Shared Hosting vs. Dedicated Hosting

Along with getting a domain name, getting web hosting is one of the keys to setting up a new website, but what kind of hosting is right for your site? New site builders can choose among an array of options ranging from basic shared hosting to more specialized options, including highly customizable and very private dedicated hosting that gives users sole occupancy of a single web server in the host’s network.

Shared and dedicated hosting packages both offer ways to provide an online home base for a new website, but they’re designed for very different needs. Making the best hosting choice when making a WordPress website depends on factors including the size and scope of your site and your plans for its future development. Below is a comprehensive guide comparing shared hosting vs dedicated hosting services. 

A Hosting Option for Every Need

All web hosting services operate on a similar model. Account-holders’ websites are parked and maintained on servers owned by a remote provider. Depending on the kind of hosting package a user purchases, the web hosting provider is responsible for the care and maintenance of the servers and providing various other services specified within the hosting plan.

When first-time site owners are advised to get “web hosting,” this typically refers to shared hosting, the kind of basic hosting package offered at low prices for new site builders and owners of small sites. But most leading web hosting providers also offer other kinds of hosting services, and some providers focus exclusively on a particular type.

These more specialized hosting options include managed hosting, in which the host takes responsibility for most if not all the tasks of maintaining a site, virtual private server hosting, or VSP, which gives users a partitioned space for more privacy and control—and even hosting designed to support specific site builders such as WordPress. These services offer ascending levels of privacy, security, and control over the set-up and management of the site—and with exclusive use of web server resources and an array of support services, dedicated hosting tops the list of hosting options for scalability, security, and flexibility. But this kind of hosting isn’t for everyone.

How Does Shared Hosting Work?

Shared hosting packages are offered by nearly every web hosting provider, often at astonishingly low prices for basic service. As the name indicates, multiple websites shared space on a single server that is maintained by the hosting provider. All the sites on that server get an allotment of the server’s total available resources, such as bandwidth, power, and memory. A shared server can host hundreds or even thousands of websites, and users can set up multiple sites on a single hosting account.

The hosting provider takes care of things like providing basic user support, maintaining server hardware and software, and providing and updating basic security protocols. Shared hosting packages can also include multiple tiers offering combinations of features at higher prices, but users are typically responsible for setting up and running their own sites. The obligations of hosting providers and account holders are set out in the hosting contract.

Because so many sites can be packed into a single shared server, and because the lowest tiers of shared hosting packages typically don’t offer many features or support services, providers can offer hosting packages for very low prices. That’s important for new sites on a low budget, but shared hosting has some drawbacks that become more apparent as a website grows.

Shared Hosting Has Limitations

Shared hosting makes it possible for just about anyone to create an online presence, but sharing a server with so many others can pose problems. Each site on the server is owned and operated independently, but malware or viruses that infect one website can also affect its neighbors if security isn’t tight. In this environment, hacking one site can also expose others in the vicinity to issues like identity and data theft. 

All sites on a shared server have to draw from the server’s overall resources. That means events that pull more than a site’s allotted share, like a sudden surge in traffic, can cause others on the server to slow down or even crash. If a site continues to hog more than its allotment of server resources, the web host can terminate the account. Likewise, if a site attracts massive amounts of spam or creates other problems for the hosting environment, it can be locked out until site owners clean up the problem.

Shared hosting packages can work well for smallish sites with relatively low amounts of traffic, and for many website owners, this kind of hosting solution is all they’ll ever need. But for sites that are “outgrowing” basic shared hosting, dedicated hosting provides virtually unlimited room for expansion, privacy, and control over every aspect of the site.

What is Dedicated Hosting?

Dedicated web hosting is at the other end of the hosting spectrum from shared hosting. In this model, a hosting provider rents a single server with all its available resources to one client. With the exclusive use of a server, site owners are free to install any software they choose and manage the site as they wish. Dedicated hosting packages vary in terms of the amount of support and maintenance they offer, but typically the provider takes responsibility for maintaining the server itself. The owner is in control of the setup and running of the site itself.

Dedicated hosting eliminates the problems that go along with shared hosting. Since no other sites are sharing the server, there’s no risk of exposure to malware, viruses, or other problems from neighboring sites. And that also means all the dedicated server’s resources become available at all times, which enhances site speed and improves stability.

Flexibility, Scalability, and Support – for a Price

Dedicated hosting allows users almost complete control over the management of their sites, but these providers also offer robust, round the clock technical support in case of problems. With an entire server at their disposal, dedicated hosting users can scale the site as needed over time and add all the features and functions it needs at various stages of development.

Dedicated hosting keeps sites secure, too.  Although the web host handles security for the server itself, users are free to install any kinds of security and privacy protections they choose – a plus for sites that handle sensitive data. This kind of hosting also has the resources to support complex websites for larger businesses, with room to build in added features as needed over time.

But all the services and resources of a dedicated hosting solution comes at a relatively steep price, compared to the very low introductory and promotional prices of shared hosting.  Depending on the service package, dedicated hosting can cost hundreds of dollars a year, but that kind of hosting provides the speed, security, and scalability that offers a significant return on investment.

Should You Choose Shared or Dedicated Hosting?

If you’re just starting out with a small site, or you don’t expect major growth over time, standard shared hosting may be all you need for the life of your site. But as your site grows, or if you’re planning a complex, resource-intensive website for a larger enterprise, a dedicated hosting environment can offer the features you need for security, stability, and scaling for the future.

Machielle Thomas writes and curates web and email content for marketing professionals, small business owners, bloggers, and more.

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