One of the things I had a really hard time dealing with was figuring out what the differences are between the types of web hosting out there.

I started searching for web hosts and all of a sudden I realized I needed to do some homework, because there are a number of different kinds and I had no idea what each one was.

Luckily for you, I will guide you through this morass of information.

In general, when you are looking for web hosting you are going to come across these different types:

Free Hosting

Free web hosting can be found throughout the web. It is clearly the cheapest option, but it is also the one you should most likely avoid.

If all you want is a simple daily blog, then join up with WordPress.com or Blogger.com. They are both free and provide the hosting for your blog/journal. This is just about the only scenario I would recommend free web hosting.

There are other free web hosts out there, that actually let you upload a typical website but the problem with these is they are rarely reliable, usually ad filled and at the end of the day you don’t have complete ownership of your website. Avoid them.

Shared Hosting

Shared Hosting is usually the cheapest hosting option available. I don’t want to get too technical, but web hosting companies store your website info on servers. A shared account means you share a single server with a number of other websites.

This type of hosting requires that the hosting company provides the system administration. This is valuable for people who are new to the net, or who lack tech savvy because all of the scary tech issues (managing servers, installing software, security updates, backups, etc…) are controlled by the hosting company.

Usually this type of hosting provides you with a user panel to control it. The most popular seems to be cPanel. With it you can control just about every aspect of your hosting. See our companion guide, for a 68 page cPanel tutorial.

The downside to this hosting is that it isn’t as secure since you share a server with so many other users. It usually doesn’t perform as well either (speed wise). Shared hosting can also be tough to scale, meaning a traffic spike could kill your websites.
A final note – shared hosting is a great intro to web hosting. It lacks the flexibility of the other options, but for basic use it will be fine. If you do need more flexibility or power you can upgrade at a later date.

VPS Hosting

VPS stands for Virtual Private Server. The key word there – virtual. This type of hosting let’s you have the functionality of a dedicated server, but in reality, VPS is actually a kind of shared hosting. Your “virtual server” will be included, along with others, on one physical machine.

While you share a physical machine, you have much more control than with shared hosting. For example – each virtual server on one machine can run it’s own set of software and reboot separately.

Besides the flexibility, another big benefit with VPS hosting is that it is easy to scale up your resources. If all of a sudden your website is the next viral sensation, you will be able to quickly get more resources to meet your traffic demands.

Also while not ideal, it is much more secure than a shared hosting platform. While you still share a physical server with other people, your virtual servers are so well partitioned they are their own isolated environment.

One downside to VPS hosting is that you could need some technical know how in order to properly run it. With shared everything is set up, your software is installed and cPanel (or an equivalent) is ready to go. Some VPS web hosting packages will expect you to handle those type of things yourself. To offset this, some hosts will have an option to choose a managed account for a premium price.

Dedicated Hosting

This is the cream of the crop of web hosting plans. That is why it costs the most (more on that later).

Dedicated hosting means that you get an entire server to yourself. Wherever your hosting company is located there will be a computer dedicated to you and only you.

There are many advantages to this type of hosting.

First of all it is the most secure. While no server is 100% secure from every nefarious attack out there, a dedicated one is the best choice if security is a top need for your website. Since the server is dedicated to one user it is also easier to pinpoint where potential problems are coming from.

Dedicated servers are faster as well. You don’t have to share bandwidth with people after all. They usually offer more resources as well. Even the most basic of dedicated servers will allow you to build multiple fast loading, busy websites. Like VPS hosting, it is also easily expanded to meet traffic needs.

On top of all that, you get the most flexibility as well. You can run anything you want on your own server. The downside being you will need the technical knowledge to mange the server yourself. Once again though, you can always opt for a managed option when choosing a dedicated server.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting is a newer development on the web and it is currently a MUCH discussed topic. If you follow tech news, you have certainly heard the term cloud hosting before – most likely linked with Google and Apple’s cloud storage for music.

Cloud computing may seem like a VPS, but it differs quite a bit. Basically, instead of servers being dedicated to one(dedicated) or more(shared & VPS) users, all of the computers work together to create a giant network (or cloud) of computing power.

This makes cloud web hosting the most easily expandable/scalable version of hosting on the market. A traffic spike that could take down a shared, virtual or even dedicated server, can be absorbed into the “cloud” of servers since all of the servers work together.

If your traffic maxes out power of one server, it is ok because it is connected to more. In these cases you may have to pay for the added bandwidth use, but the piece of mind is worth the cost. Basically, you pay for only the resources you use with cloud hosting so usually it is a cheaper option than dedicated.

Reliability on cloud hosting is great as well, because if one server goes down it doesn’t mean that your site goes down, it just begins to draw resources from another computer in the cloud.

The prognosis isn’t all rosy though. Cloud hosting does have a couple of areas of concern. First off – where is your info? There is no way to really control the physical location of your data. It is part of the “cloud”. This might just be a mental hold up for me, and nothing to be concerned with but it is worth mentioning in my opinion.

Security is another questionable area. While cloud companies stress they are as secure as a dedicated server, you have to wonder. On a dedicated server you are on your own server. At the end of the day, multiple people are sharing physical hardware with cloud hosting.

By now you should already see the value in the list you created earlier. You can go through your list of needs and wants, and match them up with the above info to get an idea of which types of hosting you would consider. Of course before you decide, you better think budget…