In this post we explain how to choose the best web hosting option for your website.
You’ve got your company registered, chosen your domain name, got a new website designed and you’re almost ready to go, but you need a home for that beautiful new website. Suddenly you’ve got a load of choices in terms of what web hosting platform to use.
So what’s the deal? Do you need shared hosting, reseller hosting or a VPS? What happens if you’re a Web Designer or Web Developer looking for hosting for your clients’ websites? Which is the best option for you?
Actually, it’s pretty straightforward as we shall explain.
First up, shared hosting. If you’re just starting out or you have a basic online presence or maybe you want to build your own website then shared hosting has everything you’ll need.
Low cost, fast to set up and relatively easy to manage, shared hosting is by far and away the most popular type of hosting. By shared hosting we just mean that you are hosted on a server with our customers on a server specifically set up for the purpose.
Shared hosting is perfect if you are a small business or home user. It contains all of the features you’ll need. You get web space, email accounts, a website builder tool, databases, free applications (like blogging tools and shopping carts) a control panel to manage everything and loads and loads of useful features – some straightforward, others more advanced.
If you’re unsure which type of hosting to go for then Shared Hosting is probably the best starting point.
There are a few points you need to bear in mind when it comes to choosing your hosting provider.
First up, the type of infrastructure you will be hosted on. This includes the datacentre and the servers. Here at Pickaweb our servers are located in a purpose built, state of the art datacentre facility in London. It has excellent connectivity to multiple fibre providers as well as the highest levels of physical security and resilience you would expect from a Tier 3 Datacentre.
Next are the servers themselves. You need to make sure that the servers you are hosted on are fast, secure and resilient. Pickaweb’s shared hosting servers use Dual Intel Processors and we only use 10K SAS Enterprise hot swap hard drives in a RAID10 configuration. Without getting too technical all this means is that the hard drives are really reliable, your data is stored across several of the drives (RAID 10) and if there is a hardware issue with one of them then we can remove and replace it without any downtime at all (hot swap).
SSD Shared Hosting
The only consideration you’ll need to make in terms of the shared hosting you chose is the load speed of your website. These days, page load speed is becoming really important for two important reasons.
Firstly is the user experience. If you have ever browsed a website and you are looking to purchase something you will know how annoying it is if the page loads really slowly. What is your typical reaction? To hit the ‘back’ button and find a faster website.
This is especially the case for eCommerce websites. If you’re selling online and you have a slow website then you are going to sell less. The technical term is cart abandonment, but whatever it is called the bottom line is that slow website sell less.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed by those clever people at Google. They know that slower websites offer a lower level of customer satisfaction. They measure billions of metrics every day and they know how fast your website performs. Their job is to provide the best user experience to people using their search tools. Simply put – if your website is slow they can promote other websites over yours in their rankings.
Google plays their cards close to their chest and they aren’t in the habit of publishing how their search algorithms actually work. So when they announced that website page load speed is a ranking factor that made it crystal clear: speed up or sell less.
One way to give yourself a speed boost is to go for SSD Web Hosting. SSD stands for Solid State Drives. The difference between traditional hard drives and SSD is like the difference between steam engines and jet engines.
Whereas traditional hard drives are mechanical devices which consist of moving parts (spinning data platter and data arm), SSDs are 100% electronic components with no moving parts. Aside from the advantage that SSDs are much more reliable because there are no moving parts, they offer a paradigm shift in performance terms.
Without getting into too much technical jargon, the way that hard drive performance is measured is by calculating the speed at which data can be retrieved (read) or transferred onto (write) the hard drives. This is called the drives read and write speed and is measured in IOPS (In Out Per Second).
Traditional hard drives are constrained by the mechanical movement of the platter and the data arm. OK, this technology is pretty fast and resilient these days, but it is fundamentally the same as was used in the early days of data processing back in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Traditional hard drives have different disk rotation speeds which determine there IOPS. These days the most common types of drives will be 7.2K, 10K and 15K disks. Don’t worry too much about these numbers, but basically the ‘K’ refers to the number of times per minute they rotate (7.2K = 7200, 10K = 10,000 and 15K = 15,000).
So with these we will see IOPS performance ranging from 80 IOPS for 7.2K hard drives and up to 160 or 180 IOPS for 15K hard drives.
Now let’s look at an SSD to compare. You can easily get IOPS in the lower ranges of 4,000 IOPS and up to 75,000 IOPS – no that is not a typing error – that is seventy five thousand IOPS. Incredible isn’t it. A performance leap of hundreds of times.
SSD hosting is the future because of these points and whilst there are loads of other advantages for SSD hosting such as their green credentials and reliability that is another conversation entirely.
