An Illustrated Guide To Web Hosting – Shared vs Virtual vs Dedicated vs Cloud Hosting

Unsure which type of hosting you need for your website? This article will help you understand the differences between shared hosting, virtual private servers, dedicated servers, and cloud hosting, so you can choose the right type for your website.

The Basics of Web Hosting

First, let’s go over the basics. A website is a set of files (or data in a database) that is accessible via the internet. Web hosting is a service that lets you store your website on a computer (called a server) that is available 24/7 so visitors can view your website at any time.

There are four main types of web hosting readily available to host your website:

  • Shared Hosting (this is what the majority of web hosting accounts are)
  • Virtual Private Server
  • Dedicated Server
  • Cloud Hosting

Each of these types of hosting is suited for a different set of requirements, but unless you are familiar with how each type works, you may find it difficult to choose the best option for your needs. This visual guide will help you understand how each type works and which may be best for your website.

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Shared Hosting

This is the most common and inexpensive type of web hosting. It is suitable for most small to medium websites.

How It Works: Multiple websites are stored on the same server.

What It Offers: Low cost, all the features most sites need.

Disadvantages: No root access (required to change server settings and install some software), limited ability to handle high traffic levels or spikes, your site performance can be affected by other sites on the server.

Best For: Most websites with moderate traffic levels running standard software.

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Virtual Private Server

A virtual private server, or VPS, offers some of the advantages of a dedicated server, but at a lower price.

How It Works: Multiple websites (although typically far fewer than with a shared hosting server)are stored on the same server, but each is contained within a separate virtual “container”.

What It Offers: Reasonable cost, root access (required to change server settings and install some software), full features.

Disadvantages: Limited ability to handle high traffic levels or spikes, your site performance can still be somewhat affected by other sites on the server.

Best For: Websites that need greater control at the server level, but don’t want to invest in a dedicated server.

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Dedicated Server

A dedicated server offers the maximum control over the web server your website is stored on.

How It Works: You exclusively rent an entire server. Your website(s) is the only website stored on the server.

What It Offers: Root access (required to change server settings and install some software), total control over the server.

Disadvantages: Higher cost, slightly limited ability to handle high traffic levels or spikes (you would have to upgrade the server hardware to increase capability).

Best For: Websites that need the greatest control at the server level, or who need greater server performance.

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Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting offers nearly unlimited ability to handle high traffic or traffic spikes.

How It Works: A team of servers (called a cloud) work together to host a group of websites. This allows multiple computers to work together to handle high traffic levels or spikes for any particular website.

What It Offers: Nearly unlimited ability to handle traffic spikes, all the features most sites need.

Disadvantages: Many cloud hosting setups do not offer root access (required to change server settings and install some software), higher cost.

Best For: Websites that need the flexibility to handle traffic spikes.