Shared hosting vs dedicated hosting: which is the best?
In the web host universe you have to pick from servers exclusive to your own use, or the shared use of a server – indeed called a shared server. Choosing between the two is more complicated than just considering cost, there are numerous other factors involved in making the choice. Let’s take a look.
A quick introduction
To make an adequate comparison you first need to understand what the two different models entail. With a dedicated or exclusive server, you have the entire machine fully under the command of your operations and you determine how it is managed and maintained. Only your applications are running on the machine, no other web apps will compete for hosting resources.
In comparison, web hosts that are shared implies that you are mixing your web applications with other users. You do not fully control how the server is operated, although some providers can offer a good deal of tweaking ability. Yet when comparing shared server vs dedicated server hosting you should know that shared servers will always imply restrictions. That said, machines that are shared can be more cost-effective.
Shared server vs dedicated server: managing and configuring
When deciding one of the points that immediately stand out is the matter of control. Dedicated means what it says: the machine is fully exclusive to your webapps and as a result, you have utter configuration and maintenance command over the machine. Control is key because it lets you set various parameters such as how the power of the server is assigned to applications and the size of the internet pipe and HDD space which is available to an application.
Many applications require highly customized server configurations and if this is the case an exclusive server will be your only option, as this is the only way in which you will get root access that allows you to change server variables end-to-end. On the flipside, exclusive servers do imply that you will be responsible for everything around the upkeep and ongoing smooth running of the machine. This includes installing patches and running updates when necessary.
However, some companies that sell of exclusive use servers can offer a helping hand. You could buy a managed exclusive server where the hosting company offers full management of all dedicated server requirements. There are also middle tiers of management including semi-managed servers where the host will do some of the work for you. The host-manager options make the shared hosting vs dedicated hosting decision a bit easier if you’re not keen on doing server management yourself.
On the flipside, with mixed-use hosting that is shared between users, you won’t need to fulfill any management duties as the computer is managed by the host. In the shared server vs dedicated server decision mixed-use servers lead in terms of price in part because you don’t need to do any management, nor do you need to shell out for management services (we will look more closely at costs later).
Mixed hosting machines can be customized and changed to a degree. For example, you can load CMS such as WordPress or Joomla and you will be able to directly access the file content and directories on the server. Most shared hosts also let you configure MySQL and inboxes while you can get access to a degree of server logging. However, forget about full root access and absolute control over resources.
Shared hosting vs dedicated hosting: growing and scaling
Every business must plan for growth or the occasional downturn. Scaling your IT infrastructure along with this growth is important, but it can be costly to scale. Scalability is, therefore, a big factor when picking between shared server vs dedicated server hosting and here we can say from the start that an exclusive server dedicated to your use will essentially offer you more flexibility to scale.
With an exclusive server, you have more opportunity to grow in many different areas. You can increase your storage space, increase the size of the internet pipe available and up the CPU capacity power where necessary. You can simply process more transactions and handle more website visitors with a dedicated server. It leaves you with room to grow.
This ability to scale up (or indeed, reduce capacity) very quickly puts exclusive hosting solutions far ahead in the shared hosting vs dedicated hosting stakes, especially if you are running SaaS applications where you need to serve complex applications to many clients. One important point to note about scalability is this: if your server solution is scalable it can aid in preventing downtime as hitting capacity limits is a frequent cause of downtime.
In contrast, hosting that is shared by many users do not provide the same level of scalability. Yes, you can increase certain elements of your shared-use server, including HDD space and the size of individual databases. You also get an unlimited number of email accounts on the one hand while some web hosts will even offer unlimited internet.
But any shared server vs dedicated server comparison will quickly show up the scaling restrictions of shared-use hosting. You cannot upgrade the CPU power of a shared-use hosting solution and you won’t be able to increase the amount of RAM in use. For complex applications, this would quickly pose a problem, but simple websites should cope well on shared hosting solutions. Just beware cheap shared hosting solutions that pool hundreds of thousands of websites on a single machine.
Shared server vs dedicated server: performance
Managing performance on a dedicated server is a lot easier. Again, it goes back to control: you can control how much CPU resources you allocate and you can decide whether you opt for SSD drives over HDD drives. The choice of OS is all yours too: on an exclusive-use machine, you can install your preferred choice of Windows or Linux distributions such as CentOS or Debian.
Unfortunately, with shared-use hosting, you are very restricted. Yes, your hosting provider can promise 99.9% uptime, but no web host will allow you to use an unlimited amount of resources. At some point, you will hit a performance cap and your website will fail. Always ask what workload a shared-use hosting account can cope with before you sign up, especially if you are running a website with a lot of visitors.
Shared hosting vs dedicated hosting: redundancy and security
As we’re comparing shared server vs dedicated servers one major advantage stands out quickly: with an exclusive use server dedicated to your application, you never run the risk of someone else’s application causing a security hole on a server. Because your server is under your management you can ensure that security is airtight.
You get other tools that aid reliability. These include the ability to manage a RAID array which ensures that your data is stored safely and not affected by an HDD crash. You can also fine-tune DDoS protection because you know exactly what the parameters of your applications are, no need to leave hundreds of access ports open just in case they need to be used.
Shared servers, on the other hand, can become huge security risks very quickly due to a security failure caused by of one of the clients sharing the machine. That said most hosting companies do a very good job of ringfencing clients, so in theory, at least you should not be affected by the behavior of other clients. However, if a security hole in one application leads to a server overload you may find your website also fails. Nonetheless for most personal and simple company websites shared-use hosting will work just fine. Just choose a host that manages security well.
It is also worth keeping in mind that with shared-use hosting you need to worry less about implementing security controls because the provider will be responsible for this. You get a couple of benefits too: some web hosts will give you the facility to roll back to a last known good state instantly, in case your website experiences a problem.
Shared server vs dedicated server: costs
Now for the big one, and the point on which most companies compare shared server vs dedicated server hosting. Costs for exclusive servers, just for your use, are much more expensive. We’re not talking 10 or 15% more expensive. Exclusive, hosting that is dedicated can cost you up to 20 times the price of shared hosting. However, this price might be worth it if you are planning on running intensive website applications.
On the flip side you can get shared-use hosting for a very low price, in fact, under ten dollars will get you a shared-use website hosting account for a month. And these accounts will be just fine for basic websites. At the same time, your cheap shared hosting account will be beginner friendly too, much easier to manage than a dedicated server.
Shared hosting vs dedicated hosting – pros and cons
So, let’s summarize our comparison of shared server vs dedicated server hosting. Here’s when you should choose shared hosting:
- You need an affordable solution great for beginners
- Fast and easy setup is important
- You want to avoid hardware maintenance
- Tools for easy site-building is important
- Your hosting choice is driven by cost
Give shared hosting a skip if:
- You require full, server-level control
- Site uptime is of crucial importance
- Your application will use a substantial amount of bandwidth
Buy a dedicated hosting solution if:
- Full control of server resources and setup is important
- You need root-level access to a server
- You are hosting a growing application that requires scaling
- Security is paramount
- Managed hosting support is important
Don’t buy dedicated hosting if:
- Costs are a key factor
- You cannot manage a machine and cannot pay for managed services
- You have no in-house IT staff
Choosing the right hosting solution won’t be simple, in the same time we have clearly outlined the respective pros and cons of shared hosting vs dedicated hosting. Nonetheless, you can always consult with your hosting provider if you are still unsure.