There are two instances when you should be critically thinking about the platform; your website will be running on — when you’re just starting, and when the existing platform isn’t serving your needs.
If you’re wondering about which of the many available options will make sense for you, you’ve come to the right place. On the other hand, if you’re using a shared hosting account and haven’t heard of the alternatives, this is most definitely for you. Finally, if, like most of the business users focused on building the next biggest empire, you have no idea what platform your website is running on, you will benefit from this article!
If you don’t know what type of infrastructure you’re running, it’s most likely a shared hosting one! Shared hosting is what you get when you sign up for a domain on services like GoDaddy, SiteGround, Bluehost, and also agree to purchase space for a website and email accounts.
Even if you didn’t purchase the domain and space yourself, chances are your consultant has it set up on a shared hosting environment.
Okay, so what is shared hosting after all? As the “shared” in the name suggests, it’s an environment where several websites share the same resources — software, disk space, CPU, RAM, etc.
Pros of shared hosting
Shared hosting comes with some massive advantages, making it take the lion’s share of the website hosting market.
Since you are virtually taking up no extra space, resources, or privileges, the vendor can offer dirt-cheap plans that get the job done most of the time. While prices vary from vendor to vendor, it’s easy to find deals offering to host for $1 per month. And then, there are always smaller, individual players that are happy to undercut even further.
Easy to set up
Shared hosting is easy to set up. If you’re going to manage a single website, well, it’s already set up, and you’ll most likely never need to do anything except work on the front-end (the WordPress admin panel, for example).
And even if you someday need to take backups and add FTP users, for example, it gets effortless with the use of standardized software like cPanel, which comes pre-installed on almost all shared hosting environments.
With shared hosting, you work as a power user and don’t need to worry about what lies underneath. System downtime, maintenance, upgrades — all these are taken care of by somebody else. If something does go wrong, the support team is just a call away, and in case the issue is complex, they’ll follow up with their technical team, letting you sleep peacefully and think about the business.
Cons of shared hosting
Shared hosting is not without its woes, though. While easy to work with, it’s an extremely restrictive environment, and you have few options (actually, no options) if the default doesn’t serve the purpose.
Also, if one website is experiencing high loads, it will affect all others sharing resources, and you’ll be wondering why your website is suddenly sluggish for no reason. Security is another major concern (more on this later), and so is performance.
Who is shared hosting best for?
Shared hosting works best for small, focused websites that are not going to see massive amounts of traffic (think 1+ million viewers a month). If you’re a blogger, small e-commerce store, affiliate marketer, designer, website maker, or even a small software shop that makes relatively simple websites and has clients with simple, straightforward needs — shared hosting will never disappoint you.
Virtual Private Server (VPS)
The acronym is indeed a mouthful, but I assure you the concept is a pretty simple one, so please don’t run away. A VPS is simply a simulated environment that behaves like an independent machine. What this means is you start with a blank slate and therefore get full control over the machine.
You install the software needed; you configure the software as per your liking, you create the databases and websites (virtual hosts), you manage the users, you are in charge of security, you worry about updates and downtime, and so on.
While this description is enough to make the users of shared hosting break into a cold sweat, some relish the idea (myself included) for good reasons.
The above image illustrates the idea well (don’t worry about the different colors and labels if they don’t make sense to you). Essentially, we have an actual, physical machine that is using a technology called virtualization, resulting in “fake,” software-simulated machines that are independent, isolated environments within themselves.
Destroying one of these virtual machines does not affect the rest.
Pros of Virtual Private Servers (VPS)
Once we understand what a VPS is, figuring out the advantages is easy.
A VPS is a closed environment and therefore is far more secure than shared hosting. If a virus were to affect a website on a shared host, it can easily “travel” up and across the directory structure, infecting everything else along the way. This happens a lot, believe me, I know.
So, you’re paying the price of someone else’s bad luck and lack of regular maintenance or bad practice!
Fixing a virus in shared hosting is a nightmare. There would be no telling how far and deep the virus has spread, and even if a single account cleanup is overlooked, the system will be on its knees again.
A VPS suffers no such drawbacks; there is no direct disk structure to traverse, and a single VPS, if beyond hope, can be confidently destroyed.
Since a VPS does not share resources, you can be sure that you’re getting the specs you were offered. In this case, 2 GB RAM means 2 GB RAM, and you can log into your system and monitor the usage, however, minutely, you please — there will never be mix-ups. As a result, a VPS performs significantly better than a shared hosting account.
I’ve personally rescued several clients from shared hosting that were having unresolved performance issues (well, the hosting company is never going to admit that the problem is the infrastructure!), even after months of one-time (painful) setup, they are yet to raise a complaint.
You’re in charge
On a VPS, you can add or remove software as you please. If you have set up on PHP and want to have another on Node, well, all you need to do is install Node and tweak some settings. Upgrading or moving databases, installing free SSL certificate scripts, hardening security — it’s all possible.
Cons of a VPS
With great power, comes great responsibility. And so it is with a VPS. Unless you’re a system administrator yourself, please forget about working with a VPS. Yes, there are managed VPS solutions in the market, but in the end, they behave mostly like a shared host, limiting the possibilities for change severely.
If you don’t regularly update your VPS server software, you’re exposing your site to security risks, and if you and break something (a typical scenario is WordPress plugins breaking on upgrading PHP), well, there’s nobody to make a support call to!
Finally, VPS solutions are more expensive and can cost a few dollars a month.
Who is a VPS best for?
In general, a VPS is suited for everyone who wants better stability, performance, and security (WordPress setups with several thousand active users, for example). They’re also the favorite of software teams that want to develop custom software with the technologies of their choice, or for software architects who want to weave complex systems containing several VPS servers.
And now, some parting advice. If you do decide to hire a consultant and go the VPS route (which is the best option, in my opinion), don’t purchase the VPS from your standard, famous hosting providers. In my experience, vendors that are not VPS-exclusive do a poor job of managing them, and so are best avoided. The default that works for most people (and is something I use) is AWS or DigitalOcean, which is most likely what your consultant is going to recommend.