There are a lot of guides on the internet about choosing the right type of hosting platform for your website. Generally the advice you’ll get is if your site does so much traffic then you need this plan. This leads webmasters to think that they can host anything on an unlimited hosting plan. Bad move. So I’m going to give you the advice I give anyone that asks me based on over 15 years in the industry. But also based on being an online business owner that relies on a functioning website every second of every day. These are my thoughts on choosing your hosting platform (i.e. shared hosting vs VPS hosting) and not a web host. But okay, let’s get that out of the way first. My opinions on this are also pretty non-standard.
Avoid The Big Name Hosts
There are tens of thousands of hosts and a large percentage of them will meet your hosting criteria. First off – avoid the big hosts. Your host is going to be your online partner your years to come. If you host with one of the bigger companies you’ll just be another number in their database. Choose a small to medium host that has a couple of thousand clients. You’ll be able to get to know the CEO and server techs and build a real professional relationship. We still have clients from year one of operations back in 2002 and I know them all by name. They know they can contact me personally for advice or help and I’ll bend over backwards help them out. Recently a client of 15 years contacted me about a VPS upgrade and mentioned they were probably going to leave, having found a cheaper plan elsewhere. We don’t compete on price and rarely price match but I decided to in this case. We make very little profit on that account now but keeping that old client happy and still a client at HN had a lot more value to me. This is the sort of service you can expect from hosting with a smaller company. You actually matter.
Choose An Active Host
Alrighty, so you have a list of small to medium sized hosts. That is still a huge list. My advice, from the perspective of running a web hosting company, is to choose a host that is active on social media and is active on their blog. A host active on Facebook (or online web hosting forums like WHT) is going to care about their reputation and make every effort to provide a top-notch service. Consistent activity on a host’s company blog might sound like a funny metric on which to choose a host but let me explain. A company that is being actively developed will be posting updates about how awesome they are becoming. A lot of the time the blog is ran by the host’s owner and if he is posting regularly it shows that he is actively involved in the day-to-day running of the host. For a smaller host this is CRUCIAL. The Owner/CEO is the glue that holds the company together and if he has stepped back it can spell trouble. I can attest to this from my own experience from running HostNexus. If I step back service can suffer. Server admins and techs can do a great job of responding to support requests but someone needs to be overseeing the whole operation. Sometimes this business feels like a giant puzzle and only the Owner/CEO can see all the pieces.
Choosing Your Hosting Platform
When choosing your hosting platform you should do so based on what you get out of your website and not on other metrics such as how busy it is. Web hosting is an infrastructure investment and how much you invest depends on whether your site is for your hobby, interest or for your business. And if it’s a business site your web hosting platform should be chosen on how much revenue the site generates. For instance should you invest $5/mo for a site that generates $50k/mo? That would be a mistake that could end up costing you thousands. Would you spend $300/mo on a dedicated server for a hobby site that brings in no income? (Maybe, if you’re extremely financially secure but generally…no. So now you have a choice between Shared Hosting, Premium Shared Hosting, a Managed VPS or a Managed Dedicated Server.
A shared hosting plan could cost you anywhere from $1/mo to $10/mo. You will be placed on a server with hundreds (if not thousands) of other websites. Your resource allocation will be on the lower side so database driven websites that see even mediocre traffic can run into resource issues. Shared hosting is perfect for hobby related websites. A business could get away with hosting a website on shared hosting with a few stipulations. First, they shouldn’t be selling anything on their website and secondly, email should be hosted elsewhere. Such a business website would essentially be an online business card or brochure.
Premium (Managed) Shared Hosting
Premium hosting, sometimes referred to as “Managed” web hosting is still shared hosting but the platform is faster and more stable. Faster due to SSD drives and higher end CPUs as well as advanced server-level page caching systems such as Varnish. Each domain is likely to have more resources allocated to it (CPU cores, Memory, IOPS limits, PHP process limits etc). The stability comes from a low tenant-to-server ratio. You are paying more so the host can afford to place less domains on any one server. With cloud technology I’d expect to see around 50 client accounts per server. Premium shared hosting can cost anywhere from $10/mo to $100/mo (and more!). This is a great solution for hobby sites that are starting to generate a small income with a goal to increase that income along with traffic. Business sites with hosted email should feel right at home on Premium Shared Hosting. If your business has an online shop with small revenue you can get away with middle-tier Premium Hosting but if you are generating an income 10x the amount of your hosting you need to consider investing more – especially if you expect growth in your sales.
A VPS is a Virtual Private Server (often called a VM – Virtual Machine). It’s a virtualized miniature server that sits on a server or cluster. You can get a VPS for $5/mo but the average webmaster has no technical skills to managed a server so they require a “Managed” solution. A VPS is essentially a server so it has its own operating system and server software that need constant updates and patching and then there is the security aspect (firewalls, rulesets, malware scanning, application monitoring, backup systems etc). A Managed VPS will generally start around $50/mo and goes up into the thousands based on size, traffic and resource usage.
Your hobby site or blog that is starting to take off and generating $500/mo – $5000/mo belongs on a Managed VPS. If you’re looking for more speed and more stability, this is the platform for you. Sole Traders and small businesses that are selling via their website and require good uptime and reliability should really be on a Managed VPS.
Managed Dedicated Server
Any website that, via its sales, is directly supporting the website owner should be on a dedicated server. My rule of thumb is $5000/mo income and above. A dedicated server offers the best speed, performance and uptime hands down. If you have a company with employees that use a hosted backend system and where employee workflow and output is directly linked to those systems’ uptime you need to be on a managed dedicated server. A VPS has dedicated resources but those resources are still drawn from an overall pool of resources that are shared between many virtual machines. Your CPU will certainly be shared between VMs and you will all use the same disk arrays so your IO is shared (this is how fast the server can read and write request to/from your website). On a dedicated server if you have a 960gb SSD drive, it’s all your yours. Plus you can scale up performance with RAID arrays, load balancers, database servers and so much more.
To sum up, you should be choosing your hosting platform based on website revenue. The more income you generate, the more you should be investing in your hosting architecture. Choose wisely!