Web Hosting Guide for Beginners

Web Hosting Guide for BeginnersWhat is Web Hosting

If you want to build a website & set up email addresses then you will need a domain name and a web hosting service.

The domain name is your address on the internet. It allows people to remember and find your website easily. It also allows you to send and receive email from your domain name eg: [email protected]

In physical terms web hosting consists of the infrastructure that holds the electronic files that make up your website and email and is made up of the following components:

  • Hosting servers – powerful computers capable of hosting hundreds or thousands of websites
  • Network – permanent telecommunication infrastructure which permanently connects the servers to the internet
  • Datacentre – a purpose built, highly secure facility where the servers are stored and where they are connected to the network infrastructure

Types of hosting

There are several types of web hosting and if you are new to it all then it is worth spending a couple of moments to understand which option is right for you.

The main types of hosting are as follows:

Let’s look at each in turn and then show a side by side comparison to help you to make an informed decision.

Shared Hosting

By far and away the most popular type of hosting. A physical server is used to host dozens, hundreds or even thousands of websites. The server’s main resources of hard drive, processor and memory (RAM) are shared amongst all of the websites on the server.

The main advantages of shared hosting are the low cost and fast set up. There are also a wide range of free or low cost applications that can be used with shared service. The learning curve is not very steep and the end user is shielded from making complex server wide changes so it is recommended for beginners.

Shared hosting is restricted in that the end user does not have much room for customising certain core software on the server or for using particularly exotic software configurations.

Overall though, most home users and small to medium sized businesses will find shared hosting to be the best choice for them.

Reseller Hosting

Reseller hosting is aimed at end users who wish to purchase a bulk amount of disk space which they either intend to “resell” on to their customers or in cases where they need to host multiple websites with different control panel access to each. This is ideal for web designers, web developers or other web professionals who have their own clients they wish to charge for value added web hosting services. In these cases they get access to a master control panel where they can add, remove and edit their customer’s accounts.

As with shared hosting the reseller hosting shares the entire resources of the server with all users and does not have any additional resources like RAM assigned to them.

The advantage of reseller hosting is that it offers a low cost to enter the hosting market for web professionals. There is a little more complexity than with shared hosting because of the extra administrative features, but with a fairly small learning curve reseller hosting can be a great way to add additional recurring revenue.

The downside is that the reseller needs to provide the first line of support to their clients and this extra overhead should always be taken into account.

VPS

VPS Stands for Virtual Private Server. This is a logical or ‘virtual’ server rather than a physical one. It is created using a specialised software called virtualization which allows a physical server (or servers) to be split into a number of virtual machines.

The real advantage of a VPS is its flexibility. They are perfect for users who have more demanding applications or who need to create a more exotic software configuration. They are fast to set up and users can increase the amount of RAM, CPU or disk space very quickly.

In a cloud set up VPS can scale to large configurations and they can have extra redundancy built in through high availability where data is stored across several physical machines.

The downsides of VPS is that they are more expensive than shared or reseller hosting and they require a certain degree of technical know-how to administer.

See our VPS Guide for Beginners.

Dedicated Server

Dedicated Servers are physical servers which are only available to one customer whereas several VPS are often physically hosted on one server. This offers an extra level of physical security as nobody else is hosted on your server. This means that the risk from ‘noisy neighbours’ impacting the service or using too many resources is eliminated.

Dedicated servers are perfect for businesses who need all of the resources of a dedicated physical server without any risk of degraded level of service from other users.

The downsides are that they are more expensive than the other types of hosting and some lower end dedicated servers may not have sufficient level of redundancy built into them through the use of dual power supplies or data duplication across hard drives.

As with VPS they do require technical knowledge to administer.

See our Ultimate Guide to Dedicated Servers

Hosting Comparison Table

Feature

Shared

Reseller

VPS

Dedicated

Set Up

Instant

Instant

Instant

2 or 3 hours

Resources (CPU, RAM, HDD)

Shared

Shared

Shared

Dedicated

Performance

Entry Level

Entry Level

High

High

Security

Entry Level

Entry Level

Good

High

Customization

Minimal

Minimal

High

High

Ease of Use

Easy

Moderate

Technical

Technical

The Datacentre – The Home of Web Hosting

Web hosting as mentioned earlier is the storage of web page files in a computer, normally referred to as ‘server’ which is permanently connected to the internet via a network and is kept in a secure Datacentre facility. The computer is called a server since it serves web pages when people visit the website.

