Wednesday 11 October 2017

Virtual Hosting versus Dedicated Hosting: Which is Right for You 

So you’re starting a website, and one of the first things you’ll need to do is to find a web host. After searching all of the hosting possibilities, you find there is more than just one type of hosting. So what do you do?

Virtual Hosting, Dedicated Hosting, Web Hosting, Hosting Review

A successful web site depends on a good web host, but it's just as important to select the right kind of hosting account.  Most web hosting companies offer a choice between virtual shared hosting and dedicated hosting.  The basic difference between the two types of accounts is whether a site has its own server or shares one with other web sites, which determines whether that site has its own IP address or shares one with other sites.  With a virtual host, many websites are sharing a single machine with a single IP address.  In a dedicated hosting situation, a single machine is “dedicated” to a single customer.

In this article, I wanted to show you the major differences in the two types of hosting: virtual versus dedicated, and when you can determine it’s right to choose a dedicated server, time to move to a dedicated server from a virtual server, or stay with the shared hosting.

The Virtual Hosting Benefits and Risks

Virtual hosting has both its benefits and its risks.  The most obvious benefit of a virtual hosting account is price: it is low.  You can pay anywhere between $2.00 and $20.00 per month for shared hosting, depending upon the features of the host.  If you are just starting a website or don’t get a lot of traffic, or are concerned with price, then you’ll probably start with virtual hosting.  There are even free virtual host accounts available, although you’ll most likely have to put up with the advertising on the site from the host.  (Hey, they have to pay for the servers and your bandwidth somehow.)

One of the disadvantages of having your website hosted on a shared server is going to be server response time, or server load.  A server receives requests for files and serves up those files in the order the requests are received. It's like waiting on hold with your computer customer support company: if you're second in the queue, then you get served pretty quickly; but if you're the 20th customer on hold in the queue, you'll have to wait a lot longer.

How many sites reside on each server and how much traffic those sites get will also determine a server’s response time. While it isn’t necessarily due to the number of sites on a server, it will also depend upon those sites’ traffic. Response time may be slower if you share a server with 50 busy sites than if you share a server with 100 sites that only get a few hits per day.  A good idea is to ask the web host how many sites they allow on a shared server, and what the maximum traffic and transfer allowed for each site.

Virtual Hosting versus Dedicated Hosting: Which is Right for You - Virtual Hosting IP Risks

Finding out the IP address of a shared server ahead of time can allow you to use tools to find out the server response time of the virtual host.  It doesn’t do you any good to have a great website if your site visitors can’t access it due to slow server response time.  They’ll either get frustrated or go elsewhere.  You may also find that you are getting quite a bit of downtime based on server load. has a good tool you can use to test this out, as long as you don’t try to use it during peak hours.

Another drawback to virtual hosting is having to share your IP address with bad neighbors.  A web host is not going to tell you what other sites share your IP address; you take the risk of sharing your address with an adult site, a spam site, or other site you wouldn’t want to otherwise associate with.  Some search engines see red flags with some spam or adult sites, and other search engines have been known to ban IP addresses altogether, like AltaVista and it is rumored that even Google crawls by IP for efficiency, skipping those that it doesn’t like.  Make sure you know what kind of sites your web host allows in order for you to make an informed decision before you sign up.  You can usually find this information in their terms of service.

Another risk you run with sharing an IP address with other sites on a virtual server is the likelihood of more server crashes.  Most web hosts don’t allow certain kinds of scripts that may crash the servers, while others don’t monitor this type of behavior.  Scripts that are written poorly, with built-in loops, for example, can overload a server’s resources.  This can slow the server as well as it could cause the server to crash. Some web hosts allow unfettered shell access, whereas other require you to have some kind of identification on file in their office, and monitor all shell access behaviors.  You want to make sure that your web host at least has some sort of shell access guidelines in place, and that it is well protected.

I know it seems that these disadvantages far outweigh the advantages of virtual hosting; however, while I wanted you to be aware of the issues, for most sites out there though, virtual hosting does just fine.  Millions of websites use shared hosting options and most don’t have problems.

