The whole subject of web hosts, web hosting and web servers can be quite confusing, especially for newcomers to the world of website ownership. Indeed, the whole issue is often glossed over or ignored completely by web service providers eager to make the sale.
In this beginners guide to web hosting, we shed some light on the subject by examining both the terminology and some of the common hosting options available in the marketplace today.
What Is a Server?
A server is a computer whose sole purpose is to make available (or ‘serve’) files to other computers on the same network.
The computer which requests files is called the ‘client’. This is where the phrase ‘client-server’ relationship comes from.
So What Is a Web Server?
A web server is a special type of server whose role is to provide web pages to clients when requested.
A website is a group of web pages belonging to an individual or business. An individual web server can host anything from one to many websites.
Web pages are, therefore, nothing more than files of information held on web servers which are requested by computers using web browsers, for example Internet Explorer, FireFox, Safari, Chrome, Opera, to name just a few.
What Is a Data Centre?
Most web servers are found in data centres which house a large number of servers in a single location.
Usually, not all the servers are owned by the same company. The data centre provides a secure location with backup power generators and fail-safe circuits. Space within the data centre is then rented out to companies or individuals wishing to place their servers in a more secure and resilient location.
Where Are These Data Centres?
There are data centres in locations all over the World.
Generally speaking, the geographical location of the data centre which runs the web server, which hosts your website is important because the physical distance between the location of your server and your target audience can affect the speed at which your website pages appear in your visitor’s browser.
It takes longer for a page being served from web server in the USA to load on a UK-based computer browser than it would if that same web server were located in the UK. Physical distance affects speed. Simple really.
Now more than ever, speed is important. So if your target audience is in the UK, your web server should be too.
What Is a Web Host?
A web hosting company usually owns many web servers located in one or more data centres.
A good web host provides various web server hardware options all with different capabilities including power, resource limits, diskspace and bandwidth.
Many web hosts publicise ‘server uptime’ which is a percentage figure representing the proportion of time that its servers have remained online and available.
Web hosts also offer varying levels of security with which to encrypt personal or business data, such as SSL certificates – used extensively with ecommerce websites.
What Types of Web Hosting Are Available?
Hosting servers come in varying shapes and sizes. The type of server you choose is generally determined by price and the type of website or web service you intend to run.
Small websites with low expected traffic (visitor) volumes can utilise less powerful web servers at less cost, whereas larger ecommerce sites with high expected traffic volumes will require more powerful web servers at an increased cost.
Here is a description of the major types of web hosting server options available today.
Shared Hosting Server
Shared hosting is the cheapest and most common type of server hosting available. With shared hosting, the physical web server hosts many (often hundreds) of ‘virtual’ web servers all sharing the physical server’s hardware and software resources.
Shared hosting is both popular and cost-effective however, the downside is that there is potential for another person on the server to exceed their share of system resources thereby slowing the performance of all other sites in the shared host.
Shared hosting is a good starting point for a website but if traffic volumes grow, it may be worth considering a more powerful option to maintain a consistent level of performance.
Virtual Private Server (VPS)
The Virtual Private Server or VPS is still a virtual server hosted on a physical server but with one very important difference: the resources allocated to the VPS are constant and cannot be affected by the performance or load on other virtual servers on the same physical server host.
To all intents and purposes the VPS is just like having your own physical server but with the added benefit of not having to look after the hardware. You choose the amount of disk space and RAM required to meet the needs of the site you are running and the available budget.
The VPS is often the next step for websites, particularly ecommerce websites, which require better performance and higher page loading speeds.
As the name suggests, the Dedicated Server is an entire physical server owned by the hosting provider but leased to you the customer. Your website is the only site on the server and therefore it benefits from the full allocation of all physical system resources.
Performance is therefore predicatble and consistent, problems are easier to diagnose and the server configuration can be customised to exactly match the needs of the site which runs on it.
Dedicated servers are relatively expensive to lease, especially if the length of the lease is measured in years. They also require a much higher level of technical knowledge to run them effectively and derive the most benefit.
The Colocation Facility or ‘colo’ allows you to buy your own web server and then rent space for it in the data centre.
The hosting company provides the Internet connection, power supply, climate control, physical security and a basic human administration service (in case the server needs a reboot, etc.).
The colo is the most expensive server hosting option with a large upfront cost and requires a high level of technical knowledge.
pcaWeb Managed Hosting – a True ‘Done for You’ Service
At pcaWeb we like to make the process of building a website as smooth as possible. That’s why we offer our clients a range of competitive, managed hosting, maintenance and support packages which complement any website development project. This way, clients don’t have the headache of choosing their own hosting and potentially getting it wrong and, because it’s ‘managed hosting‘ our clients never have to deal with a hosting company directly.
Our European hosting servers are ‘known quantities’ with robust and reliable configurations making performance predictable and consistent when running the sites we build for our clients.
So, no sales reps, no frustrating (and time-consuming) calls to technical support engineers – we handle all that for you so you can just get on with the business of running your business.
What’s your experience with web hosting? If you need help or guidance, please feel free to send us a message via our contact form.