A few weeks ago, I was on a call with a client. We were talking about their new project and the topic of where we are going to host it came up. Who I recommended isn’t important, because they have specific needs that are probably different than yours. If you want to see the hosting companies that we work with at Oso Studio, checkout this post about the best WordPress hosting companies.
What is important about that conversation is that my client wasn’t sure exactly what a managed host was. They had been using a company that claimed to offer “managed hosting” but that company doesn’t compare to a lot of the other companies out there. And the client knew that they weren’t getting a good value on their hosting.
What Does the Term “Managed Host” mean
Let’s get this out of the way first. Since hosting industry terms aren’t regulated, you can call yourself a “managed hosting company” and there’s not a lot that anyone can do about it. If you want to rent a piece of a server with cPanel or Plesk, you can configure it to automatically install WordPress whenever a client creates a new account. And this makes you a “managed host.”
You can get started with a system like this for less than $50/month, so it’s no surprise that hundreds of “managed hosting” companies have sprung up. This is what happened in the commodity web hosting market several years ago, people looking to get rich quick would rent a server and then sell “unlimited” resources for a few dollars a month and cram hundreds or thousands of sites on it. Needless to say, this wasn’t a recipe for success and many of these companies folded once customers realized how slow their sites were, that the server stayed down more often than not, and that they couldn’t get any support for problems.
These are the issues the managed hosting companies were created to solve. Instead of just providing the basic server infrastructure like the commodity hosting providers, managed hosts are typically limited to a single application. The managed hosting companies we work with only work with WordPress, but there are also managed hosts for Drupal, SiteCore, and almost every other CMS on the market.
So keep in mind that not all managed hosting companies are created equally. When I talk about managed hosting going forward, I’m talking about companies that are doing more than just installing the software for you. You want a managed host that will also support your CMS, manage your updates, perform updates, and provide security monitoring.
Think of Hosting Companies Like Where You Live
This was an analogy my client came up with, and I told her I was stealing it to use because it was so good. Instead of trying to explain hosting in terms of the technology (Linux, Apache, Nginx, MySQL, etc.) it’s easier if we look at the benefits you get out of it. And since we all live somewhere, comparing hosting to different living arrangements is easier to understand.
When you’re choosing where to live, you’re looking for something different than I am. Maybe you want a pool, while I’m more interested in having a gas range because I love to cook. And while I’m sure we’d all like to live in a huge house, that’s not always in the budget. As it turns out, there are a lot of parallels that we can draw between the housing and hosting markets.
College Dorm (Shared Hosting)
Remember when you went off to college your freshman year? Unless you lived at home, or went to a school that didn’t require you to live on campus, you probably lived in a dorm that offered very little privacy and a communal bathroom. If your roommate let someone into your room, you weren’t sure if they were going to mess with your stuff or not. But you made it through that year, just like everyone else has, and the next year you either moved into an apartment or a nicer dorm on campus.
Shared hosting is a lot like your freshman dorm. Almost everyone starts out there and it’s a lot cheaper than the other alternatives. But you do make some trade offs in terms of performance and security. But after your site has grown and you need more, it’s time to upgrade to a better platform, just like you upgraded to a slightly better housing arrangement.
Your College Apartment (VPS)
I remember when I moved into my first apartment back in college. It had been built in a couple of months as cheap as possible and was targeted at college students. You probably had an apartment like this too. It wasn’t too expensive, because you still had roommates and you shared some common areas. If it was like my apartment, you had a private room and bath. It offered a little more privacy and more security, but I had to keep my bedroom locked if I wanted to be sure no one could get in easily.
This is a lot like how a VPS works. You pay a little bit more than you do for shared hosting in exchange for a hosting environment that offers you better performance and better security. But just like you were responsible for locking your bedroom door, you have to do your part to keep your server secure. This can mean making updates, not installing poorly coded plugins and themes, and setting up passwords that are hard to guess. After a while, you’ll outgrow your VPS, just like we all get tired of only having a bedroom and bathroom as your private space.
