One of the common questions I hear from business stewards is, “How do I know what type of hosting to get? Will shared hosting be enough?”

I also hear the variations of the above that often come in the form of, “my _______ told me I needed a dedicated server; what do you think?”

Let me share with you some thoughts and guidelines which will hopefully help you, if you are in the position of asking this question for your organization.

Oh, before I forget, let’s do some simple house keeping first.

  1. Shared hosting is where one to many sites from different customers are hosted in the same environment (which in today’s age, could be in the cloud, one or more dedicated servers, or even one or more virtual machines). This environment is very similar to an apartment complex or condo where a number of resources are shared among the consumers.
  2. VPS or virtual private server is where a slice of a cloud or dedicated server is provisioned for use by one customer.
  3. Dedicated is where one to many physical servers are provisioned for use by one customer.
  4. Cloud is where customers can provision off the exact resources they need within the scope of the provider; and modify what they need on demand (or close enough).

While stability in the cloud continues to improve, most of this article is going to be dedicated to the 1st three of the above as most of our customer base are businesses where stability and reliability matter more than being on the cutting edge of technology.

Let me walk you through some what if statements that generally lead to the type of hosting you will need.

What if I know exactly what resources — RAM, hard drive space, CPU power, bandwidth, etc. — I need, and I love to micromanage (I’ll be sure to check x times per y period if I need to add or reduce specific resources)? Well, then your best bet would be Cloud hosting where you decide what you need, pay for only what you use, and you have the ability to spend your time micromanaging the solution.

What if I know the specific server (i.e. web server, email server, database server, etc. — which is very different from end user applications such as WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal) software I want to run, and I want to have version control of the server software? Then you are looking at Cloud, Dedicated, or VPS.

What if I want to manage my own hosting environment? Then you are looking at Cloud, Dedicated, or VPS.

Ok, I’m a developer (or my developer shared) and I’m ok with shared hosting, but I know in advance my custom (often site-based) application(s) will require 30 or more simultaneous mySQL connections, at least 256 MB of dedicated RAM, and 50+ simultaneous Apache clients per second. What do I need? Chances are high you are looking at Cloud, Dedicated, or VPS. The more the RAM, mysql connections, and processes (overall, not just Apache), the higher the probability you would need Cloud or Dedicated.

What if I have a brand new site? Then shared hosting will probably fit you for a period of time.

What if I will be running stock site-based software such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla? Then shared hosting will most likely fit you.

What are the pros and cons of each type of hosting?

Cloud, Dedicated, and VPS — unless specifically provided as a managed service (and then you need to ask what is being managed?) — puts you in control of the hosting environment. You and your team are the security administrator, the server administrator, and the general house keeper.

The pro for Cloud, Dedicated, and VPS is sharing is limited (for Cloud and VPS there is still sharing of the physical hardware involved to a degree) to non exist (dedicated, it is all yours). You often get to run the operating system and version of your choice, the web server and version of your choice, the database server and version of your choice, and so on.

Shared hosting often comes with management; and if you are with solid company between a hosting automation system and their support, your hands are held through the years.

Please consider reading my own reflections on managed shared hosting where over the years, one of our managed shared hosting customers was featured on a major TV network; and shared hosting was not only economical in comparison to the revenue generated, but shared hosting was very capable at handling their ecommerce needs.

The con for shared hosting is that if you have special needs for the server-based software, you are at the mercy of whether the provider can meet those needs without impacting their other customers or not. In the latter case, you often have the choice to upgrade to a VPS, Dedicated, or Cloud; and most providers who offer multiple types of hosting will provide free migrations from one of their platforms to another (just be sure to ask rather than assume).

What about you?

What has your experience been in terms of finding out the type of hosting you need?

What type of hosting are you using now? Why did you pick that type of hosting?

Please use the comments to let us know.

Thank you.