SSD Hosting – A Premium Option
You may notice that SSD hosting is slightly more expensive than traditional hard drive based hosting. At the time of writing that is purely down to a) the per GB cost of SSD drives vs traditional drives and b) the capacity of the drives themselves.
Let’s look at an example. Whilst it is not uncommon for 7.2K SATA hard drives to come in 3TB configurations and upward (there are even 8TB 3.5 inch SATA drives available) SSDs rarely push 750GB.
The reason this is an issue is quite straightforward when you understand the economics of hosting. Let’s take a typical 2U hosting (2U is just the height measure of the server chassis) server and assume that it has dual everything – processors, network cards, power supplies, etc., and eight 3.5 inch hard drive slots. If the host was focused purely on maximising disk space then they would maybe use 8 x 3TB hard drives giving 24TB of ‘pure’ disk space before applying RAID or any partitioning.
It should be pointed out that this is not a configuration we would use at Pickaweb for shared hosting. We use 10K hard drives with smaller capacity to ensure that we have a lower contention rate, that is to say we have fewer shared hosting clients per server.
But back to our example, if we now apply the same with the SSD option and assume we use eight of the 750GB hard drives. Our ‘pure’ disk space before applying RAID or any partitioning is 6TB (i.e. 8 x 750GB).
So we can see that using this example that SSD offers one quarter of the capacity for the same footprint. This means that aside from the higher cost of the SSD drives on a per GB basis, there would need to be four times the up front hardware investment for the servers themselves including the CPU, RAM, etc..
But it doesn’t stop there. Servers take up space in the rack and there is the ongoing costs associated with power, maintenance, etc.. Over several years the SSD option is much more expensive for the host.
Of course we don’t live in a static world and if we apply Moore’s Law then over time we can expect the capacity of SSDs to increase whilst the cost per GB decreases.
Despite all of this, hosting is where the rubber hits the road in terms of performance. Of course there are loads of other ways to speed up a website by optimising the coding, but the bottom line is that if you want a fast website then SSD offers you a fast and low cost route to achieving that.
OK, onto reseller hosting.
Now if you are a web designer, web developer or other web professional then reseller hosting may be an interesting option for you.
A reseller hosting package allows you to become a mini hosting company, selling web hosting services to your clients and generating a valuable recurring revenue for your business.
The way that it works is that you are allocated a bulk amount of a server’s resources (i.e. disk space and bandwidth) which you can then resell onto your clients. You have a master administration area (we use cPanel/WHM) where you can administer all of your clients accounts (create, modify, delete, etc.) and your clients have their own control panel (cpanel) access where they manage all aspects of their accounts.
In reality most resellers will find that their clients actually use a tiny percentage of the features of cPanel and this is usually restricted to things like setting up email accounts, etc..
The real advantage for you as a reseller is that by giving your clients an unbranded control panel you are allowing them to take control of their hosting. That way they won’t need to contact you to create email addresses or to reset a password. cPanel is pretty intuitive and easy to use so most of your clients can manage this.
If you are building or managing websites for clients that do not require any exotic settings or software then a reseller hosting will be ideal for you. As long as you remain within the disk space and bandwidth of your account then it is a really attractive option.
Of course, as your business grows and you find that you need more resources then there is a natural upgrade path to a Virtual Private Server or VPS. We’ll come onto that in a moment.
As a Web Designer or Developer you may want to offer your clients as much functionality as possible for their websites. That could be a shopping cart or a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla. One of the neat things about being a reseller is that you can install all of these applications very quickly using the Softaculous feature in cPanel. This way you have a lot of upgrade and value added services you can use to grow your business.
A definite advantage of Reseller hosting is that it is very cost effective and does not involve a huge learning curve. As a hosting company we (Pickaweb) will make sure that the server your clients are hosted on is kept secure and up to date. Basically we do all of the system administration tasks like updating the kernel and other key software configurations and for ensuring that the server is safe, secure and up to date.
This is an important consideration because once you move up to a VPS that is your responsibility whether or not you do it yourself or pay someone to do that on your behalf. Whilst it doesn’t cost much, that is something to be aware of.
Another point worth bearing in mind if you are a designer or developer is the configuration you require. Let’s say that you are building a site that requires a particular version of PHP. It could be that it is the very latest version for example. With your reseller account you are limited to the software configuration that the hosting company considers to be stable and which they are willing to support.
So let’s say you wanted to run a particular application that runs PHP version x that your hosting company does not support on their shared servers. In this case you would need to go for a VPS for that custom configuration. Ultimately it is your client who needs that level of customization so this is a cost that you should consider passing on to them and be able to justify in terms not only of the functionality but also the level of performance that they will experience with a VPS.
