Picking the right hosting option is a question that doesn’t really have a one simple answer. It all really depends on what YOU need and WHAT you need it for. Grab some tea, coffee perhaps an old fashioned and join me on this journey to learning more about hosting options and which one is best for you.
How Knowledgable Are You?
Chances are that, if you’re reading this, you do need some more hand-holding, at least in the beginning. No worries. We all had to start somewhere. If you know the difference between PHP and MySQL or Server and Domain name you know your basics and this article won’t give you much, except perhaps some entertainment value.
Let’s get some basics out of the way. Just for fun I’ll be using analogies. I love those and they do make sense. What is hosting and why do you need it? Well, there are two basic things that you must have so that your website works. First one is the domain name, second is hosting.
What’s the difference you ask?
Domain name is like an address. An imaginary name that means nothing on its own. It needs to be assigned to a place. That’s where the hosting (hosting – housing, get it? 🙂 ) comes in. Hosting is the thing your domain name points to so that people can find your website. Why not just the hosting without the domain name? Because without a domain name it would be as useful as opening a winter coat store in the middle of the amazon jungle. It’s there. But nobody can really reach it without proper know-how.
To sum this part up. You need a domain name and a hosting option. Why a hosting option? Because there’s no one single solution for everyone. It all depends on YOU and WHAT, remember?
Typical Hosting Packages
I’ll focus on regular consumer hosting options and not even go into enterprise solutions. That’s a category on its own. Imagine that hosts are renting out space in office buildings. Each server is a building. With that image in your head, it’ll be easier to understand how it all works. Most hosts will offer 4 options:
Shared Hosting Environment – Rent an office in an office building.
The whole building is divided into small offices. You never know who your neighbours are. You do not have any influence over that. You have fixed settings on the thermostat and pretty much anything else. There’s one small bathroom to share with the entire building and one janitor (system administrator) who works on Tuesdays from 10AM – 11AM with a 30-min break in between. Pretty much nothing can be adjusted or changed to your particular needs or liking. It’s a take it or leave it situation. If you see a hobo wandering around the hallways, just turn back and run. Yes, it might happen.
Virtual Private Server – Rent a floor in an office building.
It’s comfortable. You are in full control of the floor, put the walls wherever you want them to be. Divide and conquer situation. Completely adjustable to your liking. However, since you do have full control of the floor if you don’t know how to maintain and manage it you either need to hire a janitor, learn how to do it yourself or depend on the building janitor. With VPS there’s fewer problems than Shared Hosting Environment so the building janitor should be more responsive. The drawback of VPS is usually the space and resources, though. The building can hold only so many floors.
Dedicated Server – Rent out an entire office building in a business park.
Now we’re talking. You’re renting out an entire building. Congratulations! You get to decide on the number of floors, layout, bathrooms and pretty much whatever you want. The sky is the limit and by sky I mean your budget. It’s as close to owning your own office building as it gets. You will need private security, you should also get your own janitorial staff, at least one part-timer and maybe put him on standby in case of fire or other emergencies. With this, it’s as comfortable as it gets. It does come with a lot more responsibility and maintenance, though.
What about the 4th option?
That’d be Managed Virtual Private Server which means the whole maintenance comes with the floor, but you’ll be limited to a certain floor layout. You won’t be able to move walls around, tweak wall colors etc. Maybe they’ll let you hang a poster and do your own branding. All will work fine and will be well taken care of but for that peace of mind you pay with limited customization options.
Depending on your host they might offer other solutions. Usually, it’s something in-between the 3 main options. Just be sure to educate yourself on what it is you actually need. With that in mind…
What Hosting Package Do You Need?
The problem here is as usual with a number of various factors each as important as others. It really doesn’t matter how many users you have registered on your site. Let’s go back to the office space in buildings analogy. If you have 1,000,000 registered users but only a few of them come to your office every day you can easily handle that load with a shared hosting environment. That’s because you’re interacting just with those who come and visit you. The rest is just a bunch of files in a cabinet. They take some space but it’s minimal. Quite literarily.