The web hosting fee covers the cost of this space for hosting their web files, the network traffic to and from the server (bandwidth) and for providing the email service.

Datacentre Overview

The servers are kept in a secure facility called a Datacentre.

Data is a valuable asset so it is vital to protect it at all times. For this reason a datacentre has security built in from a physical as well as from a policy/procedural based perspective.

The datacentre also ensures that the servers are kept in optimal operating conditions in terms of temperature, humidity and power integrity.

Pickaweb Datacentre

Pickaweb operates out of a state-of-the-art datacentre located in London with ultra-high levels of security and redundancy built in from the ground up.

Redundancy means using a minimum of two systems or components to ensure that no single system failure can result in any downtime to the datacentre operations.

The facility offers complete redundancy in protected power, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), fire suppression, network connectivity and on-site manned security.

Datacentre Power

The site operates on 100% Renewable Power.

The datacentre guarantees a network uptime of 99.9%. Highly efficient Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) equipment is used to maximize efficiency of power delivery.

Standby power is provided via diesel generators that are capable of providing 72 hours of continuous power at full load capacity.

This is further supplemented by fuel standby contracts to ensure continuity of supply and a rigorous service and maintenance programme.

Datacentre Operating Environment

The operating environment is maintained at optimum temperature and humidity by the chilled water cooling infrastructure, delivered via a dual fed highly resilient ring circuit.

Datacentre Security

Security begins at the front gate, the entire site being ‘non-branded’, protected by a 3 meter high perimeter fence and monitored by IP CCTV by on-site NSI Gold accredited 24x7x365 security personnel.

The facility is further protected by security bollards at the building perimeter, and all external plant is self-contained within a secure compound.

Pickaweb has a fully redundant BGP4 meshed network with 100% native IPv6 coverage.

How Web Hosting Works

Let’s suppose you want to set up your new website using the following domain name: www.yournewbusinessxyz123.com 

We will assume that the design and development of website has been done.

To understand how it all works we need to focus on 3 key components:

We’ll focus on and how they all work and inter-relate with each other. It is very important to know and understand these as they are the basis for setting up any website.

Domain Name

We already got the domain name which is www.yournewbusinessxyz123.com  and it’s going to be the address of the website.

Every web server within the datacentre that’s connected to the internet has a unique number called an ‘IP address’. An example would be 89.187.85.6 (these are known as version 4 IP addresses – there are newer version 6 IP addresses too).

Think of it like a mobile phone having a unique number that’s identifiable within the mobile network.

The thing is that humans aren’t very good at remembering numbers but we are good at remembering names. Therefore we use a domain name as an alias for the ip address. It’s similar to saving names on mobile phonebook and calling the names instead of the numbers.

So instead of writing the IP address 89.187.85.6 you write domain name on web address www.yournewbusinessxyz123.com which is easier to remember. 

Domain Name System (DNS) or Nameserver

DNS is an internet system for converting the domain names into IP addresses.

Domain names are there to make our life easier and not have to remember the IP addresses, but the servers hosting your website only understand and communicate or identify each other using IP addresses.

DNS comes to the rescue and performs the translation keeping  both humans and computers happy.

So in our case, for the translation to work we need to point www.yournewbusinessxyz123.com to 89.187.85.6

This is made possible by assigning the IP address a ‘Nameserver’. Nameservers are a system to keep track of domain name translations to specific IP addresses and responsible for telling every other computer in the internet that the domain www.yournewbusinessxyz123.com goes to the IP address 89.187.85.6.

Usually, most websites will require a minimum of two nameservers as best practice.

When you purchase a hosting from Pickaweb we will advise you of our nameserver settings, although if you purchase your domain name at the same time your nameserver settings will be set automatically for you.

Hosting

All that remains is to upload your website files to the home folder in your hosting.

You type the domain name into your web browser. The DNS ensures you get connected to the right server with the website files hosted on it.

