Knowing what web hosting is and how it works has a huge impact on how you go about choosing the right hosting company for your website or blog.
Whether you have a personal, e-commerce, educational, news, or any other type of site, after registering your domain name, the single most important part of getting your site up on the web is having it hosted somewhere.
There are thousands of websites that are built every single day.
According to NetCraft (a company that keeps track of e number of web sites on the internet since August 1995), as of May 2012, there were close to 700 million sites worldwide.
And if you look at their charts year by year, its easy to see that by now (2013) we have hit around 1 Billion active websites!
All these sites are hosted somewhere and chances are if you are reading this, either you already have a site or two, are in the process of building one, or considering building one (or maybe you just like to know what exactly it means to have a website hosted).
Whatever your reason may be, this is the last web hosting guide you’ll ever need to read.
Let’s get started, shall we!…
So, What Is Web Hosting?
Web hosting refers to a service that houses all your website files in a computer, and makes it possible for your website to be accessed over the internet with its connection to the world wide web.
The computer is not much different from what we use at home but it is called a server. So, effectively, people on Internet can get to see your website when they access those website files residing on that server.
What Does a Web Host Company Do?
Web hosting providers, or simply web hosts, are the folks that facilitate this service. A web hosting company is a service provider whose server, or a network of servers, pushes your website on to the Internet.
In technical context, a website host is a computer that is on 24/7 with perpetual connection to the Internet.
Whenever you access a website, you are effectively downloading some files from that server that hosts the concerned website. And any computer can function as that website host, including the one you are on now to read this blog.
However, professional companies boast of computers that are tremendously powerful with tons of storage spaces and memory.
In addition, these are purpose built machines to facilitate delivery of the website files to thousands (and possibly more) of users all at the same time. These computers are stacked up in racks inside data centers, and they make no use of keyboards, mice or monitors.
How Does It Work?
Effectively, the web hosting company will be leasing out server space and connection to customers, through which customers can push their websites to the Internet.
The core (and only) responsibility for any web host is to keep the server (and the corresponding websites) online and to provide maintenance and upgrades at appropriate times.
Web hosts of significant size tend to have hundreds of servers housed inside a facility called data center. The pre-requisites for any data center are fast connections to the Internet, 24/7 monitoring for secure access, UPS and battery backups to mitigate power outage, controlled temperature and humidity, etc. All these combined to provide an optimal environment for the hardware for its intended purpose.
Subject to the kind of budget you are on and the expectation you have on computing resources, you can:
- Rent a whole server.
- Rent a shared server (used by you and many other fellow webmasters.
- Buy the server so the web host just charges you only for the connection and the maintenance.
These three arrangements are packaged into three types of hosting plans by the service providers: dedicated, shared, and collocated.
Types of Hosting
Web hosting can come in many forms: Shared, VPS, Dedicated, and Cloud.
Let’s examine various hosting types and how one differs from another.
- While this may be free, it comes with many limitations, funding are typically provided through advertisements, and there are only rudimentary services in contrast to paid hosting which offers more scopes and options.
- Many websites are housed together on the same server. Depending on the server capacity, the number can range from a few to hundreds or thousands. Resources are pooled, so the RAM and the CPU are split among the many accounts.This is the most basic service in term of features among the paid services. Customers have little say about the software and/or updates installed on such servers. Resellers often resell shared web hosting to businesses with large web companies often provide reseller accounts to offer plans for clients (see below).
- This creates a middle tier where clients of web companies become web hosts themselves. Subject to who the resellers are affiliated to, these reseller can offer hosting services as described above under individual domains. The capacity of individual resellers’ accounts could vary a lot: from collocated server to dedicated server.A general practice is for the resellers to provide almost identical services (according to whatever plans their provider has) and supplement the hosting service with in house technical support.
4. Virtual Dedicated Server
- Also referred to as a Virtual Private Server (VPS), it splits up the computing resources and turns them into individual virtual servers within a single machine, where resources are allocated in accordance to technical specs required.The common approach is to provision one server to many VPSs, but there are a great many ways of virtualization, for example, you can move a VPS container between servers.Under the VPS scheme, users may be offered root access to their own virtual space. Some web hosts delegate the responsibility to patch and maintain the server to customers.
- The server is dedicated to just a single account and the customer assumes full responsibility over it (user has root access for Linux/administrator access for Windows); however, the server is still very much the property of the web host.One popular Dedicated hosting is Self-Managed or Unmanaged. It is the cheapest among the many Dedicated plans. Full administrative access to the server is granted to the user here, so he or she will have to take responsibility on the security and maintenance of that dedicated server.
- A server is still dedicated to one account but the user under this plan does not have full control over it (user is denied root access for Linux/administrator access for Windows); but data management is possible through FTP or other remote management tools.The reason the user is not allowed to exercise full control is that the provider wants to guarantee quality of service. By having the user modifying the server, the potential of configuration problems could never be underestimated. As with unmanaged services, the server does not belong to the user; it is leased to the user.
