When describing web hosting accounts to beginners, most people employ the tried-and-true housing analogy: Shared hosting is like renting an apartment, VPS is a condo, and dedicated servers equate to owning your own home. In a never-ending quest to keep things interesting, however, I’ve compared web hosting accounts to pizza and the search for love. Now, it’s time to spice things up and turn to another passion of mine: Mexican food.
Believe it or not, web hosting can be thought of as an indulgent menu of meat, beans, cheese, and seasonings for you to arrange and prepare as you see fit. We’ve mixed together a five-course meal of hosting account descriptions, definitions, features, and prices, culminating in our picks for the best hosting accounts. What are you hungry for?

1. Web Hosting Definition

At the most basic level, web hosting accounts give you access to large computers, called servers, where you can store the files and information required to make a website or application. The servers connect to the internet to share and deliver that content to users. Although it’s possible for you to operate your own server and host your own website, doing so requires a ton of expertise and patience as you work through the numerous headaches that are bound to pop up. If you want more information, we’ve created a helpful guide that explains the basics of web hosting.
Why spend years learning how to make the perfect tortilla from scratch when you could simply go to your favorite Mexican restaurant on a whim? The vast majority of website owners will purchase hosting services from a reputable company, much like opting for a nice dinner out with friends.

2. Types of Hosting

Similar to Mexican food, the different types of web hosting accounts can largely be described as using the same ingredients in different configurations. Chow down on these hosting descriptions that compare shared, virtual, cloud, and dedicated servers, in addition to other specialized formats of web hosting.

Shared Hosting Definition

When it comes to Mexican food, shared web hosting is like the free chips and salsa brought out for your arrival, or maybe a heaping plate of nachos. Perhaps one of those giant margaritas served in a comically large glass with two straws?
The point is, you’ll be using a server’s computing resources alongside everyone else sitting at the table. Although you have no say on server settings or nacho toppings, the best plans come with everything you could possibly need — and probably even a few extra things you won’t touch. Seriously, who wants black olives on nachos? The same usually goes for niche hosting features, such as Secure Shell (SSH) access or phpMyAdmin, for inexperienced customers.
There are unwritten rules that everyone should have an equal share of both nachos and server resources, but you always run the risk of dining with that friend who grabs chip after chip and scoops out all of the best toppings. Those diners affect the mood at the whole table, just as a resource hog affects server performance for the other hosting customers. Even though many hosts tout unlimited storage and bandwidth, the companies will often penalize customers who go too far.

VPS Hosting Definition

Few things whet the appetite quite like a sizzling, steaming plate of fajitas heading your way. Many places offer fajitas made for two or four, and this is the perfect example of VPS hosting. Standing for virtual private server, VPS hosting plans mean that servers are divided into virtualized partitions or virtual machines, which then act as independent dedicated units.
Customers still share a server, but they each enjoy much larger portions and have greater control over their computing resources. Site owners on a VPS plan can configure their hosting stack by choosing the operating system, web server, database platform, or programming framework. Many rapidly growing sites turn to VPS hosting so they can quickly scale bandwidth and memory.
With VPS-style Mexican food, you can simultaneously share a meal with your dining companions and still eat exactly what you want. Don’t like onions but want extra sour cream? Enjoy!

Cloud Hosting Definition

Naturally, the most complicated form of web hosting is always the most difficult to work into these tasty analogies. In this case, we need to temporarily leave Mexican food to pay homage to Spanish cuisine — specifically, tapas. The fellow cloud hosting customers at the table can order many different dishes that everyone may sample from to create a full meal. No one goes hungry because there are always new dishes arriving and empty plates being bussed off the table
Eating tapas is akin to the nebulous type of hosting in that cloud hosting environments consist of several servers that are networked together and virtualized to share storage and processing resources. Cloud hosting is extremely performant, scalable, and reliable because servers are optimized to handle particular tasks. If something goes offline or crashes, other servers are ready to fill in to keep your website or application online. Likewise, new resources can be provisioned or turned off as your traffic scales up or down.

Dedicated Hosting Definition

Every Mexican menu has one — the massive, as-big-as-your-face burrito. As with dedicated servers, giant burritos represent the utmost in Mexican food indulgence. There is one plate, an enormous pile of ingredients that you chose, and nothing standing in your way. The restaurant will still provide the plate, silverware, and napkins, but you’re on your own; no one else at your table may nibble on your burrito unless you give them access.
With dedicated hosting, you are the lone customer on a server. The host will typically cook up and deploy your dedicated server within their datacenter, often including management services such as operating system updates and security patches. Customers, however, can enjoy total control over software and security programs, along with the processing power and storage space.

Other Hosting Services

Although nachos, fajitas, and burritos are typically among the most popular items at your favorite Mexican restaurant, you’ll often have much more to choose from. Just like the combo plates many restaurants offer, you can frequently mix and match more specialized hosting services to satisfy a particular craving. Here’s a list of the hosting equivalents of enchiladas, quesadillas, chimichangas, and chile rellenos:
  • Application hosting (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, PrestaShop, etc.)
  • Blog hosting
  • Control panel hosting (cPanel, Plesk, etc.)
  • Domain hosting
  • eCommerce hosting
  • Email hosting
  • Managed hosting
  • Managed WordPress hosting
  • Operating system hosting (Linux, CentOS, Windows, Fedora, Debian, Red Hat, etc.)
  • SSD hosting
  • Website builders
  • And many more!
Specialized hosting services appeal to customers with specific needs and functionality requirements. An online business won’t succeed without a hosting plan that includes eCommerce and marketing tools, while those tools might go unused with someone running a high-powered blog who needs a managed WordPress hosting plan.

3. Web Hosting Account Features

Naturally, most new hosting customers are going to look for plans with the most features for the lowest price. Hosting connoisseurs, on the other hand, will have a better understanding of the ingredients that most strongly delight their taste buds.
By understanding the major components of web hosting accounts, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions with your hard-earned money. You might find that marketing credits and SEO tools are more important to your online business, while professionals might place more value on the strong design a website builder can provide.

Domains and Emails

These two commonly get lumped together in hosting account descriptions, but domain names and email are distinctly different services. Domains are effectively the address web browsers use to find and display a website. Many hosting companies include a free domain name registration for the first year, a value around $10 to $15, when new customers sign up. If you already have a domain name, those same companies will usually apply that credit toward a free transfer or website migration.
Email accounts, which use the domain name as the second half of the address, use server space to store, send, and process your messages. Email addresses with a custom domain name tend to look more professional than the standard Gmail, so this tends to be an important feature for online businesses. The best email hosting plans typically come with spam and virus protection, as well as autoresponders, enhanced security, and support for various protocols, plus tools for forwarding and filtering.

Control Panels

Sure to be a first-time hosting customer’s best friend, a control panel acts as a translator, of sorts, for the most foreign menus. The user-friendly interface enables site owners to quickly and easily manage their hosting account.
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