The Ultimate Plain English Guide to Website Hosting: Understanding Shared, Dedicated, Cloud, and VPS Hosting

by | General Interest, World of Tech


When it comes to hosting a website, there are several options available, including shared hosting, dedicated hosting, cloud hosting, and virtual private servers (VPS). In this article, I’ll explain each type of hosting in non-technical plain English language, and discuss what might make the most sense for your particular business.

I’ll cover some of the key questions to ask before buying a website hosting package. I recommend some companies that provide hosting, which are all based on personal experience.
In practice most clients who want a website also want all of this side of things taken care for them, and we are more than happy to provide that service.

This article is for those who want to know more about a key, but often overlooked part of your website investment. It is aimed at readers who want the big picture rather than detailed technical explanations, but if you would like these please don’t hesitate to get in touch!



What do you mean by website hosting?

Your website consists of words, pictures, video and so on, all organised into pages. As with all files, these are stored on a computer somewhere. The question for your website is – where should this be?

Wherever it is, we say that is where it is “hosted”. Often people refer to the host as the company that provides the computer upon which your website is hosted.

As you’ll see from this article, it’s not a good idea to host your website on your own computer, so how do you decide which company to choose to supply your website hosting?

Before we consider hosting companies, let’s first look at the types of hosting. Not all companies provide all types of hosting, but most reputable ones will.

OK, let’s start with the type of hosting with the lowest cost.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is the most common type of hosting, and is usually the most affordable. With shared hosting, your website shares a server with other websites. This means that the server resources, such as CPU (computer brain power) , memory, and storage, are shared among all the websites on the server.

Think of it as living in a flat. Whilst you are in control of, say, the heating within your flat you probably have little to no control over the communal areas such as the shared entrance, stairwells and so on. If someone else lives the main door wide open and it’s cold outside, your overall heating bill could be impacted even though it’s not your fault. You have unique control over the lock on your flat door, but not over the entire block.

With shared hosting, you are, as the name implies, sharing storage space and more with other companies. That helps to keep costs down and if you have good neighbours it can be a great solution. Of course, just as with a flat, you don’t get to pick and choose your neighbours and they come and go over time. You hope the management committee provide a degree of control so that the overall apartment block runs smoothly. That’s what your hosting provider can do with your shared hosting space. They might, for instance, refuse to host websites that promote certain material such as gambling and so on.

If you are going to organise your website hosting yourself, rather than having us do that for you, it’s wise to ask potential providers about their policies. Three key areas are:

  • what type of content they allow;
  • to what extent the behaviour of other sites will impact yours;
  • how many websites they host on the same server (i.e. using the same resources)

What type of content is hosted?

Your flat has a unique address but your block does not – it’s the same for all the flats in the block. If a single occupant gets a bad reputation, then generally it’s the whole block that gets that reputation even though you may have done nothing wrong at all. Imagine if that applied to the space where your website is hosted. You could find that more of your email ends up in spam or just doesn’t get delivered at all. Make sure that your hosting provider can explain what they do about this.

How Will Other Websites Impact Mine?

Some websites have low traffic (not many visitors), some have high. Some have steady traffic (more or less the same all the time) and some have spiky traffic (where the traffic increases a lot over a temporary period such as when a special offer is launched). Some have predictable traffic – you can predict in advance when it will spike, and some do not. If you are sharing resources with a website that spikes, will it take up all of the resources and thus slow your website down, or even make it unavailable?

How many websites are sharing the same resource?

Thinking about our block of flats, the more flats in a block, the larger the communal infrastructure needs to be or the less service each flat gets. The same applies to shared hosting. One of the main reasons some website hosting looks so cheap is that there could be hundreds of websites sharing the same resources. On a plan with a higher monthly price there might only be tens of websites sharing. The more websites are sharing the same resources, the higher the chance that your website will not consistently get the share it needs, which will result in it slowing down or even becoming unavailable – and if that’s the case what are the odds of someone waiting and coming back later, versus giving up and going to a competitor? So whilst the monthly looks cheap, it could prove to be a false saving and end up substantially costing your business.

Shared Hosting Summary

So, it looks like there are plenty of reasons not to use shared hosting. Whilst that is true, it’s still the most common type of hosting and that’s because of price. If you do your homework it could be exactly the right solution for your company.

Not all website hosting companies are the same. Some pile it high and sell it cheap, some offer a premium service. You need to consider for your business which model makes the best business sense.
Don’t forget, just as with a flat, you can always move if your needs change or you just aren’t happy. Check before you sign your contract to see if there are notice periods and help with moving.

Shared hosting is best for small to medium-sized websites with low to moderate traffic. The main advantage of shared hosting is its affordability, but the downside is that your website’s performance can be impacted by other websites on the same server.



Dedicated Hosting

With dedicated hosting, your website has its own server. This means that all of the server resources are dedicated to your website. Dedicated hosting is best for large websites with high traffic, or websites that require a lot of server resources, such as video streaming sites.

