Jul 09, 2019 By Team YoungWonks *
Which are the major web hosting providers today? This blog takes a look at the leading players in the web hosting market. But before we go into that, let’s first understand what the term web hosting means.
What is web hosting?
Web hosting is a service that lets organizations and individuals post a website or web page on the Internet. A web host or a web hosting service provider/ platform then is basically an enterprise that offers technologies and services that are required for the website or the webpage to be viewed on the Internet. Websites are hosted, i.e. stored, on special computers called servers. When Internet users want to view your website, they just have to type the website address or domain into their browser, after which the user’s computer will then direct him/ her to your server and your web pages will be shared with them through the browser. Most hosting companies need you to own your domain in order to host with them. If you do not have a domain, the hosting companies can help you buy one.
In other words, web hosting is a basic requirement for any website as it is about the physical location of the website on the Internet; it is a sort of an online storage center for all the information, images, video, and other content that a website is made up of.
Website hosting is typically calculated in the amount of disk space a website is given on the server and the amount of data transfer or the bandwidth required for accessing the server. So if there’s a lot of customer interaction at a website, say a bunch of files to download, one will have to access the server frequently and thus need more web hosting transfer space than a website that has just some readable text shared on it. The more content one has on a site - be it photos, videos, PDF files - the more disk space will be needed for website hosting.
Recommended reading: Our blog on Introduction to Cloud Computing here: https://www.youngwonks.com/blog/What-is-Cloud-Computing---An-Introduction-for-Absolute-Beginners
Free and paid web hosting sites
Web hosting sites are typically paid ones which means a client looking to host its website on a server needs to pay the former for its services/ storage. However, there are a few web hosting platforms that offer their services for free. In fact, several leading web hosting sites have free accounts or free packages wherein users can avail of certain benefits at no cost. This is primarily targeted at students or youth looking to learn by creating something new; so hobbyists and startups usually avail of such benefits whereas businesses looking for professional level benefits have to purchase web hosting space. This in turn makes web hosting a commercially viable business for the providers.
Shared below are five of the leading web hosting sites today, their free and paid plans (or resources) along with their advantages and disadvantages.
Leading web hosting sites today
Amazon Web Services, aka AWS, is easily among the biggest names in the web hosting business today. Their clients include businesses, non-profits, and governmental organizations. What’s more, there’s a wide variety of website hosting options on offer, irrespective of it being a marketing, rich-media, or an ecommerce website. Overall, it is a preferred web hosting site as it is known for being fairly reliable. AWS services include scheduled backups, elastic load balance, and content delivery; their primary clientele consists of sellers although AWS also provides third-party programs and application programming interfaces to customers. AWS’s web hosting is supported on both Linux and Windows servers, so you have a choice.
Pricing: AWS offers free trials for new clients. One can create an account for free and there’s the AWS free tier with which one can explore more than 60 products and start building on AWS for free. Typically, this is free tier - with a micro instance (read: really small server space) - for the first year after which, it costs around $8 – $10 USD per month. You can check here for more details: https://aws.amazon.com/free/
Pros: 1. Broad platform support: With AWS, you can use whatever CMS you prefer and this covers WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and more. AWS also supports and shares software development kits for popular platforms like Java, Ruby, PHP, Node.js, and .Net.
2. Scalability: Website traffic tends to vary a lot. So while it may be rather quiet in the middle of the night, aggressive campaigning and social media sharing can cause traffic spikes. In both situations, AWS infrastructure can grow and shrink to meet the changing needs.
3. Worldwide data centers: With AWS, one can have a data center or content delivery network hosting one’s website in any geographical location of one’s choice.
4. Flexible pricing: AWS only charges customers for the resources used, with no up-front costs or long-term contracts. Plus customers can either go for pay-as-you-go pricing or fixed monthly pricing.
5. Customer support: AWS also boasts good client support to address complaints, problems and such. Be it via live chat, email, or phone, customers can share their problems with customer support at any time of the day, any day of the week.
Cons: 1. Limited services: AWS does not offer unlimited bandwidth or disk space. This is mainly because of the enormous traffic capacity Amazon’s servers withstand every day. If you require a lot of storage, AWS may not be the optimal choice for you.
