What is web hosting and why do you need it?
The basic principle of Web hosting, is simple; it’s a place where your web pages reside that’s accessible over the internet.
Do you need it, in short, yes, if you’d like your website to be accessed globally and reliably?
Can you host your website yourself?
The answer is, yes. You can, you will need web server software such as Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) or Apache installed on a computer, a high speed link to the internet that provides a reliable upstream/upload, a good email system such as Microsoft Exchange, an in-depth knowledge of Internet Security, and a sound technical knowledge in maintaining such applications.
Broadband/ADSL is unsuitable as the upload speeds are nowhere near enough to provide a usable service.
Also, in reality, the skills needed are highly sought after, not cheap and the costs to set up and maintain such a service often outweigh using that of a good supplier that can do the same Job, often an awful lot better and cheaper.
What do you normally get with web hosting?
Typically, you get the following kind of features:
- A good amount of storage or disk space
- A good email system that allows you to set up email addresses, aliases, Out-of-office replies and distribution groups.
- Web based statistics software that tells you the number of visitors to your website, search engine usage plus a whole heap more useful information.
- SPAM filters for your email
- Backups of your website and email
- Support for dynamic web based programming languages that can perform special tasks such as sending email, working with databases
- A database system for storing records of anything from website enquiries to customer orders
- A fast and reliable service
- Most important of all; on hand technical support in the case of anything going wrong
What types of web hosting are there?
Web hosting in its most common form, comes in two types, Windows or Linux.
Windows tends to be a good choice for all Microsoft based web technologies and programming languages, also for websites that use Microsoft Access or Microsoft SQL Server databases.
Windows hosting will often support PHP, Perl and CGI programming languages and often the popular MySQL database system.
Linux is often a slightly cheaper choice and is usually the best choice for websites using the PHP, Perl and CGI programming languages. Support for MySQL databases is often an intrinsic part of the service.
Email services are common to both and there is usually little to choose between them unless you opt for the popular Microsoft Hosted Exchange mailboxes service. This service offers larger mailbox capacity as well as shared calendars, mailboxes, task lists and a host of other features.
It costs more, but is popular with heavy users of email and those that need to share mail and features such as Calendars with other (often remote) users.
Small Website or high traffic website, what’s the best option?
Linux and Windows hosting both offer different size and performance options that suit.
The most common is shared hosting. This is where your website and email is hosted among often several hundred other websites on the same physical machine (server).
This is by far the most cost effective, and suits most small websites.
The next stage up is a Virtual Private Server (VPS). This is one very large server that is split in to several smaller “Virtual” Servers. This gives you full access to the “virtual” server computer, so you can install any specific software you need, and gives all the benefits of having your very own server.
Performance is often far superior to that of Shared Hosting, and cost is more than Shared Hosting, however significantly less than a Dedicated Server.
A Dedicated Server. Here you have your very own server. This often costs significantly more as you have to pay for all the hardware and software licensing costs as well as support costs. It is however the best option for a high traffic website that demands optimum performance.
Server Farms. Server farms are where there is more than one server that hosts your website. All requests are handled by a proxy that could load a page from any one of the servers. This is called Load Balancing.
It is the highest performance and most reliable type of hosting arrangement; however is also the most expensive in terms of setting up and maintaining.
Google, YouTube, Amazon, Dell and Microsoft are all examples of corporations that use Load Balanced servers. As an extreme example, YouTube’s hosting bill to provide enough bandwidth and storage each day is claimed to be in the region of $1.6 million per day.
How much does it cost?
There are many hosting packages that are available from your Broadband supplier and various others that start at £25 per year. These are a good choice for personal websites; however often lack the full feature set and support that is needed for a commercial website.
For good Shared Hosting expect to pay between £75 and £150 per year.
For a VPS solution, expect to pay between £300 for a basic server with no support and £600 per year for a server suitable for hosting a number of websites with a good support package.
For a Dedicated server, expect to pay between £100 and £400 per month
For a server farm of 2 or more computers, expect to pay £1,000 per month minimum.