“What type of hosting do I need?”
To answer this question, many service providers run the gamut, offering everything from WYSIWYG site builders, to basic shared hosting, to even WordPress-specific hosting. In most cases, these are probably all that the average person needs, even to get a medium-size web presence going.
But what if you, or your clients, need more than what the average hosting environment can provide?
This is where a method we call APPLES can come into play — and, no, I’m not talking about the fruit you find at your local grocery store (or the device you could be reading this on).
APPLES is a handy acronym, with each letter representing a question that can help you determine if you need a server and, possibly more important, if you’re going to need some help with managing that server:
- Admin experience level
- Purpose of the server
- Programs you’ll be using
- Limitations of support
- Emergency plan
- Shared hosting considerations
Depending on your goals, or the means to reach them, you may need a virtual-private server (VPS) or even a dedicated server. But how do you tell if what is needed falls more on the basic or advanced side of the hosting spectrum?
In most cases, the turn of phrase “when you know, you’ll know” can be used with experienced users, who will often already know what they need. But what about the less experienced users who could use a little more help determining the service that will meet their needs or the needs of their clients?
Let’s start with the basics.
Shared hosting vs. servers
Before we jump in the APPLES, let’s highlight some key differences between basic hosting services (this would be your WYSIWYG site builders, shared hosting, and WordPress hosting we mentioned earlier) and something more advanced (like a VPS or dedicated server).
Most hosting providers on the basic side of the spectrum tend to include in-depth support while limiting access to certain parts of the hosting to help with management and upkeep. This can be compared to renting an apartment — you have less maintenance to worry about, but your space and freedom is more limited.
On the flip side, the more advanced VPS or dedicated servers offer infinitely more freedom to customize and control your experience. But this usually is accompanied by lower levels of support.
This can be compared to owning a home — because it’s your house, you have far more space and freedom, but that means things like maintenance, upkeep, and major changes (and repairs, when necessary) are your responsibility.
It’s important to differentiate the basic and advanced hosting experiences because knowing what will be expected of you, as the end user, or you, as the one maintaining the experience for clients, will help steer you in the right direction.
As an example, you may think you need a server to run your website (and you might), but if you don’t have server administrator experience, you should be prepared to hire someone to help you.
Think of it this way: if you decided to buy a house without knowing how to fix a broken water heater, and your water heater suddenly stops working, you will either need to be prepared to learn fast or be willing to hire a professional who can make that repair for you. That potential extra expense should always be factored into the cost of purchasing a server over shared products.
Now let’s dive into using APPLES to qualify your server needs. If you’re still unclear after going through the questions, you can always use the answers to the questions when speaking to a consultant to better help you determine the best product to suit your needs when reaching out for help.
Admin experience level
Managing a server can be a challenge that isn’t a good fit for everyone. It can take years to acquire the knowledge, education, and skill to be a server administrator — which is why the average server administrator often earns between $60k and $100k per year.
Some providers offer various levels of server management that are included or can be added (often for a fee). But even these services are often limited, leaving the potential for you to be responsible for maintaining the server to some degree.
Ask yourself “how much server experience do I have?” when contemplating a server purchase.
More than likely if you must ask yourself that question, you won’t have the experience necessary to properly address any concerns that come up. If you end up caught in a situation that requires experience you don’t have, you’ll be bound to a potentially limited level of support or worse: expensive admin costs. If your answer to the question isn’t, “I have enough experience to confidently manage this server on my own,” then you may want to hire someone to help you — or consider another option.
Purpose of the server
Being able to speak confidently to how the server will fit into a business venture is a crucial step, which can be broken down with some important questions about the main purpose of this server:
- Are you planning to host a single website or several websites on your server?
- Are you planning to be a hosting reseller?
- Will your server be used for something more intricate like hosting a mobile app or just email?
Several of these will undoubtedly require at least a VPS to effectively handle the traffic, throughput or storage needs — but not always. Most hosting providers offer shared hosting capable of handling very complex WordPress websites such as WooCommerce and other resource intensive content management platforms and some companies even offer more niche products like hosting for resellers.
