When you are looking for reliable hosting, understanding the benefits and features of all the available packages is vital. This guide will help you learn about all the different types of hosting, popular hosting terminology that is used in plan feature lists, and more. This is a very long article, but aims to help you figure out what type of server you need. By the end of the article you will be able to explain the difference between Shared, VPS and Dedicated Hosting plans.
Before I begin to explain the differences between broader terms such as Shared, Reseller, Dedicated and VPS plans, I will go over the terminology that is used for all hosting plans across the web. Understanding these terms is key to knowing what you are paying for. I should note that not all of this information needs to be known when you are getting a hosting plan, but beginning to understand all of these concepts over an extended period of time will help you if you plan to keep being a webmaster. Your small site might one day need to scale up, and this article will help you with that!
Disk Space refers to the amount of server space you have for your files. It is similar to buying a new phone. If your phone is listed as having 20GB of space available, you can’t put 30GB of music on your phone because there’s not enough room. If you choose a hosting plan with 100GB of disk space, you can upload up to 100GB of files to your website.
Bandwidth refers to how much data can be transferred per month. If you have 20GB Bandwidth and a 1GB file uploaded to your website, that 1GB file can be downloaded a maximum of 20 times before you run out of Bandwidth. Every time someone visits your site, they are automatically downloading files (in a cache) from your website. They download all of the images used on your site, into their cache.
Unmetered is constantly used with Bandwidth. You will see plans listed as having Unmetered Bandwidth, but what does this really mean? The hosting company is implying that users can visit your site, download files and use up your Bandwidth as much as they want. It sounds great, but it does not mean you truly have “unlimited” Bandwidth. Please learn about Mbps and MBps below to understand how your bandwidth is never truly unmetered.
Mb refers to a Megabit. 1 Megabit is 1/8th of a Megabyte. When you see a music file, it is probably around 1MB, or 1 Megabyte. That means the music file is 8Mb, or 8 Megabits.
MB refers to a Megabyte. 1 Megabyte is 8 Megabits.
Mbps is a term used to represent how fast Megabits can be downloaded or uploaded per second. It should not be confused with MBps, which is how many Megabytes can be transferred per second. Mbps is more commonly used than MBps. Hosting plans may say something similar to “100Mbps”, which means 100 Megabits can be downloaded every second. This means that 12.5 Megabytes (12.5 MBps) can be downloaded each second.
Use Mbps to figure out your true bandwidth. If you have 100Mbps (12.5MBps) that means you will never be able to transfer unmetered or unlimited data. In fact, no matter what Mbps your hosting server has, you will never have unlimited and there ALWAYS is a limit.
Take a look at these statistics.
30 Day Month = 720 Hours
720 Hours = 43,200 Minutes
43,200 Minutes = 2,592,000 Seconds
There are 2,592,000 seconds in a 30 day month. If you can transfer 100Mbps (Megabits per second), you do 100Mb multiplied by 2,592,000 to figure out how many Megabits can be transferred per month. The number comes out to 259,200,000 Megabits transferred per month, maximum. That is 32,400,000 Megabytes, or 31,640 Gigabytes (GB). 31,640GB = 31.64TB.
In conclusion, a hosting plan with Unmetered Bandwidth and a 100Mbps server actually has Bandwidth equaling 31.64 TB. That’s still a lot, but as you can see, there are still a limit. Mbps represents how much data can be transferred per second, so it is physically impossible for the server to go over that 31.64 TB Bandwidth limit unless it has transfer speeds higher than 100Mbps.
Most hosting providers use Mbps, but there may be some that use MBps on their hosting plan feature lists. Always make sure you understand the difference between MB, Mb, GB, and Gb.
If you fully understand the relationship between your server’s connection (listed in Mbps) and Bandwidth, it’s time to learn about the various types of hosting.
Shared Hosting uses one server to host multiple clients. When you buy a basic package from a hosting provider, you are most likely buying Shared Hosting. One server for multiple websites means that there is truly a limit on how much activity your site can have before you are asked to upgrade your hosting plan. Most larger sites do not use Shared Hosting because they require more powerful servers and wouldn’t leave enough server resources for the other clients on a Shared Hosting plan.
