What Is Managed vs. Unmanaged Hosting?

If you’ve been looking at your options for a business website, you’ve probably run into a range of pricing and hosting options that are more than a little confusing. Unless you’re a website development veteran, odds are you don’t know a lot about the difference between these two types of hosting services. That’s why we’ve put together this resource to clarify the differences, outline specific advantages and disadvantages, and provide guidance on managed vs. unmanaged hosting and which service will be a better fit for your business needs. 

First, let’s explore what each service is, includes, and the value they bring to your website.

What Is Managed Hosting?

Managed hosting is a broad umbrella term covering all levels of hosting, which includes active management and tech support for your website. The specific level of included services varies from provider to provider and plan to plan, but generally, a managed hosting plan includes some general quality of life and security benefits. This does come at a cost; often, managed hosting is anywhere from 1.5 to 3 times as much as unmanaged hosting plans, depending on the level of service on offer.

What Services Does Managed Hosting Typically Include?

While “managed hosting” isn’t a truly standardized service, there are commonly included services that you should expect with managed hosting. While not every plan will have all of these features, plans should have most of these features to be considered managed hosting.

Automated Backups

Even if you’ve never personally lost a hard drive full of important data, you’ve probably heard horror stories. As bad as this is for your offline records, losing your online infrastructure can be even more devastating. The website your business has spent thousands of dollars on, that all your employees log into, that all your customers go to order products or schedule services might be one failed server away from a total loss with unmanaged hosting. 

Even if the site isn’t a total loss, with only manual or infrequent automatic backups, you might find your emails, records of purchases, and other vital data for the last several weeks, months, or years missing due to drive failures on your web host’s servers. These data points and your website’s role as an interactive platform for clients and employees are how your website creates value for you. Without automated backups, both of these key facets are chronically in jeopardy.

This is why most managed hosting plans, including the one offered by Local Image, come with automated daily backups to a secondary server or remote data backup. If your data and website uptime are valuable to your business, this feature is absolutely essential. 

Performance Monitoring

While performance monitoring isn’t essential most of the time, it’s critical to get warnings when your site’s resources are inadequate and to understand when you might need to either upgrade your plan or address inefficiencies with your website’s backend. Detailed performance reports can prepare you for the changes you’ll inevitably need to make before their emergencies.

Automatic Software Updates

Updating your software, including plugins, is the easiest and most effective way to maintain the basic security of your site. Older versions of your software are more likely to have known exploits that can put your data or the integrity of your website in jeopardy. 

By updating your software, you usually get the latest, most secure version. However, sometimes there are rushed updates that are actually less secure than older versions. If you’re paying for managed hosting, you’re not just getting the most recent version of the software but the most secure version available. 

Active Security & Monitoring

Managed hosting usually comes with advanced monitoring features to detect threats and react swiftly to any malicious activity. Detecting malware and exploits from your website is only the beginning of what active security offers. Most managed hosting plans will include some level of active malware removal. At Local Image, we include 24/7 live monitoring with a local tech support team.

Training on How To Use Your Website

While unmanaged website hosting is a one-note service, managed hosting services often include IT support, including training on how to use your website. While you will need a true webmaster to accomplish major site reworks, designs, and so on, small tweaks or posting blogs is well within the realm of what you can expect to accomplish with basic training from your managed hosting provider.

On-Demand Services 

Most managed service providers offer additional services and support beyond the scope of their included services. This might be advanced tech support, reworking aspects of your website, creating new email addresses for your employees, or migrating your website to a faster or larger server.  In most cases, all you need to do is submit a ticket, and your managed hosting provider will take care of the rest.  It’s the quality of life and ease of use improvement that makes managed hosting so broadly appealing.

How Local Image Makes Websites With Managed Hosting More Valuable

As a full-service digital marketing firm, Local Image offers a lot of services beyond website hosting that can facilitate your business’s website and marketing efforts. By leveraging additional services, you can make your website perform better and become a more valuable asset for your company.  Here are some examples of services that can help improve and leverage your website for greater value.

  • SEO services – Complete content packages, monthly blog releases, backlinks, and more can make your website rank better on search engines.
  • Listings Management – There are dozens of national websites that your business can be listed with for free or for a fee, providing backlinks, direct traffic, and answers to your customers’ questions about hours, services, and more.  Listing management helps take control of these listings, and create them where they’re missing, so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of your listings and updating them every time you tweak your hours.
  • Website Development – We provide full website development, including all website copy, design, and backend development.  A beautiful and functional website made by pros will help to convert more visitors into customers and have your business taken more seriously by your competitors and customers alike.
  • Ads – With social media and Google ad experts, we can leverage some of the best bang-for-your-buck ad platforms to drive warm leads and traffic to your website.
  • Public Relations – PR isn’t just about managing disasters; it’s about turning small wins into big wins with backlinks and traffic from reputable news organizations that local people pay attention to.

What Is Unmanaged Hosting?

Unmanaged hosting is very straightforward to describe but takes some explanation to be truly understood. In a nutshell, unmanaged hosting is access to a server, usually with a basic operating system, and nothing else. This means that you have to install every piece of software you need. This might include basic site-building essentials such as WordPress or Drupal but also fundamental software such as Apache or PHP that is necessary to configure your server or manage files.

Unmanaged hosting is only the server space and resources you need to host a website, with no tools, support, or assistance with building, managing, updating, securing, or otherwise facilitating your website’s operation. Usually, this means you will need to either invest time in becoming more of an expert with the various software systems needed or hiring someone who is. Needless to say, hiring a webmaster costs far more than the minor cost savings between unmanaged and managed hosting services. More on this below!

