Shared vs. Dedicated Hosting: Which Environment Makes Sense for You?

The easiest way to understand the difference between shared and dedicated web hosting is to think about transportation. If you are trying to get to the airport, there are a couple of options: You can book a multiuser ride, such as a rideshare or a shuttle, where you use a larger vehicle and split the cost of the ride among other people. Or you can go the single-user route, traveling by limo or town-car service, which offers privacy, convenience and more comfort. Of course, the second option comes at a premium price.

Shared versus dedicated hosting works in a similar fashion. To put it simply, with shared hosting, you split your web server with other users or companies. In a dedicated hosting environment, the server you use is yours alone.

Before you choose one over the other, it is important to understand what your needs are and what you’ll get for the different price points. HostLabs solutions specialist Brandon Sharp says that the key factors to consider when deciding between shared versus dedicated hosting fall into one of three buckets: cost, security or reliability.

Cost: How Do the Dollars and Cents Add Up in Shared vs. Dedicated Hosting Environments?

When you think about shared hosting, you need to think about economies of scale, even if, in this case, the scale is small. Sharp estimates that with shared hosting, there are often “300 to 500 accounts on one server.”

While the servers hosting this multitude of accounts are typically quite robust — well beyond the robustness you might typically have with a dedicated server — the fact that you are sharing the server’s resources can potentially mean bottlenecks along the way.

With shared hosting, significantly lower pricing means that you may be hosted with other noisy neighbors. If those noisy neighbors are consuming a significant amount of resources, like processing power or RAM, there is a good possibility that your own environment may suffer. Unless the server is configured to prevent overallocation of its resources, there isn’t much you can do to ensure reliability or performance in the shared environment. You can request that your account be moved to a server that isn’t as saturated with accounts, but there’s no guarantee things will improve.

But make no mistake: Shared hosting is affordable; depending on the configuration, you can get a shared environment for as little at $5 a month.

When it comes to cost, dedicated hosting is a bigger investment compared to shared hosting. The increased price is well worth the exclusive use of the server since they don’t have to worry about those “noisy neighbors” or an overallocation of available resources.

But Sharp points out that there are other ancillary costs — associated with maintaining the server from a security and integrity standpoint — to consider when you go down the dedicated-server route.

“Many people fail to realize that the security and management of the server is completely up to the owner/user of that dedicated server,” says Sharp. In a shared hosting environment, the hosting provider is the one who maintains the server.

Security: Which Environment Offers More Data Protection?

With shared hosting, you can pretty much rely on the security best practices implemented by the hosting provider. These shared servers are likely to run the latest security patches and kernels and will follow a consistent update protocol.

When you move to a dedicated server, all of these security best practices are on your shoulders. It’s a fact that is often forgotten, overlooked or pushed to the side.

“With shared hosting, the hosting company is in full control of the server management, where updates to the kernel, OS, PHP, MySQL, et cetera are always being maintained and updated,” says Sharp. “If you’re on a dedicated server and not managing it appropriately, you will find that the out-of-date kernels, OS, et cetera will leave the server open to attacks and being compromised, destroying what could potentially be years of work, especially if you didn’t back anything up.”

This means that if you choose the dedicated hosting route, you should be prepared to regularly do some grunt work maintaining security updates on your server. If you are not a security expert, Sharp says it’s “best to subscribe to a dedicated managed-hosting service, where the hosting company will manage that security for you for a nominal fee.”

Reliability: Does Dedicated Hosting Always Trump Shared?

Among the key differences between shared and dedicated hosting are reliability and performance. Choosing one type of hosting over the other when it comes to performance largely depends on how you plan to use the hosting environment.

“Dedicated is more reliable, in that you eliminate the variables that are beyond your control,” says Sharp. Elimination of oversubscription and overallocation of accounts is critical to ensuring your site’s reliability.

Another important distinction, according to Sharp, is the reputation of your server’s IP address, which can be compromised in shared hosting.

“This is important, as it relates to sending email,” says Sharp. “If the IP address on your dedicated server gets blocked, it is definitely due to something that was caused by the owner of the dedicated server, not another user on that server, as is the case in a shared environment.”

With shared hosting, it’s helpful to find out how many accounts are on a particular server and how robust the server actually is. However, many hosting providers will be reluctant to share this information with you.

With dedicated hosting, many providers have tiers for their server offerings. Be sure to evaluate what your needs are prior to signing up for a particular level. If you get a server that is too big, you may simply be wasting resources (and money).

On the flip side, if you choose a server that is too small, you may be faced with growth problems, and your own dedicated server may not have the capabilities to do exactly what you want. (Note: You could choose a cloud or virtual private server (VPS) that may give you the flexibility of scaling your server’s RAM, CPU and/or storage to grow as your requirements expand.) [subhed] Hosting Solutions for Businesses of All Sizes

While budget may be the core factor in determining which type of hosting to choose, how the environment will be used should also play into the decision-making process. Each company’s use case may be unique, but you can generalize a bit to help move in one direction or another.

  • Small Business: Sharp says that a shared environment is acceptable for most small businesses, with some clear caveats: If you go the shared route, look for one that has some sort of business plan — one that may include dedicated IP addresses and/or SSL certificates. If your small business is going to be selling something online, these two items will be critical. “Business-plan servers tend to be PCI compliant and offer free backup insurance and some other performance metrics that will be great for your business,” Sharp says.
  • Large Business: For larger businesses, dedicated hosting is the way to go, according to Sharp. Dedicated servers perform better and can be easily configured to meet organization-specific needs.
  • Startups: More often than not, startups are constrained by budget, which means that they may not have the funds available to pay for higher-end hosting environments. For this reason (as well as the reasons outlined in the Small Business section above), shared hosting is the most viable choice.

Shared and dedicated hosting aren’t the only options available to businesses when working to meet their hosting needs. Additionally, there are cloud solutions, which allow for easy scalability and demand-based usage costs. And, as mentioned previously, a virtual private server (VPS) environment can provide many of the benefits of a dedicated hosting environment at a price point that is below dedicated hosting but slightly above shared hosting.

When shopping for hosting, do consider all options, and think about where your business is today and where you want it to be in five years.

[image: Tomasz Wyszoamirski/iStock/ThinkStockPhotos]