Web Hosting Server Hardware Configuration

The main hardware components of a server are as follows:

  • Processor (CPU)
  • Memory (RAM)
  • Hard Disk Drive (HDD)
  • RAID Controller
  • Power Supply
  • Network Card

These are described below in more detail:

Processor (CPU)

In a shared hosting environment the CPU is shared across all users on the server.

As it is one of the critical components in terms of performance it is recommended to use dual processors in a web hosting server. This is to ensure a high level of performance as well as offering redundancy in the unlikely event of a CPU failure.

CPUs are not mechanical devices and therefore do not have a high failure rate so using dual CPUs are really belt and braces from that perspective.

Do Pickaweb Use Single or Dual CPUs For Shared Hosting?

At Pickaweb we always use dual Intel CPUs.

Memory (RAM)

RAM is extremely important in a shared hosting server and has a big effect on the performance of the websites hosted on the server. If there is insufficient RAM then users will notice degraded performance.

How Much RAM Capacity do Pickaweb’s Shared Hosting Servers Have?

At Pickaweb our servers have the capacity for 768GB RAM in each server. That is sufficient for thousands of shared websites although we strictly limit numbers on the servers to ensure that performance is never degraded.

Hard Disk Drive (HDD)

There are three major types of HDDs used in shared hosting servers, namely:

  • SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment)
  • SAS (Serial Attached SCSI)
  • SSD (Solid State Drives)

 The table below gives a comparison of SATA, SAS and SSD drives.

Feature

SATA

SAS

SSD

Rotational Speed (RPM)

7.2k or 10k

10k or 15k

Not applicable

IOPS (Input/Output Operations per Second)

~ 80 io/s

10k  – ~ 120 io/s

15k – ~ 180 io/s

Random read – 75000  io/s

Random write – minimum 4600 io/s

Energy Usage

~ 8.7 watts

~ 15 watts

~ 5 watts

Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF)

700,000 to 1 million hours

1.2 million to 1.6 million hours

2 million hours

Storage Capacity

Upto 8TB

10k – 300GB to 1TB

15k – 300GB to 900GB

 

120GB to 480GB

Why use SATA?

  • Cheapest of the 3 HDDs and most common in the market
  • Most suitable for basic hosting needs
  • Easily provides the greatest amount of storage capacity of the three types of disk
  • Perfect for back up storage and for entry level dedicated servers that do not have mission critical data

Why choose SAS?

  • More expensive than SATA but cheaper than SSD
  • Most suitable for advanced server needs
  • Enterprise Grade hard drives – extremely reliable for the cost
  • Good balance of speed, cost, reliability and space
  • Often used in mission-critical servers

Why choose SSD?

  • Easily the fastest of the 3 types of storage media
  • Extremely reliable
  • When speed is vital – eg: high traffic eCommerce sites that need to be fast
  • Used in mission-critical and resource-intensive servers

 

Which HDDs do Pickaweb Use For Shared Hosting?

At Pickaweb we use two types of HDD for our shared hosting:

  • 10K SAS Hot Swappable HDD
  • Intel DCS3500 SSD Hot Swappable

The 10K hard drives are Enterprise grade hard drives. This means they are built for hosting. They are not PC hard drives. They are extremely reliable and fast. It is important to verify the type of hard drive that you are hosted on before you make a final decision.

10K HDDs offer better performance and reliability than the 7.2K hard drives.

For the SSD drives, these are extremely fast and they offer performance increases of hundreds of times against even the fastest SATA or SAS hard drives. SSD drives use less energy than SATA or SAS hard drives.

However, due to their current lower storage capacity they are more expensive per GB than SAS or SATA hard drives. Consequently SSD Hosting is charged at a premium. Over time this may change though.

Hot Swap HDDs

A hot swap HDD is simple one which has been designed to be able to be removed and replaced with a new HDD if necessary during live operation of the server, without the need to power down the server. This does require the use of an appropriate RAID configuration (see below) – Pickaweb uses RAID10 which offers the best balance of speed and data integrity.

Does Pickaweb Use Hot Swap HDDs For Shared Hosting?

Yes, despite the higher cost involved with hot swap HDDs, Pickaweb uses them in all of our shared hosting services to ensure that the possibility of downtime is minimised.

RAID Controller

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. RAID is storage technology that combines several hard drives and operate as one logical unit. RAID leverages the technique of utilizing several disks to provide greater reliability and speed rather than using one expensive disk, hence further reducing the risk of a single point of failure from a hard drive.

