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Managed vs unmanaged hosting

managed vs unmanaged hosting
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

With thousands of the best web hosting services to choose from, it's difficult to find the company that offers the best balance of features and price for your requirements. No business today can survive without a reliable, secure, and fast website, so choosing poorly could cause you significant headaches down the road.

Many web hosts offer managed and unmanaged hosting services, so this is another consideration to make. Here, we compare managed vs unmanaged hosting, and look at the differences between these two models in order to help you decide which works best for your business.

Managed vs unmanaged hosting: What’s the difference? 

managed vs unmanaged hosting - server leads and units

While both types of hosting are provided by web hosts, managed hosting sees them take a more active role (Image credit: Taylor Vick)

The most basic form of web hosting, and the most popular for small businesses dipping their toes into online business, is unmanaged hosting. 

As the name suggests, you’re essentially on your own. You rent hosting space on a server and upload your website to it. Installing software, designing a website, keeping your website up to date, and patching security holes is all up to you.

For many businesses, unmanaged hosting is perfectly fine. It’s cheaper than managed hosting, and you have complete control over your website. Most unmanaged services have an administration console that makes installing popular software such as WordPress and Shopify a one-click affair. 

However, using unmanaged hosting means you’ll be spending time and money maintaining your website when you could have been spending it on building your core business.

Managed hosting is where the web hosting provider takes a more active role. The company keeps the server secure and optimized, and it continuously updates your software as new versions are released. Managed hosting providers usually make automatic backups of your site, and most have support staff that can help you with the technical challenges of running a website.

What benefits can managed hosting offer? 

managed vs unmanaged hosting - customer support agent speaking on headset

Managed hosting providers offer responsive support, so any issues can be dealt with by experts (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Managed hosting, while more expensive than unmanaged, offers several benefits that can save you time and money. A fully managed service works more like a wing of your business than an external service. It should be able to assist with third-party applications, website development, operating system updates, security patches, and server customization. 

A good managed service will also help you to migrate your website to its server, and while backups seem like an afterthought - until you need them - without frequent backups, you risk losing your site completely, or at least losing days of work. If something goes wrong with your website or database, you could lose all of your precious customer data.

A managed service will automatically back up your website and database daily. You should check to see how long the service keeps old backups (aim for seven days or more), so you can roll back to a previous version if you need to. Check how quick and easy it is to restore your site from a backup, so downtime is minimized.

Perhaps the most important service managed hosting offers is increased support. Having a team of knowledgeable, technically-minded people available to help via live chat, email, or phone at a moment’s notice can be very reassuring. It can reduce the time your in-house team needs to deal with the more mundane day-to-day chores of running a website, freeing them up to perform more important duties.

The level of support offered by managed hosting providers differs, so compare options as a priority when deciding which service to choose. 

Security should always be a prime concern for businesses operating online, and a breach in security can spell disaster for your brand image. A managed hosting service can take over most of the duties involved in keeping your website secure, including updating software, patching vulnerabilities, and informing you of potential security threats in your code.

Finally, while unmanaged hosting may be enough for simple websites, if your business needs to use lesser-known or old software, then trying to get it up and running on a shared server can be a nightmare. Installing and running software with special requirements is much easier on managed hosting, as the company can make accommodations on the server to meet your bespoke needs. 

Many services will be happy to talk to third-party developers and software vendors on your behalf to find solutions for your business.

Managed vs unmanaged hosting: Conclusion 

Managed hosting may be more expensive than unmanaged hosting, but the value it adds through stronger security, better support, and automated backups can mean it pays for itself. You can find out more about why we rate managed hosting over unmanaged hosting in our feature, which lays out why managed hosting is better for businesses.

Richard Sutherland

Richard brings over 20 years of website development, SEO, and marketing to the table. A graduate in Computer Science, Richard has lectured in Java programming and has built software for companies including Samsung and ASDA. Now, he writes for TechRadar, Tom's Guide, PC Gamer, and Creative Bloq.