A basic requirement of running your own ecommerce website is having a host, but what exactly is a host and what are the differences between them?
Essentially hosting is simply a combination of disk space (to store your files) and a server operating system (to run your site).
There are two basic choices for hosting operating systems, Windows or Linux.
Windows operating systems are geared to running sites built on Microsoft technologies such as ASP (Active Server Pages) or their .Net (pronounced dot net) platform.
Linux based hosting runs PHP coded websites amongst others and is the main platform for open source software to run on such as WordPress, OsCommerce, Magento Commerce and many others.
Your choice of server technology really comes down to what type of shopping cart you want hosted on it, your shopping cart supplier will be able to advise on specific requirements.
It’s worth remembering though that you can often find Windows hosting which can run PHP code, for example I have a Windows account running this WordPress blog. Running ASP on Linux servers is also possible in certain scenarios.
Packages & Plans
Essentially when you host on a shared platform you’re sharing the server resources (hard drive space, RAM, processor) with other websites on the same server.
The main benefits with shared hosting are the low costs, typically around £40 per year, and the ease of administration, the hosts look after the server for you and provide a simple control panel to manage your account and setup emails etc…
Downsides to shared hosting plans are that if somebody else’s site is taking up a lot of system resources it can negatively impact the performance of your site. Likewise if another website crashes the server then your site also goes down. This doesn’t happen too often but I have experienced it more than once over the past few years.
As the name suggests you get a server which is completely your own to run your website on, it’s not shared and you can often customise them with how much RAM and disk space you require.
Benefits obviously included the speed boost, simply due to the fact that you’re not sharing it increases the speed and performance of your website massively. Another big benefit is uptime, because nobody else is crashing the server then you should experience far less downtime with this route.
The downside of this hosting option is the cost and increased management overhead. Costs for a basic dedicated server can start from £300 per month and escalate from there. You have to buy licenses for things like Windows and SQL Server if you need them which can significantly add to the cost.
You must also take into account that you often get no real control panel so experience of managing a server is required. Obviously you can outsource this or ask the hosts to do it for you but again this will only increase your hosting bill.
Virtual Private Server (VPS)
VPS’s are a kind of a halfway house between shared and dedicated servers. Basically one server is divided up into multiple virtual machines. These virtual servers then get an operating system installed on which runs your website.
With a VPS the cost is usually a lot lower than having a dedicated server starting at around £35 per month. You also get the advantage that if someone else on the same server crashes their site it will only take down their virtual server instance, not yours, so uptime is generally better than with shared hosting.
Although you have your own virtual server running, performance can still be impacted if the hosts have setup too many on one server. Remember that the physical hardware of the server is still being shared between many websites.
You also have the extra management overhead again if you are expected to fully manage the VPS yourself.
A lot has been made of ‘The Cloud’ in recent years and the term covers a few different aspects of computing however in relation to hosting, The Cloud is essentially a more advanced VPS solution.
With Cloud Hosting you can easily change the resources allocated to your account through a control panel, you can also build and launch brand new ‘servers’ by clicking a few buttons. This lets you scale up your hosting quickly and easily if required.
For example, let’s say you had an ecommerce website and had just invested in a massive TV advertising campaign, in preparation for this you could easily create new servers and / or increase the size of your current server to cope with the additional traffic coming into the site.
The downsides of Cloud hosting are again the additional management requirement and the higher cost. Cloud hosting is often billed by the hour that a server is live which can seem weird but remember, you can add and remove servers almost instantly so the idea is you only pay for what you need.
Basic packages start from just £30 per month and you can obviously scale up from there.
I think that covers the main types of hosting available, obviously you may find variations on the above from different hosting suppliers.
It’s often best to try and get a recommendation on a host as with everything in life, some are much better than others.
Why not share your hosting experiences in the comments below?