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Shared Versus Dedicated Web Hosting

By Larisa Thomason, NetMechanic, Inc.
Monday, March 08, 2004; 5:00pm EST


Your Web hosting company can be your site's best friend or worst enemy - depending on the level of service and responsiveness. A successful Web site depends on a good Web host, but it's just as important to select the right kind of hosting account.

Are you willing to share space on a server with other sites or do you need a server of your own? Know the answer before you start shopping.

Unique And Shared Addresses

Every server connected to the Web has its own IP address. The IP address uniquely identifies that server much like a membership number or driver's license number identifies a particular individual. IP addresses are also tied to domain names. This relationship means that Web users can either enter a domain name or an IP address in a Web browser to access the information on a Web server.

The basic difference between Web hosting accounts is whether a site has its own server or shares one with other Web sites. That arrangement determines whether the site has its own IP address or shares one with other sites.

Most small to medium-sized sites use a type of hosting called "virtual hosting" where a number of Web sites reside on the same server. Because the sites share a server, they also share an IP address.

Large and/or busy sites usually can't share server space because the volume of Web traffic from many sites would quickly overwhelm the server. Those sites either operate their own servers or select a "dedicated hosting" option from their Web host. Dedicated hosting means that your site is the only site residing on the server and so you aren't sharing an IP address with any other site.

Which type is best for you? Let's look at the good and bad points of both.

Share The Risk With Virtual Hosting

The best thing about virtual hosting is price: it's usually really low. Depending on your site's technology, storage, and bandwidth requirements, virtual hosting can cost anywhere from $3 to $20 per month. It's even possible to get free hosting in return for displaying ads from the hosting company or one of its partners on your site.

If price is your main concern, then virtual hosting may be right for you. But make sure you're aware of potential problems:

  • Know your neighborhood. Sharing an IP address with known spam sites or adult sites raises a warning flag with search engines. Spam sites try to trick search engines into giving them an underserved high rank, so some search engines like AltaVista respond by banning the entire IP address from their index.

    Check your Web host's terms of service page to see what sites are allowed on their servers. Also ask if they offer an individual IP address for different sites on the same server. Some hosts do, but make sure the IP address and domain name resolve correctly before you start promoting the site.

  • Slower server response. A server receives requests for files and serves up those files in the order the requests are received. It's like a line at the bank: if you're second in line you get served pretty quickly but it you're twelfth in line you'll wait much longer.

    Ask your host how many sites reside on each server and how much traffic those sites get. The sheer number of sites isn't the only issue. Response time may be slower if you share space with 100 busy sites than if you share a server with 250 sites that only get a few hits per day.

    Slow server response can hurt site promotion by frustrating visitors. In extreme cases, pages may timeout and never load: not a good idea if that happens when search engine spiders crawl by! Find out the IP address of the server you'll share and use NetMechanic's Server Check tool to monitor the server and verify its response time.

  • More server crashes. Most Web hosts strictly limit the type of CGI scripts allowed on their servers, and with good reason! A poorly-written CGI script can quickly run wild and consume most of the server's resources, even crashing it.

    Your site could be slowed or brought down entirely due to the action of a neighboring site.

Don't get scared by these concerns. The overwhelming number of Web sites use virtual hosting and never experience any problems. You just don't want to be the exception! Evaluate the host carefully before you sign up for an account.

Own Your Home With A Dedicated Server

Dedicated hosting costs more, but offers more features and benefits. With dedicated hosting, you're the only site on the server and have your own IP address. A dedicated IP address used to be a requirement for SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption, but some hosting companies now offer it as part of virtual hosting packages.

Because you have the server to yourself, dedicating hosting is more expensive. It's like owning a home instead of renting an apartment. Like any homeowner, your costs will be higher, but there are benefits to the arrangement:

  • More control: You don't have to worry about someone's bad script slowing or crashing the server. You have only yourself to blame if that happens!

  • Faster response with high traffic loads. Because the server only responds to request for information from your site, visitors won't have to wait in line to view your Web pages and images.

  • Easier setups. It's easier to set up the server to handle anonymous FTP and SSL encryption if the server has a dedicated IP address. This isn't impossible with virtual hosting, it is more difficult.

    Many virtual hosts don't offer it or charge a premium if they do. If the host offers SSL encryption with a virtual hosting account, make sure they set it up for you!

  • No bandwidth penalty. Virtual hosting accounts usually offer a certain amount of bandwidth per month to each site on the server. Sites that go over their allotment get charged extra. But dedicated hosting generally has no such restrictions because it's assumed you need a lot of bandwidth if you require your own server.

Those are great benefits, but they usually don't justify the extra cost for smaller sites. Evaluate your needs and your financial resources before you sign up for hosting and choose your host carefully.

Our checklist of Seven Questions To Ask Your Web Host" is a good place to start.

About Source of Article
The author of this article is Larisa Thomason, Senior Web Analyst with NetMechanic, Inc. NetMechanic is an online service specializing in html code checking, search engine optimization and web site maintenance and promotion. For more information visit http://www.netmechanic.com/.

 

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