A Guide To Website Hosting Options

web_serverCongratulations.  You’ve decided to make a website.  Maybe it’s a little "postcard site" with a single page advertising your business.  Maybe it’s a blog or forum.  Perhaps you are looking to build a huge corporate site or a web application that you hope will take off in popularity.  Before you write one line of code, though, you are going to need some place to put that site.

With a physical house, there are different styles to choose from.  That studio apartment might be cheaper to rent but it isn’t nearly as spacious as the five bedroom house.  The same is true of servers to host your website.  There are options ranging from the limited but inexpensive to the pricier but more robust.  I recently moved my hosting between these options and, during my research, realized that people might not know just what possibilities there are.  What follows is a quick and dirty guide between the most common types of hosting.  As with anything, there can be some that straddle the line or carve out their own niche.  However, I’m confident that 99% of the hosting options out there would fall into the following four categories.

Free Hosting

If you are just starting a small, personal site and don’t have a budget at all, you might want to consider this option.  Free hosts will give you space to create your website for, well, free.  The caveat here is that your site might be required to carry advertising for the hosting provider.  This earns the hosting provider income and you may not be permitted to share in that income.  Furthermore, your options for creating a site might be limited.  You often will be allowed to choose from a small set of templates to create your site.  While this can be a benefit to those who don’t know how to create a website, it can also wind up making your site look like a dozen other sites.  Finally, depending on the host, you may not be allowed to use your own domain name.  In other words, people might access your site via mysite.somefreehost.com instead of www.mysite.com.  Needless to say, the latter is much more professional looking.  Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend this option for any but the smallest of hobby sites and even then I’d recommend thinking twice.

Shared Hosting

Servers are powerful computers that can host web sites.  (They "serve" up webpages.)  Modern servers are so powerful that they can host hundreds or even thousands of websites on a single box.  This is where shared hosting comes in.  With shared hosting, a provider sets up a server and allocates you a set amount of space and bandwidth in exchange for a relatively small monthly fee (around $5 to $30 a month but this varies by host and what is offered).  You are free to make your site however you like, free from almost any restrictions.  Most hosts have provisions against illegal activities and/or porn, but so long as you steer clear of these you should be fine.

The downside of shared hosting is that the server is shared.  Imagine a big pool.  That’s our server.  A swimmer (a website) dives into the pool.  He has plenty of room to swim and splash.  Another jumps in and they can both splash all they want without bothering each other.  As more and more enter the pool, though, it becomes harder to keep swimmers from splashing other swimmers.  When you have a thousand in the pool, each swimmer can still enjoy the water, but they must take care not to splash too much.  If a website uses too much memory/server resources, the hosting provider can kick the website off the server.  You might think that the host wouldn’t want to lose the revenue, but you’d be wrong.  For every site kicked out, there are a dozen ready to sign up.

This happened to me once.  I was running our blogs on a shared hosting environment.  It was nice and inexpensive.  Then, with no warning, we found our sites suspended.  When we asked why, we were told that our two blogs were using too much resources and we needed to pay them to move to a dedicated server which costs much more money.  (More on dedicated servers later.)  Luckily, we were able to get our sites reinstated during the transition, but it was a rude awakening.  A shared server might be a nice place to start out, but it has very little room to grow.

Virtual Private Server Hosting

Instead of thousands of people jumping into the pool, Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting is akin to setting up walls between a dozen or so swimmers in the pool.  Each swimmer has his own section of the pool and each section is prevented from interfering with the other sections.  There are less people per server so the hosting cost can be higher, but you wind up getting more power and resources.  Better still, since your sites are divided, you don’t need to worry about your site being kicked off for using too many resources.  The worst case scenario is that your server uses up its available resources and slows down.  The other sites on the server, though, would continue to operate unimpeded.

VPS hosting has many sub options.  Perhaps you are proficient at managing a server and want to save more money by getting an unmanaged hosting provider.  These plans can even rival shared hosting as far as cost goes.  (Say, about $8 a month.)  Or perhaps you aren’t as comfortable and are willing to pay slightly more for your server to be managed by the hosting providers’ staff.  This can be pricier, but still relatively inexpensive.  (Around $40 a month.)

