Getting a website is always a fun project and the end result is something that we are always looking forward to see and experience. We have however noted through experience that most prospective website owners and very importantly most online store owners, never gave any real consideration to the selection of the type of server their website or online store will be hosted on. Understandably the temptation is always there to go for the cheapest option. Some of us may even confuse going cheap with going cost effective.

According to Wikipedia: “The primary function of a web server is to store, process and deliver web pages to clients. The communication between client and server takes place using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). Pages delivered are most frequently HTML documents, which may include images, style sheets and scripts in addition to text content.”

It is rather a mouth full but it will be good to only remember that a web server (sometimes simply referred to as a server) is a big computer on which our websites and accompanying databases are stored and made available to the public for viewing. A server will also facilitate purchases, downloads and other interactions between the website and its visitors.

Are there different types of servers?

Yes, as mentioned above, there are different types of servers available to a website owner. Although all of the different servers perform the same function as described above by Wikipedia there are differences in how they perform these functions. As there will always be a place and a use for all of the different types of servers we will not make a comparison with a view to select the best server. We will rather consider the various pros and cons to assist us in deciding which will be the best option for different online needs.
There are basically four different type of web servers; basic shared hosting, virtual private servers, dedicated servers and the more recently cloud hosts. Let’s have a look at each type individually.

Basic Shared Hosting

As the title suggest, we are looking at sharing a server with other website owners. In effect this means that a Company who owns a couple of web servers sells a bit of space on a server to many customers. The resources of the specific server are therefore shared between the various clients whose websites are hosted on that server.
On the face of it this appears to be OK, as each client will get his/her share of the server’s resources. In reality this is not the case. Every server has only a specific amount of space and bandwidth. Let’s use an example. If Company B becomes extremely successful overnight or receives a sudden large number of traffic due to whatever reason, it is going to have a negative effect on Company A and C. Companies A and C will see their websites running slower, find it difficult to upload new content to their website’s database, receive time out error messages etc. In severe cases a website may even become totally unavailable due to high traffic to other websites on the same server.

For a not too big website with only occasional visitors or a small very exclusive client base, this may not be a problem.
An online store owner may have a different view, when having downtime may have financial consequences.

Virtual Private Server

The word “virtual” in the title should already give an idea what a virtual private server (VPS) is. A VPS is a virtualised server which mimics an environment of having your own server within a shared hosting environment.
In lay person’s terms a VPS consists of one server with several different virtualised operating systems on that server. Each client/website owner gets his/her virtual server with its own operating system. Although all the clients still share the overall capabilities of the single physical server every client is given a guaranteed performance specification.
A VPS gives the website owner a bit more power and flexibility than that of a shared hosting server.

Dedicated Server

The title should also assist us in understanding what type of server we are dealing with here. This is a server dedicated to a specific company or website owner’s own use. In effect the “box” is not shared with anyone. With a dedicated server we will not have any problems if we transfer large amounts or big chunks of data. There will be no complaining “neighbours” as is the case with shared hosting. Our actions on the server will have no effect on other website owners.
We should however not think that a dedicated server will allow us infinite bandwidth. It will ultimately still have a specific server data size and bandwidth limits.

Cloud hosting

We have been inundated with the term “cloud” in the IT sector over the past couple of years. We have heard of cloud computing, cloud storing etc. and lastly cloud hosting.
Cloud hosting can best be described as “an electronic structure where data is stored over many different computers and served up via a network connection, typically the Internet.”
From the above definition we understand that our website’s files will not be stored on a single computer or server, but over different servers. In effect this means faster and bigger websites. Because our website’s files are distributed over different servers we will not have a problem when a specific server is down. Clients will immediately be redirected to another server for the same information.

Conclusion

We had a very brief look at the 4 different types of web servers with a view to understand that a choice needs to be made in this regard as well. It is not just about the website, but also very importantly how the website will be made available to your visitors and prospective clients. It should go without saying that the type of website, the size of it and the specific business/services that will be offered on the website will play a major role in deciding on a server type.
We will not be looking at prices in this article as there are many companies out there delivering different types of services with different types of servers, all with different specifications.

WebScripto will however always assist their clients in deciding on a specific type of server service provider and based on the clients’ specific needs.

As always, please leave a comment below.

Take Care

Eitel Bock, WebScripto (PTY)Ltd

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