There are different types of RAID sets or levels based on the schemes and architectures for dividing and replicating data amongst the drives to provide different levels of capacity, performance and resilience.

The RAID levels/sets are as follows. RAID 0, RAID 1 RAID 2, RAID 3, RAID 4, RAID5, RAID6, RAID 10.

Of the different types of RAID, RAID 10 offers great security by mirroring/replicating data on secondary disk set while striping across each disk set, hence increasing read and write speeds/performance.

Because a RAID 10 array requires a minimum of 4 disks it is the most expensive type of RAID.

Which Type of RAID does Pickaweb Use For Shared Hosting?

Despite it being the most expensive of all the RAID options, Pickaweb uses RAID10 for all shared hosting. Even if you chose an entry level plan you can be sure that you are hosted on fast, reliable, Enterprise 10K hot swap hard drives which are set up in a RAID10 configuration offering you the best balance of speed and data integrity.

Power Supply (PSU)

The server’s Power Supply Unit (PSU) is a component that typically has a higher failure rate than other components.

Many low-end and some mid-range servers have single PSUs while most of the high-end, larger and more expensive dedicated servers have dual PSUs. This is because the high-end servers process mission-critical applications and services, hence dual PSUs share the load of the server.

Does Pickaweb Use Single or Dual PSUs For Shared Hosting?

We only use servers with Dual Hot Swappable PSUs. This is a higher failing  component & we cannot take that risk of failure.

Network Card

In order for the server to connect to the internet it needs a network card. In order to ensure maximum uptime Pickaweb uses dual network cards in our shared web hosting servers.

Web Hosting Server Software Configuration

The main software components of a server are shown below. In a shared hosting environment the end user would not need to configure any of these. The end user does get access to their own hosting control panel which we shall cover shortly:

  • Operating System (OS)
  • Web Server
  • Hosting Control Panel
  • Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Operating System (OS)

Like a PC, a Server needs an operating system to be able to function. Broadly speaking there are two main types of web hosting OS: Linux based and Windows based.

Within Linux operating systems there are a number of different formats such as:

Which OS Does Pickaweb Use For Shared Hosting?

At Pickaweb our servers use CentOS because it is a stable, well supported OS which is suited to production environments rather than developer environments.

Web Server Software (LiteSpeed)

The Web Server software is the software which delivers the content on the server to the internet.

The most common web server is Apache. However, Apache can be rather slow and there are options like Litespeed which is similar to Apache but much faster.

Which Web Server Software Does Pickaweb Use For Shared Hosting?

Website load speed is important for visitor satisfaction and because it is a known Google ranking factor. Therefore, despite the extra cost involved with the licencing, Pickaweb uses LiteSpeed to ensure that our customer’s website load super-fast.

Control Panel (cPanel)

In order to manage the hosting, the end user is provided with a web hosting control panel. This greatly simplifies the main administration tasks of the hosting and shields the end user from the more technical aspects.

Pickaweb uses the cPa

nel control panel which is a popular configuration with Linux-based servers. It allows the website owner to manage their accounts, including the files, applications, databases and emails. It enables creation of email accounts, addition of domains to the server, management of numerous hosting features as well as performing basic system and control panel maintenance.

Lightweight Virtualized Environments (CloudLinux)

Pickaweb uses a tool called CloudLinux to ensure that our customer’s websites are not affected by other users activities (aka ‘Noisy Neighbours’).

In normal shared hosting without CloudLinux a single rogue user could adversely affect the server’s performance whether through intent (malware) or accident (out of control script). This is because they may clog up the CPU or hog all of the RAM and prevent other users from accessing these core server components.

By using Cloud Linux we create lightweight virtualized environments whereby each user is allocated a predetermined amount of resources. They cannot cross this threshold so in case of abuse, whether intentional or accidental they cannot affect other users.

Despite the extra licencing cost, Pickaweb offers this feature as standard with all shared hosting services to protect our customers from Noisy Neighbours.

Outgoing Spam Filter (SpamExperts)

Unsolicited emails or Spam are a huge problem these days. In order to prevent our servers being used to send Spam all outgoing mail passes through SpamExperts email filtering tool. By doing this we ensure that our servers do not get blacklisted by Internet Service Providers. The net result is that we have extremely high email deliverability rates.

