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In the earliest days of the Internet, pioneering businesses didn't have too many options to get their companies online. At the time (the mid to late 1990s), web hosting options were minimal.
You could either turn to a shared hosting plan offered by a fledgling web hosting firm or foot the bill for an expensive colocation arrangement within a datacenter and operate your own server.
If you're old enough to remember those days, you'd also know that everything about the process was difficult. Web servers were new, tough to maintain, and didn't allow you to do much.
Just serving static pages was enough of a challenge – and heaven help you if you were trying to offer video streaming (major points to anyone who can remember running Xing's Streamworks on an SGI O2 for that purpose).
In the years since, web hosting services have become a dime-a-dozen. Today's businesses have myriad options to choose from, and even the cheapest hosting plans make the hosting services of yesteryear look archaic by comparison.
Now, businesses have a new problem: figuring out what kind of web hosting will suit their needs. To help, here's an overview of the common types of web hosting available today, and what they're good for.
The oldest and most common form of web hosting available is shared hosting. As the name implies, it involves leasing space on a web server that's shared by hundreds or thousands of other businesses. It is still the primary offering of most major web hosting providers operating today. It's also a category where you can find countless combinations of features on offer. The most important ones to evaluate are:
For the most part, shared hosting packages are well suited for sites that don't expect heavy traffic, and don't require any complex custom server configurations. They also tend to be the least expensive option, making them ideal for some small businesses. They are not suited for mission-critical applications, as they break down under high demand.
Although it is, by definition, another form of shared web hosting, it only seemed proper to give managed WordPress hosting its own section.
It's a form of shared hosting where the provider configures and maintains a WordPress instance that a business can customize as its own site. WordPress is the most popular and most widely-used content management system on the internet, now powering 35.9% of all websites operating today. For that reason, managed WordPress hosting is a popular option, especially among small businesses that lack the internal expertise to handle the technical side of maintaining the system.
The next step up from shared web hosting solutions is known as a virtual private server. Like shared hosting, it involves multiple sites sharing the same hardware, but there are key differences that make it a superior option. The first is that VPS solutions guarantee a set amount of resources to each hosted website.
That means that a sudden traffic surge on one site won't cripple the others, and the server software acts to containerize the processes associated with each. It's kind of like having your own (admittedly low-end) server hardware, without the big ongoing expenses.
In more than a few ways, cloud hosting is the next evolution of shared web hosting. The major difference is that with cloud hosting, the workload of each website is distributed among multiple servers that could be operating in multiple locations. Unlike standard shared hosting, each part of a website's backend needs may be handled by different hardware. Storage in one place, compute power in another, and databases still elsewhere.
Cloud hosting is the new option of choice for a wide variety of web hosting needs since it leverages the economy of scale to drive down costs.
It also makes it possible to add or remove hosting resources as business needs change. It's such a booming business that today's biggest tech companies operate cloud services, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft's Azure Platform, and Google Cloud, which make up a good portion of each company's revenue.
The last and most expensive and complex hosting option is to run your own web servers. It used to be a very common practice among midsized to large enterprises because it meant having total control over every aspect of the business's hosting environment.
Today, only very large companies tend to utilize dedicated servers, and even then, only for highly complex customized applications that would be impractical to move elsewhere. Most big corporations have already moved their web properties onto cloud hosting platforms, and the few that haven't should be following suit in the near future.
Still, for businesses that need absolute physical and software control of their web hosting – a dedicated server is still a viable option.
As you can see, there are now web hosting options to suit every type of need and every type of budget.
Right now, the vast majority of businesses begin to build their online presence using some version of shared hosting (which they shouldn't, by the way – they're too limiting) and upgrade and relocate their sites as they grow. Interestingly, more and more small businesses are starting to skip over all of the other available options and are moving straight to cloud hosting, which is where the industry as a whole seems to be moving anyway.
In the future, most of these hosting solutions are probably going to be absorbed into today's cloud providers, taking us back to a time when choosing a web hosting option was simple.
The good news is that this time, that one option won't require you to learn to operate obscure software and hardware to keep everything working – and in that respect, we've come quite a long way in a short time. And thank goodness for that.
Images licensed via contributor's Adobe Stock account by Cybrain, mehaniq41, meenkulathiamma, and momius.
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