Web Hosting Services Explained – Shared Hosting? Dedicated Server? VPS? Cloud Hosting?

If you are new to web hosting, you will certainly be very confuse with the different types of web hosting services being offered. Don't worry. After reading this article, you should be able to understand all of them and know exactly what you need.

What is a server?

When a hosting company starts a hosting business, it needs to have at least one server. What is a server? It is nothing but a high performance computer with high speed internet connection.

It doesn't look like a desktop computer we are using. It doesn't need to look stylish but it needs to be practical. This is a Dell dekstop PC.

 This is a Dell server.

Hosting Server

You will notice that a server doesn't come with a monitor, keyboard and mouse. You will also notice that instead of a tower casing, it is a "rack mount" case.

Rack Mount\

Unlike most of us who will only have 1 or 2 desktop computers at home, a hosting company owns and operates a lot of servers and to be as practical as possible, the "rack mount" case is used so that a lot of servers can be mounted into the server rack. This will save a lot of space and make connecting all the cables easier. The rack will also provide features such as cooling and power supply.

Server connection

And because all servers are networked together, you don't need a separate monitor, mouse and keyboard for every one of them. All you need is one set and you can control any of the server.

What is a datacenter?


The place where you put all your servers and racks is known as the datacenter. The reason why hosting servers need to be placed in datacenter instead of a normal office is because millions of dollars have been invested in the high speed internet connection to the data center. These connections are a few thousand times faster than ordinary broadband connection.

What is dedicated server hosting?

So if you want to host your website and you rent an entire server from your hosting company, you are using a dedicated server hosting, or simply dedicated hosting.

The cheapest dedicated server offered by HostGator cost you $139 per month!

HostGator Dedicated Hosting

But that's overkill for 99% of us!!! A server, even a low end one can serve a few million visitors a month without any problem. But most webmasters like you and me owns very simple websites or blogs that don't even require 0.1% of the power. And that's exactly why we have shared hosting.

What is shared hosting?

It means instead of paying for the entire server which is very expensive and overkill, we pay a small sum per customer/website and share the server with other customers/websites.

This is what my website is all about, reviewing and suggesting the best shared hosting service to you that won't cut a hole in your wallet. Anything more than $10/month is considered expensive.

Here are some of the "unlimited" shared hosting and their pricing.

HostGator $7.46
iPage $4.50
JustHost $5.95
GreenGeeks $5.45
LunarPages $6.27
FatCow $5.58
PowWeb $4.88

What is semi-dedicated server hosting?

This is something in between a dedicated server and shared hosting. Or we can say it is the same as shared hosting but you share it with less people. Just for illustration, a hosting company might host 1,000 websites on their shared hosting but host only 20 on the semi-dedicated server. Maybe a better name is "less crowded shared hosting".  Of course it will be more expensive than the normal "crowded" shared hosting.

Again from my experience, most of us don't need this. We all begin with shared hosting and if we ever reach the limit, our web host will inform us and that's the time we need to consider this option.

Usually we breach the limit because we host too many websites in 1 shared account. We can just purchase another shared hosting account and move some websites over. We don't even need to upgrade to a semi-dedicated or dedicated server which is probably more expensive.

What is VPS hosting (Virtual Private Server)?

Virtual means not real. Virtual private server means not really a "real" server. When you own a dedicated server, you own the full control of the server. But when you are using a shared hosting, you have limited control over the server.

A full control on your dedicated server means you can even format or shut down the server! You hosting company definitely won't allow you to do that if you are using their shared hosting service. All critical controls of the shared hosting remain with the hosting company so a single customer cannot sabotage the whole server and affect hundreds or thousands of other customers sharing the same server.

VPS is a funny breed between dedicated server and shared hosting. You are indeed sharing the server with someone else and yet you have "full" control over your "virtual server" where you can shut it off, restart it or even format it. This is achieved by using intelligent VPS software. So that means if you screw up your own "virtual server", you won't affect other customers sharing the same physical server with you.

