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Web Design Reference Guide

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Server Space/Hosting

Last updated Oct 17, 2003.

Hosting, also known as Web site hosting and Web hosting, is the activity of housing, serving, and maintaining files for one or more Web sites. Not only does hosting provide space on the Web, but it also provides a faster server for serving files quickly. If an individual business hosted its own site, it would be pricey and require the business to have something like a T-carrier system (also known as T-1) line for speed. Rather than pay the high cost for such hosting capabilities, companies and individuals turn to hosting providers.

Owning a domain name alone doesn't mean there is a Web site raring to go, but it is a step closer. If a host server doesn't exist, it's time to find one that suits your needs. Depending on the purpose of the Web site, there are different types of hosting from which to choose: shared, virtual, and dedicated server hosting.

An Internet service provider (ISP) is not the same thing as a Web host. An ISP is the company that provides Internet service so that its users can connect to the Internet. Some ISPs, however, do also offer Web hosting as part of a package.

Shared Server

Shared server hosting typically serves small business, small-scale e-commerce sites, personal sites, and entry-level hosting needs. Shared server hosting is the cheapest and easiest way to host a Web site. The vendor providing the service is responsible for uptime rates (Web site availability) and monitoring. Those on a shared server often have the option of upgrading to get more disk space and data transfer rates.

Data transfer references any data transferred into or out of a Web site such as text, graphics, sound files, and video files. Anything that you or your visitors download and upload is data. When a visitor comes to a Web site, data is transferred from the vendor's server to the client computer. The more visitors a Web site has, the higher the data transfer rate that's needed. Shared server performance is affected by the activities of other Web sites sharing the same server. There is no technical knowledge required to maintain a shared server.

When shopping for a shared server, review the vendors' software capabilities. If you want to use IIS (Microsoft's Internet server), for example, review the vendors' offerings to see if it's offered. If you'd prefer a UNIX server running Apache software, look for that. Running an e-commerce site? Look for a host that offers shopping cart capabilities. Need SSL secure server? A database? PHP? ASP? FrontPage server extensions? CGI bin? These are all things to consider when looking for a server to fit your needs.

Virtual Private Server (VPS)

A VPS has the flexibility of a dedicated server without the high costs associated with one. Web sites using a virtual server live in a private and protected area on a shared service and independently host applications. The client shares the expenses and network connections while enjoying a secure allocation of RAM and CPU. Those needing mid-level hosting needs, and even entry-level needs, often use a VPS. Clients can use a VPS for simple server needs or powerful database-driven e-commerce needs because they can scale these servers to increase disk space, processors, and data transfer rates.

Unlike with shared hosting, virtual private servers aren't affected by the rate of traffic speeding to and from the other Web sites. Also, in the case of a VPS, the client has more control over which software applications to use and how to use them. If you decide to go with a VPS, you'll need to have some technical skills, including UNIX administration, programming, and database experience.

If you're using a VPS, you don't need to buy or maintain a Web server or its Internet connection—that work is left to the space provider or host provider. Virtual hosting services are transparent so that each Web site has its own domain name, set of email addresses, and in some cases, its own server. At its most basic, the client needs only an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) or an SSH (Secure Shell) program for uploading and downloading files to the server.

Dedicated Server

Customers using a dedicated server don't share RAM, disk space, or a connection—they have the server all to themselves. A dedicated server provides faster access to information and offers more capabilities for adding advanced database and e-commerce applications than any of the other server solutions. The client is solely responsible for the volume of activity on its Web site and isn't impacted by any other Web sites. Also, there's no limit for adding software applications to the server, as long as the server has the space.

Dedicated servers are designed for customers needing high levels of security, connectivity, and scalability while supporting volume and critical Web-based applications. Obviously, they're intended for clients with mid- to advanced-level mission-critical hosting needs who expect high amounts of traffic. A dedicated server can handle heavy data-driven sites, video streaming, advanced programs, and multimedia programs. To maintain the site, the client needs advanced technical expertise along with programming and database experience.

The dedicated server, which is located on the Web hosting company's premises, can be remotely operated and configured by the client using a file transfer program or a control panel (a Web-based user interface). The advantage of not buying a server is to avoid the costs associated with routers, networking administration, Internet connection, and the security system.

Free Hosting

Although there are Internet access providers, such as Yahoo! and America Online, that offer subscribers free space for a simple Web site hosted on their computers, these sites are basic and sometimes accompanied by annoying ads. Still, it's a good way for individuals to learn how to set up and manage a Web site with minimal costs.