Finding the right host for your website can be an interesting adventure, but when you add WordPress (and even WordPress MultiSite) to the equation, it can be even more interesting. Whether you are building your first WordPress website or your seventy-fifth, your hosting platform must be tailored to fit your needs while delivering a quality experience to your visitor.
Let’s look at the various hosting platforms generally available to most website developers.
Shared Hosting is generally the hosting that is widely offered and generally used when people are just beginning to build websites. Why? It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it’s quick to get started. You can visit one of the hosting providers immediately after reading this article, choose your domain name, set up your hosting account, and get to work building your million dollar website. But, what is shared hosting?
Shared hosting is the equivalent of a high rise multi-family apartment complex. When you live in an apartment complex like this, chances are you don’t know your neighbors, what they do, if they’re good people or criminals, or anything else about them. If the people living three floors above you are cooking meth in a home lab in their apartment, then the whole building is in jeopardy of being poisoned. Similarly, with your shared hosting account, you don’t know your virtual neighbors. You have no clue if they are a church youth group, a porn site, or just a simple eCommerce website. And unlike your apartment complex, you never stand a chance to even meet your neighbors. All of you share the same IP address, so if one of your virtual neighbors is found to be doing something unethical or illegal that causes Google (and other search engines) to flag their IP address, then your website can suffer as well.
Also, with shared hosting, all tenants (websites) share the resources of the server – these resources include hard drive space, memory, processor speed, and even the bandwidth. If one of your neighbors is chewing up any of these resources, the hosting company should step in to bring them back into an acceptable level or ask them to move to a more robust hosting arrangement. This is similar to living in a college dormitory with only one bathroom. Everyone has to “get in line” to use the restroom.
Security with shared hosting
This is probably one of the scariest areas that I know of with regards to shared hosting. You can secure your website using all the methods and techniques explained in all the articles that you can read on the internet – and still your website may be compromised. How can this happen? If someone else on the server does not secure their website properly and a cracker gains access to their website, then they can potentially use that access to crack into every other website that is hosted on the server. This has happened with some of the larger hosting companies over the past six months.
Can’t usually run scripts
To protect other users on the server (including you), most shared hosting providers do not allow you to run scripts outside their prescribed scripts. This means that if you write or purchase a specialized script that is not on their accepted list, you will probably not be able to run the script. Plus, many commands may be blocked as well. For example you may not be able to use scripts that use a “Get” or a “Put” or any other number of commands. You will not even be able to issue those commands manually from your PHP admin tool.
Don’t usually have root level access
While this may not be of importance to you when you are just getting started, you will reach a point during your hosting career where you need root level access. Without root level access, you will probably not be able to restore from backups, install software, and even do some upgrades to you services. However, that’s what you are paying your hosting provider for since you don’t have access to it.
Can’t adjust server settings
On shared hosting, you will not be able to adjust things such as maximum file size to upload. This could cause you issues when uploading media files and cause you to have to seek other methods of hosting larger files. This is not entirely a bad thing and I personally believe you should host larger files (audio, photos, video, etc) on AmazonS3, but that’s a topic for another day.
A second option is a Virtual Private Server (VPS) – this is like owning a portion of the building with private access to your section and no one else has access to your section without your permission. With a VPS, you do not have a dedicated server, but you share the resources of a dedicated server with several other “members”. At this point, you may ask, “What is the difference between VPS and Shared Hosting?”
That’s a very reasonable question to ask. The difference is that with shared hosting, the hosting provider wants to put as many customers as possible on the server – many times that can be thousands of customers. With VPS, customers are paying more than with shared hosting, so there will not be as many customers on a VPS system. Plus, many VPS systems are set up with reseller accounts so that you can host multiple websites for your clients and charge them accordingly.
With standard VPS, you are allocated a portion of all server resources. For this example, I’ll use 10%. So, you will have 10% of the available hard drive space, 10% of the available RAM, 10% of the processor capability, etc. With this configuration, you are guaranteed these resources and you always know what you have available.
Depending upon your hosting provider, you may or may not be able to run scripts of your choosing. If you administrator is nice to you, they will check out the scripts and run them for you. Also, you may or not have root access. Additionally, you will probably not be able to adjust server settings yourself, but with most hosting providers you can ask your administrator to make them for you. Finally, in regards to security, it is your responsibility as always, but unlike shared hosting, other users that may have sloppy security issues usually will not negatively affect you.
Another option is having your own dedicated server – this is like owning the entire building. You determine who the tenants (websites) are and can remove them when their contract is up or they quit paying. You can either own and maintain your own machine or you can rent/lease/purchase one in a data center. While more expensive than shared hosting, a dedicated server means that you own and control the apartment building. With a dedicated server, you set the rules and manage the entire process. If your server is located in a data center, there may be rules that you have to observe from the data center, but they should be less restrictive than those placed on you with shared hosting.
You can usually run scripts that you need to run
Hey, it’s your server and as long as you’re paying you can usually run any script that you want on your server. However, there are a few dedicated server providers (managed dedicated servers) that will not allow you to run scripts that they’ve not vetted. If you are uncomfortable with running scripts, then it’s probably a good idea to have a managed dedicated server and let your administrators do this for you.
You usually have root level access
Once again, as with running scripts, this may be limited by your specific hosting provider. Many managed dedicated hosting providers do not allow root level access to the server, so do not be shocked when you discover one of the few that prohibit it. However, even if it’s not allowed, be sure to ask if you can have it. Sometimes the default is to not allow unless it’s asked for.
Security is almost entirely on you, but by the same token, if you are securing all of your websites, then there is less chance that a website on the server will become compromised and place any other websites at risk. As I said in the beginning, you “know your neighbors” in a dedicated server application and if you are doing your job well, then you should have few worries here.
Can adjust server settings
Since it’s your server (effectively), you can tweak any server settings that you want. You can make your maximum upload size as large or small as you want, tweak how the server handles certain requests, and pretty much anything you want to adjust. But, remember, if you break it, it’s still yours.
A few hosting companies provide a very unique VPS hosting environment. The one I use has a dynamic management system that has been very useful for me on several occasions. If you are hosting on a standard VPS system and you suddenly create a very popular website or post, you may experience a spike in traffic that could begin to tax your server. With a standard VPS, when you’ve reached your allocated limit, then your users just stack up and wait in line – many will not hang around waiting for the website to load; they’ll just leave.
With a managed VPS system, unused resources of other members of the website will be reallocated temporarily to help your website deliver it’s content. I can testify that this managed system works very well because one of my clients had me develop a website that had huge popularity in a short period of time. The managed VPS system allocated 97% of server resources to his website alone. That wasn’t 97% of my allocated section, but 97% of the entire server. When the traffic subsided, then resources were released back into the pool.
Now what type of hosting should you choose for your WordPress website? That depends upon many factors – the least important of which should probably be cost. To begin with, you should examine what your needs will probably be. Do you need root access? Will you need to run scripts? Are you concerned about website security? (You should be) Read this article over a couple of times to help you make an informed decision, but please, do not let money be the only option you consider when selecting hosting.
Disclaimer: The statements made about each type of hosting in this article are generally accepted standards; however, some hosting providers may vary from these and provide more or less capabilities according to their terms of service.
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