Shared server hosting is a common starting point for companies looking to do business online, and for good reason: it’s cheap, simple to set up and can normally offer acceptable performance for websites with a modest amount of traffic.
However, a lot of firms do eventually reach the point where they need more from their hosting than an entry-level shared package is able to provide: more consistent performance, more ability to customise and run specific applications and services, more ability to scale, and so on.
So what’s the next logical step for shared server hosting customers?
The truth is, there’s no simple answer to this question as there’s no single incremental upgrade to fulfil every requirement. Rather, firms need to understand the different options they have at their disposal, understand the wider implications of moving to a more premium hosting model, and then choose a solution for their specific needs and context. Here’s how.
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One of the first alternatives to shared server hosting most companies will come across is virtual private server (VPS) hosting. VPS hosting is similar to shared server hosting in that multiple tenants’ accounts sit on the same hardware, but with the all-important difference that each customer has their own virtual machine with a ring-fenced allocation of CPU and RAM.
For a long time, VPS hosting was indeed seen as the next logical step after shared server hosting as it offers more predictable performance and more scope for customisation (as each virtual machine acts as its own self-contained server). Today, however, it’s not so common for the simple reason that cloud server hosting - described below - normally involves a more sophisticated implementation of the same concept.
Cloud server hosting
With cloud server hosting, customers (again) have an entire virtual machine at their disposal, complete with their own ring-fenced allocation of CPU, RAM and storage. Unlike VPS hosting, however, resources are drawn from a wide pool of servers and storage devices to ensure no single point of failure. If one server dies, customers’ virtual machines will simply restart on another with minimal disruption. (See our previous blog for more on the redundancy benefits of cloud server hosting).
Dedicated server hosting
Finally, unless they make the radical decision to switch to their own hardware, companies have the option to upgrade from shared server hosting to dedicated server hosting. As the name suggests, this means a single server dedicated to a single customer, with no virtualisation involved.
This is a logical option for companies that are precluded from using the cloud (for reasons of compliance, for example) and may also work out cheaper than cloud if offered on a long-term lease. However, it’s not as resilient as cloud server hosting (as there’s a single hardware point of failure), nor is it as simple to add (or remove) CPU, RAM or storage to the server when your requirements change over time.
Another consideration that may be important to you is that of contract lengths. In many cases, you will find that minimum terms are greater with dedicated server hosting - a provider will often want a commitment of at least a year to cover their capital costs, especially if you're ordering a custom server. This stands in contrast to the cloud hosting market, where flexibility and short term agreements are a key advantage.
All in all, deciding between VPS, cloud and dedicated server hosting is an important consideration for companies looking to upgrade from an entry-level shared server.
However, it’s not the only consideration. There are many other factors that can affect the quality - and cost - of a single-server hosting service, and many of them will be new to firms that have only ever used commodity shared server hosting in the past.
For example, when you have a self-contained server (virtual or otherwise) at your disposal, it’s your responsibility to ensure the environment is managed correctly - either by you or by your hosting provider. Most providers offer both managed and unmanaged options for dedicated and cloud server hosting. While unmanaged can be substantially less expensive, it’s easy for a first-time customer to underestimate how much work it takes to manage a server yourself.
Similarly, quality of support tends to be a more important consideration in the world of single-server hosting than with shared server hosting. When you move to a more complex environment in the hope of accomplishing more complex things, it’s worth looking for a provider who can be a little more proactive in helping pull this off.
Finally, if the reason you want to upgrade from shared server hosting is to improve performance and reliability, remember that very little will affect this so much as the quality of the infrastructure in your hosting provider’s data centre.
From tried-and-tested server hardware to diversity of network connections and level of UPS redundancy, there are dozens of factors on the ground that can impact your overall quality of service every bit as much as your choice of VPS, cloud or dedicated server hosting. If you plan on moving from an entry-level shared server to a more premium hosting model, it makes sense to familiarise yourself with what’s involved and factor it fully into your choice of provider.