Why shared web hosting sucks (and what you can do about it)

Server Racks

Shared web hosting sucks. What is shared hosting? Well, it's when the service provider loads a bunch of websites on a single hardware server, each one sharing the same IP address and physical resources, including its CPU and memory. Often database and email servers are shared as well which is hugely problematic from both a performance and security standpoint. The total number of server instances can be in the hundreds or thousands. While shared web hosting is generally a quick, easy and cheap way to get a website up and running since the host does most of the work for you, it is also the worst way to go. This is especially true if you're running a dynamic website which relies on a database such as WordPress and most other publishing platforms these days.

Because the physical hardware and software is shared, every website on the server is less secure compared to a better isolated environment. Many compromises must be made in order to meet everyone's needs and, frankly, companies selling shared hosting often care little about security or performance. Because each website is not properly isolated from the others, any site that uses a lot of resources can negatively impact the performance of all the other sites on the server and this can and does result in downtime for everyone on the server. Shared hosting is basically a one-size-fits-all solution. To make matters worse, shared hosting providers often oversell the space on their servers which also leads to performance issues. Since the mail server is shared, if (more like when) one website starts pumping out spam, thus causing the mail server IP to get blacklisted, everyone's mail sent from that server will be treated as spam. This can be a big problem if your website needs to notify customers about a purchase they made or a response to a comment they left, or if you run an email list.

And then there's the infamous claims shared hosting providers often advertise, such as "unlimited" bandwidth and disk space and databases and email accounts and whatever other hype they spew. This is pure marketing garbage used to attract those that simply don't know any better. Try starting a new YouTube and see how far those "unlimited" claims get you before you're booted off the server.

In the end you have far less control over your website than you would with a virtual private server (VPS) and the problems associated with shared web hosting can lead to slow page load times, poor search engine rankings and endless frustration. Unless you require nothing more than a personal website for casual use and you intend to keep regular backups of your data and you're not overly concerned about security, my advice is to forget about shared hosting.

Enough talk about some of the pitfalls of shared web hosting. Let's talk VPS!

You can think of a Virtual Private Server, or VPS, as a complete server with its own operating system that exists within a host computer, much like a virtual machine. In this way a VPS is similar to shared web hosting in that there is more than one instance running on a single hardware computer, however the differences in performance, security and flexibility are enormous. Each instance of a VPS is far better isolated from one another and you have pretty much full control over every aspect of the server, right down to the operating system, just as if it were a physical machine sitting in your lap.

According to my understanding there are basically two kinds of VPS packages; managed and unmanaged. For those on a budget an unmanaged VPS is usually far less expensive, roughly comparable to a cheap shared hosting package, but the learning curve is very steep unless you already possess the technical prowess. You will start with basically an empty box. There is no web server, no mail server, no database, no PHP, no control panel and, very possibly, not even an operating system installed. Many packages will need to be installed and configured before you have a complete system and you will usually be expected to do everything yourself. You will also be responsible for the security and maintenance of your virtual server. Once all that is sorted out, only then can you focus your attention on creating and managing your website. As you might have guessed, all of this can require a great deal of time and expertise in several areas, including Linux (because you're not going to run a Windows server, right?), web and mail servers, databases, security, SSH, SSL, DNS, etc, etc.. That said, if you have the time and willingness to learn, go for it! I think running a self-managed VPS a great feeling since you have pretty much total control of your server and the expense is minimal.

Unlike an unmanaged VPS, a managed one is where the service provider does all the heavy lifting for you as they would in a shared hosting environment. Pretty much everything you require should be preinstalled, preconfigured and ready to go, leaving you to just make arrangements to have everything transferred if you're moving an existing website and address whatever little problems that may crop up. While a fully managed VPS may sound like a no-brainer compared to shared web hosting or an unmanaged VPS, the cost is likely to put a nice dent in your wallet. Unless you come across a good deal, you can expect to spend roughly $40-80 per month or more for a fully managed VPS and this is simply a no-go for those of us running a blog or selling a few widgets. There are exceptions however.

KnownHost offers managed VPS packages at competitive prices and their support staff is very good. They also support free SSL certificates from Let's Encrypt, and yes, you need an SSL cert these days else any modern browser will complain when loading your website.

As far as the package i ordered, i'm pretty happy overall. I chose DirectAdmin over cPanel for the control panel and although it lacks some of the features of cPanel, it works well enough and it's a lot less expensive.

UPDATE 21-Jun-2020

So i've been with KnownHost since December of 2019 and i have no complaints. Their tech support is friendly, comprehensive and simply outstanding. They go above and beyond what is required of them and, unlike some previous providers i've been with, they don't just fix whatever problem needs fixing; they usually provide detailed information on what was wrong and, where possible, why something broke. I don't monitor up-time of this site, however i spend a LOT of time here editing content and re-reading older content and the up-time has been totally satisfactory, certainly greater than 99.9%.

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