When it comes time to find a home for your website, one of the first questions you may ask is, “What is shared hosting?”
That’s a good question and answering for you is the purpose of this post.
Shared hosting can be described as:
Definition: An inexpensive web hosting setup where different parties share one Web server to securely host their own websites on a server maintained by a hosting company.
Just kidding! To really understand shared hosting, we’re going to break down the description above into two smaller bits that make up the whole.
What is Shared Hosting?
“An inexpensive Web hosting setup where different parties share one Web server…”
As with many service businesses, Web hosting companies typically offer different plans, each tailored to meet the needs of its clients at different levels. Web hosts typically offer three primary types of hosting setups:
- Shared server hosting
- Virtual private server hosting
- Dedicated server hosting
As the first tier offer, shared hosting is the least expensive and that’s a good thing, especially for small businesses. For this reason, shared hosting is the first home for many a business website — it’s a place to get its feet wet and begin to grow.
Why is the cost lower? From the hosting company’s perspective, shared hosting trades off higher process for higher volume. They can fit more hosting accounts on one server and that means that maintenance costs are divided across many parties driving down the price on the customer’s side.
While the price of shared hosting is low however, the limitations imposed are high.
You see, when a hosting company says shared, they mean shared: all the sites hosted there use every resource on a shared server. That includes CPU power, memory and bandwidth. Under normal circumstances, this is not a problem however, if one of the sites sees a spike in activity, it can slow or even freeze the other sites on the server.
That’s not a good thing.
Another downside of the low price is the low level of support provided to shared hosting accounts. While you can often purchase a higher level of support, since you’re not paying a lot at the basic level, you don’t get a lot.
“…to securely host their own websites on a server maintained by a hosting company.”
Though the server is shared, nothing else is. Each party hosting on a shared server can see and manage only their own site, no others. Even though they share an email server, email is delivered to, and accessible by, each individual party.
That said, security is of higher concern on a shared server. Simply by virtue of being on the same machine, it’s harder to lock down a website completely. Most hosting companies handle this as well as they can, so it’s not a huge risk factor, just a potential one.
Since multiple parties coexist on a shared server, concerns for security lead to limited access to the back-end of server. Under a shared hosting plan, a lot of the back-end is locked-down.
A benefit of this is that maintenance is typically taken care of by the Web hosting company, leaving you free to focus on business.
Unfortunately, this also means that you have very little control over your hosting server. You can’t install anything unless the hosting company provides it and, while that’s fine for many small businesses, it does start to chafe as a business grows and wants to add more functionality and design to its site.
Its low price and hands-off maintenance requirements makes shared hosting a very viable option for small businesses that stay small or are just starting out. The security risks on a shared server are higher, but it’s more of a situation you need to keep an eye on as opposed to being a show stopper.
As a business grows however, the resources its website demands grow as well. As more traffic and transactions begin to strain a shared server, it’s time to upgrade to the next tier of the hosting plans.
The desire for more control of a website’s back end, including the need to install software beyond that offered by the hosting company, is another common reason for upgrading your hosting plan. Once you’re at the next tier, you have much more control over your website’s home.
Web Hosting  Photo via Shutterstock