Website hosting can be complicated. You have to consider which provider to choose, what hosting package to sign up to, managing your domain name, and organising SSL certificates.
Dealing with technically complicated situations like this can feel like a distraction when all you want to do is focus on your business. It’s no wonder that the offer from a shared hosting provider to take it out of your hands, coupled with a low cost, sounds so appealing.
But do you truly understand what you are signing up for? And is it the right solution for your business?
Let’s take a look at the differences between dedicated and shared hosting and how to make the right decision on which one works for you.
What is dedicated hosting?
Imagine owning a detached house with your own garden. Services such as water and electricity are supplied directly to your home.
This is the same as dedicated hosting. Your website (your detached house) sits on its own server (plot of land) and has dedicated resources (garden, water, electricity, etc.) to use.
What is shared hosting?
Rather than living in a detached house, you’re renting an apartment in a skyscraper. There’s hundreds of apartments and you share amenities, such as a garden, and building services.
This is the same as shared hosting. Your website (your apartment) is beside hundreds, or even thousands, of other sites (other apartments), all sharing the same single server (the skyscraper), and the same resources (garden, water, electricity, etc.).
The question is, would you rather have your own detached house where you can decide who provides your services and what patio furniture to have, or would you rather relinquish control and share resources with all your neighbours?
Which hosting solution is right for you?
When choosing which hosting solution is right for your business, there are a number of things to consider.
With shared hosting solutions, there are limitations on the resource available to you. The risk is that if your traffic increases, you may not have enough capacity to deal with that jump in demand. Due to restrictions imposed by shared hosting providers, you’ll see a negative impact on the performance of your site, with users experiencing increased loading times and failures in functionality.
Shared hosting solutions do not have the ability to scale based on demand, so you’d have to find an alternative provider or pay to upgrade your hosting. That, in turn, could lead to downtime of your site.
With dedicated hosting, you’re not constrained by limitations and can ensure your website consistently delivers peak performance. It’s also easier to scale and add resources as you need them.
Shared servers often have big lists of constraints and dos and don’ts. For example, you’ll typically be forced into using a shared hosting graphical interface such as Cpanel or Plesk. Whilst these have a wide variety of controls, shared providers tailor these, dictating what can and can’t be actioned on a server to suit their own purposes. This might not be an issue for a simple blog, but for a big functional application it can really cause some issues. Those issues then require technical resources to formulate work arounds.
In contrast, with dedicated hosting, you can install whatever you like on the server. You can choose the operating system and which modules or software you run to suit your application. For example, you might want to install custom server monitoring software or security services to add additional stability or protection to your website.
Shared hosting solutions provide fewer controls for deploying new code, and providers can make it difficult to implement a continuous integration system.
With dedicated hosting, you have much great control and better access to the server, allowing you to configure this type of integration and deploy new code and features to your servers seamlessly.
Shared hosting providers manage server failover on your behalf. This might sound like a comfortable option, but the reality is that your uptime sits within your provider’s hands, and out of yours. Sure, most providers promise 99% uptime, but that’s a relatively easy figure to be accountable for; over a year, it accounts to 3.65 days worth of outages.
That can still feel like a lot, especially if it’s a provider that does not give you a direct means of speaking to somebody. Shared hosting providers often only give access to an online reporting platform, and it might take hours to receive an answer.
Choosing a dedicated hosting solution puts you in more control of your fate, allowing your provider or technical team to manage your uptime. You have the freedom to automate this process however you want through auto scaling and controlling automated actions when a server fails. This might sound a little daunting, but a provider working within dedicated hosting should be experienced in setting this type of behaviour for you.
There are higher security risks if you choose a shared hosting provider, as your resources are shared. You could be vulnerable to attacks on sites that you share a server with, or a hacked site may cause interruption to your shared server’s performance or behaviour.
It’s also worth looking into what protection your shared hosting provider offers around site restoration and the lead times involved. If your site is taken down by a hacker, can you afford to wait hours – or, if your provider is in another time zone, even longer – for somebody to restore your application?
Experienced dedicated hosting providers can pro-actively scan your application for vulnerabilities and repair issues before you even know about them. They will also have systems that take database backups and server snapshots, which can generally be rolled back in about 15 minutes if your website was accessed or defaced by a hacker.
Search engine optimisation
Search engines grade sites on a number of different criteria, and one of those is your IP address. To use the house analogy again, your IP address on a shared hosting service is like having an address within an apartment block – your address is shared with a number of others. If you happen to share your server with untrustworthy sites or products offered by other companies, you could be negatively impacted.
In contrast, with a dedicated server, your IP address is like your detached house – it is uniquely yours.
Search algorithms also look at server response times and performance, as we’ve talked about above, which can be constrained with shared hosting options and potentially count against you.
Breaking down the numbers
If price is the sole criteria for making a decision on hosting, then it’s hard to argue against shared hosting. The cost of hosting is shared amongst all parties who have a website on a specific server, and includes basic updates and patching. That attractive price point hides a number of disadvantages, however, as we’ve discussed above..
Dedicated hosting provides a number of other benefits, which can make it a better long-term financial bet, and is not as expensive as you might think.
Purchasing a server inside a data centre is no longer a requirement, thanks to server virtualisation and cloud resources offered by big providers such as Amazon Webservices (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform. These providers also offer cost effective solutions where you only pay for the resource you use, which brings the cost down further.
For example, our website – the one you are on right now! – utilises the same dedicated solution we have referenced in this document and typically costs us less than £40 per month.
Placing your bets
Here are the questions you should be asking when choosing your hosting solution:
- What data could be stolen from your website, and what could a potential breach cost? Consider the increasing number of fines associated with GDPR and other legislation across the industry.
- Will poor website performance have a detrimental effect on your current users? Decreasing page speed is likely to frustrate loyal users and push them to a better service.
- Is poor website performance going to have a detrimental effect on new user registrations? Site speed performance is a leading factor in search ranking, and faster, better performing sites will always be prioritised over a slow, outdated website.
- If your website is compromised by an attack, what is the potential impact on customer confidence and trust? If you expose data or infect a user with a virus or malware, are they likely to use and recommend your services?
In short, both dedicated and shared solutions are legitimate solutions for hosting your website or application. Which one you opt for should be based on what you see as the purpose of your site.
Most businesses require more out of their websites than just an output for information. A website hosted on a shared platform that collects user information, transacts in any way, or stores any sensitive content is taking a big risk. We would always advise that anyone operating in this way looks at a dedicated hosting option.
Want to find out more about your hosting options? Chat to us about what is best for your business.