2. Too many options: AWS has rather complex Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solutions around. While initial setup may be easy, customizing one’s account to optimize performance as per one’s needs could be quite tricky.
3. Not too affordable: While it is true that AWS does have flexible pricing, it may still be rather expensive for new businesses; they are not very easy on the pocket.
Microsoft Azure Web Sites is a web-hosting platform by Microsoft that supports multiple technologies, and programming languages such as .NET, node.js, PHP and Python. So users with Microsoft Azure subscriptions can build websites on this platform, and deploy content and code into the websites. Microsoft Azure Web Sites supports a website creation wizard which lets the user make a blank site, or create a site based on one of several available pre-configured images from the website gallery.
Pricing: AAzure’s paid services start at 0.15 USD per GB for the first 50 TB per month and so on. Of course, it also has a free account where one can avail of more than 25 services for free for up to a year and there’s also credit one can use to explore an Azure service within 30 days of signing up. You can check here for more details: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-in/free/free-account-faq/
Pros: 1. Easy availability: Microsoft Azure cloud offers high availability and redundancy in data centers on a global scale. 2. Security: Thanks to its focus on security, Azure has strong cyber security controls in place, especially on the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) front. 3. Scalability: Like AWS, Azure too makes it easy to scale computing power up or down at the click of a button. 4. Flexible pricing: Azure too has pay-as-you-go pricing which means it charges customers only for what they use. 5. Increased automation: With Azure, one can automate an array of repetitive tasks, allowing one to manage large, complex applications with the tools one prefers to use. This in turn lets the user speed up the app delivery without compromising the quality of his/ her work.
Cons: 1. Needs management: Azure mainly offers IaaS, which in turn moves the business’ computing power from the data center or office to the cloud. This means that Azure needs to be expertly managed and maintained and this includes patching and server monitoring. 2. Platform expertise needed: Unlike local servers, Azure needs expertise to ensure all moving parts work together to the best of capacity. Over-provisioning cloud services is a common mistake by business administrators. 3. Speed issues: In some parts of the world (such as South America, Africa), speedy data access could be a problem.
Based out of New York, DigitalOcean is an American cloud infrastructure provider with data centers across the world. It offers cloud services to developers and helps them deploy and scale applications that run at the same time on multiple computers. These include client solutions, public applications, and internal development tools. Once you have a DigitalOcean account, you can make a new VPS (Virtual Private Server) or Droplet as they’re called in DigitalOcean in say, a minute. You then choose the Linux distribution you want; so you pick from several recent releases of Ubuntu, FreeBSD, Fedora, Debian, CoreOS, and CentOS, then choose the size of Droplet you need and which location would you prefer for your data center.
Back in 2013, DigitalOcean became one of the first cloud-hosting companies to offer SSD-based virtual machines. In January 2018, it was the third-largest hosting company in the world in terms of web-facing computers.
Pricing: DigitalOcean has flexible paid plans. One can choose from two types of cloud servers aka Droplets. The Standard Droplet is sufficient for a blog, and any small testing tasks; one has many options to choose from within the Standard Droplet category. The CPU Optimized Droplet, meanwhile, is aimed at users who need to carry out CPU-intensive tasks such as batch processing. DigitalOcean’s cheapest cloud hosting plan is $5 per month. Regarding its free services/ resources, DigitalOcean offers as part of its plans the following things for no additional costs: free maintenance and updates, free cloud firewall usage, free daily backups with point-in-time recovery, free Ingress bandwidth and free Floating IPs as long as they are attached to a Droplet. You can read here for more details:
1. DigitalOcean comes equipped with a host of features which explains why it has done rather well in recent years. For starters, it helps one quickly build a scalable virtual private server running the OS of one’s choice. 2. It also allows for starting a VPS with a preconfigured web app; monitoring and backing up servers; protecting servers with cloud firewalls; letting a team manage the infrastructure together; redirecting traffic with floating IP addresses; using load balancers to manage traffic and managing servers through dashboard, CLI app, or API (Application Program Interface). 3. The Linux distributions aside, other advantages include a simple and easy to use control panel; an active developer community and the fact that DigitalOcean’s servers use only high-performance Solid State Disk, thereby ensuring greater speed directly and better performance of hosted web sites and applications.
