Today there are so many options for hosting a website! However we can break these into three groups.
Run the server yourself!
- Total control
- You have do do everything yourself.
If your organization already has an excellent internet connection and static IP addresses, this is a good option. If you’re able to establish a VM (virtual machine) on an existing server, that’s even better. Of course the biggest benefit is also the biggest drawback: everything is up to you!
Host your website on a computer at your home! Installing a web server (or full LAMP stack) is fairly simple. You can even run an entire website from a Raspberry Pi!
Things to Consider:
- Most ISPs specifically forbid this. Read your agreement first.
- Most ISPs do not provide a static IP address; this makes mapping a domain name more difficult. There are numerous solutions.
- Although it’s possible to self-host a private e-mail server, I really don’t recommend it. Please refer to the e-mail hosting section below.
Web Hosting Company
This is a very safe option and an excellent choice for individuals and smaller organizations. Hosting companies specialize in web hosting. There are many hosting companies from which to choose! Most companies also offer multiple plans to fit various needs. I recommend carefully evaluating online reviews before selecting a company. Do note that many offer discounted prices for paying in advance for multiple years. Also most offer at least a one-month money back policy.
- Customer service can be outstanding.
- The hosting company will set almost everything up for you.
- Many hosting companies provide an unlimited number of e-mail accounts. (See note below).
- Many hosting companies include a ‘free’ domain name for a limited time.
- The quality and cost associated with hosting companies can vary over time.
- Further, transferring your sites and email accounts from one hosting company to another can become frustrating.
When in doubt, find and use a reputable hosting company.
Shop around a bit. Many hosting companies offer low cost introductory plans.
Years ago, I tried a "budget" web hosting company. That was a truly unpleasant experience and I do not recommend it.
Things to Consider:
- Many hosting companies offer free domain registration. Read the fine print; this is usually only good for one year. The renewal price for your domain may be too high.
- A few unethical hosting companies have refused to transfer domain names or account contents to other companies. While this is rare, it is a concern.
- Price increases can sneak up on you.
Host your website in the Cloud! Use Amazon AWS, Google GCS, Microsoft Azure, IBM, Oracle, Netlify or others.
- Cloud hosting offers numerous benefits.
- Typically the user only pays for services used.
- There are rarely any contracts.
- Performance can be incredible!
- The pay-as-you-go model is certainly attractive until an unexpectedly large bill arrives!
- Most cloud services will charge extra for customer service.
- E-mail is typically not included.
- Terminology! Every company has their own set of products and terminology; this can make a person crazy.
While most cloud hosting services are offered on a pay-as-you-go basis and are designed to interact with other cloud services, Amazon does offer a stand-alone solution with a fixed monthly price. This product, lightsail, is advertised as an introduction to cloud computing. However if you need a hosting solution for a CMS like WordPress, this is an excellent choice. Further, you can install a full LAMP stack on an instance. Amazon even has options that include cPanel (a web hosting control panel) that works almost the same as a traditional web hosting company, although the user is responsible for paying additional licensing fees. Pricing for lightsail instances is really good, also: the cheapest Linux instance costs $3.50 a month as of this writing. There are numerous more powerful plans available.
Things to Consider:
- Lightsail instances do not scale automatically like other cloud instances. Rather, there are fixed limits.
- If you exceed your bandwidth allowance, you will be billed based on usage.
- Lightsail might not be the best option for static hosting, although it’s possible. (Try using an Amazon s3 bucket instead).
- E-mail is not included, although you could configure your own server.
- Documentation is very extensive; however, live support is not cheap. There’s no one to call unless you’re willing to pay.
- Upgrading to a more powerful instance is possible but not as simple as creating a new instance.
- There are a few add-on options, such as a load balancer, a CDN, extra storage, and managed databases. Of course all involve extra costs.
- Setting up an instance is incredibly easy; configuring your site may take a little extra work.
- Lightsail only supports a limited number of hosted domain zones; essentially the number of domain names that can be used with a lightsail instance is limited (Actually this is not true; you can have as many domains as you’d like if you’re willing to manually write the DNS rules–and that’s pretty simple).
Lightsail is an excellent choice for an individual or small business with limited needs. However the lack of support could be an issue.
Domain Name Registrars
When the web was new, domain names were mostly registered via NetworkSolutions. That organization still exists; however, today we have multiple options. Most web hosting companies will register a domain name for you. Personally I prefer to register domain names separately because some hosting companies have been known to resist transferring a domain name elsewhere. Also, keeping domain name registration separate allows for greater flexibility. If one decides to leave a hosting company, there’s no need to worry about the domain name. That’s already separate!
I would encourage you to shop around when considering domain registration. The prices and benefits vary widely. There are a few discount domain registrar companies — unfortunately their renewal prices are often higher than the first registration cost. Google and Amazon both offer domain registration services. I’ve had good luck with Google, but intend to try Amazon next. Also, be aware that domain name registration renewal prices have a way of creeping up year after year. There’s nothing wrong with shopping around every few years.
E-mail is everywhere! We’ve all got multiple free accounts, not to mention work or school accounts. However, what happens if you’d like to use your own domain name in your e-mail address? There are multiple options here. Many web hosting companies advertise an unlimited number of email accounts with your custom address. That sounds fantastic until you decide to change hosting companies. Moving an email account is not as simple as just moving a web page (especially a static site!). Also, poorly configured or mismanaged e-mail servers can cause issues. Not long ago I discovered that e-mails sent to an e-mail account established with a web hosting company were not being delivered. The account was poorly configured by the hosting company (this issue was never resolved, despite too many hours with their help technicians).
If you decide to run your own server or to use cloud hosting, you may need an e-mail hosting service (Yes, you could run your own e-mail server in addition to the web server, but your e-mail server could be blacklisted or mis-configured; moving accounts is still not fun).
- Microsoft apparently offers e-mail hosting along with Office subscriptions. While I have not tried this, I would consider it if I also needed an Office subscription.
- Google has long offered to manage custom e-mail domains; you also get a little extra storage and some other benefits. I know many people who use this approach.
- Amazon offers a product known as workmail. Workmail is actually less expensive per user than Microsoft or Google, but does not include the additional products. Currently, a workmail account (assuming you already have the domain name) costs $4 per user per month. I’ve had good luck with this, personally.
- Zoho also offers e-mail accounts using your custom domain name.