AWS Lightsail vs Shared Hosting: Bad for Beginners

The biggest difference between AWS Lightsail and shared hosting, is that Lightsail is like a managed VPS that comes installed with WordPress, but without customer support. With traditional shared hosting on the other hand, everything is automatically configured. Lightsail isn’t for beginners, whereas shared hosting is targeted towards those who want a “hands-off” approach towards web hosting.

For discussion, I’m using Hostgator as a typical web host.

Table of Contents

AWS Lightsail vs Shared Hosting: Differences

These are the major differences between shared hosting and Lightsail

Pricing: Lightsail Charges for Customer Support!

Let’s compare Lightsail to a traditional web host like Hostgator

If you see the official pricing plans for Lightsail and Hostgator, you might think that the two are pretty close. After all, you can get started with Hostgator for $2.64/m. Here’s where you can find the right Hostgator coupon for you. Amazon Lightsail starts at just $3.50/m.

Amazon Lightsail vs Shared Hosting Pricing
Amazon Lightsail Pricing

Almost the same right? Not so.

The big catch is that Lightsail provides no technical support whatsoever. If you have a problem with your SSL for example, you need to pay at least $29/m. Compare that to Hostgator, where customer support is included. Granted, it’s not as if Hostgator has the best support in the business – it doesn’t. But they can help you with common problems with your installation, fix stuff, and offer you technical advice.

The reason Amazon’s Lightsail is able to offer these extremely low prices, is that they don’t factor in pricing for customer care at all. And as I’ve mentioned earlier, the major cost of hosting is support. The hardware and infrastructure themselves are cheap. But when something goes wrong (and it will), you need a human being on the other end to help you out.

The customer support itself is a sufficient reason for me to stay away from any Amazon offering. I need to focus on my business, not spend time configuring and debugging. If I have a problem, I want to call customer support and have them fix the problem for me.

AWS Lightsail Doesn’t Configure SSL for You

But price isn’t the only factor in a comparison between Lightsail and shared hosting.

Today, you simply cannot run a site without SSL. Browser warnings will scare away your users if you use plain HTTP. With something like Hostgator, SSL comes free and pre-configured. You don’t even need to manually enable it. It’s set up by default.

With Lightsail on the other hand, you have to manually request an SSL certificate using the Let’s Encrypt infrastructure, and then remember to renew it every 3 months. The process is complicated, and requires using the console, and knowing how to apply the certificate to your site. There’s extensive documentation on how to do this of course, but it’s not plug and play.

This is emblematic of the problems with Lightsail. You’re on your own when it comes to any auxiliary service outside of just the web hosting itself. And with web hosting, there are a lot of additional services that bring it all together.

No cPanel with Lightsail

Amazon’s goal is to cut costs and provide the bare minimum architecture for hosting. As a result, it doesn’t use the industry standard cPanel interface for server management. This is a huge handicap, because cPanel is everywhere else. All the tutorials you find online will refer to cPanel. Plus, it’s just a tried and tested interface that’s great for beginners as well as professionals.

But cPanel isn’t free. And due to this, it’ll never be used on Lightsail. This is a problem for beginners because you should get used to a standard way of doing things. Lightsail doesn’t provide that.

No Automatic Cloudflare Integration with AWS Lightsail

With Hostgator, you can integrate your website in just a few clicks with Cloudflare. Sure, it’s not “full” integration since you’re still not using Cloudflare’s DNS servers, but you can immediately start using Cloudflare’s CDN network, which is still the best. In addition, Cloudflare offers a lot more beyond mere CDN services.

With Lightsail, there’s no such easy set up. In fact, Amazon would prefer that you stay away from Cloudflare entirely, and use their own CDN network instead (paid of course). You can always manually proxy your traffic through Cloudflare, but everything in Lightsail is meant to accelerate your transition towards EC2.

Lightsail Requires Manual Configuration of IP

When you set up a Lightsail workspace, you need to request a static IP address, and then manually assign it to your website. Again, it’s not hard, but all these additional steps add up. The service is not designed for “set it and forget it” hosting.

What Hosting Does a Beginner Need?

If you’ve never hosted a website before, you need to go slowly and not get carried away with big promises. You’re going to make mistakes, and sometimes start over. So here are the criteria for a web host if this is your first rodeo:

  • Needs to be cheap
  • Have a short billing cycle
  • Must be flexible
  • Shouldn’t have vendor lock-in
  • Has a standardized interface

Let’s go over these criteria one by one.

It Has to Be Cheap

There are plenty of premium web hosting services out there. They boast super high reliability, excellent customer service, unique value propositions, and more. But when starting out for the first time, you want cheap, yet solid web hosting. Nothing fancy. Just the basics with cPanel, and preferably with a free domain.