Also with a Reseller account you may find that there are certain restrictions for security purposes. In particular many developers will require SSH access only to find that this is not permitted on shared or reseller hosting for security reasons. Again, in these cases a VPS may be a better option.
Virtual Private Servers (VPS)
Ok, we keep mentioning VPS so let’s turn our attention there now.
Basically a virtual private server is the next step up from a reseller account. It offers you much more flexibility and scalability than a shared or reseller hosting account.
The way that it works is that a physical Dedicated Server (or a cloud infrastructure) is divided into ‘logical’ servers, each with their own operating system, completely separate from each other. Hence the term ‘Virtual’ because whilst they exist as independent software servers they are hosted on the same physical server or infrastructure. Whereas you can point to and touch a Dedicated Server you can’t do that with a VPS.
There are a number of ways that virtualization can be achieved and that is beyond the scope of this post, suffice to say that the main methods are as follows:
- Hypervisor – a setup where multiple operating systems share a single hardware host
- Containers – the virtualization occurs within the operating system and isolated guest virtual machines (Containers) sit on top of it
Bet you’re glad you asked!
But seriously, whatever the setup the important point is that you can get a very powerful server which is extremely scalable and flexible at a fraction of the cost of a Dedicated Server.
Benefits of a VPS
Aside from the technical description of a VPS the business benefit to you as a customer is that you have a server with scalable resources such as CPU, RAM and disk space which you can configure exactly as you want. You can run the operating system of your choice, the control panel of your choice and any configuration or flavour of software or application that you like.
In summary, here are the highlights:
- Power at a low cost
- Fast, provisioning
- Self-service upgrades
- Extremely scalable
- High availability possible in cloud configuration
- Portability and ease of migration
Let’s run through them so you get the full picture.
In terms of the power vs cost equation a VPS wins hands down when compared to a Dedicated Server. Dedicated Servers have their own distinct advantages as we shall see, but a VPS offers a compelling business case due to the fact that many of the costs involved with a Dedicated Server are shared in a VPS so the savings are passed onto the end user. We are talking about things like the capital expenditure (hardware costs) as well as ongoing operational costs associated with the servers footprint such as rackspace and power costs.
In terms of provisioning, a VPS can be automatically set up in just minutes. This includes your choice of operating system and control panel. Manually provisioning a Dedicated Server can take several hours to commission in the rack, cable and configure the operating system and control panel.
But whilst the initial provisioning is a one-off event the ability to instantly scale a VPS in terms of critical resources such as CPU, RAM and hard drives means that VPS are inherently more scalable than Dedicated Servers. This can all be achieved in seconds with the press of a button in your VPS control panel by you the client. Even better it means you can upgrade or downgrade depending on your needs.
Now compare this to a Dedicated Server upgrade. This requires physical intervention (and hence cost) by a datacentre technician as well as the inevitable downtime that would involve. For you the client this also means that costs are tied up in unused resources such as CPU or RAM – you can’t have them sitting there unpaid for because you don’t need them just yet. But that is exactly the case with a VPS. With a VPS you only pay for what you need – it is much more flexible.
But this ability to instantly upgrade also offers you much more scale. With a Dedicated Server you are restricted by the physical confines of the server be that RAM slots, number of CPUs, hard drive slots, network cards, etc.. If your VPS is in a cloud configuration like Pickaweb’s then that just isn’t an issue. A Dedicated Server with 64GB RAM, 24 virtual CPU cores and 200GB of high availability SSD disk space would be a significant up front and ongoing investment. But as a VPS that would be a much more reasonable cost.
Traditional VPS vs Cloud VPS
In terms of the way that VPS are physically set up you have the option of a ‘traditional’ VPS where one physical server is split into several VPS. The advantage for the hosting company is that this is a low cost to market solution and these cost savings are passed onto the client.
The downside of this type of VPS is that whilst redundancy can be built in to the server with the use of dual components (especially higher failing ones such as hard drives and power supplies), scalability is difficult to achieve because you are restricted to the physical constraints of the server components (RAM, CPU and hard disks).
Also, whilst total server failure can be mitigated through redundant components, true high availability can not be achieved with traditional VPS because of the downtime associated with hardware upgrades.
These issues can be addressed though with a SSD VPS configuration (Cloud Server) as used by Pickaweb. This approach uses multiple servers configured together to create a cloud environment where all of the collective server components are pooled. By storing data across several hard drives in several physically separate servers and by pooling processing power and RAM any single points of failure are essentially removed, thus providing a High Availability (HA) environment.