Cons: 1. It is said to be ideal for use by experienced developers and not beginners. This is because it is said that DigitalOcean doesn’t have much of a customer support system in place.
• Google Cloud
Google Cloud Platform (GCP), offered by Google, refers to a package of cloud computing services that run on the same infrastructure that Google uses internally for its end-user products, such as Google Search and YouTube. Along with a set of management tools, it offers a series of modular cloud services (over 90 products) such as computing, data storage, data analytics and machine learning, infrastructure as a service, serverless computing and platform as a service. Google App Engine is its platform as a service and computing platform. Google Cloud allows users to store their data in all the major regions across the world; think North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
Pricing: At a $100 per month per user, the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) support fee is not very easy on the pocket. However, it offers one of the best free tiers in the industry. So there is a 12-month free trial with $300 credit to use with any GCP services. Always Free, which provides limited access to many common GCP resources is understandably free of charge. You can check here for more details: https://cloud.google.com/free/
Pros: 1. High durability: Google Cloud Storage provides high durability for objects over a given year; so the data stored can survive even in the event of the simultaneous loss of two disks. 2. Easy to integrate with other Google Cloud Services such as Kubernetes Engine, App Engine or Compute Engine. 3. It offers different storage classes for different needs; so there’s the Regional option for frequent users, Nearline storage for not so frequent use and Coldline option for long-term storage. 4. Google Cloud boasts impressive documentation; there is a detailed API Reference guide. 5. The Console tab in the documentation lets developers try out different SDKs (Software Development Kits) for free.
Cons: 1. As mentioned earlier, support fee is rather high. 2. Downloading data from Google Cloud Storage is also rather expensive. 3. There have been reviews stating that the SDK APIs here seem less stable than the Amazon S3 counterparts.
Heroku is a cloud platform as a service (PaaS) supporting many programming languages. In fact, it is one of the first cloud platforms - it has been in development since June 2007 - and initially it supported only the programming language Ruby, but now supports Java, Node.js, Scala, Clojure, Python, PHP, and Go. Thus it is called a polyglot platform that allows developers to build, run and scale applications in a similar fashion across several languages.
Interestingly, Heroku services are hosted on Amazon’s EC2 (Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud) cloud-computing platform. Applications that are run on Heroku typically have a unique domain (typically, applicationname.herokuapp.com) used to route HTTP requests to the correct dyno. Every application container or dyno, is spread across a “dyno grid” comprising of many servers. Heroku’s Git (a leading distributed version-control system for tracking changes in source code during software development) server manages application repository pushes from permitted users.
Pricing: A standard-1x dyno (512MB RAM, 1x CPU share) by Heroku costs $25 per month; whereas the performance-l dyno with 14 GB RAM and 100 percent CPU share is steeply priced at $500 per month. There’s also a host of free resources on offer. For starters, there is free access to the Heroku Dashboard and Heroku CLI for app management. And while unverified accounts can get 550 free dyno hours and up to 5 free apps, verified accounts get an additional 450 free dyno hours, custom domains for every free app and up to 100 free apps. You can check here for more details: https://www.heroku.com/free
Pros: 1. Heroku is very easy to set up. It has good documentation, and advanced features that can be used, even though they are not mandatory. 2. With Heroku, it is easy to connect to databases and external services and it can be seamlessly integrated with Git. 3. Heroku is said to have straightforward, easy-to-follow payment plans, thus avoiding issues such as hidden costs.
Cons: 1. Heroku does not provide detailed error handling. Often several hours of debugging are needed to find out app deployment problems. 2. Heroku is said to not scale as well as AWS. So companies are said to be rather hesitant to use Heroku for large-scale projects. 3. Automated deployment harder is said to be trickier with Heroku; there are more steps involved here than in case of doing so with AWS.
*Contributors: Written by Vidya Prabhu; Lead image by: Leonel Cruz