Not all web hosting plans are the right fit for your online presence, and not all web hosting companies can take your website to the top of your game.

In my career, I’ve setup well over 2,000 servers.  That’s a lot of servers, and all of them were very unique to each client.  I’ve built entire server environments just so the client could run tests for weather modeling software, or to try and hack one server by brute forcing it with a pool of attacking servers.  These development environments are what separate the men from the boys when it comes to developing high performance computing solutions.  So what does this have to do with web hosting solutions?

A web server, which is what web hosting companies offer, is a very broad category of servers that can be configured hundreds of different ways, using many different operating systems, to accommodate the needs of the web hosting company.  Top web hosting companies run the Redhat/CentOS flavor of Linux, and CentOS is the only Linux distribution I focus on here at CodeMilitant.

A CentOS web server is the most secure, and highly configurable web server, that can be built.  It’s why the backbone of powerful web hosting companies run Redhat/CentOS for their infrastructure before they even offer any web hosting solutions to a client. So the best choice for you, the client looking for a web hosting solution, is to run your website on a CentOS server.  You won’t be running on Redhat, the parent company of CentOS, because it’s just too expensive for a web hosting solution.  Companies use Redhat to build their infrastructure, and not necessarily for you to run your website.  Although, you can get Redhat through Amazon AWS hosting solutions, should you need it.

What are your needs?

If all you want to do is build a website for your brick and mortar store so people can find you, the best advice I can give you is stop!  It’s a complete waste of time.  If all you want is for your potential customers to find you, then all you need is a “Google My Business” account, complete with all your business details.  If you have no plans to sell products or services online, let’s say you’re an electrician, then you don’t need a website.  All you want is for people to call you, and to rate your services.  As of the date I published this post, Google My Business was free.  So when someone says: “OK Google, find an electrician near me”, your business listing with Google will come up.  You can setup all your business details in your Google My Business account.  Potential clients will still see pages of your company history, and even projects you’ve worked on in the past.  Most importantly, they’ll get all the contact info they need to get in touch with you.  Google even has the ability to setup a phone number with texting capabilities, so you can keep your own cell phone number private.  For all the bad press Google gets, they have great solutions for small businesses.

For those of you seeking to sell products or services online, please read on.  As you can tell by now, not all web hosting solutions are the same, and not all web hosting companies are the same.  There’s even bigger issues with which hosting plan you choose, and that’s what I want to break down for you here.  What should you do first, and why should you plan on migrating to better services in the near future?

For those of you that are squeamish about all the technical details, this is where you make the decision to hire someone to build your site, and select your web hosting for you.  For my fellow developers, this will give you some insight and questions to ask web hosting companies before you get started with your next client.

Web Hosting Companies

When it comes to offering web hosting solutions, it’s important to understand the business model of the web hosting company.  While they are in business to offer web hosting solutions, they don’t necessarily want you to simply build a website on their servers for $8.99 a month.  There’s no money to be made by offering web hosting solutions for just $8.99 a month.  What they do offer are services that cost next to nothing for them, but they charge you for the service.  For example, security certificates, WordPress automated updates, website backup plans, website restoration, domain name renewals, and a few more.  Why these services?  Because they are automated scripts that take just moments to setup, and they will bill you for years to come.  Don’t get me wrong here, I’m a capatalist, and I’m not condemning these practices.  I’m congratulating them for a job well done because these profits create jobs, and these services help share the wealth in our society.  This is a great business model for new website owners because the web hosting company takes care of all the issues you will have getting a new website up and running.

Shared Web Hosting

So what’s the cons of this low cost shared web hosting?  Two words: memory and connections.  When a web hosting provider offers low cost web hosting solutions, and not all of them do, they are placing your website on a server with hundreds of other websites.  So what you have is a physical computer with hundreds of websites running on that one server.  This is called “Shared Hosting”, and it’s how almost everyone starts out their website.  It’s a natural choice because it’s cheap and has the automated features described above.  However, this is also very limiting, and as a new website owner, you will never see, nor will you know “if” these limits are effecting your website.  Let me explain this by saying, you have no idea who your neighbors are, and you have no idea what limits the web hosting company has placed on this one particular shared server.  Will a shared server provide your website with hundreds of connections per day?  Yes, absolutely.  The only question is, At what point do you move to a new server?  Let’s look at this.

Let’s say you’ve been online for a year, and you’ve written a food blog that is now getting some decent traffic.  So you’re getting 3,000 plus visitors per month, and you’re seeing this climb steadily.  This is a great start, but 3,000 visitors per month is easily sustainable by any shared web hosting server.  But what about your neighbors?  Let’s say one of your neighbors, on the same machine as you, is now getting 50,000 visitors per month.  Now what?  This is where the headaches can really start to kick in, and the only answer you’ll get from your web hosting company is “upgrade”.  When you’re on a shared web hosting server, that server has a finite amount of resources.  For example, the memory, the storage, and the bandwidth, just too name a few, are all limited to a physical size.  The server may only have 8 gigabytes (GBs) of physical memory, or 2 terabytes (TBs) of storage.  These limitations can severely limit your websites performance, and the worst part is, you’ll never know it.  Why won’t you know it?  Because you have no idea what these limits are, and you’ll have no idea if any of your neighbors are consuming the majority of these finite resources.  For you, this will manifest itself into website crashes where your site is down, but you didn’t change anything.  It just stopped working. Probably the most common issue you’ll experience is your database crashes your website because there’s not enough physical memory to handle the incoming website requests.  You have now experienced a shared web hosting problem that you can only fix by upgrading to a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or your own physical dedicated web hosting.

