It is important to understand the differences among the types of hosting offered. As the web hosting industry has matured, hosting offers have split into a few distinct categories, each with strengths and weaknesses.
Shared hosting (sometimes called virtual hosting) means that you are sharing a server with other clients of that company. The host manages the server almost completely (though you maintain your site and your account). They can afford to charge you little since many clients are paying for use of the server.
However, companies other than yours use the resources of that server. That means heavy traffic to one of the other sites on the server can hammer the performance of your site. Also, you typically are unable to install special software programs on these types of machines because the host will need to keep a stable environment for all of the clients using the server.
Co-located hosting means that you buy a server from a hardware vendor, like Dell or HP, and you supply this server to the host. The web host plugs your server into its network and its redundant power systems. The host is responsible for ensuring its network is available, and you are responsible for support and maintenance of your server.
Good hosts offer management contracts to their co-location clients so that you can outsource much of the support to them and come to an arrangement similar to managed dedicated hosting. Most co-location hosts do not offer this service, however.
Unmanaged dedicated hosting is similar to co-location except that you lease a server from a host and do not own it yourself. Some very limited support (typically web-based only) is included, but the level of support varies widely among unmanaged dedicated hosts.
This type of server can be had for around $99/month. Support levels typically are provided only in general terms. Ask the host to go into specifics about what support it will provide — will it apply security patches to your server? — before signing up. This service is typically good for gaming servers (like Doom or Counterstrike servers) or hobbyist servers, but not for serious businesses that need responsive, expert-level service.
Managed dedicated hosting means leasing a server from a host and having that company provide a robust level of support and maintenance on the server that is backed by quality guarantees. This maintenance typically includes services such as server uptime monitoring, a hardware warranty and security patch updates.
Ensure that your managed dedicated host is specific about its managed services so that it does not disguise an unmanaged dedicated offering as a managed dedicated server. This has been known to happen, which is why it is important to do your homework and ask the right questions.
Linux, Unix or Windows Hosting? When deciding on a platform for your hosting needs you need to understand YOUR need first. Will you be hiring a professional that will develop your web site? What hosting languages does he or she plan to use, such as PHP, Perl, ASP, or Coldfusion? Will you be using the now almost extinct FrontPage? Windows Expression Web? Dreamweaver (the industry standard of professionals.)
The vast majority of the internet operates in Linix-based hosting platforms. In simple terms, Linix is what makes the server run and not really your web site. Linux is a generic name for what is really called Unix. On the other hand, Windows hosting is as its name inplies. It has technologies designed to integrate to some extent with home and business computers, like Exchange Email hosting. It does so often times at the expense of cost, reliability and performance. Linux is the safest choice.