The Different Types of Web Hosting, Explained

There are a lot of ways to get a funny cat video or photo of a chic shirt delivered to someone’s laptop. In this post, we’re going to get a basic overview of all the different ways that someone might choose to host their website, from dedicated servers to private clouds.

Dedicated Servers

Servers are either rented directly to a company to store in-house, sold directly to a company as hardware, or rented to a company as a managed solution. When you see the phrase “dedicated servers,” it usually refers to this third option, a managed solution that is rented out to individual companies for their web services. The server is called dedicated to contrast it to VPS and shared server solutions.

However, if you want your own server, you can also rent a physical server which you would house in your office or company building. Additionally, you can buy servers outright and use them to host web services.

Load Balancers

If you need to increase power, you’ve got a few different options. Many companies are beginning to opt for private cloud and CDN solution, which we will discuss below. The other two main options are to increase the power of the dedicated server or to use a load balancer to link multiple physical servers together. Individual physical servers can be very powerful if you simply increase the hardware of the solution, adding more RAM and CPU cores.

The load balancer is like a cloud solution, in that it uses multiple servers as if it were a single environment, but it is different in the approach. With a load balancer all the traffic to the site runs through a single server and then gets distributed to further servers at the end of the line. The load balancer throws users and requests onto the least busy server that is available. Each server is capable of running all the individual data and instances of the website on its own.

Resellers

Like in almost any industry, there are people who make things and people who sell things, and sometimes the middleman finds a price point where they can make money by buying and reselling the product. Server space is a commodity, and there is a whole industry built around buying server space and reselling it to different consumers. Usually, this happens when a company utilizes a colocation center (see below) to split dedicated servers into shared servers or VPS solutions, which they then manage themselves. By providing the tech support and branding, they can upsell the server space that they are paying for.

Resellers is located in the dedicated servers category, but there are many different types of upselling operations that can take place. Some resellers of web services will offer services that are nearly identical to the ones that they are purchasing, but will provide additional technical support.

Shared Server, VPS and Public Clouds

Shared server, VPS, and public cloud hosting solutions are all examples of managed web hosting types. Each of them are sold by a web hosting company for monthly rates. Different hosting companies will offer different levels of management, ranging from some bare essentials to a fully managed solution. Because the servers are locked away in a building that you may never visit, each of these hosting solutions offers an extensive control panel that allows you to communicate with the server and build the site.

Because shared servers, VPS solutions, and public clouds are built to make hosting more affordable for smaller companies and sites, they usually come with more invasive management protocols. This can be great if you don’t have a massive in-house IT team that is responsible for backing up your site, upgrading security, and managing software updates. It can be limiting for users who want more control over the backend of their site. 

Shared Server

A shared server is the old fashioned way of splitting a single server into potentially hundreds of smaller websites. It’s great for building a ton of user controlled blogs or tiny personal websites. Shared servers split the resources of the server into different sites, but the type of splitting usually means that users have little control over the root or OS features of the hosting.

VPS Hosting

VPS is virtual private server hosting, a different way of splitting a single server into smaller websites. It drains slightly more resources than the shared server, because virtualization software is required to split server resources into individual environments, or virtual private servers. Once split into virtual private servers, users can usually control different software installations and OS types. There are different types of virtualization procedures that leave users with different amounts of control.

Public Cloud

A cloud computing solution basically uses a number of different servers to create a single, emergent virtual environment with far more resources than an individual server could produce. From this massive virtual environment, a number of virtual private servers can be created to draw on the resources of the cloud. Cloud computing solutions are popular for hosting because they can offer massive scalability. Users only have to pay for the resources that they are actually using, and can quickly buy more cloud resources if their websites spike in traffic.

Private Clouds

Not every cloud is shared. For example, Amazon offers a Virtual Private Cloud as part of its web services which creates a logically isolated section of their cloud. They also offer dedicated instances which can be defined and isolated at the hardware level for additional security. This means that when you see “cloud hosting,” you’re dealing with 2 different types. Public cloud hosting allows companies to lower costs and split resources with a ton of different people. Private cloud hosting allows companies to have tons more resources and increased security and compliance specs.

A private cloud has the same kind of technology that a public cloud uses, but it stops short of splitting the virtual environment into different individual virtual private servers that are servicing different users. Instead of splitting the virtual environment, the resources the whole environment are given to a single company, site, or solution.

CDN

Private clouds also allow companies to utilize the power of a content delivery network (CDN). If you’re a large company that has to deliver a complex website or e-commerce experience with tons of data, you’ll need to leverage a CDN. When a company wants to stream thousands of gigs of data per second to a lot of customers, for example a large video streaming service, they use a CDN.

A CDN creates additional instances of critical data and locates them in cached storage at strategic locations. One of the big considerations of large websites with a global audience is latency. Latency is how long it takes data to move from one location to another, and is affected by the kinds of cables that are used, the kinds of signals that are employed, and the precise geographical location of the entities. If a data center needs to move data to a laptop that is requesting a site from a distant location, a CDN lets it bounce that request to a different data center that is closer to the laptop. An originating data center processes all requests, obtains the location of the users making the requests, then reroutes those requests to nodes in the CDN that are closer to the user making the request. CDNs allow huge companies to deliver lightning-fast website experiences to people on different sides of the world.

Green Hosting

Green hosting is a branding of web hosting that has popped up recently, targeting consumers and companies that wish to reduce the environmental impact of web hosting services. Web hosting services can draw a ton of power to support the data centers and keep things cool enough for servers to function properly. 

In response to this drain on environments and resources, green hosting usually also pays for carbon offsetting or even powers a whole data center with renewable energy. Some green data centers will even prioritize the planting of trees and plants around the data center property. They try to conserve energy and opt for energy saving versions of equipment.

Colocation versus Management

If you’re setting up shop in a major technology hub, like San Francisco or New York, you’ll also have the option to sign up for colocation services. Colocation services expect that you’ve got boots on the ground in the area. Instaead of fully managing your servers, you’re rented the space on the rack to put up your own equipment. Colocation services vary, but for the most part you’ll be responsible for your own management and IT. You may have to even purchase your own hardware. They will provide the power and fans to keep things running and cool.

When people think of web hosting services for small to mid size operations, they usually are thinking of management, and not colocation. When you hire fully managed hosting operations, you get way more than just power and air conditioning. You get the servers adn the personel to keep things running on the servers. Many management hosting solutions also handle certain security, backup, and OS updates.