Shared Hosting (Virtual Hosting) Or A Dedicated Server – Which Is Right For You?

To share, or not to share: That is the question. Deciding to go with a shared web host or a dedicated server is a big decision with significant financial implications. Whether you already have a website, or are thinking about starting one, choosing the right web host is a critical decision; one that you’ll likely invest a fair amount of time and money in over the next several years. When looking for a web host, there are several important questions to keep in mind.

  • Is your website mission critical?
  • Do you have large bandwidth (traffic) needs?
  • Are you willing to pay $100/month for web hosting?
  • Is your site Database and/or CPU intensive?
  • Do you need control over server configuration (php.ini / my.cnf)?

If you answered yes to the majority of those questions, you probably need a dedicated web host, or at the minimum a VPS (Virtual Private Server). If your answered mostly no, a shared host may very well be a cost-effective option for you.

Dedicated Servers

Dedicated servers cost in the neighborhood of $100-500 / month. This may sound like a lot, but here’s what that high price tag gets you:

  • Guaranteed resources (you have your own entire computer, CPU, hard drive, RAM)
  • Better performance (since other sites aren’t competing for resources on your server)
  • Faster database queries
  • Root-level control over all configurations
  • Ability to install custom software for your web applications

Generally your physical dedicated server hosts both your web site and your MySQL database. This guarantees lightning fast connectivity between your web app and its database. If your site performs many database queries, like most of the modern CMS frameworks, you will see substantially improved performance on a dedicated server. You have the ability to install whatever modules, extensions, add-ons and applications you would like. Since your changes don’t affect any other websites, you have the freedom to fine tune your server to do whatever you need it to do. Since you aren’t sharing a computer with hundreds of other websites, the performance of your site is not impacted by overcrowding, overuse, or traffic spikes to other sites.

Shared Hosting

On the other hand, if your site consists of a few pages of simple, flat HTML, or even PHP or Ruby on Rails with few or no Database queries, a shared host (aka virtual host) is probably sufficient. Shared hosting usually costs $5-20 / month depending on your storage, bandwidth, and feature needs. Remember that your site lives with hundreds of others on a single physical computer, so you ‘share’ resources with those computers. Still, if your site is not performing CPU intensive scripts or massive amounts of database queries, you’ll probably be happy with page load times.

In Both Cases:

In both cases, customer service is paramount. Try to go with a reputable web host, ideally one that a friend or colleague has had a good experience with. Call them up pre-sale and ask about their hosting packages. Relay your site’s specific needs and see how they respond. The kind of treatment you get pre-sale is often (but not always) indicative of the kind of treatment you’d get as a customer. Also, make sure the hosting solution is scalable. If you start with a shared hosting package and your needs outgrow what it can handle, can you upgrade to a VPS or a dedicated server? Similarly, if you start with a dedicated server, and it turns out to be overkill, can you drop down to a more affordable package? With these questions, and the preceding considerations in hand you’ll be able to make an informed and smart choice for your next web host.

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