Another benefit to VPS servers is that they can easily grow.  Suppose you had a VPS server set up with 10GB of hard drive space and you realize your site is now using 8.5GB.  You can upgrade your plan to, say, 20GB (paying more per month, of course) and your virtual server’s specs will be altered on the fly.  There will be no need to move your files/databases to another server at all.  (To use the pool metaphor, imagine the walls separating you from the other swimmers suddenly moved to make your pool segment larger.)  This means you can get a smaller VPS plan at first to save money and grow it as your site grows.

VPS hosting is a very attractive, and often overlooked, option.  In our case, after a stint on a dedicated server, we switched to a VPS server to save money.  We wound up paying only around 20% of our dedicated server cost and only around four times our old shared hosting costs.  I’d definitely recommend VPS hosting to anyone, but with the caveat of hiring someone to help you manage the server – or at least set it up.

Dedicated Server

Dedicated servers are definitely the most powerful option but can also be the most expensive.  Going back to the pool metaphor, we’ve kicked everyone out of the pool except for you.  You can splash, swim, kick, and play in the pool to your hearts’ content without fear of impacting anyone else.  You won’t be kicked off for using too many resources (though you still may be kicked off if you host content against your provider’s terms of service).  This is very much like Virtual Private Server hosting except you are the only one on the actual, physical server.  These plans vary quite a bit depending on the server’s processor, memory, hard drive space, etc., but plans regularly run into the hundreds of dollars per month.

I’d recommend a dedicated server only to the largest of sites and to the sites with plenty of financing.  Even then, dedicated servers have downsides besides price.  Unlike a VPS plan, dedicated servers can’t simply be updated on the fly.  If you need a bigger hard drive on your dedicated server, your host will need to back up your server, shut it down, replace the hard drive, start it back up, and restore the backup.  Then, you will need to test to make sure nothing broke in the transfer.  Upgrading more features might necessitate getting a completely different server – and moving your site between boxes.


No matter what option you choose, I’d definitely recommend hiring someone to set up your site.  It might seem tempting to toss together a site even without any web knowledge – and many programs claim to offer novices the ability to create any website with no experience required.  The fact of the matter, though, is that web developers do this sort of thing every day.  They know what works and what doesn’t.  They know how to avoid security pitfalls and how to increase usability.  The money you spend on a good web developer is well worth it.  Of course, full disclosure, on this last point I might be biased as I am a web developer myself.  (Side note: I am available for freelance projects so if you need a website built, drop me a line.)

There you have it, your four main options.  As I said before, there are other options out there that straddle the line or don’t fit into these neat boxes.  For the most part, though, these represent most of your choices.  while they are all fine options, they aren’t all good options for every website. Don’t set up your corporate page on a free host and don’t set up your tiny hobby page on a dedicated server.  (Well, in the case of the latter, not unless you’ve got money to burn in which case contact me about making your site.)  Choosing which hosting option your site is on is almost as important as choosing what your site will look like.  It is the foundation that your entire site will be built upon.  So take it slow and research your options before you just dive into the pool.

NOTE: The "web server" image above is by lyte and is available via OpenClipArt.org.

Wi-Fi Weirdness

The other day, while B was driving the car, I decided to check my phone for nearby Wi-Fi networks.  I didn’t plan on connecting to any – even if they were open, I don’t connect to strange Wi-Fi networks.  I just was curious what was out there.  I wasn’t prepared for my first Wi-Fi discovery, though.


There wasn’t a Mexican restaurant in the area, so I’m guessing this was someone who kept forgetting the password to their network.  All the security in the world won’t matter, though, if you advertise what your password is.


Why do I think that Mario lives near here?


I guess this is better than an idle donkey.


I’m not sure if this is Morse Code or a hidden smiley face.


Someone’s a fan of Star Trek!