Your First Apartment (Shared Managed Hosting)
You finally graduated from college (or got really fed up with roommates) and moved into your first apartment that’s all yours. You’re still surrounded by other people, but your kitchen, your living room, your bedroom, and your bathroom are all yours and you don’t have to share any of those spaces for the first time. You even have a lock on your door that can only be unlocked from the inside, so you have complete control over who gets in. Another benefit of living in your first apartment is that you have on-call maintenance so when something breaks, they’ll come and fix it for you.
Shared managed hosting looks a lot like this. You have a nice space that’s all yours. Sure you share some common resources, but they’re relatively plentiful. Your server is also much more secure and you can easily control access to your hosting account. But when something breaks, the managed hosting support team is there to fix it, so you don’t have to know anything about that PHP error your site is displaying.
You also get a lot of added features that probably weren’t available to you on your shared hosting or VPS plans. You’ll get managed updates, daily backups, and security monitoring and cleanup. These added features make the slightly higher cost of managed hosting worth it. There are a lot of sites that can stay here indefinitely, just like people can stay in an apartment for years, but sometimes you want more control.
Buying a Condo (Dedicated Managed Hosting)
If you live in an apartment and you hate the countertops, you’ll be looking for a new apartment. If you live in a condo, you’ll be calling your HOA and your contractor. If you want to paint your walls, go for it. If you want to change your bathroom tile, go for it. If you want to paint your door though, you’re probably going to have a hard time getting that approved by your HOA board. When you live in a condo, you can do almost anything you want as long as it doesn’t violate any of the rules the HOA has established or cause problems for other residents.
You can even expand your condo by buying and combining units around you, so your square footage isn’t limited. And just like with an apartment, you’ll probably have on-call maintenance that can help you with your hot water heater that just went out. But unlike in your apartment, you’re going to be paying for your new hot water heater and to get it installed.
This is the world of dedicated managed hosting. Your server is yours to do with what you want, but typically you’re still somewhat limited in that you can only install certain software. So as long as you stay within the larger boundaries provided by your managed hosting company, you can do a lot more with your server. And just like with a shared managed hosting plan, you still have the support team ready to swoop in and save the day if you have a plugin that isn’t working. Basic levels of support are included in your plan, but most companies will allow you to purchase more advanced, dedicated support if you need it. This is the level of hosting where you’ll find a lot of enterprise clients that don’t want to manage hosting internally or need the expertise of a managed hosting provider.
Buying a House (Dedicated Server)
After starting out in a college dorm with community showers years ago, you’ve finally decided to buy a house. Let’s assume that you don’t have a restrictive HOA, if you have one at all. You can now do anything you want inside or outside your house. Pretty much the only limits you have are not causing a hazard to the rest of the public. If you want to paint your door hot pink and your windows lime green, there’s no one to stop you. Your neighbors might think it’s ugly, but since it’s your house, you can do it and they can’t stop you.
But owning your own home also comes with increased responsibilities. The security is 100% up to you, you own the locks and you no longer have a doorman or a locked door keeping people out of your building. You also don’t have an on-call maintenance department. If your A/C goes out, you’re turning to Google to find a company to take care of it. Owning your own home can be rewarding, but it also comes with a unique set of challenges.
Sometimes you need the freedom that comes from having your own hardware that you can do anything you want to. That’s the beauty of the dedicated server. But since you can do anything with it, you’re also responsible for supporting and maintaining it on your own. If there’s a new Linux update, you’re installing it. If you need to add an extension to Apache, it’s up to you. So even though you can do anything, you also have a lot more to do when you go the dedicated server route. But for some businesses, this is the only option, but for many others, one of the managed hosting providers provides the best value and support.
Maybe you came to this post because you weren’t sure what managed hosting really meant. It’s become a common phrase, some companies use it just so they can charge more. If you choose one of our recommended companies, know that they’re managed hosts in every sense of the word and go above-and-beyond in terms of support and the custom technology they’re developed.
I hope looking at the various types of hosting companies like we look at housing, helped you to understand where you should be looking for your site. Just like most of us are well suited to living in an apartment or condo, managed hosting that’s either shared or dedicated is often the best option for our websites. Even though you may have the budget for a dedicated server, it doesn’t mean that a dedicated server is the best hosting choice for you.
It’s only through careful evaluation of hosting providers that you can make an informed decision that matches your website needs with the service offered by your ideal hosting provider.
If you’re looking for WordPress hosting right now, what type of hosting are you planning on buying?