- This is similar to the dedicated service, but the user claims ownership of the collocated server; on the part of the hosting company, its responsibility is to prepare a physical space to house the server and take care of the server. This represents the most powerful hosting option and it is the most expensive type as well.Subject to the terms and conditions of the contract, most collocation providers are not required to provide any support directly to their client’s server, and their responsibility is often restricted to just providing the electrical, Internet access and storage facilities for the server. The usual practice is for the client to send in their own administrator to perform any hardware upgrades or changes.In previous times, collocation providers would have little problem about the specific system configuration from the clients, some even accepted mini tower desktop PCs. But standardization has swept the industry and most hosts would insist on rack mountable casing and standard system configurations.
8. Cloud Hosting
- This is the latest offering in the web hosting industry. Customers are allowed powerful, scalable and reliable hosting based on clustered load-balanced servers and utility billing. It is arguably the most reliable option among all services due to the enormity of the cloud; there simply are a lot more servers on the cloud to compensate when a single piece of hardware goes down.In addition, this model is not affected by local power disruptions or even natural disasters due to its decentralized architecture. There is also difference in billing as cloud host charges users only for resources consumed by the user, in contrast to a flat subscription fee model employed by all other web hosts.On the flip side, the cloud’s decentralized nature means that users are going to exercise less control on their data, as there is no fixed physical storage dedicated for their data. This is bound to be concerns for companies that advocate data security or privacy.
- Multiple servers are deployed to host the same content in order to achieve better resource utilization. These Clustered Servers would be a perfect fit if the customer looks for high-availability, or highly scalable web hosting solution.Cluster architecture also tends to split up the various services available, e.g. it may separate web serving from database hosting capability. (Clustered is more relevant in Shared plans, as web hosts can reap multiple advantages from the mass managing of clients).
- Another form of distributed hosting where a server cluster is seen more like a grid, interspersed with many nodes.
11. Home Server
- Generally refers to any PC residing in a household that is used to host one or more web sites through consumer-grade broadband connection. The machine can be power packed computer or more commonly old PC. Over at some places, some ISPs do not allow home servers and they do this by disabling incoming requests to TCP port 80 and by refusing residential customers any static IP addresses.A way to counter that is to attain a reliable DNS host name. This can be achieved by creating an account with a dynamic DNS service. A dynamic DNS service will automatically change the IP address that a URL points to when the IP address changes.
What Is Web Hosting Used for?
Different companies and services cater to different needs.
But some of the common services offered allow for hosting of:
- File: hosts files, not web pages
- Blogs & Websites
- Paste bin
- Shopping cart software
Reliability & Uptime
When it comes to choosing a web hosting company for your domain the most important thing you need to consider is up time and reliability.
After all, if your site is constantly down and not visible to your potential visitors, what good does it do to host it!
The extent of reliability of any website is defined by the percentage of a year in which the website is publicly accessible via the internet. It is a different indicator to what is used to measure uptime of a web hosting server.
Uptime is an indication of how much time the system is being online, but issues like network outage (which obviously affect accessibility) are not taken into consideration.
The formula involved to define a system’s availability is straightforward:
Total time = 365 days per year * 24 hours per day * 60 minutes per hour = 525,600 minutes per year.
When a web host publishes their uptime guarantee, you can work out how many minutes of potential downtime in a year, take the uptime guarantee and multiply it by total time in a year.
In the example of 99.99%: (1 – .9999) * 525,600 = 52.56 allowable minutes down per year.
A hosting provider’s Service Level Agreement could cover a certain amount of scheduled downtime per year so that maintenance can be performed on the systems, but most web hosts choose not to include this clause in their SLA.
So, this scheduled downtime has to be deducted from the Total Time when you attempt to work out availability. Subject to how an SLA is being written, if the availability of a system falls lower than whatever uptime indicated in the signed contract, some amount of refund can be expected from web host for time lost.
More Resources to Check Out:
Web Hosting Definition – Earthlink.net
Web Hosting Types – W3schools.com
Checklist for Choosing a Host – Folsom Lake College
I Need a Web Hosting Service, Where Do I Start?
This industry is a pretty pack one with thousands of players – who should you go for? Must you check out all those hosting reviews before you can qualify to make a decision?
The answer is yes and no!
Some may argue that the many players involved in this business could only be a good thing to the customers; unfortunately more choices do not necessarily equate to wise decision.
Finding a good web host is all you need – and since most companies more or less offer the same stuff nowadays – so you wander if these researches are going to make any difference.
If more inputs would be helpful, then check out the reviews penned by me on a number of web hosts. Those would help you find the ideal one that meets all your specific needs, enabling you to make the best decision in choosing the right provider, especially now that you know what web hosting is and how it exactly works