Download files baby. Uh huh, uh huh.

Download files baby. Uh huh, uh huh.

Download files baby. Uh huh, uh huh.

And all the devices say, it’s pretty fly for a Wi-Fi!


This Wi-Fi network will only download files that rhyme.  (You can’t download anything named "Orange.")


Someone’s a fan of Discovery Channel’s week dedicated to Selachimorpha.


Some Wi-Fi networks like to just keep it classy.


Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird.  It’s a plane.  It’s a Wi-Fi network!


I thought the connection on this one would be $#*^, but it turns out you can quickly download log files or memory dumps.

What weird Wi-Fi network names have you seen?

My Open Letter To The FCC Concerning Network Neutrality

DTRave_Cartoon_Computer_and_Desktop_small1[1] Over the years, I’ve written about the bandwidth caps that cable companies are placing on Internet usage, use of the term “cord cheater” to describe people who view online videos, and Network Neutrality.  On the last item, the FCC has been collecting comments.  To date, they have collected over 650,000 comments.  Today, however, is the final day for submissions.  I submitted mine already, but thought I would publish here as an open letter. Below is what I sent the FCC.  If you haven’t submitted your comment yet and are quick, you might be able to send it in.

Update: Due to tons of people flooding their systems with last minute comments, the FCC has extended the deadline to Friday, July 18th.

NOTE: The computer image above is by DTRave and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

To whom it may concern,

I’m very worried about the issue of Network Neutrality. As a web developer and someone who is active on social media, I spend a lot of time online. I also keep up to date on what is happening in the online world. Unfortunately, I see one very big problem.

Most ISPs are monopolies or duopolies in their areas.

To give an example, I connect to the Internet via Time Warner Cable. I have no other wired broadband options available to me. FIOS doesn’t reach my area and DSL is a dying technology. (It’s older and slower and the telecom companies are chomping at the bit to get rid of it.)

What this means is that Time Warner Cable can essentially do whatever they want and I’m forced to continue service with them. They can raise rates, slow down my general connection, impose harsh caps/overage fees, or slow down specific sites until they are unusable.

If almost any other company did these things, the free market would lead customers to flee to their competitors. Unfortunately, the ISP market isn’t free. The cable companies know they have a lock (or near-lock) on their area. Cox isn’t going to invade Comcast’s territory and vice-versa. They’ve carved up the land into their own little fiefdoms where they can do as they please.

But why would a cable company want to slow down a connection to a website? Two words: Internet Video.

Cable companies make their money from cable TV – both live/DVRed content and on-demand content. However, services like Netflix, Amazon VOD, YouTube, etc, compete for consumers’ entertainment dollars and are drawing people away from cable TV. These are 100% legal options, but cable companies don’t like them. After all, everyone who watches a video on Netflix could have potentially paid the cable company to watch that video. The cable companies see money flowing to these “Internet upstarts” and it is ruining the cable companies’ status quo.

So something must be done.

The opening salvo came from Ed Whitacre, former head of AT&T, who in 2006 claimed that these Internet Video companies were getting a “free ride” off of AT&T’s connections because they weren’t paying for access to AT&T’s customers. Of course, the fact of the matter is that these Internet Video companies pay for their own bandwidth. To make an analogy, this would be like a pizza shop getting their business phone line from Verizon and AT&T complaining that the pizza shop was making money off of AT&T’s customers calling them without them paying AT&T. Nobody in their right mind would suggest that businesses should pay all phone companies so that those phone companies’ users would be able to call the businesses. Similarly, online companies shouldn’t have to pay ISPs access except for the company they pay for their bandwidth.

But who pays for the connection to the user, you might ask.

Here’s how the payments/connections go. The business (e.g. Netflix) pays their ISP for bandwidth. If that ISP is not a top tier ISP, they pay their upstream provider for bandwidth and so on until they reach the top tier. (In fact, Netflix pays a top tier ISP for bandwidth.) On the other side, users pay their ISPs for bandwidth. These ISPs again pay their upstream providers until the top tiers are reached. The top tier ISPs come to agreements with each other about how data is going to pass between them and what, if any, payments are required. As you can see, everyone gets paid. There are no free rides.

