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Be a Web Hosting Expert, Part 1: Shared Hosting

We’ve always felt that well-educated customers are the best customers. Since the web hosting industry is completely overrun with marketing double-speak and technical terms, we wanted to do the unthinkable: explain the hosting industry in simple, easy-to-understand terms. So fire up the French press, grab that third cup of coffee, and take in everything you need to know to be a smarter web hosting customer!planet binary wide

Our first post in this series covers the most common type of web hosting today: shared hosting. When you hear people talk about web hosting, they’re almost always talking about shared hosting. It’s called “shared” hosting because you “share” a large, powerful server with dozens or hundreds of other customers. Shared hosting is hugely popular for three very important reasons:

1) It’s economical.
Shared web hosting is usually the most affordable form of web hosting. Depending on the host, you can expect to pay around $5 – $20 a month. Some “discount” hosts charge a lot less, and you can usually expect a corresponding decrease in reliability and performance.

2) It’s simple.
You just upload your content and go. No operating system installation, no performance tuning, and no server management. Shared hosting is built for people who need to host a site, but don’t want to worry about what happens behind the scenes.

3) It’s fast.
Thanks to newer technologies, shared hosting has undergone a renaissance over the past few years. These days shared hosting is almost always faster than a VPS — more on this in just a moment!

A (Very) Brief History

Dunmore Catalyst 4500Up until a few years ago, shared hosting actually had a pretty poor reputation in the hosting industry. This was due to two factors. First, hosts wanted to maximize profits, so they filled their servers to the literal bursting point. This resulted in a lot of overcrowded, underperforming, and therefore unreliable web hosts.

Second, websites have changed tremendously over the past few years. Today’s dynamic content-rich websites take a LOT more horsepower and complexity to serve than yesterday’s simpler static pages. The fundamentals of web hosting hadn’t really done a good job of keeping up with the times, and combined with those overcrowded servers, hosting quality really started to suffer.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a “this website has used too much CPU power and has been suspended”, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Fortunately, things have changed — at least for modern web hosts like us.

So What’s Changed?

Today, it’s a completely different story. We start with powerful, modern servers that have been custom built to handle web hosting. Once a server gets around 40% – 50% full, we close it off to new customers and fire up a new one. This keeps your site fresh, fast, and reliable, and ensures we always have plenty of capacity to handle sudden surges in traffic and demand.

tablet tag cloud trimmedBut we don’t stop there. We carefully fine-tune and optimize all of our shared hosting servers for maximum performance and reliability. We use extensive server optimizations to squeeze every last drop of performance out of your site. Our network is massively overbuilt to allow plenty of headroom for traffic surges. And with CloudLinux standing guard, you never have to worry about someone else’s site dragging yours down (a MAJOR problem with the shared hosting of days gone by).

And most importantly, we’ve replaced Apache with LiteSpeed. LiteSpeed is a modern, high-performance web server that can serve up pages as much as five times faster than Apache. Best of all, it’s specifically built to handle high-load environments. That means that as your site grows in popularity, our servers can keep up.

All of this means our shared hosting can handle larger, more demanding sites than most other hosts. It means your site won’t go down just because someone else’s site went viral overnight. It means you don’t have to worry about server management or operating system updates. And it means you get the absolute most bang for your buck. In fact, there’s really only one catch, and it’s a doozy:

Shared Hosting Is Usually Faster Than a VPS

For years, web hosts told customers that as they outgrew shared hosting, the next logical step was to move into a VPS. You see, as a web host, we get a LOT more money when you upgrade to a VPS or a dedicated server. While a shared hosting customer might spend an average of $10 / month, a VPS typically brings in six or seven times that. So right off the bat, hosts have a financial incentive to upsell you to a more expensive hosting solution. And this strategy is highly effective, if only for one very simple reason:

Customers like being told their site is too popular.

Maybe they had a bad experience with their last host. Or maybe a “helpful” friend told them that a VPS is the way to go. Some customers even assume that because their site is slow and unresponsive, they must have outgrown shared hosting. Whatever the reason, many customers are all too eager to upgrade to a VPS. And since this means more money in hosts’ pockets, most hosts are all to happy to upgrade them.

But the reality is that shared hosting is often faster than a VPS.

Semi-Dedicated Hosting

servers vert 2Even with all these modern improvements, there are still websites that have outgrown shared hosting. Some sites really ARE that popular, and they need a server specially configured to meet their needs. That’s why we’ve recently introduced our semi-dedicated hosting.

Semi-dedicated hosting gives you all the benefits of shared hosting, but with roughly 1/10th the number of customers on each server. While a typically shared hosting server might host between 100 – 150 customers, our semi-dedicated hosting servers are strictly limited to 15 customers each. That means more resources — CPU power, memory, disk I/O, and network overhead — available to handle your site.

After reading through this post, you might think that VPSes are a relic of the past. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. VPSes are still massively popular for quite a few very good reasons, which we’ll discuss in our next post.

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