Finally, VPS are extremely portable. By this we mean that migrating from one VPS to another (assuming they are within the same cloud environment/cluster) is fast and straightforward. With a Dedicated Server this is a more manual process and will take much longer to perform.
Unmanaged vs Managed VPS
Of course using a VPS comes with some responsibilities in terms of Server Administration. These include:
- Initial server security settings (server hardening)
- Performance Monitoring
- Kernel updates (Linux)
- Checking Logs
- Back up checks
- Ongoing security monitoring and patching
As you can imagine these are not tasks that can be performed by someone with little or no knowledge of server administration.
But don’t let that put you off. You can just opt for a managed VPS and let your hosting support team take care of these tasks for you. The cost is minor compared to the benefits of having your VPS managed professionally as well as the peace of mind that your server is secure from external threats.
Finally, before we move onto look at Dedicated Servers it is worth considering the SSD option with your VPS.
See What is SSD?
When we previously looked at shared SSD hosting we saw that SSD’s offer a number of compelling reasons that make them the obvious choice for anyone who wants a fast website. By their nature VPS are much faster than shared hosting because your website is not competing with ‘noisy neighbours’ for the servers critical resources, especially CPU and RAM.
But if you are a Web Designer or Developer looking for the absolute fastest performance then an SSD VPS is the obvious choice.
Finally we come to Dedicated Servers. For those of you not familiar with the terminology a Dedicated Server is a physical server which is owned by the hosting company and rented to the client on a monthly basis and includes the rackspace, network connectivity, IP services and optional value added services such as extended support. For the client this means they do not have to make the costly upfront investment in a server.
Until the advent of the VPS this was typically the only way to ensure that you could ensure that you had a high powered and secure option to host your websites or applications.
However, as we have already seen the VPS is a really attractive option for a number of reasons such as speed of deployment, flexibility, scalability, High Availability, etc.. You could be forgiven for thinking that a Dedicated Server is a bit of a plodding dinosaur compared to the nimble, fast moving VPS option.
But the Dedicated Server still has a place in the market and should still be considered for high end users and here’s why.
More Control and Security
With a VPS you have full control over your virtualized server but you are still sharing a physical machine with several other VPS users. With a Dedicated Server that situation simply doesn’t arise because you are in full control of the hardware and software on your server.
This is especially important from a security perspective. Security experts tend to think in absolute, black and white terms. If it is mathematically possible for an event to occur then that must be taken into account in any risk assessment. Despite the risk of your VPS being adversely affected by ‘noisy neighbours’ sharing the same hardware being very small, if high levels of security are demanded by your business needs then a Dedicated Server removes that risk from the equation.
Likewise, when it comes to the server’s physical resources you are not sharing these with anyone else. A Dedicated Server gives you full, uninterrupted access to all of the server’s key resources such as CPU, RAM and Hard Drives.
With a VPS you get what you are given. As long as you trust the host to provide you with a rock solid platform then this shouldn’t be an issue. However, in some instances it may be more appropriate for you to define the hardware requirements.
Let’s consider an example whereby you are running a particular application that requires write intensive hard drives. If you were to go with a standard VPS set up you may find that the hard drives on offer quickly become a bottleneck. This would be a major issue in a live environment and could have been addressed early on by the correct hardware specification.
The same could apply to the preference of RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks). RAID is a way of configuring the disks to minimize the possibility of data loss due to hardware failure. There are a number of RAID options and describing them is beyond the scope of this document, but suffice to say that different RAID options apply for different situations and depending on the application being deployed there are benefits to each type.
The bottom line though is that if you have a pressing need to define the hardware tightly and be in control then a Dedicated Server is the right option.
Finally, as with the VPS option you must take into account server management and administration. A Dedicated Server is not a ‘set it and forget it’ option. You will need to maintain security and keep monitoring your server and update it when necessary. If you are not an experienced server administrator then you should definitely consider a Managed Server to ensure that you server is performing as it should.
So let’s just run through the options again for you:
- Shared Hosting – great for entry level sites
- SSD Hosting – perfect for ecommerce sites or blogs where speed is of the essence
- Reseller – ideal for developers or web professionals on a budget who do not build demanding or ecommerce sites or sites that have custom configurations
- VPS – ideal for developers or web professionals who need scalability and customisation
- SSD VPS – perfect for websites that require scalability, customisation and exceptional performance
- Dedicated Server – The perfect choice when physical security and performance are required
I hope you found this guide on which web hosting to choose useful.
Thanks for reading and leave your questions below to keep the conversation going.