Virtual vs. Dedicated vs. CoLo: Which Web Hosting Do I Need?

by: John Hasson

You know you need a web host, but you don’t know where to start. So you do a web search to research potential solutions and get a bit overwhelmed with all the jargon: UNIX, dedicated servers, POP3, CoLo... the list goes on.

Step back a bit. You don’t need to learn everything about web sites to choose a host. You do however need to know what a web host is, and the basic types of web hosting. This knowledge will lead you to know what type of hosting you need, and ultimately you can make a sound decision.

To begin, let’s define the term. Web hosting is a service that hosts web pages on servers that can be accessed through the Internet. There are three primary categories of web hosting providers that cater to the requirements of site owners; these include virtual web hosting, dedicated web hosting, and co-located hosting. There are various sources online that offer detailed information and reviews on these services, but there are several details you should pay most attention to. The points to consider before selecting a web hosting provider include the number of clients they service, years in business, customer service reputation, hardware specifications, and backup routines. With that out of the way, let’s jump in and explore the basic types of web hosting.

Dedicated hosting

A dedicated web server is basically like the name sounds: it’s dedicated to your site only. Typically it is leased to a site owner. The hosting company is responsible for the maintenance, backing up, security, and power management. The site owner manages the software-related issues.

Dedicated hosting is useful for websites that need extra bandwidth and system resources because of the use of technologies such as e-commerce software, customized server applications, and heavy traffic. Such websites are often better served by a dedicated hosting provider rather than developing and running an in-house solution. Dedicated hosting is possible with Windows, Mac, and Linux servers. A dedicated server can cost upward of $100 / month.

Pros and cons: 24/7 tech support is available. Speed, dependability, and customizability of website are often enhanced. The response time of dedicated servers is fast as compared to shared servers where the activity of other sites affects server speeds. Reliability and customizability of websites are improved as dedicated hosting offers greater storage capacity and greater freedom in terms of hardware configurations and software installations; hard drives can be upgraded and bandwidths increased with growth.

Shared servers and CoLo hosting are cheaper alternatives to dedicated hosting. Moreover, as the server is not owned by the site owner, security of sensitive data can be an issue.

Virtual hosting

Virtual hosting, also called shared hosting, is a popular and cost-effective web hosting solution. The hosting provider leases the website hosting server, services, and bandwidth to more than one website. Small and medium-sized websites, which do not have high traffic and have limited bandwidth requirements, benefit from virtual hosting. A virtual hosting offer by a service provider usually includes features such as Internet connection, domain name registration, file storage, email account, and may also include website design assistance. The cost of virtual hosting is in the range of $5-40 per month. It can be more or less depending upon the package selected.

Pros and cons: Virtual hosting enables the establishment of an online presence with no expensive equipment purchases required on part of the site owners and therefore is the perfect solution for SMBs.

One of the limitations of virtual hosting is that sites compete for the provider’s service; this may result in slow server response times in periods of heavy traffic and make browsing inconvenient. Since websites hosted on a server may be grouped under a single IP address, there is a chance that a site owner may have to share an IP address with adult or scam sites. This can lead to debarring from search engine placements which will have an adverse effect on the traffic. As the software components are shared between websites, a site owner may not be able to personalize the website as per his business objectives and target audience.

While purchasing virtual hosting services, it is useful to have an idea of the total anticipated traffic during the day as well as the visits during the peak period. This helps in obtaining a package with sufficient bandwidth for immediate and near term needs. Also, the cost of an upgrade and changes to the package should be understood.

Co-location (Co-lo) hosting

In Co-location hosting, the server is owned by the site owner and it is leased at the co-lo facility, where it is installed along with other servers in the facility. A co-lo service enables site owners to make maximum use of network access points and the freedom to choose between telecom lines provided by the hosting company and other telecom lines. Co-location hosting enables site owners to utilize high bandwidth at a cost that is not significantly higher than that of a normal web hosting package. The site owner maintains the server while the hosting provider ensures smooth running by providing regular power supply and IT support.

Co-location hosting services can be standalone data centers or companies that operate by leasing server space from a co-location web hosting reseller. The cost of the server and the volume of rack space required by the servers of a site owner influence the cost of co-lo hosting. Servers that fit in with the dimensions of the racks can help to save costs; co-locating tower servers usually cost more. Additional services provided by the hosting provider and insurance are other factors that affect cost. The monthly cost of a co-lo service for a half-rack of server space can be up to $1000.

Pros and cons: The benefits of co-location hosting include temperature and humidity controlled environment for the servers; security from hacking, fire, and theft; provision of redundancy and backup. It enables the site owner to control the critical features of web hosting such as bandwidth allocation, routers, VPN, server space, and VLAN.

Site owners may not find it easy to locate a co-lo service that is situated close enough to facilitate easy and safe transfer of servers and at the same time provide the best connection speeds. Co-lo hosting is of greater advantage to those who have hosting experience and consequently are better placed to recover the costs involved.

Ultimately, it is the requirements of the site that dictate the choice of web hosting solution. Online stores and sites with heavy traffic are better off with dedicated hosting, personal blogs and small sites without ecommerce activity that do not have high bandwidth consumption can function with virtual hosting, and websites that require a high degree of customization and deal with sensitive data benefit from a co-lo hosting arrangement.

To determine what type of host you need, ask yourself what type of site you have, and it should all flow naturally from there.