The most expensive form of web hosting, before you consider through-put (sometimes incorrectly termed “bandwidth”) charges, is dedicated web hosting.
In this form of hosting, you actually have your own entire computer — no one else has any activities on your computer. No other web site can affect your site’s operation on the server by hogging the resources.
You may own the computer(s) and have it(them) “co-located” in some web hosting company’s computer center. Alternatively, you may rent or lease one or more of their computers.
Dedicated Web Hosting also comes with options as far as the level of control the web hosting company will exert over your machine. In this case, “control” is good. You can arrange that your co-located server is monitored by the hosting company and that they respond and handle any problems. Or, you can go “bare bones” and monitor it yourself. Do you want them to install the software (it will be an expensive service) or can you handle it.
These issues, and the costs that go with them, are the reason so many web hosting companies sell shared web hosting. It’s easier to “leave the driving to them.”
Virtual Web Hosting | Virtual Private Servers | VPS
A more cost-friendly form of web hosting is virtual web hosting, also known as virtual private servers. In this form, the web hosting company maintains rather powerful computers for use. The power is needed because the machine will run sophisticated software that will make several “virtual” computers out of one computer. That is, there is only one computer, but three (or four or six or however many) different operating system installations will all believe that they have exclusive use of the computer.
The most common virtual software is called VMWare, which you can even buy to install on your own machine at home — so you could run Windows 7, Windows XP Pro, Windows XP Home, Windows Me and a couple Linux variations — all at the same time on the same machine!
With Virtual web hosting, when you log into the hosting computer remotely, you appear to have sole control over that computer — in reality, you are just one of several similar accounts on the machine. Each could even crash without affecting the others.
With virtual web hosting you usually also have the option to have your virtual machine maintained by the web hosting company. Again, do you want to apply patches to the operating system and programs, upgrade the programs, maintain your firewalls, etc? It’s easier to let them handle it.
Shared Web Hosting
The most common form of web hosting, ignoring the small, limited accounts at an individual’s Internet Service Provider, is shared web hosting.
With shared web hosting, you do not have control over the machine. You may or may not even have the ability to log into the machine itself, although you can log into the FTP server to upload your files, log into the web host’s control panel software, etc. In most cases, you can load and run your own PHP, Perl and .Net applications on the shared weh host, if that particular web host provides that individual service.
The biggest advantages of shared web hosting are that it is cheap web hosting and that the web host will maintain the security of the system itself. Of course, you will be responsible for the security of any applications you load, including your web programming and database use.
Many web hosts provide automatic installers to install commonly requested programs such as e-commerce shopping carts, forum software, content management system software, photo galleries and such.
If you are shopping for shared web hosting, you are usually shopping for price. Unfortunately, sometimes you get what you pay for. Each web hosting company develops is own “packages” of services — and no two seem alike. They may differ in the amount of web space you get, whether you get access to a database (and whether that’s an extra-cost add-on!), whether you can send outgoing email through their mail servers, whether it runs on a Windows server (which you will need if you want Access or real .Net functions) or Linux/Unix/BSD (which are all similar but independently developed systems), what support programs are provided, whether all the functions of a program are available (some web hosts only provide some of the PHP functions, so if that’s important, you want to know it.
Pricing in the Shared Web Hosting world typically ranges from $2/month to $50/month. You don’t get much for the $2. You should get a lot more for $50. The “sweet spot” seems to be in the $7/month to $10/month range. Some of these web hosts will give you a lot for your money, while others will not. You have to shop around or go by referrals.
My own choice for shared web hosting is HostGator, which has packages as low as $4.95 per month..