ISPs quickly backed away from any claims that they would block sites. Instead, they claimed that they simply wanted to open a “fast lane” to “help” websites get to users faster. All it took was a little payment. Otherwise, websites would be stuck on the “normal speed” lanes which the ISPs claimed would still be fast.

Unfortunately, we go back to the monopoly/duopoly situation. Since the “normal speed” lanes wouldn’t generate any profit, the ISPs wouldn’t have any incentive to keep sites using that service running at a decent speed. In fact, they would profit more if sites using the “normal speed lane” found themselves slowing down and needed to pay for “fast speed” access. Meanwhile, the ISPs’ own video services would get instant “fast lane” access without needing to pay anything. In short, the “fast lane” would be a money maker for ISPs. They would either slow down competitors or make additional money off of them.

As a side effect, these extra charges will be passed on to the Internet Video customers via rate hikes which – the ISPs hope – will push people away from Internet Video and to the ISPs’ offerings.

On the other side, ISPs are looking into instituting caps on their users. They claim this is to only charge users for the bandwidth that they use. The true purpose, however, is to punish users who use Internet Video. With caps in place, Internet Video users suddenly will find themselves with limits on how long they can watch. If they go over their cap, they risk getting charged overage fees. Of course, the ISPs’ own offerings will be exempt from the caps.

The net result of this is the effective price of an Internet Video service will go up which will, again as the ISPs hope, result in people leaving Internet Video for the ISPs’ offerings.

I’m not a huge fan of government regulations. There are many times when they just raise costs and add bureaucracy to a process that could be done cheaper/faster without the regulations. However, government regulations do have a place in this world. One instance is where the markets are so broken that companies can use their monopolies to crush competition and/or abuse customers.

The ISPs would love for the government to stand back and let them crush their competition with no interference. This way, they can make more money, grow even bigger, and wield more power over what people watch and when. I and hundreds of thousands of Americans are hoping that the FCC will stand up to these ISPs.

Companies shouldn’t be able to use monopolies in one area to protect their business interests in another area. The ISPs are trying to do this with “fast lanes” and by favoring their own traffic over those of their competitors. Those who support Network Neutrality want traffic to be “origin blind.” It shouldn’t matter if a packet of information comes from Netflix, a cable company’s on-demand service, or YouTube. It should be treated the same no matter what.

Note that this doesn’t mean that ISPs can’t prioritize traffic. For example, an e-mail message is less important to deliver right away than a video call. So video call packets could skip ahead of e-mail message packets. However, this is different than ISPs allowing their services to get priority over similar services offered by other companies. The former improves user experience, the latter improves the ISPs’ position at the expense of users and competitors.

When you are looking to craft Network Neutrality regulations, please keep in mind the millions of users your regulations will be affecting. They are currently helpless against the big ISPs profit-seeking and monopoly abusing schemes. As a government agency, of the people, by the people, and for the people, your first concern should be helping the citizens affected, not preserving ISP monopolies and turning a blind eye to their abuses.

Thank you for your time,

– TechyDad

Save Our Internet

DTRave_Cartoon_Computer_and_Desktop_small[1]The Internet is under attack.

Before I get to explaining this though, let’s quickly review how the Internet works.  Suppose you want to watch a Netflix video.  First, you pay your ISP for an Internet connection.  Your ISP pays their upstream provider who pays their upstream provider and so on until you reach the top of the stack.  On the other side, Netflix pays their ISP for bandwidth.  Their ISPs pay upstream providers in the same fashion.  (Some of the ISPs act as “top of the stack” providers as well.)  The “top stack” providers enter into peering agreements which essentially say “we’ll let our networks work together.”

The problems began when some cable ISPs saw some Internet companies 1) using a lot of bandwidth, 2) making a lot of money, and 3) competing with the cable ISPs’ existing video offerings.  The cable ISPs began to worry that people would cancel their TV service thanks to Netflix and that couldn’t be allowed to happen.

