"Shared Hosting vs. Dedicated Hosting" — Server Differences (2017)

Shared vs. Dedicated Hosting Graphic

I run a small business providing web design and hosting, and we host a lot of clients. Some of our clients have special security needs and some have what we call regular brochure sites that have no need for extra security or special hosting features.

I’d like to share a few tidbits of information I frequently offer when my team gets questions regarding the best type of hosting. I’ll wrap with a breakdown of the pros and cons of both shared and dedicated hosting and hopefully make your choice a clear one.

Overview: What is Shared Hosting vs. Dedicated Hosting?

In a nutshell, dedicated hosting means you have an entire server — the whole machine — all to yourself. Just like renting a car and having total control over who rides with you, how fast you go, and the radio stations you blast or skip, no other websites are hosted on your server. Unlike public transportation, or in this case, shared hosting, a dedicated server is all yours. Everything is under your control — from the machine-level configurations to your control panel dashboard settings.

In contrast, shared hosting means your website is located on the same server and hard drive as a whole lot of other websites. Just as when you ride the bus, you have no actual control over the machine, and you must share space with a bunch of other people.

Graphic illustrating types of hosting

Shared hosting means you’re sharing space on one machine, whereas a dedicated server is all yours!

If dedicated hosting is like renting your own car — which means you can trick it out and get where you want to go on your timetable — then shared hosting is like taking the bus and having very little control over your environment. That being said, public transportation will get you where you want to go cost-effectively. So let’s examine the options.

1. Server Resources, Configuration, and Management

With dedicated hosting, you’re renting the physical machine and not sharing hardware or bandwidth with any other websites. You can scale the server resources and adjust them instantly to your website traffic or application needs. You can access the server resources, review the performance, and optimize the settings as you see fit. Having a dedicated server also allows you to adjust the amount of storage and bandwidth you need on the fly, as well as access the server root. Having access to the server root and configuration is a huge benefit if you’re running applications and need to modify the environment for your application’s specific needs.

Dedicated servers give you maximum control over the server software and the services it runs. In addition, you are in control of and responsible for the updates and patches to your server software. Let’s say your website is running an application that is known to have issues supporting the latest version of the web server software, but it’s compatible with the previous version. With a dedicated server, you could install any version of the software and micro-manage its individual resources.

With dedicated hosting, you also have the option of selecting managed, semi-managed, or self-managed services with certain providers. These services determine how involved in your server maintenance and security you want the hosting provider to be. Each management level comes at a different price with varying services provided depending on your chosen host.

Shared hosting means you’re sharing server space with other websites and individuals, providing a reliable and cost-effective way to get where you’re going at a fraction of the price. However, it doesn’t provide any of the above-mentioned custom configuration options. A shared hosting account comes with access to a control panel for your website folders, files, and applications such as WordPress or PrestaShop. From there, you can manage the most common website needs, including databases, email accounts, server logs, and (limited) server analytics. You can also create subdomains and enjoy various benefits of a standard control panel, depending on which features your host makes available.

2. Scalability

The scalability of a dedicated server is its most attractive feature for a lot of businesses. Scalability means the opportunity and room for future growth in terms of software packages, incoming and outgoing bandwidth usage, disk storage needs, database growth, and processing power. The ability to handle more traffic, transaction processing, or data storage while maintaining performance is a must-have feature for many businesses, especially when dealing with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or large-scale eCommerce endeavors.

Most dedicated hosting services can be scaled up or down very quickly, and some hosting providers offer automated or dynamic scalability wherein your server monitors itself and adjusts the required resources based on your immediate needs. That type of scalability prevents site downtime that can be caused by a sudden influx of traffic or application usage beyond your normal bandwidth or processor needs.

Web Hosting Scalability Graphic

Once your site has outgrown the shared hosting environment, you may want to consider scaling to a dedicated server.

Typically, scalability of a shared hosting account is, at best, limited to assets such as disk storage space and database size. Most shared hosting providers offer unlimited file storage, databases, and email accounts, and some offer unlimited bandwidth for a slightly higher monthly fee. But for the most part, the expansion of your website and resources it requires to run will be limited by the shared hosting environment because you are sharing those resources with hundreds or thousands of other customers.

3. Performance

With dedicated hosting, you determine the performance level — from the server you chose to the way in which you manage it. As the only user on the server, you dictate the system resources distribution and hardware configuration. Typically, you can choose HDD or SSD storage, the number of processors, and the operating system (CentOS, Debian, Windows, etc.) you prefer. Server performance on a dedicated hosting plan is highly customizable and desirable for those who need the extra horsepower.