Outgoing email filtering is provided for free. If you wish to protect your inbox from incoming Spam then we do offer this for an extra cost.

Scripting Language (PHP)

PHP is a scripting language that is very popular for Linux based hosting. It allows you to add an extensive range of extra features & functionality to your website. Whether you want to collect data from a contact form or create dynamic pages from an eCommerce website, PHP will enable you to do this.

Database (Percona)

If you were creating an online shop for example and you needed to store your products then you would use a database for this. If someone searches on a product then PHP would interrogate the database and present the products on the page.

Pickaweb uses a database system called Percona which is a drop in replacement for MySQL. The advantage of Percona is that it is much faster than MySQL which is another popular database system.

Automatic Script Installer (Softaculous)

At some point you may wish to install some software to your hosting account. This could be something like a Blog section or you may wish to use an eCommerce tool or maybe create a forum.

In order to make it easier for you to do so you can use a tool called Softaculous which enables non-technical users to quickly and easily install the software of their choice in a couple of clicks. It is very user friendly and there are numerous software applications available to choose from.

For more information on Softaculous please see our definitive guide to Softaculous. This includes videos and details of the different software available.

Content Delivery Network (CDN)

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) is a network of servers spread across the internet. By using a CDN your web files are replicated over this network to ensure that their website loads very fast. This happens by presenting the website from a geographically close server to the visitor.

Another advantage of using a CDN is that it can block malicious attacks because the CDN learns to identify these types of network threats.

Therefore main advantages of a CDN are improved performance and security of your website.

Which CDN Does Pickaweb Use?

Pickaweb uses a CDN called CloudFlare and this is offered for free for all of our shared hosting customers. CloudFlare acts as a great protection feature of your website against malicious visitors and saves internet bandwidth, while reducing average page load times.

Website Builder Software

If you are not a web designer or if you are on a tight budget then you may prefer to build your own website. If so Pickaweb has a Website Builder tool which is easy to use and allows non-technical people to build professional websites.

The system uses pre-made templates to which you can add text and images. There is no software to download and it is accessed via the web hosting control panel (cPanel).

Data Back Up (Idera/r1Soft)

Pickaweb uses the market leading Idera (formerly r1Soft) Continuous Data Protection (CDP) to back all of our servers up. We keep multiple versions. If customers wish to manage and access their own back up files there is an additional service for this.

What’s Included With Shared Web Hosting

Below is a table that summarises the main features available with shared hosting:

Features

Description

Hosting Space

This is the disk space on our servers where you can store your files (website, emails, pdfs, html, etc.)

Data Transfer

The amount of data that you can use each month. This is used when someone visits your website or when you send or receive emails or upload files to your hosting space

Free Domain Name

Free domain name for the first year (available on annual plans)

Email Accounts

The number of email accounts that you can set up with your hosting plan

Mobile Email

You can configure your email to be downloaded to your mobile device (phone, tablet, etc.)

WebMail

You can access your emails from any internet connected device

Percona (MySQL) Databases

A database allows you to store data in such a way that can be used by other systems and applications. Databases may not be available on Budget plans

Addon Domains

This is a feature which allows you to host more than one website on your hosting through your cPanel

Parked Domains

This is a feature which allows you to redirect domain names to your website (eg: if you have a .co.uk website but you also own the .com domain you can redirect the .com to the .co.uk website)

cPanel Control Panel

This easy to use interface is where you manage all aspects of your web hosting such as creating email addresses

Website Builder

With Pickaweb’s Website Builder you can easily build a professional website for your business. Nothing to download. If you can browse, you can build

Softaculous – 1-Click Apps Installer

Easily install 100´s of popular applications such as WordPress, Joomla, PrestaShop & Magento

Free Website Migrations

If you already have a hosting service with another provider and you wish to transfer your website to Pickaweb, we will do the migration for you for free

Compatible with Windows, Mac & Linux

While our servers are Linux based, you can continue to use your Windows PC, your Mac or Linux based machine with our hosting. What device you use to access our servers doesn’t matter

Enterprise Level Data Backup

Whilst we back up all of our servers we also offer a premium website backup service. Your data will be backed up automatically on a daily basis and you can restore it anytime via your cPanel control panel.

