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Pardon my extreme ignorance but I am a programmer and have little experience when it comes to this. Basically I am starting a site - for the sake of discussion lets assume it is similar to serverfault or stackoverflow (although my project is completely different, it could potentially, or at least I hope, have similar hardware requirement..in terms of bandwidth, storage etc.).

I currently have a simple ($10/month) shared hosting plan providing "unlimited bandwidth and storage". For development purposes, this has worked just fine. However, my question is this (I know its rather arbitrary): how soon and at what point does a site outgrow such a hosting plan? Assuming its a blog type website (or something similar to serverfault) after how many posts or after how much traffic would a dedicated solution be absolutely necessary? I know it sounds rather clowny to be asking about running a business off of a shared plan, but as I do not have experience dealing with such scalability issues I am rather clueless. Thanks.

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+1 for your honesty. You'll get much clearer answers when explaining that you're not a sysadmin. I hope you get all the info you need! –  Mark Henderson Jul 23 '09 at 5:52

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Your site will outgrow the shared hosting plan the moment your host notices a significant increase of load on their servers coming from your site. Usually, this involves them locking your account to preserve the performance of the other sites being hosted on the server. Shared hosting for a site that generates revenue is always a bad idea. You at least want to go with a VPS, or even a dedicated server depending on how large and fast you expect the site to grow.

In short, you need to know a few things about your web application before you can effectively choose a hosting plan for your future site:

  • Bandwidth Requirements (figure this out by calculating the average page size, multiply by the amount of expected page hits you are planning)
  • CPU Requirements (this depends on, among other things httpd configuration, number of database queries, and efficiency of the coding of the app)
  • Memory Requirements (this scales approximately equally to the CPU requirements in many cases)
  • Disk Requirements. Sometimes the trickiest of all, sometimes the easiest of all. This depends on, among other things: amount of content stored, frequency of access, database size and schema efficiency, efficiency of the app, etc)

Also, if you are planning on going with using this system to generate revenue, you will most likely want to go with a managed hosting environment (whether it is a VPS or a dedicated server). This takes the issues of maintenance almost entirely off your hands, as you will have someone working for the hosting company managing your systems at all times, keeping an eye on them, and at least putting band-aids on immediate show-stopping problems.

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You mention the host "locking your account" upon significant load increase. Is this a concrete policy that should be mentioned somewhere in the fine print? The terms of the plan do indicate unlimited bandwidth. Thanks for the detailed answer. –  em444 Jul 23 '09 at 3:18
    
Almost all shared hosting plans have an acceptable usage policy, which generally dictates that your web app can do whatever it wants, as long as it does not negatively impact the performance of the server, or consume an excessive amount of bandwidth. Generally, these figures are not dictated in this AUP, otherwise it would not legally be an "unlimited" plan. Then again, there's truly no such thing as an "unlimited" plan. If you chew up 400GB of disk space or 10TB of bandwidth, I can assure you that your host is going to contact you and ask you to move to a bigger, more expensive plan. –  phuzion Jul 23 '09 at 3:47

It shouldn't be too hard for you to test that. Use WCAT or JMeter against your app and see at what point it stops being responsive.

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This is very helpful, thanks. On a side note (and what I was kind of getting at originally) is it possible to host a business with any sort of significant traffic on a cheap shared hosting plan (or is this far to arbitrary to even attempt at an answer)? –  em444 Jul 23 '09 at 3:09
    
There are too many variables to give a yes/no answer to that, but the switching costs are low (e.g., if you notice things getting too slow, it doesn't cost much to switch to a VPS or dedicated server). –  Adam Brand Jul 23 '09 at 3:14

Note, this is often a case where you get what you pay for. Our Marketing department went out and got a cheap hosting account for a small website they wanted to host, but did not like the costs that IT told them for a decent host, or for hosting internally.
Well a few months ago the webhost did an "upgrade" and the site was down for two weeks, techsupport phone was not being answered, e-mails would be replied to after 2 or 3 days. Could not move to a new host, as Marketing did not have a backup. Needless to say, the site was moved shortly after it came back up.

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