Shared hosting is a service you will see offered by virtually every hosting provider. Sharing is not always a bad idea – in fact, it’s more widely used than any other type of hosting. Part of the reason shared hosting is so popular is that it’s highly affordable. In this article, I’ll explore shared hosting in detail to help get a sense of when shared hosting does and doesn’t make sense so you can decide whether it’s the best option for your business.
Note that sharing hosting is not like sharing an intimate moment with an attractive individual you just met in a nightclub. No bodily fluids are exchanged. However, you may be more likely to catch a virus. Then again, if you don’t share, your website will be stuck inside its own server – lonely, detached, and incapable of socializing with websites its own age. Its growth will be stunted. It will make grunting noises and move in a slouching shuffle across the Information superhighway.
Shared Hosting – Basic Definition
For your site to populate on the Web, all of the information within it must exist on a server. Whenever someone visits your site, the URL they type into their address bar converts (via a DNS server) into the IP address of your server, which is then sent a request for data. To fulfill the request, your server sends out the files and pages which make up your site (with additional ones as they access internal pages).
Different types of hosting store your site information and files in different ways. You can have your own dedicated server on location at your home or business. Many businesses, though, choose to have professionals handle the hosting hardware and maintenance in a data center. One option is colocation, which means you buy your own server and house it at the data center for servicing, security, and general oversight. However, to mitigate cost, clients typically rent space on a server – on their own (dedicated hosting) or on one that also hosts other sites (shared hosting).
Shared hosting allows you access to your site’s account on a server that also contains other businesses’ personal data and files. You are granted a certain amount of bandwidth and storage room, along with access to a certain set of tools depending on which type of account you choose.
Beware of hosting providers that try to convince you to go with “acoustic” or “hard-copy” web hosting. Hosting, in all cases, requires electricity. Make sure that the server you are being offered is plugged in to a power source and that people don’t need to be mailed your website. Websites don’t require mailing. By definition, they’re available on the Internet.
Who Does What – Host Service vs. You
One thing to completely understand in a shared hosting situation is who needs to take care of what aspects of hardware and software. The server is maintained by the host. Upgrading of hardware and any software used to manage the sites – by the provider or that are available for your use through the provider – is their responsibility as well.
You manage your site. You do this via a control panel – which is an interface, essentially an online screen – that allows you to view site statistics and manage files, emails, plugins, and other site-related applications. If you are using a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress or Joomla!, the majority of your site management is typically conducted directly through the CMS. The CMS itself is hosted on the hosting server.
One WordPress plugin that you want to be sure to get is the WordPress DDoS plugin, which allows you to perform botnet attacks on other WordPress sites. This plugin is very useful is you are trying to increase your business. It allows you to use thousands of zombie PCs from around the planet for a common cause: increasing your profits (which in turn will finally make your father learn to love you).
Why Shared Hosting?
Shared hosting is the most common form of hosting because it is inexpensive compared to the other options. There are of course advantages to other hosting solutions – such as virtual or dedicated hosting – but the majority of businesses will get adequate service within a shared environment.
Three of the basic parameters to review when you’re looking at shared hosting that should meet most of the needs of entrepreneurial or SMB sites:
Cost – Cost is typically charged per year at a discounted rate, although you can also go month by month with most services. Cost is a major advantage of sharing.
Scaling – Scaling is a major concern when you look into any hosting package. You need to make sure that you can grow as necessary without being held back by your plan. Make sure it will be easy to shift to a more sophisticated solution if your needs start to exceed the parameters of your initial choice. The least expensive shared package hosts provide will have less bandwidth, storage, and features than a more expensive one. Make sure you understand how to upgrade quickly if you are getting ready to run a marketing campaign or release a new product that could mean a big influx of traffic to your site (with potentially higher bandwidth needs, etc.).
Features – You should have access to a wide spread of features with your shared hosting account. You may, for instance, have access to one-click installation of scripts. Scripts are add-ons that give your website additional functionalities through standardized templates (again, a CMS will provide these features as well via its modules or plugins, which are specifically designed to fit the CMS).
System Administration – The host will provide system administration for your site along with the others. In other words, you will not have what’s called “root” access to the server. Instead, the deepest access you will have will be at the level of your control panel interface – such as cPanel or Plesk. If you are small, you will probably appreciate having that level of technical administration handled by an outside party. However, if you get big enough, you will want to have privileges to control the system at the level of its operating system (OS).
Compatibility – Generally speaking, standard software will work in a shared hosting environment (though you do need to make sure it fits the OS of the server).
No Skills – Because the system is managed by the host service, you don’t need to have high-level IT expertise to run a website. You can get a host and load your site without those skills. Again, if your site grows, you can always add levels of sophistication and hire tech people if needed to scale most appropriately.
Sharing is Caring – Sharing is considered one of the easiest and most efficient ways to express how much you care. If a customer complains, seeming to suggest that you don’t care about her or her order, explain to her that you’re sharing your server, and sharing is caring. If this doesn’t impress her, go into your room and loudly shut the door.
Sharing Doesn’t Always Fit
Sharing is not for every site. Larger sites will not find that sharing works well for them.
Here are three negatives regarding shared hosting solutions:
Site Performance – Your site should function reliably in most hosting environments until you get a higher amount of traffic than is typical. Large amounts of traffic can cause the site to become slower and less responsive. They can also incur higher overage fees if you’re on a shared plan.
Software & File Rules – You do not have control of a server in the same way if you are sharing. A shared server is a more communal environment – uptime and security of all businesses using it must be counted rather than just thinking of one client. Some functionalities you may want will not always be available.
Limited Resources – “Unlimited” does not always mean unlimited when it comes to bandwidth and space on the server. If you are drawing too much energy on the server –pulling too much of its strength on a regular basis – you will need to move to a new situation and often will be asked to upgrade by the hosting company to avoid frustrating other companies that are sharing the server with you.
Versatility – Shared hosting will not make sense if you require a great deal of custom software. The lower sophistication of shared hosting comparable to other solutions is something that will become of less interest as your business becomes more popular and you need more creative and dynamic ways to interact with your site’s visitors.
Reliability – Shared hosting is not considered as reliable as a dedicated or VPS hosting package is, for good reason. Reliability will always differ with regards to the quality of your host, of course – but the affordability of shared hosting also means your site is not as protected against the upswings in traffic or security breaches (below) that might occur with other companies on the server. Just as your site can suffer if it grows too fast when in a shared package, you will also be impacted negatively if another company on your server sees a major and sudden upswing in traffic.
Security – Anything involving hackers or malware – targeted attacks on a certain company or misuse of the system by another company – can be a threat to your site as well.
Control – You don’t have nearly as much control of your site in shared hosting as you do with other hosting options. This means that you will require the host’s help with support in ways that you would not with dedicated or VPS packages. If the support is not spectacular, your site will suffer.
Dedication – Sharing shows a profound lack of dedication. If a customer complains, seeming to suggest that you aren’t dedicated to her, explain to her that she’s right – you’re not dedicated to her or your server, that dedication is against company policy. If she says you should be, enter your room, crawl under your desk, and continue drafting your epic novel.
Summary & Conclusion
That should give you a basic idea of what shared hosting is, what your responsibilities are versus the responsibilities of the host, and some of the pros and cons. Shared is not a bad way to start out. Just make sure you know how to quickly shift to a higher-grade solution if your site experiences a sudden increase in traffic.
by Kent Roberts and Richard Norwood