In the most simplest form, "hosting" your website means it is sitting on a big computer (similar to a home computer, but larger), with a large capacity, connected 24x7 to the Internet so that anyone in the world can access it. If you are reading this article you might either have recently had your website developed or are looking to move your website to another website hosting provider.
There are an infinite number of hosting packages available - but how do you decide where to host your business website ?
At the bottom end of the scale you will find many "value" hosting packages for £3-4 ($6-$8) per month. At the other end of the scale, you can rent or buy your own dedicated server at several hundred pounds or dollars per month. Below we explore the different options available to you.
There are several factors that govern whether a package is entry-level ("value") or higher end (a "dedicated server").
As with any company, they have to make money to be in business and the expression "you don't get something for nothing" holds true with web hosting. Below we explore the pros and cons of the different areas.
Web Hosting Support
How long will you have to wait to get through to get an answer to any questions you have? Many cheaper hosting companies only provide a premium-rate telephone number to call, with long queue times "on hold" while you wait to speak to someone. The other thing to bear in mind is that some companies only provide e-mail support which can be extremely frustrating as you try to get your question across to someone through an e-mail, only to then get stuck in a circular e-mail exchange until you give up, frustrated.
If you are paying for a middle to top end hosting package, you will usually be given a local number to call and easy, uncomplicated access to a support person that can answer your question without a long time "on hold".
The Hosting Server
Websites sit on what is basically a large computer ("hosting server") in a large rack with lots of other computers in an air-conditioned room. Website Hosting servers are connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on a very high speed connection. This enables anyone to access your website at any time of day.
Cheap Hosting vs Business Website Hosting
People often wonder how many other websites are hosted on the server their website is on; the answer to this can be as few as 1 up to as many as 10,000+. It is in the interest of the cheaper-end hosting companies to squeeze as many websites as they can onto their servers to even make a profit. These servers are known as "shared" hosting.
At the other end of the scale, dedicated servers offer a much higher specification of server, with, in many cases, only 200 or so websites hosted on them compared to 10,000+ on economy servers.
Hosting Server Bandwidth and Connection Speeds
While many hosting companies promise "unlimited" bandwidth, in practical day-to-day terms this can mean download speeds of anything between 20k/s through to more than 300k/s+. The connection your web hosting server has to the Internet is the key factor. In the case of dedicated servers there is usually no restriction on either the amount of visitors to your website or the speed of the connection. You will usually find that hosting your website on a dedicated server gives a faster loading websites.
Cheaper hosting providers may have many websites squeezed onto a single server. As a result, you will generally find that the speed the website loads is much slower as the connection has to be shared between all of the websites hosted.
What software can you run on your Hosting Server?
Dedicated servers allow the important flexibility of being able to have scripts, software and customised programs installed on them. In many cases shared hosting companies will not allow this and set their limits tightly as to what they will and will not allow to run on their servers. There might be, for example, no way of installing ImageMagik (which is an online image manipulation tool) as it would then apply to everyone on the server; some hosting companies see extra software as a security risk, but there are many excellent bits of software that cheaper hosting companies disallow can greatly enhance a website.
Website Hosting - A Comparison