With shared hosting, performance cannot be customized at the machine level. The difference is dramatic when it comes to performance features and options. Granted, a large number of websites do not need optimized performance to achieve their goals. Most site owners will do well with a 99.9% uptime guarantee and up-to-date hardware and software, which most prominent hosting companies offer. Still, it never hurts to ask about server specs when signing up for a new hosting account.

4. Security

Dedicated servers are the most secure of the three main hosting varieties: shared, virtual, and dedicated hosting. Dedicated hosting often includes DDoS protection, as well as IP address blocking, among other server-level features. In addition, you will never have the threat of server issues caused by the security holes in another hosting customer’s website code or site visitors that could affect the entire shared server hosting environment. Most dedicated hosting services also include RAID storage, or a redundant array of independent disks. Otherwise known as disk mirroring, RAID further ensures your data is safe and can be recovered from more than one location.

Unfortunately, shared hosting security is far inferior compared with the security on dedicated hosting, but most business and personal websites do fine with a shared host. Most hosting providers will tell you your data is as safe as it can be in any shared hosting environment. The truth is that you are only renting a small piece of a hard disk, so you are responsible for your own website and hosting control panel security, but there is nothing you can do to prevent issues possibly caused by other users on the same server. As for the shared hosting account itself, your experience will typically be uneventful if you choose a well-known, high-rated hosting provider.

Most hosting providers offer at least a 99.9% uptime guarantee, and issues caused by other users are rare outside of bandwidth hogging. Most security issues will come from within your own account — located within your own website code, a control panel setting, or both. A number of web hosts now offer a 30-day rollback, or restore, for a small fee if the unthinkable were to happen and you lose some or all of your data.

5. Cost

Now for the question of the hour: How much does web hosting cost? Sure, it would be great to have the fastest, most secure server in the whole wide world, but there’s what we’d like and what we can afford. Am I right?

Web Hosting Types Comparison Graphic

While shared hosting is affordable and beginner-friendly, dedicated hosting reigns supreme for security and performance.

Dedicated hosting is 15 to 20 times more expensive than shared hosting. You can purchase shared hosting for just a few dollars per month and get better deals if you sign up for an annual plan — or snag an online coupon for a recommended hosting plan. But the hefty price tag on dedicated hosting is well worth it when you’re investing serious capital and time into your business. When you need dedicated hosting, you’ll know it, and be ready to pay for it

12 Best Shared & Dedicated Hosting Providers

When you’re ready to dive into the hunt for a hosting provider, be sure to review our list of recommended hosts. I recommend selecting a company that has an uptime guarantee and good support response times. Nobody likes to be on hold for an hour when their website is already having issues.

If you need dedicated hosting and know it, managed services packages are often well worth the cost if only for the security patches and updates. However, if you don’t need that kind of horsepower or a dedicated server is beyond your financial means, shared hosting plans will save you a bundle and are known for serving the vast majority of web hosting customers. Comparing plans with unlimited storage and bandwidth is a great place to start.

Top 3 Shared Hosting Providers Overall

There are a lot of shared hosting providers out there. Some have adopted a niche-specific approach by specializing in hosting services that cater to applications, industries, or domain and email needs. The best shared hosting providers overall will offer a laundry list of popular features at the most competitive price points. Below are the shared hosting plans we recommend:

1.
Bluehost.com

Bluehost review

Monthly Starting Price $2.95

  • Known for high-performance, low-cost shared hosting
  • FREE website builder with 1,000s of templates
  • Endorsed by the WordPress.org team as a top WP host
  • FREE CDN accelerates your site’s page loading
  • Usually $7.99/month, but our visitors pay $2.95/month
  • Get started on Bluehost now.
SHARED
RATING
5.0
★★★★★
Bluehost: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 4 minutes
Ryan Frankel (HostingAdvice.com): If you’re looking for an affordable host, Bluehost is a solid, reputable choice, but their low cost coupled with their supremacy in the shared hosting arena is what makes this provider such a value deal. The Bluehost name is listed toward the top of many of... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Shared Hosting Plans
30 days Unlimited FREE (1 year) www.bluehost.com/shared

