Where We Were: The History of the Website


Avi · 11th July 2020·Hosting

Where We Were: The History of the Website

The internet’s first ever web page was published on August 6, 1991. The page was written by Tim Berners Lee, the infamous mastermind behind the World Wide Web project. Berners-Lee had been frustrated at the inability of computer systems to share data and programs, and proposed to design a new information management system to connect documents on multiple computers hooked up to the 'internet'.

Once the National Science Foundation (NSF) opted to remove commercial restrictions on the World Wide Web, Berners-Lee was able to publish this world-first hypertext markup language (HTML) page, outlining the brief of his project to provide “universal access to a larger universe of documents”.

Interestingly, this inaugural web page was hosted by a NeXT computer owned by Tim Berners-Lee himself. When we think of web hosting servers today, we think of mammoth rooms of computers powering and saving data for multiple websites simultaneously. In reality, the world’s first web server was Berners-Lee’s own workstation, which always had to be kept online. Rumor has it that Berners-Lee placed a visible message on his workstation urging colleagues: “DO NOT POWER DOWN! This machine is a server”.

This single workstation web server would have had next to no physical security and, not to mention, limited data storage capabilities. Fortunately, things have progressed a long way in the website hosting stakes since Lee introduced the World Wide Web to the world, which we’ll look at in greater detail below.

Shared Web Hosting

Shared web hosting services were one of the first forms of web hosting to become available to webmasters in the late 1990s. Today, you will often find resellers hosting packages selling shared hosting, purely because it is considered the most economical choice for hosting. That’s because the total cost of operating and managing a web hosting server is shared across dozens, if not hundreds, of website owners that have their websites stored on the same server together. It’s a typical option for those bloggers and webmasters setting up basic WordPress sites, with shared WordPress hosting suitable for sites requiring minimal bandwidth.

According to Pingdom, the average shared hosting package in 1998 provided a mere 153MB of storage for webmasters. The cheapest entry-level solutions came with as little as 10MB of data storage. When you consider that most high-speed fibre broadband connections process 50-100MB of data per second, it puts into context how minimalist the internet used to be.

Dedicated Web Hosting

Dedicated web servers were the next logical step for the website hosting industry, and these servers have been in operation since the turn of the Millennium. The primary benefit of using a dedicated server to host a website is guaranteed resources. The server is, as the name says, dedicated to powering your website and no-one else’s. As your website does not share any hardware with other websites or organizations, you can be sure that the speed of your website and its storage space is always optimized.

Dedicated servers have grown a key part of the hosting industry for compliance purposes too. In many industries, websites and organizations opt to house their site on a dedicated server to comply with security regulations. Ecommerce websites that accept transactions directly through their portal are advised to use a dedicated server to ensure PCI compliance. Meanwhile healthcare services and organizations have also moved towards these servers to maintain client confidentiality and security for all sensitive data, which is essential for HIPAA compliance.

At the time, dedicated servers were considered state-of-the-art hosting solutions. These Intel Pentium III processors were fitted with 128 MB of SDRAM and several gigabytes of data storage. Dedicated servers also provided more security assurances for businesses and organizations against the growing cyber-security threats. Some shared web hosting packages only offered protection against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks for certain software, exposing vulnerabilities for multiple websites. Although hardware anti-DDoS measures are expensive, they are cost-effective additions and particularly effective for dedicated servers to keep entire organizations at bay from cyber-criminals. Cloud-based anti-DDoS measures have also proven popular too – more on the cloud in a moment.

Cloud Hosting

The newest innovation in website hosting is cloud hosting. What is cloud hosting? Put simply, it is a flexible form of hosting that offers on-demand web services and resources that are housed on multiple physical servers instead of one dedicated server. A business’ website that’s hosted in the cloud may have parts of its website stored within different servers, but this virtual environment makes it appear that it’s all housed within one system at the front-end of the hosting platform.

In the last decade, cloud computing has curried favor with small businesses and larger enterprises due to its impressive scalability and flexibility. Fast-growing businesses in the 21st century need to be agile to pursue growth opportunities and scale back innovation when times are tougher. Cloud-based hosting allows website owners to increase and decrease the number of cloud system resources they need at any one time.

If your website requires more storage space, most cloud hosting providers will enable this without the need to tack-on additional RAM or other resources – a significant saving over the long-term. Cloud servers have also become one of the most dependable and secure environments to store a website. With a website’s data shared across multiple drives in multiple physical locations, it’s almost impossible to lose your entire site. In the event one physical server is compromised by cyber-attacks, the rest of your data will be protected.

So, what have we learnt most from the last 25 years of website hosting? Core services are still as essential today as they were in the late 90s. However, the technologies for safely delivering them is evolving in line with the cyber threats we face on a daily basis.