Shared hosting or moving to the cloud? Things to think about.

A lot of my customers do not have a big budget for making their websites, and therefore they prefer to go with shared hosting companies like Godaddy and Bluehost. For less than $10 a month you can get a domain name and a hosting plan, which says that you have ‘unlimited’ bandwidth and hosting space. This all sounds great, but you run into problems very quickly, especially when you have sites that gets traffic from the internet (versus projects that are not accessible to search engines).

These problems are not so visible in the first year or two, but they start creeping on you and your company very slow, until you are at a point where you have to find someone to fix these issues, otherwise you are at a great risk of losing valuable data and customers. I will list some of the problems that my customers have encountered over the last decade:

You have no control when a server failure occurs

If your server fails, there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t login to your system and see what’s wrong. You don’t even know what your system’s specs are. You don’t know how much RAM there is on the server, maybe your server was running a process that took a very long time and caused your server to stop responding to other requests. Maybe the server shut down for some other reason. You don’t know. You can only wait for things to resolve on their own.

A developer on your team can usually give you an estimate and tell you how long a problem may take for to resolve, and steps you can take to communicate with your customers, but since you don’t have anyone to take care of your server, you are on your own.

There are no backups, so you suddenly lose all your data

The backup processes running on shared servers are very confusing and it takes a very experienced developer to really understand what’s happening. Somewhere deep in their management console is the backup setting, and it may not even be turned on. If it isn’t and due to some mistake something happens to your server, you lose everything.

The backup service is usually running, but it isn’t very smart, so it can even back up your failed server. When you lose all your data, it backs up the empty server! There are never a large number of backups, and they are happening regularly, so you might end up having four backups that are all empty. This has happened with at least two of my customers, and we eventually had to build their portfolio sites from scratch.

Bandwidth and drive space limitations aren’t clear

Most shared hosting companies have ‘unlimited’ bandwidth and space, but it is never really unlimited. If you are planning to save several gigabytes of data on your server, you should know that you might get unexpected emails from your hosting company saying that you are approaching close to the ‘fair usage policy’. Also you should be careful about what kind of content is on your server. If you have videos and audio files, you might run into bandwidth issues very quickly.

Confusing site security

I have seen issues related to SSL certificates more often than not. Shared hosting servers will give you a free SSL certificate to work with and so you can get your website to go to a nice https:// URL, but the certificate is not a good quality certificate that gives you a green lock icon in your browser. Your customers will therefore not trust you with their private information, and you will lose out.

These are some of the most common problems that you might encounter when you or your customers purchase shared servers.

The bottom line

In the short term getting a shared hosting server may be a good idea. But depending on the type of website or web app you are making, you should consider switching to a scalable cloud server. Started by getting a reserved instance, which is cheaper. Then switch to a higher capacity server as your needs increase. With augmented[archive] this is what we did. We started with a staging server, which we used for the first version of our app. But very soon we realized that it wasn’t enough, and maintaining such a server will become very expensive in the long run. Now augmented[archive] and all our other apps are hosted with Amazon.

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