beneficial effect on conversions and retention rates.