2.
iPage.com

iPage review

Monthly Starting Price $1.99

  • An industry-leading shared host with competitive pricing
  • Attract visitors with a complimentary marketing suite
  • $500 in extras like Google AdWords and SiteLock security
  • Start selling online in minutes
  • Get more than 75% off today! (usually $8.99/month)
  • Get started on iPage now.
SHARED
RATING
4.8
★★★★★
iPage: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 5 minutes
PJ Fancher (HostingAdvice.com): Whether you're a first-time website owner or a web veteran, iPage’s excellent hosting services and fantastic list of extras make them one of the best values in web hosting.Unlimited disk space, bandwidth, and emails are just a part of what makes iPage’s... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Shared Hosting Plans
30 days Unlimited FREE (1 year) www.ipage.com/shared

3.
InMotionHosting.com

InMotion review

Monthly Starting Price $2.95

  • A favorite for shared hosting (and dedicated or cloud)
  • FREE SSD storage packs 20x the performance
  • FREE SSL certificate and 24/7 support
  • 1-click installs for WordPress and popular CMSes
  • Get started with FREE website transfer service
  • Get started on InMotion Hosting now.
SHARED
RATING
4.8
★★★★★
InMotion: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 5 minutes
PJ Fancher (HostingAdvice.com): InMotion offers an excellent business-class shared hosting plan. While carrying a higher price tag than other cheap hosts, it has a very nice list of features to help justify the extra cost. For the IT crowd in the audience, you’ll appreciate SSH access, as... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Shared Hosting Plans
90 days Unlimited FREE (1 year) www.inmotion.com/shared

See more shared hosts »

Best Shared Server “Domain” Hosting

Hosts that specialize in domain hosting services tend to boast domain incentives such as a complimentary registration and support for unlimited email accounts at that domain. Most of the popular shared hosting companies will offer new customers a free domain for the first year of service, and a select few will cover the renewal fees for that domain for the life of your account with them.

I encourage you to talk to a sales representative before making a purchasing decision. Let them know your goals and needs before you commit. That way, you can be sure to get the right hosting plan for your business, and it may save you future headaches. Begin browsing for a prospective domain host below:

4.
iPage.com

iPage review

Monthly Starting Price $1.99

  • FREE domain registration and transfer
  • Unlimited disk space, domains, and MySQL databases
  • $100 towards Google AdWords and $100 in SEM credits
  • Unlimited bandwidth and email addresses
  • FREE online store and website builder
  • Get started on iPage now.
DOMAIN
RATING
4.9
★★★★★
iPage: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 5 minutes
PJ Fancher (HostingAdvice.com): With iPage domain hosting, users get a free domain name registration or a free domain transfer, and can host unlimited domains. They offer unlimited bandwidth and emails, plus $200 in advertising credits to help get your website launched…Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Domain Hosting Plans
30 days Unlimited FREE (1 year) www.ipage.com/domain

See more domain hosts »

Best Shared Server “Email” Hosting

In case you’re wondering — yes, email hosting is just what it sounds like: hosting for email only. If you expect a large amount of email traffic or if you’re a company with hundreds or thousands of email addresses, email hosting might be a good fit. Note that many of our favorite hosting providers for email simply do an excellent job of bundling domain and email perks in their shared hosting plans for businesses (i.e., you don’t have to be a Fortune 500-level enterprise to benefit from email hosting). Check out the top web hosts for email services below:

5.
iPage.com

iPage review

Monthly Starting Price $1.99

  • FREE site transfers and 1-year domain name registration
  • Unlimited domains, disk space, and email addresses
  • Email forwarding, autoresponders, and WebMail
  • Market your site with $300 in ad credits and SEO tools
  • FREE online store and site-building tools
  • Get started on iPage now.
EMAIL
RATING
4.9
★★★★★
iPage: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 5 minutes
PJ Fancher (HostingAdvice.com): With iPage, users get a free domain name and email account, plus unlimited bandwidth, disk space, domains, and MySQL databases. They offer POP3/IMAP support for unlimited emails, plus autoresponders, virus checking, and spam filters…Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Email Hosting Plans
30 days Unlimited FREE (1 year) www.ipage.com/email

See more email hosts »

Best Shared Server “eCommerce” Hosting

For those building an online presence for their brick-and-mortar, an eCommerce-specific hosting package is ideal. Features to look for include easy installations for popular apps, such as PrestaShop and Magento, easy integration with shopping carts and payment processing software, and free marketing credits to kickstart advertising for your online shop.

