Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Clarity about Hosting and the Cloud

Are you confused by the concept of Internet hosting?  You are not alone!  What exactly do vendors mean when they talk about hosting?  Is it: Hosting your Domain Name, registering your Domain Name,  hosting your website, hosting an interactive application, are you paying for access to a service, or is it a combination of all of these things? And what exactly do they mean by 'the cloud'.  Is all hosting cloud computing just because it is on the Internet?   It's not surprising that many people are confused by this - beyond the obvious issue that these are often very technical distinctions, it gets even muddier because of all the ways that different vendors and services will offer their products in the market.

In this article, we'll break down some of the various types of Internet Hosting and try to define them in simple terms so that when you go looking for what you need, you know exactly how to ask questions of vendors and understand the answers they give you.  The first thing you want to understand is that there is a big difference between registering a domain and buying web hosting.

Domain Names - this is the name that you select as your name on the web.  It is used for your website address (URL) and it should also be used for your professional email address.  Typically, you pay an annual fee to register a domain name (between $8 and $15) and this is paid to a company called a Domain Registrar.  Some examples of these are Enom or GoDaddy.

Web Hosting - this is perhaps the most generic term we will discuss and the service is offered in hundreds of different ways by vendors.  In the simplest form it really is just space on a computer that is allocated to you where you can upload website content (html pages, images, etc.).

You can find web hosting that runs from $3 per month to over $1000 per month.  What makes things so complex is understanding what you need for your site.  One of the most confusing issues is that most vendors who register domain names also bundle other services in and sometimes those services will be what you need - but often they are not.  If you want to secure your domain name, but you don't know what you need yet in terms of your web presence, I recommend that you find a registrar that will just charge you the annual fee for the domain and avoid getting into a monthly fee contract.   If you are still trying to determine what you need in a website - you can use The Internet Plan - and create your web strategy.

Interactive Websites and Hosting - If you need an interactive website, including Content Management Systems, Blogs, or Ecommerce then the hosting you will need will be very specific to the technology used for your site.  Typically for those sorts of services, you'll want your website provider to either include hosting in the package or to tell you what kind of hosting you require.  For instance, if your site is a Wordpress site, you would need web hosting that supports the Wordpress application - and sometimes it is more complex because there can be different versions of the technology.

SAAS (Software as a Service) - All services, websites and tools that are available on the Internet are hosted on servers.  Whether or not you have to pay for the hosting directly depends on the business model of the company.  For example,  Blogger is a blog tool that is owned by Google.  You can set up a blog using that tool and the hosting is not separated from the service.  Essentially, you are getting the service including the hosting for free - at least for now.  Other examples where the service and hosting is integrated is with Intuit's website offering as well as with JoyaTech's websites.  With these two, you are paying for either the do-it-yourself tools to be able to design your own site or you are paying for the design and setup of a site and then you pay a monthly fee for hosting and upkeep of the software.

Virtual Dedicated Servers, Dedicated Hosting, and Managed Hosting - These three different types of hosting are typically for companies who have large, complex or custom built interactive websites that need very specific tools to work.  They usually cost upwards of $50 to $500 depending on what you need and unless you are the webmaster for a company who has an application or complex website you probably will not need this sort of service.  A great way to learn more about these terms is to look them up on Wikipedia.

For most consumers the concept of 'cloud computing' is typically irrelevant.  It more refers to how an application or data is configured on one or more servers on the Internet.  Probably the only clear benefit to a consumer is that the service may be more reliable if it is running on many different computers versus running on only one.  However, the way the term has been used to market products and services on the Internet, you cannot usually tell if that is the case.  My recommendation is to look instead to reviews of the service, guarantees of up-time and clear procedures for backup and restore of any data or applications that you are paying to use or host with a vendor.

Mary Camacho is the author of The Internet Plan. Buy the book here!


  1. It more refers to how an application or data is configured on one or more servers on the Internet. HostingHQ

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