Where Should I Host?
You’ve decided you want to setup a site, or blog, or message board, or any number of web properties. You’ve picked your favorite CMS. You’ve decided on a topic for the site. You’ve picked or developed your theme. Now it’s time to stand the site up on a web host, but so…many…options. There are a few different ways you can approach picking a host depending on your needs, your skill set, and, of course, your budget.
- What are you hosting? A php based CMS, a .NET based CMS, other? This will determine where you can host as lots of hosting companies only support the LAMP (Linux Apache MariaDB/MySql php) / LEMP (substitute Nginx for Apache) with no support for Windows Server.
- Do I need high availability? How high is your downtime tolerance? If the site goes down briefly, will that cause interruptions for your users? Picking a host that supports distributed servers across the US or world, and also support for load balancing those servers, will mitigate that downtime if that is a requirement.
- Do I want to be on a shared host, or a VPS (virtual private server), or dedicated hosting? A shared host offers the least amount of flexibility when it comes to management of the site. Custom modules or software usually will not be available to be installed, or if you need a specific version of an installed software, you may be stuck at the current supported version. You often see this with the php version being different than what is needed to support the CMS or framework you are using. A VPS gives you the ultimate flexibility in the cloud, but at the cost of how to manage it. The last option of dedicated hosting is ultimately the most flexible of all because you can control from the server specs all the way to the application layer. This option comes with the highest price tag because of the resources you have to buy.
- What level of admin ability do I need? Hosting platforms come in all shapes and sizes; some give you no admin panel at all and relies on you to use the console to manage the server, while some hosts restrict that all together and give you an admin site where you can manage almost all the features of the site. This is great if you aren’t working with a developer who can manage this for you, or if you aren’t feeling up to the challenge of following a few tutorials in order to get things working.
- How much help am I expecting from the hosting provider if I get stuck? Most hosting packages come in three flavors when it comes to management: self-managed, partially-managed, and fully-managed. Self-managed hosting provide little to no support for setting up sites or managing the server. Partially-managed hosting packages will provide a small level of help if you need assistance creating sites, configuring backups, etc. Fully-managed hosting packages allows you the flexibility to offload any server issue off to the host. They will usually support all the way down to the application layer of whatever you are hosting, and will assist with patching of the server and all maintenance.
Once you’ve solved the previous two concerns, the only thing left is how much you are willing to spend. Shared hosting is always going to be the cheapest, but offers the least flexibility for custom software. If you decide to go with a VPS, self-managed will be on the cheaper end and fully-managed on the highest end.
Even in the same category of hosting type, there can be a huge range in price from some of the features offered. The more 9’s of uptime, the more expensive the host usually will be. 99.9% versus 99.999% is the difference of 8.76 hours per year downtime versus 5.26 minutes.
Obviously, your needs, skill set, and budget would determine the recommendation on a case by case basis, but here’s a four quadrant diagram of some common hosts I’ve used comparing ease of use to cost. Keep in mind this doesn’t take into account reliability or support. The ease of use numbers are my opinion only, and aren’t backed by any hard data.