Web hosting companies either own or lease computers and Internet bandwidth at professionally managed data centers — highly secure facilities built for one purpose: to house racks and racks of computer equipment and to connect them to the Internet. Imagine a huge apartment building, and the Web hosting company is the landlord. It can rent you anything from a single room to a penthouse suite to the entire building.
Linux vs. Windows: Most Web hosts offer servers with one of these. It's a simple decision: Most sites run on Linux/Apache, so unless you need Windows/IIS for some specific reason (and if you don’t know what that would be, you don’t need it) you should choose the Linux/Apache option.
Hosting types: This depends on what you need to install, how much “bandwidth” (amount of data to transfer) your website requires, and how much control you need over the actual machine(s) running your website. Hosts can get creative making up names for their hosting plans, but in general they’re going to fall into one of these three categories:
Shared Hosting: This is the “boarding house” (least-expensive option) of hosting. You only get access to your “room,” i.e., the specific directory where your website is installed. Because one bad apple could affect every other site installed on their system, hosting companies lock-down shared accounts to only the features the host has tested and approved. Paying more per month gets you more storage space for your site and more of whatever it is that the host offers, such as bandwidth, databases, email addresses, and Web-building applications.
Dedicated Hosting: In true “dedicated hosting” you’re in control of the whole enchilada and can install whatever you want on it just as if the computer was sitting in your office. These accounts can be “managed” by the hosting company if something bad happens — or “un-managed” where you have to request (and pay for) assistance at the going hourly rates. Dedicated accounts will set you back $75 per month and up — way up for high-volume sites.
Virtual Dedicated Hosting: A hybrid of shared and dedicated hosting, “virtualization” or “Virtual Private Server" (VPS) is a process that uses special software to create several separate installations of an operating system on a single physical server computer. It’s less expensive for the hosting company to set up six “virtual servers” on one physical computer than to buy and maintain six separate pieces of hardware. They’ll pass that savings on to you. Accounts typically run $50 to $150 per month depending on the server specs, disk space, and bandwidth you need.
Specialty Hosting: Hosting is not just for websites. Whatever you can install and run on a computer can be hosted and made available in “the cloud.” Some hosting companies don’t do websites at all and specialize in email, business applications, even “virtual desktops” whereby an entire company’s computer needs are handled via virtualization. Other companies, such as accounting software providers, host only their own software. Like Web hosting, specialty hosting can be in the “shared,” “virtual,” or “dedicated” environments.