Choosing whether you should use shared hosting, a VPS (virtual private server) or a dedicated server for your site(s) is an important decision as each option has its pros and cons. If you’re uncertain about what you should choose, this post will help you find your way around the different options and what each of them implies.
Shared hosting is the option most beginners choose. Not only because it’s the cheapest one – which it is by far – but also because it’s the most visible one. Most hosting companies advertise heavily their shared hosting plans as this is the point of contact with the new customers on the market.
Beginners choose shared hosting often not knowingly that there are other options. However, it’s a good choice for a number of reasons:
- The price of shared hosting is affordable even for hobby bloggers and much lower than the price of other hosting solutions. You can find shared hosting starting at 2 USD at for example MochaHost. As long as you don’t fall for traps such as search engine inclusion or business listing (offered by GoDaddy and others as if they were necessary for your success), you’re likely to end up paying an okay price for hosting. Beware of introduction offers! Some hosting companies offer introduction prices as low as 1.99 USD/month only to bill you above 11 USD/month at renewal (example: iPage).
- The resources you can get with a shared hosting plan are more than enough to cover your hosting needs for the first years of existence of a blog, small content website or a business website with light traffic.
- Shared hosting makes running a website a breeze by offering you a fully managed service meaning that you never need to worry about server maintenance/configuration, software licensing and install, etc.
- With shared hosting you don’t need to think about security issues and hacker attacks as, whatever happens, it’ll be your hosting company taking care of the problem.
Before jumping right to shared hosting though, you must consider the downsides of it:
- You’ll be dealing with limited resources in terms of bandwidth, disc space, and RAM. Even when the hosting plan states that it offers unlimited resources, such an offer is based on the assumption that you’ll choose a different hosting option yourself, once your website grows beyond what shared hosting can offer.
- You’ll be dealing with shared resources meaning that others’ traffic or site performance will affect your site’s performance without you being able to do anything about it.
- If you’d like to implement SSL on your site, you’re going to need a dedicated IP. It’s only very few shared hosting plans out there that offer a free dedicated IP (HostWinds does) while others charge you around 4 USD/month or more for it (example: A2Hosting).
- Shared IPs which are usual for shared hosting can damage your site’s reputation if there’s malicious activity on one or more of the sites you share the server with. This can for example affect your email marketing as you risk that your messages will be flagged as spam because spam was detected before from the same IP.
To be honest, I can’t recommend any shared hosting provider in particular. I’ve used Domain.com, Mochahost, and HostWinds in the past years and they’ve all had their issues. The issues I’m talking about are usually customer-service related. Shared hosting is otherwise a relatively stable and averagely performing solution.
I’d, however, advice you to avoid HostWinds as their server response times are the worst I’ve experienced: 2 sec and above – more than 10 times slower than Google’s recommendations.
BlueHost, one of the WordPress.org’s recommended hosting providers, claim their server response times for shared hosting are down at about 300 ms. While I can’t confirm that, it might be a good idea to give it a try and see whether it’s true. If it isn’t, you can terminate your account and get your money back.
People say that VPS is what you move on to when you outgrow shared hosting. That’s, however, only partially true as using a VPS is gigantic moon steps away from everything you’ve been using so far.
VPS (virtual private server) is in its essence a cloud powered by one or more physical servers. The difference from a cloud is, though, that a VPS is managed as a virtual instance of a server where you get some dedicated resources and some shared resources (as RAM or bandwidth). The level of isolation can vary. It’s completed with an OS and user interface, a control panel, depending on the software you choose.
Some VPS come without anything installed and allow you to build your system from the ground up. Others come with an OS and let you choose whether you’d like to buy a license for one of the commercial control panels, such as the popular cPanel and Plesk. Some, as InMotion Hosting offer cPanel as a part of their hosting plans.
VPS can be powered by SAN or SSD. SSD is said to be up to 20x faster than SAN, however I haven’t tested what this means in terms of page load times. SSD VPS hosting is, though, quite expensive.
Here’s what you should be aware of when you’re considering to upgrade to VPS:
- VPS will cost you anywhere between 20 and 200+ USD/month, with the cheapest options underperforming.
- Speed is not a given. Even with impressive resources and just a simple content website you’ll need to dig into it and use a lot of time on figuring out how to optimize for speed. It’s only rare that you’ll get an optimal configuration out of the box.
- When moving to a VPS, make sure that you move to a server with compatible software. If there’s incompatibility, you might need to tweak your site’s configuration. If this sounds scary, check what kind of setup you’re currently using (Apache, Litespeed, nginx, etc.) and ask the new hosting provider about compatibility before signing up for a VPS plan.
- You have to get used to solving technical problems. Remember all these irritating 500 internal server errors and other bugs? Well, now you have to check the server log yourself, figure out what causes a problem and solve it. You’ll have to also check server performance and restart services when necessary. And if not – well, you don’t have a website.
- Some hosting companies offer managed VPS and will help you with configuration and arising issues. It costs, however, much more than unmanaged VPS where you alone are responsible for everything. You can also buy initial setup support at impressive prices. If not, you can expect to sweat a long time with settings, options, and software you’ve never heard of.
- When you have a VPS hosting, you must register your own name servers. While this isn’t that difficult for the most of it, it still requires that you learn how to deal with DNS (domain name server) and DNS records. You must register minimum 2 name servers but you can register more if you need them.
- You’ll need at least 2 dedicated IPs, optimally 3+. 2 of them you’ll need for your name servers. Each name server must have its own IP. It’s not impossible to use the same IP for all of them but it’s highly recommended not to do it. The additional ones you’ll need for your sites, if you want a dedicated IP for them. You can use the same IP as name server IP and dedicated IP for a site, though. If the IPs aren’t included in the package you choose, you might be charged a lot for them, 24 USD/year per IP as a minimum.
- As mentioned above, there’re different setup types: OpenVZ and KVM. The first one is easier to manage but doesn’t offer 100 % resource dedication. The second one isolates resources completely and thus offers better performance but requires a lot of know-how and fine-tuning.
As the name hints, you get your own physical server. Even though you in practice can run a server from your home and on many instances you as a company might decide to host your servers yourself, choosing a professional hosting provider has the advantages of reduced maintenance costs and uptime guarantee.
Getting a dedicated server is also the best hosting option in terms of performance. It’s extremely expensive, though. It starts at around 100 USD/month and can go almost unlimited up.
Other considerations you should make when deciding to move to a dedicated server are:
- Even though you can often get some help with the setup from the hosting company – in most cases you pay for such services – you still need to have the ability to install software, tweak, troubleshoot, etc.
- You should be able to understand your needs in terms of server resources as instant upgrades might on some occasions not be possible and cause downtimes.
- You should be prepared to pay up to 10x more for software as cPanel and add-on services.
- Depending on the setup of the hosting provider, a technical issue with the server or planned reboots can cause downtimes.
Tip for WordPress Users
If you want to get top performance for your WordPress-based site, you can choose one of the specialized WordPress hosting plans. They are supposed to offer maximum performance. You can find such plans with almost all hosting providers and they span from shared hosting to managed VPS solutions. The cost of WordPress hosting is usually lower than the cost of other similar services.
A favorite of mine is Bluehost’s Optimized WordPress Hosting, which is a VPS-based solution. Besides being pre-set for optimal performance, it offers you a professional CDN service as a part of the package. This is a guarantee that your pages will load fast, no matter what. In addition, you won’t need to deal with server optimization and maintenance.