Being able to speak carefully and confidently to the purpose of your server will help you narrow down your options as you traverse the landscape of hosting options available to you.
Programs you’ll be using
Like many things, servers are not one size fits all. Anyone who’s ever been stuck with an Android phone battery at 1% while out and about in a place dominated by Apple products will know this struggle.
Much like the differences between shared hosting and VPS/dedicated hosting, there are even more differences in the types of VPS/dedicated hosting.
There’s Windows and Linux hosting types, which provide different programming languages and database options and, depending on your provider, possibly different control panel choices.
Knowing if your client’s site or venture will need PHP or ASP or MySQL vs MSSQL will not only help you better understand your overall needs, but it will also prevent you from purchasing the wrong server — which can potentially result in costly refunds or delays.
Limitations of support
As we highlighted before, server administration can be an expensive part of the equation. Unlike most shared hosting providers, the level of support you will get when purchasing a VPS or dedicated server can be less due to the nature of the product.
Remember the house analogy here: when you rented your apartment, you were only responsible for paying the rent, and taking care of all your stuff on the inside. You called a building superintendent or landlord to fix that leak under the sink. Now that you’re a homeowner, you are responsible for fixing those leaks or forking out the funds to hire someone who can.
While this part of APPLES, more than any other, will vary from one hosting provider to the next, it’s always important to approach the purchase of any server with the idea that support is expected to be lower when purchasing a server than regular shared hosting.
Like purchasing a home, you may be able to get a home warranty, but not everything will be covered. This same thought can be applied to server purchases.
It’s important to have a backup plan, in more ways than one. By now, we’ve talked a lot about how costly it can be when something goes wrong with a server. A problem on a server can result in lost or stolen data and/or site or application downtime; both scenarios are bad for a business venture of any kind.
As you can imagine, when something goes wrong server costs are not always financial, they can also cost a reputation.
As a server admin, it’s important to have a plan for preventing these potential risks — and also have a backup plan if something does go wrong, such as a failed hard drive, malware intrusions, or worse.
Adding and maintaining backups of files and server configurations, as well as basic and advanced web security, are often the responsibility of the server administrator and are not always (if ever) provided by the hosting company.
As just one example, not every server will have built in backups, and this can often be a very large risk for many sites or ventures. If a change is made that cannot be reversed, having backups available can be the difference between rebuilding your server quickly or rebuilding over weeks.
Don’t be stuck without an emergency plan on your server. Have one ready before you purchase! It could save you and your clients big time in the long run.
Shared hosting considerations
Have you or your clients considered shared hosting? As we’ve discussed earlier, shared hosting is sometimes the best option for most people looking to start an online venture. Most basic websites, WordPress sites and even ecommerce sites with even higher traffic counts can be run efficiently and effectively on a shared hosting.
Many hosting providers are even starting to offer hosting specifically catered to these types of online ventures to ensure they perform to the highest standards.
While that doesn’t mean that every site that can use shared hosting should go with shared hosting. It doesn’t even mean that a site that runs well on shared hosting today won’t eventually need something like a VPS or dedicated server in the future.
Sometimes it’s best to start smaller and grow into what’s needed. If you’re uncomfortable with managing a server, or don’t have the budget for a server admin, or just don’t know where to start, shared hosting is always a good place to begin your journey.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Even with the questions above, you won’t always know what’s the best fit for you or your clients. APPLES is one method used to help qualify a customer for a server purchase. While not exhaustive, it’s a great place to start on the path to helping you identify if a server is truly what you need and, moreover, if you’ll need help to manage it.
While most providers offer some type of refund window that will allow you to try out various hosting types to see if what you purchased is actually what you need, sometimes it’s easier to reach out and ask for help.
Many providers (such as GoDaddy) have online and over the phone support teams that can help you carefully narrow down your goals and identify the best solution based on your skillset and budget.