Shared Hosting is inexpensive because the hosting provider only has to provide one server for all of those clients, so they can split the price of the monthly cost for running that server. The downfall is that these servers share RAM and CPU with all of the clients. I don’t want to go too much into detail about RAM and CPU, but simply put, the speed and efficiency of your hosting/site/server/etc is increased with better CPU and can handle more multitasking and site usage with more RAM. When you are sharing those resources, you are forced to make way for other clients.
I think of Shared servers as sharing a living space. You may own a chair in the living room, but you probably shouldn’t sit in your chair 24/7/365 because your roommates will want to have some private time in there too. Sometimes you’ll be in the living room and your roommates will be there too. You are sharing the living space. If you want to throw a mini house party, you are limiting the amount of space in the living room that your other roommates have because you’ve invited friends over.
Look at the similarities between these two statements to better understand Shared Hosting.
If you throw a party in the living room every night, your roommates will never be able to use it. You’ll probably be told to go get your own apartment.
If you use a lot of your Shared Server’s CPU, RAM, Bandwidth, Transfer Speeds (Mbps) and Disk Space, the other clients on the server will never be able to get the server’s full performance. You’ll probably be told to go get your own VPS or Dedicated Server.
There is a definite limit on how much you can get out of a Shared server. Most hosting providers have a small print limit on CPU usage equaling 15-30% of the server’s CPU. There are usually penalties for using more than your allocated amount of CPU for a period of time. For example, HostGator allows users on a Shared Server to use up to 25% of the CPU (which is highly unlikely to happen unless you have a huge website), and there are penalties for using more than 25% for 90 seconds or more. This means that HostGator is okay with server spikes (Learn about the Slashdot effect / Reddit Hug / Hug of Death), but not okay with frequent over-usage from one client on a Shared server.
Shared Hosting is one server with all server resources shared by a group of clients, with expectations that each server will use only a fraction of the server’s total resources.
VPS Hosting, or a Virtual Private Server, is more powerful than Shared Hosting, but not as powerful as Dedicated Hosting. Virtual Private Servers are grouped together on a full server, with each VPS owner having access to a certain amount of allocated resources. A VPS usually allows you to have much more server resources than Shared hosting and should be used by webmasters with larger websites or webmasters aiming to start a CPU intensive project.
Think of a Pizza. Shared Hosting is basically like someone bringing one pizza for a group of people who all contribute $1 to the cost. Some of those people will eat 2 slices, and some will only eat 1 slice. At the end of the day, there’s only one pizza and if someone tries to eat too much, they should order their own pizza next time. (If someone uses too much resources in Shared hosting, they should upgrade to a VPS).
A VPS would be like splitting a pizza with a few friends. If the pizza has 16 slices and there are 4 people total, you all get 4 slices. Those 4 slices are yours. You can eat them or even throw them out and nobody will care because you all split the cost evenly for a certain amount of slices. However, you also can’t have more than 4 slices.
A VPS is much like your 4 slices, part of a whole pizza. The whole pizza is the full server, with resources being divided up for a small number of people paying for their VPS. You can use the full amount of resources allocated (all 4 slices), you can use less (throwing a slice away?), but you can never use more (you can’t have more than the 4 slices you paid for!).
Dedicated Hosting is like having the entire pizza for yourself. You buy the pizza and you can eat it all, or you could eat half and throw the rest away. You have a lot more resources available each month and a much more powerful server to actually run server/site operations. They are more expensive, but are also more reliable.
If you use up your server’s RAM/CPU/Disk Space, there isn’t any more unless you upgrade your server. The plus side to this is that it takes a lot more usage to use up a full dedicated server’s resources than it takes to use up your allocated resources on a Shared plan or VPS. Dedicated Servers should only be used for large websites, or websites with many backend process. Anyone attempting to run a successful gaming private server or large multisite should consider a Dedi or VPS.