Now it may not be fair that someone else is effecting your website, but this is the reality of shared web hosting.  If the other website is connecting their visitors more efficiently than your website, then your website is going to crash, as the neighboring website takes up the majority of physical resources.  That’s the cons of shared web hosting, but it’s also an inexpensive start to your online endeavours.  Soon after you get your site up and running, you can style it the way you want, try out different WordPress themes, and learn to work with the many server functions and WordPress plugins.  Only after you get yourself setup, do you need to start looking at upgrading.

Virtual Private Server

The next step up for shared hosting, is a Virtual Private Server.  This is a web server that’s still shared with other VPS machines on one physical server, but it’s a fully functional and dedicated web server for your needs.  It will have a dedicated amount of memory, and will be capable of server configurations that will boost your website performance, and increase the load capacity of your visitors by many factors.  In one such example, I moved a client to a VPS on the 19th of the month, and in just 11 days, they went from their best online monthly sales of $103,000, to just over $222,000 per month.  The VPS, along with the web hosting company, made their website so fast and efficient, they were able to serve all their visitors concurrently without any website crashes.  To say the least, all the money they paid me, which was several thousand dollars, was recouped in just 11 days!

What is a Virtual Private Server?  It’s a computer server that’s built out of software.  Any computer is just a physical box that runs software inside.  In the case of a VPS, the computer is built with special software that creates a complete server environment, inside a physical computer server.  Each physical server can have multiple VPS machines running inside.  This is how most high performance websites are run today.  The entire Amazon AWS infrastructure is an enormous series of VPS machines built inside their physical hosts.  At first, this may not seem like a big advantage, but it is.  Instead of your website sharing all the memory of a physical server, the VPS is allocated a block of resources that none of your neighbors can touch.  If you purchase a 4GB VPS, then all 4GBs is yours, and yours alone.  No one else on that same machine can touch it.

When it comes to web servers, the best option is a VPS, and a server administrator.  Once you have your website on a VPS, you have unlimited configuration capabilities for your website.  For example, if you need your database queries stored into memory, a program called Memcache can do this for you, and this will dramatically improve your concurrent connections to your website.  On a shared hosting plan, there is no Memcache, and it’s not an option for you.  Another is your choice of web server software such as Nginx, Apache or LiteSpeed.  As you may know, WordPress runs best on the Nginx platform, but most WordPress sites are run using Apache.  Why?  Because Apache is what all the shared web hosting servers run for their environments.  When it comes to WordPress performance, nothing beats Nginx.  With your new VPS, you will see dramatic improvements in your site performance just by setting up Nginx.  What else?

Because you’re running a complete server, albeit virtual and not physical, you have an infinite number of possibilities.  One such possibility is automation.  I am often setting up CentOS web servers, however, the ability to automate tasks with a server-side script, such as a Bash script, is now available to you.  While this is very advanced, it means you will take your online website endeavours to their highest functionality.  Automation scripts do the tedious work that you, or your server administrator, would have to do by hand on a regular basis.  Things like backups, restarting services, denying IP addresses,  optimizing images, cleaning up databases, deploying security certificates and many many many more.  There’s really no limit to what can be automated.

Dedicated Web Hosting

When it comes to the highest performance available, dedicated web hosting is the ultimate solution.  What is this?  It’s your own physical server that you can use to run your website.  All the resources of the server are yours and yours alone.  You must setup everything, and inside your physical machine, you will setup all your VPS environments.  Even renting an entire physical machine, you would still want to setup a series of VPS machines to handle your website traffic.  One VPS would be your router/load-balancer, a series of VPS machines would handle website connections, another VPS would be dedicated for your databases, and another for your email server.  One physical machine with just 32GBs of memory could easily pull in millions of dollars every month for your company.  It would handle all your email, your website hosting, your customer relations management, and all your automation.

As you can tell, dedicated web hosting is for the large corporation that’s pulling in millions of dollars every month.  It often takes teams of people to administer these servers, and this environment can take months to setup.  In my own experience, I’ve worked with clients for more than a year to get their server configurations completed for their needs.  The volume of automation scripts is nearly endless, but in the end, the server can add more profit to the bottom line for use in other areas of the company.

Conclusion

This article is just a scratch compared to the limitless possibilities available for you the website owner.  I just want to touch on the broad over all picture so you can see what’s going to happen to you when you decide to open up your business online.  As you can tell, there’s no end to the amount of work that must be done to make your online presence successful.  I didn’t touch on any software updates, or the constant need to monitor server performance.  You can see why men like me are hired to handle server configurations.  Only years of experience can bring your online business to it’s peak of profitability.

The U.S. Marine Corps motto is “Semper Fidelis“, or always faithful.  When it comes to building servers and configuring your website for success, being always faithful is what’s necessary to get the job done.  That’s why the Marines are so successful, because like the Marines, getting a web server to a point of great profitablity takes a consummate professional.  Constantly studying, and practicing techniques is what I have to do to give me an edge.  I run my own Dell R710 Enterprise class servers with dozens of VPS machines built inside to run tests, setup new automation scripts, transfer huge amounts of data (I have 12 terabytes online), test email server configs, and all this to deliver solutions to my clients.  It takes a Semper Fidelis attitude to be successful in my line of work.  It will take a Semper Fidelis attitude for you to get your website presence online and profitable as well.

If you read this far, thank you!  If not, then I hope this very brief introduction provided you with some answers to this very complex world of web servers.

When you decide to move your business online, remember, this is a race.  It’s a race between the tortoise and the hare.  For all who want to be successful online, you must be the tortoise.  Be slow and steady every day, and you’ll win the race.  It may take 4 or 5 years, but you will win.  If you’re trying to be the hare, then you’ll burn out and quit long before the finish line.

As the Marines will tell you, the only easy day, was yesterday.

Respectfully,
Tom Heibel
CodeMilitant