How Pickaweb Makes Your Website Faster

Speed matters when it comes to your website and there is solid business reasoning behind this – faster websites get better results than slower ones. Specifically there are two main reasons that speed is important:

  • Google has admitted that website speed forms part of their ranking algorithm.
  • People prefer faster websites. Think about your own experiences – how often have you hit the “back” button on a really slow website?

Obviously having a well-built website which has been optimised by a skilled developer will play a significant role in speeding up your website. But another factor is your web hosting.

There are several ways that we make your website load faster. They are:

  • Enterprise Hard Drives
  • Optional SSD Hosting
  • LiteSpeed
  • CloudFlare
  • Percona

Let’s quickly review these so that you can see how they work:

Enterprise Hard Drives

As previously explained, Pickaweb uses 10K SAS hard drives as standard in all of our shared hosting servers. Many hosting companies will use slower, cheaper 7.2K SATA hard drives.

Optional SSD Hosting

Solid State Drives are completely electronic devices. They have no moving parts (unlike traditional hard drives) and therefore operate hundreds of times faster than traditional hard drives.

Pickaweb uses Intel SSDs which are purpose built for use in datacentres. If you are considering SSD hosting you should verify which type of SSD is being used. This will ensure that you are not hosted on SSDs designed for use in laptops or PCs.

LiteSpeed

LiteSpeed is a drop in replacement for Apache Web Server. This means that your website will load much faster than if it were hosted on a server using Apache. We offer LiteSpeed as standard in all Shared Web Hosting plans.

CloudFlare

CloudFlare is a Content Delivery Network (CDN). This network stores copies of your files across numerous servers geographically dispersed across the internet. This allows your content to be delivered faster and more securely from the web server closest to your visitor.

Website using CloudFlare CDN loads twice as fast for visitors, experience 65% fewer requests and save 60% bandwidth. This makes your website have a global presence on affordable budget.

Percona

Percona is similar to MySQL, whereby MySQL is the database backend of most websites currently. However, in comparison to MySQL, Percona is much faster, more scalable, easier to monitor and tune, and has great features that make operational tasks easier. It has self-tuning algorithm

s and support for extremely high performance hardware like SSD. It is open source, i.e. free and backward compatible with MySQL.

Web Hosting Extras

Mobile Website Builder

Mobile is changing the face of the web and if you run a business, large or small, local or global you need to make sure your website is mobile friendly.

Also, Google now includes mobile friendliness as a ranking factor in its search algorithm.

One option is to build a fully responsive website but that could be expensive.

Another option is to use a mobile website builder. This is extremely easy to use and it allows you to have a side by side, mobile friendly website next to your main website just by adding a couple of lines of code. That way, if someone browses your site on a mobile device they will be presented with the mobile version.

SSL Certificates

An SSL is a secure, encrypted part of your website. It is the padlock section that you see in the address bar and uses https instead of http.

Previously SSL was reserved for secure areas of a website such as a login or a payment page where sensitive data such as login credentials or payment details were passed.

However, security is another google ranking factor and many websites that are serious about getting traffic have switched their entire website to SSL.

Pickaweb offers a range of SSL Certificates and we can help to install them for you. 

Website Back Up

Whilst Pickaweb backs up all servers for security, you may wish to have control over your own back ups. There is a manual back up feature in cPanel but this is manual and requires that you initiate the back up each time.

To enable you to better manage your own back ups, Pickaweb uses the Idera (formerly r1soft) Continuous Data Protection (CDP) software. If you wish to manage and access your own back up files there is an additional service for this.

Migrating Your Website To Pickaweb

Pickaweb offers a free website migration service to ensure that your files are transferred safely and securely. When you have signed up for your hosting service and you have your details just contact our support team via the 24 hour live chat on our website and we will be able to assist you.

Ideally, if your current host uses cPanel then we will be able to migrate using the native cPanel to cPanel migration tool. However, if not then our technical staff will be able to perform a manual migration.

Please note that you should not cancel your existing hosting until the migration has been completed and we have notified you.

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5 Comments

  1. 1
  2. 3

    This is definitely a great reminder of all the hosting requirements and all the things that beginners need to know when they got to build their first website. A guide like this would have been great when I first started!

  3. 4

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