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by Alec Sharratt on 8th June 2011
Note that the title does not say “the best hosting server” but “the right hosting server”, this is because like all technology they are tools, and you use the right tool for the right job.
There are many different platforms and technologies upon which you can host your website, what one you use will depend on a number of factors detailed below. I will explain the benefits and disadvantages of each system and offer some advice on choosing the right hosting server for your website.
There are only really three general server types available, but each one has multiple variations and levels of hosting:
Linux servers are the standard hosting server for most websites today, they offer flexibility and require almost no administrative access in order to use.
Advantages of Linux hosting
Linux is a very reliable and stable platform on which to host websites. Linux is free open source software and as such hosting packages will usually be cheaper. This means better up-time and performance in general. Linux also benefits from improved security over Windows operating systems; this is for several reasons, not least of which is that most virus writers target Windows systems.
Disadvantages of Linux hosting
The main draw back with Linux is that it does not accommodate many Windows based applications and coding such as ASP / ASPX, Visual Basic and MS Access integration.
Windows servers are also quite flexible; they require more experience to use as more often than not you will need to access the server in order to administrate it.
Advantages of Windows hosting
If you are running the .net framework or visual basic or you want to design the site using ASPX then Windows is the only solution. You will not be able to host these technologies on other platforms. Windows servers are more than likely going to take a familiar form to what you are used to if you use Windows on your PC. All Windows based applications will work with a Windows hosting server such as MS Access.
Disadvantages of Windows hosting
Windows is not free, and hence a Windows server will be more expensive in general than Linux. Although the layout and appearance of a Windows server may be familiar, the workings under the bonnet cannot be administrated unless you have sufficient skill and experience. Performing simple tasks like setting up a 301 redirect or enabling Gzip compression can be quite complicated. Furthermore you will require admin access to the server in order to implement these commonly used features; this can make it more expensive.
Stability and performance issues are encountered more frequently on Windows servers than on UNIX or Linux. This translates to more downtime and slower running speeds at times. In order to plan around this you will need to pay out for load balancing and mirrored sites which all cost more money.
There are compatibility issues with using CGI or PERL, there are workarounds for these but they can be complex, unstable and difficult to implement depending on experience.
UNIX is highly scalable and will allow the most amount of applications to work on this platform. With excellent stability, performance and scalability combined with the bonus of being cheaper than Windows systems, makes UNIX a popular choice.
Advantages of UNIX hosting
CGI, PERL, MySQL, Telnet and SSH are all compatible with UNIX servers, making them highly flexible. Like on Linux servers, which are also open source and free systems, you will find that there are many free apps that are available for UNIX, saving you more money in the long run. UNIX systems are known for their high levels of performance and also their stability; if you move from a UNIX server to a Windows server you may be disappointed by the difference in these areas.
Disadvantages of UNIX hosting
UNIX does not support ASP / ASPX, front page extensions or Visual Basic. Using UNIX servers can be difficult especially if you are used to Windows systems, many simple task on a Linux server will be hard to implement on a UNIX server. In fact they use a programming language that is not for the code squeamish.
Dedicated or shared server
This is an important option if you are using UNIX or Windows, as both need administrative access to make many different changes. In order to effectively manage a website on a windows server it will need to be a dedicated server rather than a shared one.
What factors should affect your choice?
There are a number of important factors that will affect what type of hosting server you should use:
The technology the website employs
As mentioned above, your chosen technology for your site will directly affect what server you go for. If you use ASP / ASPX, VB, or .net framework then you will need to use a Windows server. If you want to use SSH, CGI PERL or Telnet you will need to use a UNIX or a Linux server. So ensure that when you have chosen the right technology for the website and have good reasons for using it.
Level of experience
This is a major factor if you are to manage the server yourself, clearly if it is in house you will need an expert to manage it. If it is hosted externally you will only need to have a limited level of access to the server. However using UNIX or Windows can be hard, even with walkthroughs and online guides, if you are not familiar with the technology. Linux is by far the easiest to administrate and to manipulate.
Website and business goals
This will have implications on the technology you use. If you require your website to use databases and have web pages dynamically pull in data from them, it may be that you need to use ASP and Windows. If you are to create an information site with a few images then Linux will be adequate for your needs. If you want a site to be easily scalable and will potentially need to use lots of custom apps but do not have a large budget then a UNIX server will be more likely to suit your requirements. If you need a stable platform and cannot afford downtime then you will more than likely need a UNIX system.
This is clearly a massive factor in a new company. Windows systems are more expensive and if budget is the most important factor I would go for either UNIX or Linux. If budget is not a problem then move onto another qualifying factor. High cost does not guarantee better service when it comes to web hosting. Because some of the servers are open source and free, they will be cheaper but they may also be more suitable to your requirements.
Without knowing your specific requirements it is not possible to offer an educated or informed opinion on what server you should host your website on. My personal preference, given that I don’t have any specific requirements for using Windows or UNIX, would be a Linux server. This is because it is cheap, reliable, stable, and very easy to implement SEO elements like Gzip compression and setting up redirects can all be done using an .htaccess file.
To make the right choice you need to have all the information to hand about and clear goals in place or you could end up making a decision which will later on cost a lot of money, time and heartache to repair.