When you first start thinking about building your first web site you are faced with a lot of choices. You need to choose a domain name, but also somebody to register that domain name. You need to decide on whether you’ll use a CMS tool like Joomla or a blog engine like WordPress, or maybe you’ll purchase a nice template and use that. One of the biggest choices you’ll need to make is your hosting service. The right hosting service can be the difference between spending time installing and configuring your site and spending time adding content.
Once you’ve chosen your hosting service you will be asking yourself one more important question. Do I choose shared hosting or dedicated hosting? There is not an easy one or the other answer to that question. In fact I’m having trouble even phrasing it generically so that you can size up your situation and decide, but I’ll lay down a few rules and gotcha’s and see where we end up.
On the surface shared hosting seems like a great deal. For instance from Go Daddy you can get shared hosting plan for just $3.99 a month. The plan will give you 5GB of disk space and 250GB bandwidth. For a little more, $6.99 you get 100GB disk and 1000 GB bandwidth. Now, I just used Go Daddy as an example, but Host Gator and others are similar, some with slightly higher prices and some with slightly lower, but all have the same rules.
Hidden somewhere in your shared hosting agreement there will be a clause about not hogging system resources. What that means is that even if your site is not busy 99% of the time, if you get a big spike they have the right to shut you down. You see, the factor to be concerned with is not bandwidth or disk storage, it’s CPU cycles. It’s not average CPU cycles over the month, if you spike even for a short time all hosting services will shut down your shared account.
How do I know about the shared host shutdown? It happened twice to me. I’m not complaining, that’s the price of having a successful web site while paying for bargain basement hosting. In my one case I got shut down because I had 8000 hits in about an hour. My daily average was about 500 hits. It seems that the blog engine I was using was using too much CPU time on my shared host, so they shut me down. Okay, so you’re thinking that you can go shared and when you get to around 7000 then you can switch over to dedicated. Maybe that’ll work, but in another case I was shut down with just 346 hits. Now for the 346 hit case my host sent me the log file and to my eyes it didn’t seem that I was using much CPU at all. It showed my account using 100% CPU for .2 seconds. It also showed (in another case) my process taking 29 seconds, but using 0% CPU. I believe this was a case of mistaken identity. They saw that their server was slow and looked for long running processes, but didn’t look at actual cycles taken. The long wait by the way was because of a YouTube vid running on my site.
So, after a full year on two shared hosting accounts, from two different companies, it was time to try my hand at dedicated hosting. One thing you must know about dedicated hosting is that you are running and responsible for all aspects of the box. That means that you are “root”. There is nobody else monitoring for hung processes, nobody else installing software for you, but the best part is nobody kicking you off for using too much CPU for 10 seconds of the month.
My shared hosting accounts were $6.99 and $10 (total of $17/month). My new dedicated hosting account started at $79/month, but I bumped up the memory and CPU on the box and the final price is $111/month. That’s a huge difference when you’re just starting out, and over the first year I’ve saved $1200 going that way, but now I feel to move forward with my web sites I need the freedom that dedicated hosting allows. Freedom to have a busy day, freedom to be successful.
I don’t want to make you shy away from shared hosting when you’re just starting out. It’s a great way to get your feet wet, establish a proof of concept and build your knowledge while keeping your budget low. Many small businesses or personal pages may never need more than a shared hosting account. For me, one year on shared hosting gave my little business enough time to grow enough for me to justify paying for dedicated hosting.
As a closing note, my ongoing move from my shared hosting accounts to my dedicated hosting account has taken about two weeks. The first couple of days was experimenting and learning, followed by a few days moving my best performing sites over and the last week has been spent moving the rest of my web sites over, cleaning up security and doing more learning. In the end, I chose Go Daddy as my dedicated host. I figured they deserved it, at least when they shut me down at 8000 hits it was conceivable that I was over stressing my shared account. As for the other company, the one who shut me down with the log file which proved nothing at 350 hits, sometimes you only get one mistake and in the web business when your site is having it’s best day ever and your host shuts you down without good reason, it’s time to move on.