Overage Fees

On one front, cable ISPs have been pushing for data caps.  They claim that this is to “only require users to pay for what they use.”  The problem with this is that the light users won’t wind up paying less.  Instead, heavy users will wind up paying more.  And by “heavy users,” I mean anyone that the cable companies think are sending money to companies other than the cable companies for video entertainment.

Right now, you can watch hours of Netflix for just the price of your ISP connection and your Netflix subscription.  If cable ISPs have their way, though, you’ll hit a limit after the first few hours.  After that, you’ll graciously be allowed to continue watching videos – for a “small” overage fee.

This is a win-win for cable ISPs.  It raises the cost of Internet videos to the point that cable offerings become price competitive.  Also, if people continue to use Internet video, they will wind up paying the cable companies more money.  And since most people have two or fewer broadband Internet providers available to them, people won’t have an “overage free” option.

Fast Lanes

Bandwidth caps target the users, but the ISPs aren’t satisfied with that.  They also want to provide a “fast lane” for Internet video services to operate faster.  Sounds good, right?  Well, of course, that fast lane will cost more money for Internet companies to access.  In addition, the “standard speed” lane will quickly become a slow lane to provide incentive for companies to “upgrade” to the faster speeds.  (Of course, the ISPs’ own video offerings will be on their own fast lane by default.) I could spend time explaining it better, but John Oliver already has:

After John Oliver called for Internet commenters to submit comments to the FCC’s website, they were flooded with comments.  So many comments, in fact, that the FCC’s website went down.  As of this writing, there are over 45,800 comments.  Of course, the Internet needs everyone to participate.  After all, the big ISPs have a lot of money to use in their fight to rig the system.  The head of the FCC is even a former lobbyist.  The only thing we have is sheer numbers.  Our only hope, at this point, is the fear politicians have when masses of citizens oppose something.  If we can flood the FCC with comments opposing Internet fast lanes, perhaps they will scuttle the plan.

Many of us spend hours upon hours online.  We can’t let a few big companies ruin the Internet for the rest of us because they are afraid of the future.

NOTE: The computer image above is by DTRave and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

Rhymes-With-Fox In Socks

The fight against cancer is very important to me. Twenty-three years ago, my grandfather died after a battle with prostate cancer.  More recently, Superman Sam – a child whom I never met in person but who we got to know and love thanks to social media – lost his battle with leukemia.  Anything that helps the fight against cancer is fine in my book.

Recently, a campaign was launched to get guys to post photos of themselves.  These were not the usual selfies, though.  These pictures showed the men with nothing but a sock covering their private parts.

You’ll excuse me if I don’t see how this helps.

When I first heard of it, I didn’t hear "new testicular cancer awareness campaign."  I didn’t even hear that this was related to cancer at all. All that I heard was that some people were stuffing their "selves" into socks, taking photos of themselves, and posting the photos online. It seemed like just some weird perverted form of the selfie phenomenon. Eventually, I heard that this was meant to help fight cancer.  It took TheDaddyYoDude’s post to let me know that this was specifically targeting testicular cancer.

Like I said, I’m all for fighting cancer, but outrageous and shocking awareness campaigns are often counterproductive.  First of all, the campaign actions can overshadow the cause.  In this case, for every person who learns about testicular cancer thanks to this "socks" campaign, too many more will just see nearly-naked men wearing socks over their members.

The second problem is that these kinds of campaigns increasingly raise the bar for what is needed to shock people into awareness.  Once people are no longer shocked by socks, what’s next?  People posting close-up photos mid-colonoscopy?  Graphic photos of couples mid-coitis to raise awareness against STDs?

Were this a whimsical campaign designed to raise awareness in a humorous manner, instead of a shocking one, I might just participate.  Instead, this is the closest that I’ll go:


What do you think about this "socks" campaign?  Will it actually help in the fight against testicular cancer or is it all shock and no value?

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