The Hidden Costs of Unmanaged Hosting

When you’re looking at unmanaged and managed hosting options, the cost is one of the immediately visible differences. Unmanaged hosting can, on paper, save you hundreds of dollars a year, and every dollar counts when you are running a small business. Unfortunately, as is almost always the case, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. When you pay less, you get less.

To best understand how unmanaged hosting is less valuable than it first appears, it’s useful to consider common scenarios and what they cost you and your business with managed hosting vs. unmanaged hosting.

  • Scenario: Website Software Needs Updating

    • Managed Hosting: It’s all taken care of for you. You likely won’t even get a notification.
      Cost: Included Service.
    • Unmanaged Hosting: You need to take 5 to 20 minutes out of your day to update your website… Assuming you realize your website needs the update. If not, your website just stays vulnerable without security updates until you tackle this to-do list item.
      Cost: hours every month, forever.
  • Scenario: Your Website Server Fails

    • Managed Hosting: Your host will boot up the most recent daily backup to a new server automatically. You’ll be informed of what happened and any additional actions you may wish to take.
      Cost: Included service.
    • Unmanaged Hosting: When you or a customer notice your website is down, you can reach out to your host and wait for them to respond while you try to find a backup to your website. If you do find a backup, all the changes and data collected since that backup is permanently lost. You then have to boot up your backup version then make any needed updates to content, data, and software manually.
      Cost: days, weeks, or months of data, hours of downtime, hours of work to repair the site
  • Scenario: Your Website Is Hacked

    • Managed Hosting: With constant monitoring, you’re likely to catch this quickly; then, with daily backups and a server-side admin to reset passwords and access, the damage can be mostly or completely mitigated.
      Cost: Included service, you may lose some data, but you’ll get the site back within minutes or hours.
    • Unmanaged Hosting: With in-house admin accounts and no backend admin monitoring website activity and potential intrusions, you might not even know you’ve been hacked until your customers’ sensitive information has been leaked, your website has been defaced, or even completely deleted. Then you’re often either at their mercy or calling in a digital security expert to reclaim the website.
      Cost: Potentially your entire website and all your data, or hundreds to thousands for emergency IT security services.

You can see the trend here. Managed hosting won’t magically make your data perfectly secure or your website invulnerable, but it does these things better than unmanaged hosting at no extra cost. It provides the peace of mind that even if something does happen, it 1) won’t cost a fortune and 2) won’t be a long-term problem.

Reasons You Might Want Unmanaged Hosting

If you happen to be an IT expert or already have one on staff, unmanaged hosting suddenly makes a lot more sense. Understand, though, this is because you’ve already heavily invested in the skills and knowledge base required. There’s still a cost in man-hours that may or may not make sense. Make sure you’re really considering the long-term costs of maintaining the site in-house.

There are also cases where what you need is unique or involves very niche software that managed hosting companies can’t reasonably be expected to manage. In these cases, unmanaged or fully in-house hosting is the only option available.

How to Manage Unmanaged Hosting

For practical purposes, there are three ways to go about managing unmanaged hosting.

Managing Your Website With A Contractor

You can find contractors able to take on website management on platforms like Upwork for anywhere from $50 to $150 an hour.  Considering that you won’t need their help every month, this might even make sense in some cases.  For uncomplicated websites, you may only need a couple of hours of work from a webmaster a year.  The downside is that contractors are often booked well ahead and, unless you’re paying a retainer, will rarely be able to get to you immediately when you do have a problem.

Managing Your Website With An Employee

If you have an employee on staff with the skills and knowledge needed to manage your website, it can be a great way to absorb the costs of website management into your existing payroll. This can also lead to issues, however.

At Local Image, we’ve helped companies that had an employee managing their site only to have that employee quit with little or no notice and have the site’s management up in the air.  Worse, even if such an employee doesn’t take any intentional actions to sabotage or undermine your website if there is no handoff process in place, you may not be able to find someone to take over their duties effectively.

In short, if you have a knowledgeable and trusted employee who is certain to stay at your company long-term or several employees with the needed skills, this might be a good fit, as long as that’s the best use of their time.  If website management takes up time that could be spent fulfilling orders or providing services, it can end up costing you much more than your employee’s paid time in lost opportunities.  It really depends on your situation whether this makes sense or not.

Managing Your Website Yourself

If you already know how to manage a website directly, managing your website is a reasonable choice. After all, if you know how to do what you want to do, there’s little reason to involve middlemen and make the process more complicated, as long as you have the spare time.  Even if you don’t know much about website management right now, if you’re technically savvy, you can probably learn the minimum of what you need to know to manage your website with 8 to 20 hours of self-guided study online.

Reading articles, watching YouTube videos, and getting in a little practice to make sure it’s all clicking won’t take more than 1 to 3 days of effort, depending on your knowledge level going in.  Managing your website yourself shouldn’t take more than an hour or two a month, less if you can manage to automate important processes like software updates, data backups, and security monitoring.

If any of these options are something that will work well with your business, unmanaged hosting would likely be a good choice for hosting your website. 

Managed vs. Unmanaged Hosting: What’s Right For You?

When it comes right down to it, what’s right for you depends on your situation and in-house expertise. Managed hosting is a better fit when you don’t have the staff or time to fully manage your website on a regular basis. On the other hand, if you have the appropriate skills on your team or if your website requires esoteric software that web hosts aren’t familiar with, unmanaged hosting may make more sense.

For small businesses, it’s often especially important to ensure that your online presence is uninterrupted so you don’t miss income opportunities and that it doesn’t require excessive maintenance time. This makes managed hosting a significantly better option as it ultimately leads to less expense and better reliability in most cases.  

It’s similar to choosing to operate with insurance rather than going without.  Having insurance does cost a little more month-to-month, but when an accident or problem occurs, you’re covered.  Managed hosting isn’t something where you’ll notice the difference every day, but when it counts, it can make an enormous difference to your experience as a business owner.