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Web hosting 101: managed vs unmanaged hosting

web hosting
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With thousands of web hosting providers 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.

Start by browsing independent review websites such as Trustpilot to make a shortlist of web hosting providers that meet your needs. Choose a few web hosts that have a long-standing reputation for excellent service, fast speeds, minimal downtime, and useful software features.

Many web hosts offer managed and unmanaged hosting services, so this is another consideration to make. In this article, we look at the difference between these two web hosting service models.

What’s the difference between managed and unmanaged hosting? 

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, with unmanaged hosting, 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 web hosting 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.

What benefits can managed hosting offer to my website? 

Managed hosting is where the web hosting provider takes a more active role in running your web hosting. The company keeps the server secure and optimized, and it continuously updates your software as new versions are released. Managed web 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.  

Managed hosting, while more expensive than unmanaged hosting, offers several benefits that can save you time and money, as outlined below.

Backups 

Backups seem like an afterthought until you need them. Without frequent backups, you risk losing your website completely, or at least losing days of work. If something goes wrong with your website or database, you could lose all your precious customer data.

A managed hosting service will automatically make backups of 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 of your site if you need to. Check how quick and easy it is to restore your website from a backup so downtime is minimized.

Support 

Perhaps the most important service managed hosting offers is an increased level of support. Having a team of knowledgeable, technically-minded people available to help you 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 support offered by managed hosting providers differs, so compare support options as a priority when deciding which website hosting service to choose.

Fully Managed Service 

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 help you to migrate your website to its server. 

Security 

Security should always be a prime concern for businesses operating online. A breach in security can spell disaster for your brand image. Website security is also notoriously difficult to keep on top of. A managed hosting service can take over most of the duties involved in keeping your website secure. It can update software, patch vulnerabilities, and inform you of potential security threats in your website’s code.

Application Support 

Unmanaged hosting may be enough for simple websites, but 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 that has special requirements is much easier on managed hosting, as the company can make accommodations on the server to meet your bespoke needs. Many managed hosting services will be happy to talk to third-party developers and software vendors on your behalf to find solutions for your business.

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.