Hosting differences: Understanding shared, VPS, and dedicated options

Web HostingCategory
7 min read
Tom Rankin

When it comes time to buy hosting, it can be difficult to know which of the many options is right for you or your clients. Ultimately, you’ll want to choose a hosting plan that can meet their traffic, budget, and security needs.

Fortunately, there’s a few differences we can point out that clearly defines each hosting choice. What’s more, they shouldn’t be beyond your comprehension, meaning those differences can be easily presented to your clients when the time comes.

This article will serve as a brief guide to the basics of three different types of hosting – shared, a virtual private server (VPS), and dedicated hosting. We’ll also explain the pros and cons of each, including their suitability for needs such as ecommerce. Let’s get started!

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The differences between hosting types

Before we begin, it’s worth noting that we’ll assume you’re already aware of the very basics of what hosting is. Instead, we’ll discuss other deeper elements. Let’s briefly go over and define some of the key differences between hosts in general:

  • Server space: This is (of course) the size of your server, or how much hard drive space you’ll have.
  • Server configuration: This impacts your website’s speed and security. Every site should have at least basic security, but some sites will need even tighter restrictions to protect sensitive data.
  • Memory: In general, the larger your site is or the faster you want it to load, the more memory you will need.

However, there are some inherent differences that define each hosting type, even if all of the above is equal. We’ll go over what these are later.

Managed vs. unmanaged hosting

Before we move on, it’s worth discussing whether you opt for managed or unmanaged hosting.

For the uninitiated, unmanaged hosting means you’re responsible for any server maintenance. In contrast, managed hosting usually means your host will maintain the server on your behalf.

The former is ideal for clients employing a dedicated IT team, although unmanaged hosting does offer more control over how your server performs. However, the latter is going to be great for small clients, or those without a tech team on hand.

Of course, the lines become blurred if you’re job is to run the server. For example, you could work closely with a managed host, or handle every aspect yourself on an unmanaged plan. The choice is based on client budget, and time.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. This section will discuss each specific hosting type, and we’ll start with arguably the most popular option available.

Shared hosting

Simply put, shared hosting stores multiple websites on one server. It’s usually the choice for small personal sites, such as blogs. You may also find those with a very low budget starting out with this particular plan.

However, despite the attractive cost, shared hosting comes with some serious drawbacks, including reduced security. The risks are minimal, but shared hosting can make it harder to fully secure your site.

Shared sites also don’t offer root access, so you are limited in carrying out certain server configurations, such as implementing firewalls. However, you may be able to purchase a third-party solution that does the job (albeit with restrictions).

Another downside is reduced speed, as memory on a shared server is apportioned across all sites on that server. For example, if one site is facing heavy traffic, service on your site could temporarily lag. This is practically disastrous for ecommerce sites in particular, because site speed matters for ecommerce sites.

Overall, you should avoid shared hosting if a site will process sensitive data such as credit cards.

Virtual Private Server (VPS)

Next, a VPS is like a middle ground between shared hosting and dedicated hosting (which we’ll cover next). While you’ll find it a cost-effective solution, you’ll be afforded greater flexibility under the hood.

In layman’s terms, VPS sites will often share a server, but each site is sandboxed and prescribed its own resources, independent to others. As such, you’ll also be able to configure your server space under the hood (although there’s still some restrictions, as you can imagine).

As expected, a VPS is a touch more more expensive than shared hosting, although it still uses shared server space.

However, because a VPS offers root access (and is sandboxed), it’s also inherently more secure than a shared server.

Of course, you’ll often need a healthy dose of that technical know-how in order to use a VPS, although a managed hosting provider can mitigate this somewhat.

In our opinion, a VPS is perfect for business sites that need a robust plan, but may not be large enough yet to require a dedicated server. What’s more, a VPS is probably not ideal for enterprise-level sites, unless you can stick within your plan’s bandwidth levels.

Dedicated hosting

Finally, we have dedicated hosting. As the name suggests, the entire server here is reserved for your website only, including any and all resources. You’ll often find those resources are greater initially, although there is a cost attached.

However, if the budget is in place, a well-configured dedicated hosting plan also offers practically the best security available. The most obvious reason is that there are no other sites to affect the performance of yours.

Of course, much like a VPS, dedicated hosting also requires technical knowledge. You’ll often want to configure your own server (although managed hosting is available too). The price tag can also be a drawback, but that’s understandable given the flexibility and power you receive.

As such, dedicated hosting is going to be ideal for enterprise-level sites and businesses where a fast server load time is crucial. In fact, you could argue that given the other options, there’s no choice required. Since dedicated plans start out with more space and server capacity, it’s an excellent option for the very largest websites.


Clients can often be confused as to the type of hosting to suit their needs, and you may be stumped as to how they can benefit them too. While any hosting plan can be adjusted with a varying level of support, memory, and server size within reason, there are some solid differences you can present.

This post has looked at three major types of hosting plans. Let’s recap them quickly:

  • Shared Hosting. This is likely not going to be a consideration for most businesses. Unless you’re helping to set up a personal project, it’s a good idea to steer your clients elsewhere.
  • VPS Hosting. This somewhat combines the cost-saving benefits of shared hosting with an additional layer of security and dedicated memory. This ensures consistent site performance for middle-sized businesses and modest needs.
  • Dedicated Hosting. This is the perfect option for enterprise-level companies where the traffic level or size demands a larger number of resources. Dedicated hosting is also great for websites that manage sensitive data.

You can learn more about hosting in general in this guide.