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Managed vs unmanaged hosting

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(Image credit: Pexels)

A company's website is an integral and essential element of a business, and in our digital age, even more so. A key part of having a website is choosing the best web hosting (opens in new tab) service to host your site with (as well as the best website builder (opens in new tab) to construct it with), and this can be difficult with so many web hosts available.

One way to approach this process is by reading guides discussing different elements of web hosting, whether you're looking for the best web hosting, the best free web hosting (opens in new tab), the best unlimited hosting (opens in new tab), or the best cloud hosting (opens in new tab). It's also advisable to read reviews of web hosts, and then put a shortlist together, before deciding on the web hosting provider (opens in new tab) that seems like the best fit for you and your business.

The next step is to decide on the right type of hosting that you need, and different websites require different solutions, with it being important to choose the correct one for your business. These can range from standard, unmanaged hosting through to dedicated, high-end and managed servers.

Here, we compare managed vs unmanaged hosting, and explain the differences between the two, as well as why - ultimately - managed hosting is the better option for businesses.

Managed vs unmanaged hosting: What’s the difference?

a series of servers and their cabling

Managed hosting helps your site run smoothly and easily (Image credit: Unsplash)

There are many components involved in running a web server, from the hardware to the operating system and various software tools. A managed hosting plan has a selection of additional “management” features installed, ones that are aimed at helping your website run easier. Managed hosting plans also usually offer more in the way of technical support.

Unmanaged hosting plans, in contrast, don’t offer any (or few) of these extra features. You’ll get a basic server with the operating system installed, and that’s about it. It will be up to you to install everything else, such as basic software required for running a website, like Apache, Ngnix, or PHP. 

Unmanaged plans are cheaper because the hosting provider doesn’t do as much of the work. Not all hosting companies offer managed solutions, but if you want to spend more time on creating content for your website than on the nitty-gritty details of running a server, it is worth finding one that offers this type of service. It could save you time and money.

What benefits can managed hosting offer to my website?

We've outlined a number of points that illustrate the benefits of managed hosting below.

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Backups are an extremely important part of running a website. Without any, you risk losing your site completely if disaster strikes. If you’ve chosen a good web hosting company, check that it provides daily backups and keeps them for at least a week, if not longer. If an incident occurs that stops your website from functioning, the web host will be able to restore your site’s files and database from those backups.

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Technical support is a crucial component of what hosting providers offer. If you ever need help, you want to know that there will always be a team of people who are ready to respond. Even before signing up, you can get a gauge on how good a provider’s support will be by contacting their team via phone, live chat, or email to see how they respond. If you get prompt and efficient answers from the pre-sales team, it’s a good indication that the technical support will offer a similar standard of service.

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A fully managed service should take care of everything that goes on behind the scenes to keep a website running, via routine operations and maintenace. Such tasks include keeping the operating system up to date and secure and customizing the server to your exact requirements if you request it. It also can help with installing third-party applications, talking to your website developers about any technical issues, and offering recommendations on how to improve your site’s performance. A good hosting plan should include monitoring of the server and website and the ability to respond quickly to any issue. It should also have a migration service to help you move your website from your current provider, if you have one.

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Web security (opens in new tab) is just as important as support when it comes to web hosting. A fully managed hosting plan should have a full suite of security features, such as installing a local firewall as standard, actively scanning your website for malware, and blocking unauthorized attempts to log into the website’s control panel. Another good reason for considering a managed hosting solution is if your website runs on older software that can’t be upgraded or has other special requirements. With a managed service, the hosting company should be able to configure a server to your liking. When assessing providers, it’s a good idea to ask if support is offered for third-party companies. This way, if you’re using specialized software from a third party and need assistance with technical queries, you can request help from your hosting company.

Further reading on web hosting

Find out how web hosting impacts security (opens in new tab), and how to avoid common hosting mistakes (opens in new tab); and read up on web hosting security (opens in new tab), domain privacy (opens in new tab), and how hosting can affect SEO (opens in new tab)

We also compared dedicated servers vs VPS (opens in new tab), bare metal vs dedicated servers (opens in new tab), and web hosting vs WordPress hosting (opens in new tab); and pit Bluehost vs HostGator (opens in new tab), Bluehost vs GoDaddy (opens in new tab), Bluehost vs DreamHost (opens in new tab), and Bluehost vs SiteGround (opens in new tab).

John is a freelance writer and web developer who has been working digitally for 30 years. His experience is in journalism, print design and web development and he has worked in Australia and the UK. His work has been published in Future publications like TechRadar, Tom's Guide, and ITProPortal.