You also need to take into account when do people visit your office. In a perfect world it’d be evenly spread out throughout 24h. However, since communities tend to be more local (country, timezone etc.) people usually come and visit you in a certain window of those 24h. Logic dictates that the more people want to come and visit you and interact with you, the more space and resources you’ll need to handle them all. Trying to fit 1,000 people within a small time window in a small office in a crowded building is hardly doable. They’ll come, see huge line and leave. Shared Hosting Environment on average will not have enough resources to handle them all at the same time.
It also matters how do people interact with your office. If they just come and read the announcements on the office door, they come. See. Read. Go away. Quick and easy. Not perfect for a social networking scenario, but quick and easy passive interaction. Now image that your office needs to process written documents, photos, video files and more. Instead of people just reading things, you are involved into writing stuff down and processing it for them.
The general rule of thumb is this. Start small, but have room to grow. If you can start with even a managed VPS that’d be great. But Shared Hosting Environment is good for a start too. Just be sure to monitor how your community is using your site. When they login, how your website performs in the spike times and adjust, if necessary. Migrations from one hosting option to another within the same hosting company is relatively quick and easy. They do handle it for you in most cases too. Upgrades from Shared Hosting Environment to a VPS or from a VPS to a Dedicated Server is not a problem.
What is super important, though. Make sure your hosting doesn’t cut you off, if too many people start visiting your site. Shared Hosting Environments and VPS options do sometimes have those. That’s bad for usability on the site, nobody wants to see a 500 server error etc. So contact the hosting of your choice and ask how are they handling it before making a commitment.
How Is PeepSo Different?
Many complex applications, whether they’re WordPress plugins or not require sometimes an amazing amount of resources to process the information they’re designed to handle. PeepSo performance hugely overshadows competition and we’re not planning to stop there. We’ve made amazing progress in the last year regarding performance and we’ve got plans to make it even better.
Having all that said, we test PeepSo on daily basis (yes, daily) with Shared Hosting Environment, VPS and Dedicated Servers just to make sure it all works on almost any given environment. That’s all I can really say at this time. Feel free to reach out and ask a few people on our own community what servers they use, what’s the amount of users, traffic etc. Perhaps they can recommend a hosting company they use. I’d also like to point out that as far as I know PeepSo is the only company making social networking plugins for WordPress that actually uses its own software. We’re using our own products with your help we grow our own community and are extremely proud of it.
All in all, you do need to realize that everyone has to start somewhere. It’s not a shame to start with Shared Hosting Environment or a VPS. It’s why they’re there. However, don’t expect miracles and do realize there’s a reason why the biggest players out there deal with Data Centers not servers. Or to put it back into the analogy I used before: there’s a reason why they build business parks all over the world and not rent out small office spaces in some office buildings.
Hosting We Use and Recommend
I can already sense the questions:
Eric, what hosting do you recommend? Eric, what hosting do you use? Eric, how can you be so awesome?
Ok, maybe not the last one… but the first ones, sure. So to answer both at the same time: We are using and recommending LiquidWeb. Let me be more specific. We’re using options with them. A Dedicated Server for our PeepSo.com website and community. Plus we’re using a VPS that is used to host our documentation, demo and about a dozen or so testing environments. That one VPS with all those sites there, is configured well enough to handle video uploads – and you can test it yourself on our demo.
Final Words of Wisdom
Don’t jump in head first without testing the water first. Educate yourself, ask questions, reach out and remember that there are no stupid questions. Feel free to ask us any questions regarding hosting, performance etc. Again, reach out to other members within our own community and talk to them. They’re like you, trying to build a great space for people. They face the same challenges or at least similar enough ones that they can weigh in and help you find a solution. Our entire team is there too, including my humble personage.