By Stacy Clifford
Most websites are not huge affairs with hundreds of pages and thousands of files and graphics, and they are targeted toward a particular audience, so they will not get as many visitors as the large general sites like Yahoo! that are targeted at everybody who uses the internet. As such, the average website therefore is not going to require the full resources of an entire web server to run it. Web servers are designed to be able to handle dozens, even hundreds of websites at once because they are powerful machines.
Shared hosting is simply the concept of hosting more than one website on a particular server. Over 95% of all websites on the internet are being run in a shared hosting environment. Since the resources of the server can be split among the clients hosted on it, so can the costs of operating the server, so shared hosting is universally cheaper than any other type.
Shared hosting packages are generally designed so that each client is allotted a certain amount of each resource, with different payment levels representing different amounts of resources such as disk space, bandwidth, email addresses, and so on. Shared hosting is also known as virtual hosting.
If you do have a big, powerful website that gets lots of visitors and has a tendency to hog resources, then you might want to have a web server all to yourself. Some companies also prefer the extra security of not having to share the server with anyone else who could do something accidentally or on purpose to crash it.
Renting the use of an entire server is known as dedicated hosting. The web hosting company still owns the machine and takes responsibility for maintaining the hardware and the web hosting software, but you have greater control over the configuration and use of the server.
There is also such a thing as semi-dedicated hosting, in which a web server is only split between a very small number of clients, such as 2 to 4, with strong partitions between each to prevent them from interfering with one another. Since the hosting company is still responsible for the upkeep of the server, this type of hosting is also known as managed hosting. For obvious reasons, dedicated hosting always costs significantly more than shared hosting.
If you really want complete control over every aspect of your web server, you might very well choose to buy one and maintain it yourself if you have sufficient knowledge. However, chances are that you still don't have the resources to keep your server completely safe from power outages, roof leaks, thieves, unwary employees and other hazards and keep it on the internet on a fast, high-bandwidth connection at all times. You need a data center to provide those services for you.
Co-location is the rental of physical security, continuous electrical power and a fast, reliable internet connection for a server that you own. The data center is not responsible for any of the hardware or software maintenance of a co-located server, you are. This can be a cheaper alternative to dedicated hosting if you have the necessary expertise and time to run a web server yourself.