Below are a few excellent recommendations to fulfill your eCommerce hosting needs:

6.
SiteGround.com

SiteGround review

Monthly Starting Price $3.95

  • 1-click installs for eCommerce tools like WooCommerce
  • FREE eCommerce plugin for WordPress
  • Daily backups, a CDN, and FREE Weebly site builder
  • Test changes to your online store within the staging area
  • 24/7 support delivered by eCommerce gurus
  • Get started on SiteGround now.
ECOMMERCE
RATING
5.0
★★★★★
SiteGround: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 6 minutes
Alexandra Leslie (HostingAdvice.com): SiteGround’s shared hosting plans tout eCommerce necessities: 1-click installations of Magento, PrestaShop, WooComerce, or WordPress with the WP eCommerce plugin. If you opt for WP eCommerce, your server will be custom configured to fit your site’s... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name eCommerce Hosting Plans
30 days 10 GB - 30 GB New or Transfer www.siteground.com/ecommerce

See more eCommerce hosts »

Best Shared Server “WordPress” Hosting

WordPress reigns as the most popular content management system in the world, making WordPress hosting a popular choice for both beginners and web savants. The blogging software powers modest blogs, multimillion-dollar business sites, and moving photo galleries around the world. Many of the top web hosting companies have capitalized on the platform’s popularity by crafting plans suited to WordPress fans.

If WordPress sounds like a strong fit for your upcoming project, we invite you to check out the hosts below. Be sure to compare WordPress-specific features, such as complimentary installations and automatic updates, as well as price and our expert ratings. Note that the plans on this list are shared hosting, but the top dedicated server plans offer WordPress hosting, too!

7.
SiteGround.com

SiteGround review

Monthly Starting Price $3.95

  • FREE site transfer or new site setup with 1-click install
  • FREE automated daily backups, CDN, email, and SSL
  • 24/7 expert support with no wait time on phone or live chat
  • Recommended by WordPress as a top WordPress host
  • Ideal for business email hosting, with 99.9% uptime
  • Get started on SiteGround now.
BEST OVERALL
RATING
5.0
★★★★★
SiteGround: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 6 minutes
Alexandra Leslie (HostingAdvice.com): With an impressive breadth of overall hosting services offered, SiteGround is a leading innovator in the hosting space — from custom software solutions to premier customer support. They offer the full range of web hosting features, including a free... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Best Overall Hosting Plans
30 days 10 GB - 30 GB New or Transfer www.siteground.com

See more WordPress hosts »

Best Shared Server “Website Builder” Hosting

Website builders are simple, easy-to-use website design interfaces provided by some hosts. They allow you to create your website using templates, preset color schemes, and usually a limited number of stock photos and graphics. While the websites that result may come across as cookie cutter in appearance, site builders get the job done and they’re advancing every month. As technology improves and the demand for simplified site editors increases, this technology is poised to only get better.

Some of the other hosting services mentioned here include website builders as optional or as part of the main offering. Some eCommerce hosts and domain hosts, for instance, include website builders either as a standard or as a free add-on service. If you’re interested in a website builder, I recommend browsing the builder demo, or at least viewing screenshots of the editor, first. That should give you an idea of whether the tool will be capable of making a site that looks like it’s from this century or if it’s outdated. Our favorite site builder plans to recommend are listed next:

8.
SiteGround.com

SiteGround review

Monthly Starting Price $3.95

  • FREE site transfer or new site setup with 1-click install
  • FREE automated daily backups, CDN, email, and SSL
  • 24/7 expert support with no wait time on phone or live chat
  • Recommended by WordPress as a top WordPress host
  • Ideal for business email hosting, with 99.9% uptime
  • Get started on SiteGround now.
BEST OVERALL
RATING
5.0
★★★★★
SiteGround: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 6 minutes
Alexandra Leslie (HostingAdvice.com): With an impressive breadth of overall hosting services offered, SiteGround is a leading innovator in the hosting space — from custom software solutions to premier customer support. They offer the full range of web hosting features, including a free... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Best Overall Hosting Plans
30 days 10 GB - 30 GB New or Transfer www.siteground.com

See more website builder hosts »

Top 3 Dedicated Server Providers Overall

Shopping for dedicated hosting means you probably have big plans for your online business. So we’ve compiled this list of the best dedicated hosting providers based on performance, reputation, and reliability.

