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Dedicated vs Shared
Comparing Costs & Hosting Features
Updated - 11/01/2002
In order to understand which type of hosting, dedicated or shared, is right for you, its important to define the main differences between them. A Dedicated Server is a piece of hardware located in a web hosting company's data center that is used by a single hosting account only. Shared Hosting involves anywhere from several dozen to a few hundred accounts using the resources of one piece of hardware.
Each type of hosting has its own typical account features:
* Most dedicated providers will allow you to select greater amounts of bandwidth, hard drive space, processor speeds, RAM memory and software when you setup your system.
As you can see, dedicated server hosting offers many advantages, particularly in the area of data transfer. Websites owners with high traffic are the main ones that feel they are outgrowing their shared server accounts. With a dedicated account, running out of monthly bandwidth is a non-issue.
However, dedicated web servers typically cost a whole lot more than shared hosting. The truth be known, data transfer is the primary cost associated with running a hosting company. The more bandwidth allocation you request, the higher the price goes.
With such high costs involved, making the leap from a typical $7.95 per month shared account to a $195 or more per month dedicated server can make any website owner question their true need for such a service.
An Analogy - Two Office Buildings:
Many people who are new to web hosting often have a hard time understanding how dedicated and shared servers truly differ in functionality.
One of the clearest explanations for understanding the advantages and disadvantages of the two main types of servers is this - imagine two office buildings of equal size on the same street (i.e., two web servers connected to the Internet). Both are owned and maintained by the same owner who rents them out to people that need office space. Both buildings have a large entrance of the exact same size that leads out to the street where their visitors and customers come from.
One building is designated as "dedicated" and it has but a single renter or occupant.
The second building is "shared" and it has up to a 200 occupants at any given time.
Since the occupant of the dedicated office building has the entire place to himself, he can also decorate it and setup the place pretty much as he pleases (i.e., use any operating system, add special types of software, host multiple domain names, etc.). However, the occupants in the shared office building don't have that option. They have to accept the rooms of that office building basically as is (i.e., accept the account features, operating system, etc., as they are with few exceptions).
If one of the occupants of the shared building becomes very popular (generates a lot of web traffic), then more visitors enter through the front door of the shared building at the same time. This can cause the visitors of the other 199 occupants to wait before entering or to not be able to come in the door at all (i.e., causes slow page loads or server downtime). Over at the dedicated building, all the visitors to that office building are there for that single occupant alone. No one else can crowd his doorway.
If the single occupant in the dedicated office building wants to expand the front door (bandwidth) to allow greater numbers of visitors to enter more easily, he can. The owner of the building would charge him a little for this modification, but at least the option is there. Occupants in the shared building don't have that option. In addition, each occupant of the shared building is only allowed a certain amount of visitors per month. Allowing one or more of them to regularly exceed their visitor limitations every month only crowds the other occupants' visitors that much more.
Building security is another issue. If any one of the 200 occupants in the shared office building leaves the door open for criminals to get in (hackers & viruses), then all of the offices in that building have been made unsafe. In addition, if one of the occupants does something that catches his office on fire (the server crashes), then all the offices in that building also have to be closed down until the fire is out (the server is rebooted). The renter of the dedicated building is immune to such security mistakes of others, and can even set up additional security measures for his building (i.e., install special firewalls and monitoring software).
Even support & maintenance differs between each building. All of the occupants in the shared office building have to share the same limited support staff when there are problems with the building. Once again, the renter of the dedicated building has the maintenance staff for that structure dedicated to him alone.
The main advantage that the shared office occupants have is that they also basically share the rent for the building, paying only around, umm, say $7.95 per month. The sole occupant of the dedicated building has to pay for that building's rent all by himself, and that amount can easily run into several hundreds of dollars - depending upon how wide he made the front door and other customizations he asked the landlord for.
The secondary advantage the shared tenants have is that since they didn't setup anything special in their building, they don't spend anytime maintaining it. The dedicated renter typically has to spend more time maintaining any special things he sets up in his building (i.e., configuring, upgrading, and backing-up special software, etc.)
So, "Which building would you want run your business out of?" For others, a better question would be, "Which building can you afford to do business in?"
Hopefully, that analogy will help hosting novices gain a mental picture of how these two types of web servers basically operate.
Only Large, Commercial Sites Truly "Need" Dedicated Servers
When it boils down to it, dedicated server solutions are primarily designed for large, professional web sites with either:
For most others who simply need higher data transfer limits, there are plenty of shared hosting providers that offer a fairly large amount of bandwidth for much less than a dedicated server. Globat.com even offers 50 GB of transfer for $7.50/mo & no setup fee.
So, if your website needs are mission-critical, then you should go with a dedicated server every time. If your site exceeds 100 GB or 400 GB per month, then by all means, go with dedicated. But unless you absolutely need all the additional benefits that a dedicated server offers (Security, Customization, Reliability and Service Guarantees), then the high costs of a dedicated server just aren't worth it.
For help in selecting a dedicated server, read "What Do I Look For In A Good Dedicated Web Host?" - an article from The WHIR.
If you'd like to read some more helpful articles on choosing a low cost hosting provider, then please return to our Hosting Guides section.
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