The benefit of VPS is that it is cheaper than a dedicated server because you are sharing a physical server with someone else. And yet you retain the full power to your server almost exactly the same as a dedicated server.

While owning control over a server seems interesting, but 99% of us doesn't even understand a basic Linux commands (or maybe never even heard of the word Linux) and how do you suppose we are able to manage the server our self? So again, 99% of us need shared hosting and only shared hosting.

Linux command

What is managed hosting?

A managed hosting is a more expensive dedicated hosting but with added service. If you use a dedicated hosting, you will need to manage the server yourself including upgrading the operating system and software. Customers who choose to use a dedicated server usually have hired some IT staff to manage the servers. On the other hand, if you pay for managed hosting, the hosting company will help you to manage your server to a certain extend. The "management" service they provides is still very limited because they won't help you to design and maintain your website. They are only responsible for keeping your server updated and running all the time.

What is co location hosting?

For all hosting types we have discusses so far, the server still belongs to the hosting company. You are just renting it (dedicated hosting, managed hosting) or part of it (shared hosting, semi dedicated, vps). You can also buy your own server and rent a rack space in their datacenter and this is known as co location hosting. You pay less to the hosting company but you will need to pay for the server. And when you terminate your contract, the server still belongs to you. The reason why you want to co locate the server in their datacenter instead of in your own office is because you want to use their high speed internet connection.

What is cloud hosting?

There are many websites that are so heavy loaded that they require more than 1 server, i.e. Google, Facebook, Youtube, etc. There companies pay millions of dollars each month to maintain their hosting servers. Their servers farms are even bigger than many web hosting companies!

Because there are so many servers connected with each other to serve the same website, intelligent cloud hosting software is required to keep balancing the load between the servers. Visitor #1 may be directed to server A and visitor #2 may be directed to server B.

Cloud Hosting

With cloud hosting, there is almost no downtime because if a server crash, there are many more running and the cloud hosting software can just direct the traffic to another server. Where else if your dedicated server crash, your entire website will be down. Even a short reboot of your dedicated server will cause a short downtime.

The other benefit is faster connection for the visitor. For example, Google has servers all around the world and they will direct a visitor to a server nearest to their location. A Canadian will be directed to a server in Canada while a Japanese will be directed to a server in Japan.

Do you need cloud hosting? You will remember that I said most of us don't even need a dedicated server and why would we want to pay for multiple servers? Actually what the hosting companies offer are not the entire cloud hosting but "shared cloud hosting". You share the cloud hosting network with many other customers by paying a small amount of money and enjoy all the benefits of cloud hosting.

Everything has their strengths and weaknesses. For cloud hosting, the weaknesses are security and higher chance of data corruption. This is because your data is now hosted in multiple servers and locations which means hackers have more places to poke your website. And because data need to be synchronized between all servers, a bad synchronization may corrupt your data. Maintaining your website become more complicated. Cloud hosting is also more expensive than traditional hosting.

If you want to learn more on cloud hosting you can also read a brief on cloud hosting. I am personally not a fan of cloud hosting due to the complication. I will stick to the traditional hosting and recommend everyone to do so.


If you haven't get it yet, I will have to repeat it again. 99% of us will only need shared hosting. We will know when we breach the limit (your web host will tell you) and only at that time we will need to consider the upgrade options.

If you believe there is a chance you are the 1%, hosting with a full service hosting providers such as HostGator and LunarPages will be beneficially because they offer everything from shared hosting to VPS hosting to dedicated servers. Upgrading from one to another will be easier.

Many web hosting companies such as iPage and FatCow offer only shared hosting and do not offer upgrade options. You will have to move your entire website to another web hosts if you really breach their limits.

Again as mentioned earlier, most of the time we don't need to upgrade but simply to purchase more shared hosting accounts and move some of our websites over.


Recommended Reading:-

- Unlimited hosting is a marketing gimmick and I have explained it in my post why unlimited hosting is limited.

- All the best web hosting services you can trust fully reviewed by me.