I guess you find these three terms equally confusing but soon you will find out that they are simpler than they seem. If you have already visited Bluehost‘s website, you should have noticed that this hosting company offers all three above-mentioned services, as well as additional ones. In the next few paragraphs, I will try to help you make the best possible choice.
We already told you what hosting is, but in most cases, it is called shared hosting. The term “shared” comes from the fact that your website is hosted on one and the same server with hundreds (or thousands) of others. Imagine the server as a very powerful computer and you will not be too far from the truth. With the shared hosting, you share the resources of one server with thousands of other users. This explains why there are many restrictions.
For instance, the number of files on your website cannot exceed a certain limit. The traffic realized by your website loads the processors and the memory of the server, and respectively you face certain restrictions in this aspect, too.
The idea is that if your website is visited much, it may disrupt the proper functioning of other 999 clients, which is unacceptable. That is why there are strict limits and when a certain website requires more resources, it is asked to shift to another service that is adequate to its needs. It is important to know that the lower the price of the web hosting, the more the restrictions. The restrictions in question are described in the terms and conditions for using the web hosting service, which, however, no one bothers to read.
In addition, if you are not experienced enough, it will be hardly possible to judge how much CPU time your website will consume and how much time the requests to the database will take. Even the “number of files” parameter, although relatively easy to set, turns hardly predictable because sometimes you may upload only one photo to an article, while the next time – 10 or 20. Every new file is a step towards a more expensive package.
Of course, shared hosting is the perfect solution to every corporate website, blog, or personal page. Usually, these websites enjoy lower attendance, a small number of pages and the required resources are practically insignificant. That is why the hosting companies allow thousands of websites on a single server.
Virtual (Private) Server (VPS)
This service is offered as an alternative to shared hosting. Most often it is available under the name Virtual Server or the VSP abbreviation. If earlier you had to imagine the server as a very powerful computer, now you have to imagine something similar but a virtual one.
In other words, using the physical server (the powerful computer), a hosting company creates several virtual ones. To imagine them you have to practice some abstract thinking, but once you get it, you will understand that there is a very simple principle. The difference between a virtual and a physical server is that the physical one costs much and has resources, which a relatively small website cannot fulfill.
On the other hand, the virtual one may have exactly the same parameters that your website requires and this way the hosting company allocates a small amount of the physical resources of their server and shifts it to yours. The major difference compared with the shared hosting is that you command 100% of the resources of your virtual server. If you overload it, only your own website will be affected, while all the rest of the virtual servers are practically independent units and you are not connected to them. If you reach the limit of the virtual server, you can always purchase additional ones, until you exhaust them all because the hosting companies have certain limits for this service, too. And it is time to take the next step.
The cloud services are becoming more and more popular but in fact, most of the consumers have no idea why they are using a cloud service instead of an ordinary shared hosting and what the difference between the two is. The truth is that the cloud is a modern trend, which makes it attractive, but if we leave the fashion aside, the cloud is a technology that may save you a lot of money and troubles. We already learned that the shared hosting is a small piece of a server. The virtual server is bigger and to a certain extent independent piece of such a server. The cloud, on the other hand, is tens, hundreds or even thousands of servers, working as one cloud. This way, you not only have a server but a huge amount of computer power, which may be shared out according to the needs.
For instance, you may create a VPS, which is based on a cloud. In this case, however, if you need few resources, you may start with a server with 1 processor core, 2 GB memory, and 100 GB disc space. When your website starts generating high traffic, you may decide what exactly to correct in the resources. For instance, the disc space may not be increasing but at the same time, you may need more memory. This may be corrected with a few clicks of the mouse in the administration control panel, provided for the management of the cloud or with a single phone call.
And there it is – you may now have 10 processor cores and 20 GB memory. However, when the traffic decreases and the load is lower, you may reset the old parameters. This way you will pay as much as you use – one month you may have the size of a supercomputer, and the next one – you may have a configuration lower than the one of your cell phone, while the third month – you may need something completely different…
Such a service allows you to be as flexible as possible in the establishment of the architecture of your project. Generally, this is IT engineers and programmers’ job but if you put them into a shared hosting environment, they will be faced with restrictions and will have to think only within their limits. The same is valid for the VPS. However, if you give them a cloud, they will develop the project in an absolutely different way, which will directly affect its productivity.
A simple example
To launch a website you usually need several software products, which are installed and work on the server – web server (which makes it possible for your website to be seen by consumers), mail server (which stores the data about your articles, products, users, clients, pictures, commentaries, and anything your website shows to the consumers). Sometimes there is a need for a file server – the place where you store all the pictures and files constantly used by the website.
It is best to imagine it as a computer where you have a program for sending e-mails, text formatting, seeing pictures, and some other specific software, which you use often. If your computer is weak but you have to start all four programs simultaneously, there is a great chance that it starts working slowly. Often you have to use tens of programs simultaneously and the computer starts working more and more slowly and sometimes even crashes.
The same happens when more people visit the website, while it has to maintain several programs at the same time, so as to keep it functioning. If you are using shared hosting, those few programs are used by thousands of users. If you are using the VPS, they are used only by you but everything is on a virtual machine and respectively every software application sucks from the general resource whatever and whenever it can at the expense of the others. When using a cloud, however, you may decide to use not one but four virtual machines – each of them acting as a separate computer and having one single goal – to start and maintain the functioning of one single application in a proper way – e-mail, database, and etc.
The cloud provides this unique flexibility and you may add or remove resources to/from each of your virtual servers, and if, for instance, the mail server is overloaded because of the high number of messages, this will not affect the consumers, who are reading articles on your website at all because they are using the resources of the other servers.
The good news is that as a website owner you will probably not have to make decisions about the allocation of resources among the servers on your own, neither will you have to realize the entire process. However, it is good to know why you choose to use one technology or another and how such a decision may affect you, either positively or negatively.
Ideally, you will go through all the above-mentioned technologies. It is most logical to start with the cheapest option of the shared hosting because it is easiest to use and generally accessible. The second step to make after your website grows big enough is to find VPS, which may be the technology that meets all your needs. When you have bigger experience and a project with dynamics of the needed resources, then the cloud will be the best option because you will be able to adjust its scale regularly.