Managed Hosting is usually tied into VPS and Dedicated plans. Managed costs more, but means that other people can help you take care of server tasks. Having a VPS or Dedicated entails installing backend software, running frequent tasks to check server performance and maintaining it. You may even need to restart your server or change the way things work in the backend, which can be complicated if you’ve never done it before. If you’ve never had a VPS or Dedicated, ask about any Managed plans or packages they have.
I like to think that Shared hosting is as easy to handle as having a fish. You might need to research a bit before you get Shared, or a fish at home, but it’s easy to pick up.
Having a VPS is like having a dog. It might take you a year or so to really learn how to take care of your dog, but once you do, you could probably raise a few dogs at once without an issue.
Running a Dedicated Server is like owning a yacht. There are many aspects to a Dedi and just like a owning your first yacht, it won’t come easy. You can read up on information all you want on a yacht or Dedi, but you’ll probably need an actual mentor or that pricey Managed option (they have them for boats too haha) to actually run either successfully for your first year or so.
A little more about Bandwidth, Mbps and Disk Space
Most of you are probably using Shared hosting or will use it in the future. For that reason, I’d like to go into Mbps again and how it relates to Bandwidth and Disk Space, with a focus on Shared.
I used the 100Mbps example above, but not all Shared hosting actually gets a connection like that. By the way, 100Mbps is not that fast. Do not be fooled by the thought that 100Mbps = more Bandwidth than you need (Over 30 Terabytes). The higher your Mbps is, the more data can be transferred per second so even if you think you won’t use 100Mbps worth of Bandwidth in a month, having 1Gbps (10 times faster than 100Mbps) of data transfer per month is going to be better regardless because each individual user can get the data faster, even if the max 1GBps connection isn’t being used every second of the month.
It depends on who you choose as your hosting provider, but not all Shared servers will have a 100Mbps up/down connection. It’s safe to assume that a server used for Shared hosting has at least a 1Gbps (or 1,000Mbps) connection, shared by multiple clients. However, some providers may predict less usage or have lower quality servers and clients may be sharing a 100Mbps server instead of a 1Gbps server.
Before choosing a plan, get in touch with customer support and ask “what is your Shared Hosting Plan/PlanNameHere’s constant connection speed and what is the burstable connection speed?”. They will most likely tell you something such as “The server that the Shared Plan is using has a Connection Speed of X Mbps”. This means the server has X Mbps and you are expected to use a fraction of that. Please do not assume you can use the full Mbps for a full month unless they specifically say something such as “the average Mbps that each Shared plan uses is X Mbps”.
Burstable connection speed will be higher than Constant connection speed, but there’s probably a limit on how often your part of the Shared server has access to that burstable connection, so ask for clarifications on any mention of Burstable speeds.
If you can figure out how much Mbps your site will use on average, you can figure out how much Bandwidth you could use at maximum (remember, you probably won’t ever reach this number because of CPU/RAM/etc restrictions on Shared plans) each month. If you still want to figure it out though, just multiply the Mbps by 0.316406 to figure out the max bandwidth (in Terabytes) you could ever use.
Now that you have the max Bandwidth, you can predict how much Disk Space you could use. You can do this by dividing your max Bandwidth of X Terabytes by the amount of monthly unique visitors you think your site will get. Now multiply that number by 2 or 3 to figure out how large your site should be, at maximum. You multiply by 2-3 because most unique visitors will only view 30-50% of your website. If you want to play it safe and unrealistically assume that each visitor will view all files on the site, don’t multiply by 2 or 3 – Just do Max Bandwidth, divided by amount of unique visitors per month, and don’t make your site larger than that.
For most members on ForumPromotion, you won’t need to worry about that last calculation as your site will not be anywhere close the max amount of disk space for the large amount of bandwidth most Shared plans provide.
Thank you for reading! If you have any questions please PM me or reach out another way. I understand this article was long and complicated, but hopefully it helps answer some questions and makes you understand the hosting market a lot better.