You will want to consider included services and price in your decision-making, but the most valuable services to look for, other than the three already mentioned, are scalability and security. If you review the technical options of each and there is no clear winner, it may come down to the price. These dedicated server providers dominate the industry:

9.
LiquidWeb.com

Liquid Web review

Monthly Starting Price $79.00

  • FREE incoming bandwidth and choice of operating system
  • Custom configurations with SSDs and instant provisioning
  • Auto-migrations, backups, and 24/7 Sonar Monitoring™
  • Storm® Block/Object Storage and Load Balancer Add-Ons
  • Our visitors pay $96.75/month! (usually $129/month)
  • Get started on Liquid Web now.
DEDICATED
RATING
4.9
★★★★★
Liquid Web: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 8 minutes
Alexandra Leslie (HostingAdvice.com): Liquid Web's strong suit is their managed dedicated server hosting. They own and operate three state-of-the-art datacenters in the US and have over 50 developers working tirelessly to build and maintain custom solutions for added performance and... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Dedicated Hosting Plans
N/A 211 GB - 1,775 GB SSD New or Transfer www.liquidweb.com/dedicated

10.
InMotionHosting.com

InMotion review

Monthly Starting Price $99.99

  • Rebootless kernel updates
  • 1-click installs and FREE SSDs
  • cPanel/WHM licences with FREE SSL
  • Tier 1 network with redundancy
  • 99.999% net uptime via Smart Routing™ technology
  • Get started on InMotion now.
DEDICATED
RATING
4.9
★★★★★
InMotion: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 5 minutes
PJ Fancher (HostingAdvice.com): InMotion offers amazingly fast, reliable dedicated hosting on market-leading hardware — making it an easy choice for anyone seeking a premium dedicated host. From free SSDs to a fanatical support team, InMotion has all the bases covered for both small-scale... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Dedicated Hosting Plans
30 days 500 GB - 1.2 TB SSD FREE (1 year) www.inmotionhosting.com/dedicated

11.
Bluehost.com

Bluehost review

Monthly Starting Price $79.99

  • RAID 1 mirrored storage
  • Minimum 3 IP addresses per plan
  • Modern hardware, spec'd and maintained in house
  • 24/7 expedited support from the dedicated team
  • Sign up today for 50% off first month
  • Get started on Bluehost now.
DEDICATED
RATING
4.9
★★★★★
Bluehost: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 5 minutes
Ryan Frankel (HostingAdvice.com): Built on OpenStack technology, with a minimum of four cores per server, Bluehost offers reliable and flexible dedicated hosting options at an extremely reasonable price. We continually praise their shared hosting options for having fantastic hardware and a... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Dedicated Hosting Plans
30 days 1 TB FREE (1 year) www.bluehost.com/dedicated

See more dedicated server hosts »

Best Managed Hosting

In case you forgot, or just skimmed the section on managed hosting above: Dedicated and virtual server hosting providers often offer fully managed, semi-managed, or self-managed packages. These services determine the degree to which you wish to have the hosting provider involved in your server maintenance and security. Each level comes at a different price with varying services provided depending on your chosen hosting company. Each company has its own list of included features and definitions for managed hosting, so read the reviews thoroughly before committing to a plan. The top-rated managed hosting plans reviewed by experts are below:

12.
SiteGround.com

SiteGround review

Monthly Starting Price $3.95

  • FREE site transfer or new site setup with 1-click install
  • FREE automated daily backups, CDN, email, and SSL
  • 24/7 expert support with no wait time on phone or live chat
  • Recommended by WordPress as a top WordPress host
  • Ideal for business email hosting, with 99.9% uptime
  • Get started on SiteGround now.
BEST OVERALL
RATING
5.0
★★★★★
SiteGround: Our Expert's Review
Setup time: 6 minutes
Alexandra Leslie (HostingAdvice.com): With an impressive breadth of overall hosting services offered, SiteGround is a leading innovator in the hosting space — from custom software solutions to premier customer support. They offer the full range of web hosting features, including a free... Go to full review »
Money Back Guarantee Disk Space Domain Name Best Overall Hosting Plans
30 days 10 GB - 30 GB New or Transfer www.siteground.com

See more managed server hosts »

Shared Hosting vs. Dedicated Server: Bookends of the Hosting Spectrum

While shared hosting serves as the launch pad for first-time site owners and dedicated servers are reserved for those who have been around the hosting block, one thing remains the same: A web host’s support is paramount. My own hosting clients understand and value personal service more than anything else, and I tend to subscribe to that point of view as well. You want to feel as if the company you choose cares about you and the successful operation of your business, no matter how small.

To find a company that values your time and invests in the quality of service it’s delivering — choose from the semi-short list of hosting providers that care.

Pros & Cons for Shared vs. Dedicated Hosting

Finally, the image above is that list of pros and cons I promised you. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to check out our shared hosting and dedicated hosting reviews, too. Best of luck in whichever route you choose!

Mark Jefferson

Questions or Comments? Ask Mark!

Ask a question and Mark will respond to you. We strive to provide the best advice on the net and we are here to help you in any way we can.