What are shared and dedicated web hosting?

The differences between shared and dedicated web hosting are significant – yet most consumers wouldn’t notice the difference

Monday, 11 April, 2022

The infrastructure underpinning today’s internet is a spaghetti of hardware, software and services, many of which are provided by a handful of tech giants.

We all know websites exist, but few of us appreciate the functionality that allows us to interact with online content.

A classic example of this is website hosting, which is required for every website, app and online service in existence.

There are two main forms – shared and dedicated web hosting – and the differences between them should be understood every content creator or small business owner.

Dedicated follower of fashion

Dedicated web hosting has fallen from fashion in recent years, but for companies with high volumes of website traffic, it’s often regarded as an essential service.

Whenever an end user device (like a laptop or smart TV) tries to connect with a website or online service, it locates the necessary information on a server.

Specialist data centres host hundreds and even thousands of individual servers, with each giant hard disk accommodating anywhere from 536GB to 804GB of data.

A dedicated web hosting account ensures Company A has full use of the resources on a particular server disk. It can store huge amounts of data, and site visitors should receive very fast service.

However, this is extremely expensive, and only beneficial when one company might be requiring hundreds of individual operations per second.

That’s why it’s rarely used when there’s a more affordable alternative…

Share the good news

Most companies have relatively limited requirements for data storage or internet bandwidth. Their apps, websites and services may only be hosting a few visitors at any given time.

Setting aside a vast server for that company’s exclusive use would be unjustifiably expensive. Far better to share resources among a number of similarly small-scale enterprises.

Individual clients receive a portion of each server’s disk space for their own purposes, and because they’re only accessing part of the disk’s resources, per-user costs are slashed.

Each portion of the server is completely segregated, so Companies B-Z will have no idea they’re all sharing the same disk. Nor will their customers, site visitors or anyone else.

In reality, Company F might be using a lot of resources while Companies I, R and W receive negligible traffic. By the time they get busy later, Companies M and P might be offline entirely.

The people running data centres evaluate which companies to put on a shared server, to try and ensure consistent data traffic (and therefore performance) at all times.

How is data kept safe?

As we’ve seen, shared and dedicated web hosting packages are hosted side-by-side in the same data centres.

These unbranded warehouses stand in major cities around the world, guarded by advanced security to protect data belonging to thousands of websites, apps and services.

Each data centre has immensely fast fibre optic cables transmitting huge volumes of data at any given second – an order of magnitude faster than domestic fibre broadband lines.

Even so, a data centre under heavy traffic load may struggle to deliver information quickly, even if your home connection is hyperfast.

Small traders and firms with limited budgets generally put up with periodic drops in server performance to save money, but also because shared hosting is managed on their behalf.

Choose dedicated hosting, and you’re probably going to be responsible for technical factors like installing an OS, running containers and managing firewalls.

If your eyes have just glazed over, shared hosting is definitely the right option for your next website, enterprise or business venture…

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!