What is hosting?

Hosting is the physical space on which the site’s files will sit. It is a computer (“server”) located in a datacentre somewhere. When purchasing, it will offer such features as:

Operating System (OS)

Server operating systems can come in a wide variety of flavours depending on what is required of the server. However, the two most common being Linux running Apache or Windows running IIS. Which you will need will depend greatly on what you require of your Web site — discuss this with your designer/developer before you purchase hosting.

Storage/Space

Measured in MB or GB, this is the amount of physical space on the computer you have access to. Comparing this to your home computer, this would be the size of the hard drive.

Bandwidth

This is the amount of data transfer you are allowed. When someone visits your site, the page they are viewing is effectively “downloaded” to their computer’s browser for viewing. So all images, text, etc. is transfered from your server to their computer. This transfer is what counts towards your bandwidth. So, for example, if you have a very “heavy” site with lots of images, mp3 music streaming, self-hosted videos, etc. — you will want a hosting provider that gives you a lot of bandwidth to use.

Databases

Most modern hosting packages come with at least one, but usually multiple databases — the most common on Linux/Apache servers being MySQL databases. These are used by various Web applications that you may install — such as a CMS like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla. Web applications can be dependent on a certain type of database, so be sure to discuss this with your developer before purchasing hosting.

Pricing

This can vary greatly, the cheapest being shared hosting, via using a Virtual Private Server (VPS) and at the top end for very busy sites for a dedicated server. What you need will, again, depend greatly on what your site requires. While cheaper shared hosting plans are attractive to new site owners, it is important to consider that should your site start receiving a serious amount of traffic, the shared hosting will simply not be enough power — despite the claims made by the hosting company in regards to “storage” and “bandwidth”. This is because shared hosting generally has strict caps on two things hosting companies rarely add as features — CPU speed and memory access. These are “shared” with other hosting accounts on a shared hosting setup, and if your site starts eating into the shared allowance, your hosting company might suspend or even remove your account. The take away? Plan ahead a bit.