Shared Hosting vs Cloud Hosting: What’s The Difference?

It’s well known within the digital sphere that any website is only as good as the hosting solution that powers it. You might have an engaging visual design, kick-ass content, and a foolproof marketing strategy, but none of that will matter a jot if your hosting solution isn’t up to scratch: you’re likely to be left with sluggishly-loading pages, intermittent downtime, and, ultimately, a poor overall user experience (UX).

Of course, web hosting has come a long way: in the early days, hosting a website required an individual or a business to own a computer and their own server, while it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that third-party hosting services like Angelfire and GeoCities were born. Nowadays, web hosting is more accessible and more affordable than ever, with an increasing number of hosting solutions available through hundreds of providers.

With a choice of several hosting options (all with their own pluses and minuses), website owners can match the right solution to the individual needs of their business. But with each offering unique features and functions (some significantly different from the next, some subtly) it can be increasingly difficult to know which option is the right one — particularly if you don’t know the difference between one hosting solution and another. 

To shed some light on two of the most popular contemporary hosting solutions, we’ll focus on the differentiation between shared hosting and cloud hosting, but that’s not to say there aren’t other hosting options available. Other popular hosting solutions include:

  • VPS (virtual private server) hosting, uses virtualization to provide dedicated resources on a single server, and in many ways is only subtly different to cloud hosting (Cloudways does a good job of explaining the distinction between cloud and VPS hosting).
  • Dedicated hosting, in which a physical server is leased by (and dedicated exclusively to) a single business client (for example, Amazon’s Dedicated Hosts allows organizations to run their instances through dedicated — rather than multi-tenant — servers).

For now, though, let’s focus on the fundamentals of shared and cloud hosting solutions.

What is Shared Hosting?

When it comes to shared hosting, the clue’s in the name: shared hosting is a solution whereby multiple websites share resources (like bandwidth and RAM) on a single server. By splitting these resources across multiple users, shared hosting can be offered more affordably (and to those without a whole lot of technical expertise) so it’s an ideal solution for bloggers, startups, small businesses, or those on tighter budgets.

To put it into context, shared hosting is a little like renting a room in a shared house or apartment: you have your own bedroom, but you share resources such as electricity and water with the other tenants. It’s cheaper (and often more straightforward) than renting your own place, but it comes with its drawbacks: you’ll inevitably have to fight over bathroom time, and elements like cleanliness are often out of your control.

In shared hosting, cost-effectiveness and simplicity are the biggest advantages, but sharing server resources means that website performance is largely beyond your control, while loading times and uptime rates can often be impacted if traffic suddenly surges. This also means that scaling is much more difficult; since you are reliant on a shared pool of resources, you can’t scale them up (or down) on demand.

Advantages of shared hosting:

  • Cost effective solution
  • Perfect for beginners, individuals, and small businesses
  • Easy setup with no technical expertise required

Disadvantages of shared hosting:

  • Shared resources mean less control
  • Slower page loads and less uptime
  • Scaling is a challenge

What is Cloud Hosting?

Unlike shared hosting (where several users share one server), cloud hosting effectively does the opposite: it uses multiple, interconnected servers that are dispersed over a wide geographical area. As a result, performance and uptime are generally more reliable when compared to a shared hosting solution, since using a wide number of servers rather than a single one means there’s never a single point of failure.

One of the chief advantages of cloud hosting is scalability: that is, the ability to vertically scale resources such as bandwidth, RAM, and CPU based on emerging demand. If traffic suddenly surges, you can simply scale accordingly — maintaining performance and avoiding unnecessary downtime. Think of it like a thermostat in your home: during peak periods (i.e. the colder months), you can crank up your heating as needed. As it gets warmer, you scale it back. With cloud hosting (much like your household utilities) you only pay for the resources you actually use, not those you don’t.

Of course, cloud hosting (as with any hosting solution) does come with potential downsides. Flexible pricing can often be a good thing, but it does also mean costs can be unpredictable: if traffic grows at an unexpected rate, for example, that can mean costs spiraling (that doesn’t necessarily make it unsuitable for smaller organizations, but it could prove prohibitive). And while you’re guaranteed near-100% uptime using a cloud solution, its reliance on virtual servers means it’s dependent on an internet connection. That’s not usually an issue, but it can be restrictive if your internet connection is less than reliable.

Advantages of cloud hosting:

  • Scalability of resources on demand
  • High availability and performance
  • Robust security features

Disadvantages of cloud hosting:

  • Pricing is rarely fixed
  • Dependent on an internet connection
  • Lack of control over data

Of course, before deciding on the right hosting solution for your website or application, it’s important to gather all the facts so you can make an informed decision about what’s best. Assess all of your processes and workflows, and determine which hosting solution will be the most cost-effective as well as the most reliable. Cloud hosting is increasingly the most dynamic and flexible choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for your business.

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