Virtual Hosting versus Dedicated Hosting: Which is Right for You - Dedicated Hosting Advantages and Disadvantages 

Dedicated Hosting Advantages and Disadvantages

One of the best features of having a dedicated server at your disposal is not having to worry what other sites out there are doing to increase your risk.  There are no other sites on your server to deal with, and you don’t have to think about cgi scripts gone awry thanks to someone else.

Dedicated servers can be built to handle higher traffic loads, and you only have to be concerned with the traffic from your own site, instead of everyone else’s too.  Because of this, there are usually no bandwidth limitations on dedicated servers.

The major disadvantage to going with a dedicated server for your hosting needs is going to be the cost involved.  Many of these start at about $70 per month for the bare minimums, and after that, the sky’s the limit on price, depending upon features the web host offers.  Many small to medium companies simply cannot justify the expense, especially if they are startup companies, not making money with their site, or not having been online very long.

While it may seem that the advantages to having a dedicated server may be worth the price, it really can be a waste of your monetary resources to have one when you really don’t need a dedicated server.

There are a few guidelines you can follow to determine whether you really need a dedicated server over using a virtual host.  If your traffic is so much so that it is overwhelming the server for others, then it’ll be a good indication that it’s time to make the jump.  A slow server isn’t pretty for the website owner or for visitors, and it is a nightmare for web hosts.

Virtual Hosting versus Dedicated Hosting: Which is Right for You - Do You Really Need Dedicated Hosting?

If you are exceeding your monthly bandwidth limits on a continual basis, you may actually not have to decide at all how much traffic is too much.  You may get a nice email from your web host telling you that you need to stay under your limitations, or there will be consequences:  added cost most likely, but there are even more extreme measures the web host may take on repeated offenses.  It is in your web host’s (and their customers’) best interest to determine which sites are bogging down their servers, and take appropriate action.  This may mean additional cost, moving the “offending” site to its own server, or booting it altogether.  While this kind of action may not be seen favorably by a web site owner who is the target of such action, a host has to weigh the cost of losing dozens of other customers due to overwhelmed server resources, or the cost of upgrading versus keeping the business of a single customer.  Bandwidth is expensive; not just for you, but also for your web host.  Even they have allocations provided by their ISP, and they need to make sure the expense of bandwidth is going to outweigh the revenues that are coming in.

Regardless, you should already be aware of the symptoms of the need for your site to have its own machine.  So how much traffic is too much traffic?  Well, normally if you ask me this question, I would say this: there is no such thing.  But in this case, it really is up to your web host to determine what too much traffic and transfer is.  Just ask them.  I’m sure they’ll tell you.

Another guideline to use to determine your need for a dedicated server is the purpose for which it will be used.  If you are simply moving your site to a dedicated server to “escape” the risks of virtual hosting, then this may not be a good enough reason.  Don’t misunderstand me, there is nothing “wrong” with going with a dedicated server for this reason, but it may just be a waste.  But if your purpose for having your site on a dedicated server is for functionality of the site, then there is good reason to assume that this is a good reason.

Another good reason for you have a dedicated server is the ability to customize both the hardware and the software.  With a virtual host, you don’t get to choose which CPU or how much RAM is in the machine; on the same token you usually don’t get to decide what software is going to be installed on it either.  If your company requires that you use Novell Networks as your email client, and you need to customize it to the needs of the company or you require a fast, customer service live support console that has to have minimal downtime, chances are good that you’ll need a dedicated server.  There are multiple examples of why a company would want a dedicated server, but ultimately they fall into three categories:  customizable hardware, customizable software, and unlimited bandwidth without server load issues on or from other sites.

So what if you decide you don’t necessarily need your own whole machine to host your website on, but don’t wish to take the risks of sharing your IP address with bad neighbors?  You may not be ready to switch from a virtual host to a dedicated server, but you may need your own IP address, especially if you are using your own SSL certificate or running an ecommerce store, or for SEO purposes.  Most virtual hosts allow you to pay for a dedicated IP address, which may serve to keep your site protected from some of the other risks associated with virtual hosting.


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