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How to Choose a Web Hosting Service

The key for you is to find the option that makes the most sense considering your technical knowledge, time constraints, scaling needs, and price flexibility.

Yesterday, the Skillcrush 101 class finished up their HTML & CSS learning modules and moved into learning how to set up a web hosting environment. That got us thinking about all of the various web hosting options out there.

When it comes to selecting a host for your website, web or mobile application, as you might expect, there are dozens of options. The key for you is to find the option that makes the most sense considering your technical knowledge, time constraints, scaling needs, and price flexibility.

Today we are looking at the four main types of hosting that you could choose and considering the relative merits of each.

1. Regular Web Hosting
Companies: GoDaddy, 1and1, Hostgator

For most consumers, this is the only web hosting that you’ll need, and it’s the easiest service to sign up for. Major companies like GoDaddy, 1and1, and Hostgator all offer hosting for static sites, as well as PHP apps (such as WordPress), and can usually also support Ruby and Python apps. These services allow users to use FTP to upload files, as well as SSH, or just use a web interface. They also all have pretty good customer support for those new to web hosting.

Price: Low, (~$15 for a domain, and ~$50 for a year of hosting).
Ease of Use: Easy

2. Platform as a Service
Companies: Heroku, AppFog, Google Apps Engine, Orchestra

Cloud based application hosting services like Heroku, AppFog, Google Apps Engine, and Orchestra are fantastic for short-term hosting for web applications built in PHP, Ruby, or Python (and more). The benefit of these Platforms as a Service(s) (PaaS) is that these services come out of the box setup for SSH and integrated with version control (like git), which makes it easy to setup, easy to update, and easy to scale in the short-term. PaaSes are a favorite among developers.

That said, PaaSes tend to be expensive in the long run and unnecessarily complex for simpler sites.

Price: Med – High, usually depending on usage
Easy of Use: Medium

3. Cloud Based Hosting
Companies: Amazon AWS & EC2, Rackspace

If you are a regular Skillcrush reader you may remember that a few months back we wrote all about Amazon Web Services (AWS) and how most major web companies (Pinterest, Instagram, Netflix, to name but a few) all use AWS as their main hosting service.

The benefit of AWS, and other cloud based solutions, is ultimate flexibility. You are able to configure your server exactly as you see fit and easily scale up or down in server resources depending on your traffic.

The problem with AWS is that it’s not easy to set up, at least not for beginners. AWS servers are ready for anything, but not setup to do much out of the box, so it’s your job to get the server environment up and running.

That said, from a cost perspective, if you have serious web traffic on your site AWS is probably the best solution–you are able to offload all the hardware costs to Amazon, and use and pay for only what you need, when you need it.

Price: Low-High
Ease of use: Hard

4. Setting up your own server
Back in the day, pre-cloud, pre-AWS, pre-large scale web hosting, if you wanted a website on the Internet, you had to go out, buy a machine, configure it to act as a web server, and then pray that there wouldn’t be a power outage.

This process is expensive and labor intensive, but fun for aspiring hardware hackers and system admins. We recommend that you read Web Monkey’s handy guide on how to get started.

Price: High
Ease of use: Hard

What hosting services or companies did we miss? Tell us about them in the comments!

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