Think of it as a detached house rather than a flat. Detached houses can range from something like a three bed on an estate to a mansion with huge grounds. Two identical detached house in different neighbourhoods may have very different values based on a range of criteria which determine the desirability of the neighbourhood.
The same idea applies to hosting. There are different sizes, and there are high end hosting companies and ones with cost competitive offerings.

With a house you have advantages such as being in unique control over the security of your house, to what extent you heat your house and improved management of the reputation of your house.
However, you might have to do jobs yourself that are taken care of for you when you are in a flat.
With hosting, at the less expensive end of dedicated hosting, whilst you have the benefits of not sharing, you may have to do certain tasks that those with shared hosting get done for them.
These will relate to how your hosting space is configured in terms of its size, speed and connectivity. You may need to hire expert help.
Naturally, as the cost of your hosting rises, so should the service level.

Dedicated Hosting Summary

The main advantage of dedicated hosting is its performance, but the downside is that it’s more expensive than shared hosting.

Virtual Private Server (VPS)

A VPS is a type of hosting that combines the features of shared and dedicated hosting. With a VPS, your website shares a server with other websites, but each website has its own virtual server environment. This means that the server resources are divided between the virtual servers, providing more control and flexibility than shared hosting.

Think of it as living in a gated community. Some of the amenities are shared but not necessarily equally. There is a management committee that decides who gets to use what and when, and that might change on a timed basis.

A typical example within the hosting world is where a website company rents part of a larger hosting company’s computers within their datacentre. The website company only allows its own clients onto those computers and so controls how busy those computers are and the resources they need. If one client temporarily needs more resources the website company can manage that, either by reducing the resources another website is using or by increasing what they are renting.

Where the magic occurs with a VPS is that the size of a computer and the resources it uses can be both increased or decreased in seconds and for specific amounts of time so that a well-managed VPS ensures that everyone gets exactly what they need, exactly when they need it and for exactly how long.

VPS Summary

VPS hosting is best for websites that require more control and flexibility than shared hosting, but don’t require the full resources of a dedicated server. The main advantage of VPS hosting is its flexibility, but the downside is that it can be more expensive than shared hosting.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting is a newer type of hosting that uses a network of computers to host websites. With cloud hosting, your website can use resources from multiple computers, making it more scalable and resilient than shared or dedicated hosting.

I’ve been trying to think how best to continue the analogy with housing, because here it gets a bit tricky. Let’s use some imagination!
With a flat or a house, if there’s an explosion then potentially everything in it is destroyed. What if you used a projector in your living room instead of a TV? Although the picture is beamed onto your wall, this projector is connected via the internet and is physically located in a totally separate building. In this case it wouldn’t be destroyed in the explosion because it’s located elsewhere. Whilst you no longer have anywhere to live, as long as you can find a wall somewhere you can still watch your favourite movies! OK, that might be a bit flippant but hopefully you get the idea!

Cloud hosting is like that, where you access the website in one place as you would do any other website (like the projection on a wall) , but it’s actually stored in many different pieces that are spread around. This makes your website more secure and also allows it to easily change what size storage and resources it needs.

Cloud Hosting Summary

Cloud hosting is best for websites that have variable traffic, as it can handle spikes in traffic without downtime. The main advantage of cloud hosting is its scalability, but the downside is that it can be more expensive than shared hosting.

Other Considerations

There are many more things to think about when it comes to hosting – which is why many companies prefer to have someone manage it for them, as we do, but if you want to dive further in then two that can be very important, dependent on your company needs are security and customer location. If you have customers over the world you might want to have a copy of your website on multiple computers in different countries. This is because it takes longer to display a website that is on a computer 1000 miles away than one 100 miles away. If you need this, make sure your hosting provider offers something called a CDN (Content Delivery Network).

Security is a massive topic all of its own. If you need to assess your hosting provider’s security credentials the best thing to do is to assure yourself of their compliance with the country and industry certifications that are relevant to your business. We do provide, and naturally enough recommend, our website care package that takes care of the majority of client needs.

Hosting Providers

Alongside website design and build we offer website hosting for our clients. We offer all of the above types of hosting and recommend the type of hosting that is relevant for your business.
If you would like to organise hosting yourselves then we recommend the following companies which we have had direct experience in using and are happy to put our name to. These are all UK based companies as that is where we are based and the majority of our clients.

You will let them know who recommended them, won’t you? Many hosting companies offer kickbacks to those who recommend them and you might read other recommendations elsewhere that are influenced by this rather than actual performance. The links above bring no money to us, they are there because we think they are good at what they do.


In conclusion, choosing the right type of hosting depends on your website’s needs and budget. Shared hosting is best for small to medium-sized websites with low to moderate traffic, while dedicated hosting is best for large websites with high traffic. Cloud hosting is best for websites with variable traffic, and VPS hosting is best for websites that require more control and flexibility than shared hosting. Make sure to consider the pros and cons of each type of hosting before choosing the one that’s right for you.

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