What is Website Hosting?

What is Website Hosting?

Website hosting? No thanks, I’ll just host it myself!

No you won’t.

The Internet has been around a while now. While many of you—especially those reading this “online” article—are experienced in navigating the Internet, unless you have owned a website before, you may not be aware of what website hosting is.

I wanted to briefly touch upon this concept of website hosting as I occasionally run into new clients that aren’t sure what it is or why there is a fee associated with it.

A good analogy for the concept of website hosting is to imagine a shopping center. Within the shopping center, there are multiple stores. Every store pays rent each month to have space within the shopping center.

In this analogy, the shopping center represents the Internet and the store space represents where your website lives within the Internet.

While you will pay a website developer to create your website, it will need to live somewhere on the Internet so your customers can find you. And, this is where website hosting comes in.

Web Servers

I will spare you the deep dive into how the Internet works, as that’s [way] outside the scope of this simple article, so we can focus on the basics.

When your website is live and accessible on the Internet, it’s actually housed on a web server. This is a high-availability computer that’s running 24/7 and housed within a data center with high-speed connectivity to the Internet.

On this computer lives your website files which include coding, image assets, and maybe PDFs or videos or anything else your site may offer. Being a computer, it of course is running an operating system, security software, and much more.

The data center where your server resides, often offers redundant power supplies, fire suppression systems, physical and cyber security, a maintenance team, and more.

A quality data center will also include redundant connections to the Internet, advanced routing switches and other high-speed networking equipment, data backup and, sometimes, geographically diverse offsite storage and replication.

All of this is done to ensure, to the best of their ability, your website stays up and remains accessible around the world and around the clock.

Website Hosting is a Utility

Nowadays, web hosting is often seen as a commodity and simply a utility. While all hosting isn’t the same, there are countless hosting services available for you to choose from.

For many, this point is moot. Most of you will now understand what hosting is and understand it is essential. And, therefore, just accept the cost as part of running a business. Which it is.

However, the DIY among you—especially the computer savvy—may explore setting up a web server yourself in your home. I was debating whether or not to include this concept within this article as, these days, it pertains to a very small community. But, I wanted to share my thoughts on this as even I, back in high school and college, dabbled with creating a home-grown web server.

Technically speaking, for a low traffic, low tech website, it could be possible to build a machine to run your website out of your home. With the right software, some of which is even free under the open source license, and the right instructions, you may very well be able to pull it off.

However, as mentioned previously, there’s a lot more to website hosting than just the server itself.

Your residential Internet service provider may or may not provide the speed necessary to host public websites. And, even if the speed seems sufficient, it’s more often than not asynchronous. Meaning, the speed at which files download and upload differ. So, while your home Internet appears to be sufficient for Netflix (which is downloading data), your speed for uploading (which a web server requires) is likely too slow and inconsistent.

To pause and step back from getting any more technical, consider the utility aspect.

While you may be able to pull water from a well or convert solar rays into electricity, for many, the costs associated with doing so may or may not beat procuring such services from a utility company. And, that’s for a structure you live in.

Considering the costs associated with operating your own web server for your business, the economics almost never make sense.

Not All Hosts Are The Same

Earlier I mentioned that website hosting is often viewed as a commodity. However, not all hosting plans are the same.

Some plans differ based on the amount of storage space your website is allotted. Sites offering large file downloads or those hosting video would consume more space.

Others price based on the maximum monthly bandwidth your website commands. More active websites will require more bandwidth, as do those which stream video.

And some hosting solutions are priced differently based on the operating system of the web server itself. Often you’ll find those running an open source operating system, like Linux, cost less to procure than those running Microsoft Windows Server—where the licensing fees are more expensive. Regardless of your pricing preferences, the choice of server operating system may very well be dictated by the programming language your site was built with.

While there are other differences in hosting platforms, including a CDN or Content Distribution Network, to name yet another, you can now see website hosting isn’t the cookie cutter commodity some make it out to be.

Website Hosting is not Website Maintenance

Building a website and making it live to the public doesn’t usually mark the end of your website journey. Of course, this is business-specific. But, in most cases, frequent updates to the website are necessary to provide your customers fresh content and to realize certain SEO benefits.

If you’re engaging in a more comprehensive digital marketing effort, website updates should also go hand-in-hand with social media postings, email campaigns, and the like.

Each website developer will handle post-construction website updates differently and based on your needs. But something that’s universal is website hosting is not website maintenance.

To circle back to the shopping center analogy; your hosting fees cover your rent for the space you take on the Internet. Physical changes to your store would likely require you to enlist a contractor or skilled craftsman to execute. Updates to your website are no different.

This is another point I wanted to shed light on as it occasionally comes up or confuses new website owners.

Some website developers may package website hosting with a monthly maintenance plan but that’s more the exception than the rule. If this is an arrangement you think you would be interested in and one that suits your business, I would recommend discussing options with your website developer.

So, when it comes to website hosting, you can now see there’s more than meets the eye. While quite technical, hosting shouldn’t feel too intimidating as there are plenty of skilled professionals to handle the heavy lifting for you. As a business owner, you just need to understand why quality web hosting is important for your business and factor that into your overall website expenses.

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To learn more about marketing your small business, check out our What you need to know to market your small business article.

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