Out of all the hosting providers, I haven’t found anything cheaper than Hostgator that doesn’t also compromise in other areas. While you won’t get a lot of bells and whistles, it’s exactly what a first-time web hosting customer needs.

While Lightsail is cheap, it’s severely lacking in even the most basic customer support.

Choose a Short Billing Cycle

As a first time website owner, it’s important that you don’t commit yourself to a long billing cycle where you pay for 3 or 5 years in advance. That’s why I don’t recommend Bluehost because its discounts are only available if you sign up for three years in advance.

Once again, Hostgator is ideally positioned. They have the cheapest 12-month hosting package, and even have “1 cent” hosting for 30-days so you can try them out. Here are all the Hostgator coupons. You can choose the one that gives you the highest discount for a short time period.

Here’s a screenshot of Hostgator with a 12-month billing cycle:

12-month Billing Cycle with Hostgator
12-month Billing Cycle with Hostgator

This is something good about Lightsail. There are no contracts, which means you can cancel at any time. It’s great for fooling around and getting to know what works. Unfortunately, for a beginner it can be completely overwhelming.

Flexibility is Important – Nothing Specialized

Web hosting providers tend to differentiate themselves by specializing their offerings. As a result, you have dedicated WordPress hosting by providers like Kinsta, dedicated WooCommerce stores by Liquid Web, and others.

But when you haven’t done this before, you just want ordinary web hosting. You need to learn how to use cPanel to install WordPress, how to update it on your own, and how to back up your site regularly. This is a crucial foundation in using the tools that will serve you well in the future. Later on when you’re confident in your hosting skills, you can opt for some of the more specialized services.

But right now, just ordinary shared hosting is what you need.

No Vendor Lock-In

The worst thing you can do as a first-time website owner, is to lock your website into a proprietary platform. Products like Wix for example, hold your site hostage, and remove your ability to migrate out to another hosting provider. This means that if your site takes off, you’re essentially stuck with them for life.

If you check online, you’ll see dozens of tutorials on how to migrate from Wix to WordPress, and all of them are a complicated mess. Take my advice and avoid all this from the start. Just opt for ordinary shared hosting, and not a branded proprietary platform.

Use a Standardized Interface

Once again, for a first-time web site owner, you need to get used to the most common tools in the industry. Right now, that happens to be cPanel. So choose a hosting provider that uses it as opposed to their own set of tools. I’ve already mentioned Hostgator earlier, and they use cPanel, so it’s a good place to start.

This is another reason I don’t recommend SiteGround for a newbie. They recently migrated their dashboard from cPanel to a custom interface. I like the direction they’re going, but it’s not a good idea if you haven’t hosted a website before. You need a solid grounding in the basics, and for that, there’s no substitute for cPanel.

Lightsail doesn’t use cPanel. Why? Because it costs too much. Instead, they use their own custom interface which doesn’t train you real web hosting later on. Another reason why beginners should stay away.

Choose WordPress as Your Publishing Platform

I’m just going to come out and say it – WordPress is the best content creation platform there is right now. There are many competitors out there, but the sheer volume of WordPress tutorials, forum posts, answered questions, and tens of thousands of plugins make it ideal for a first-time website owner. It’s free, open-source, and is backed by a profitable corporation that develops it actively.

It’ll probably outlast all its competitors, and so isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon. It’s a good long-term bet for your new website. All web hosts big and small support WordPress (it would be suicide not to), so you’re guaranteed to have the freedom to move to another provider whenever you want. It might seem unfair to just dismiss all other products so cavalierly, but I’m just calling it how I see it.

WordPress is a super solid bet, and you can’t go wrong.

Finally, Don’t be Afraid to Switch

If you’ve taken my advice and purchased cheap web hosting on a short billing cycle, you won’t lose too much if you decide you want to move to another web host. So if you find something you don’t like, you can always switch to another provider. It’s a competitive market, and most web hosts also offer free migrations for first-time customers.

So go ahead and play the field. It’s an exciting journey you’re on, and I wish you the best of luck!

Bottom Line: Lightsail is Not For Business Owners

Lightsail vs shared hosting is a no-brainer for beginners. If you’re a business owner, you have more important things to do than worry about configuring your website. Shared hosting allows you to set up WordPress, and then just leave everything alone. Probably the only decision you need to make is whether or not to upgrade to a higher tier plan.

Lightsail however, demands your constant attention. You have to keep track of your Let’s Encrypt certificates, your DNS zones, and any other technical issues that arise during the course of ordinary web hosting. The biggest problem however, is customer support. Without dedicated customer support, you simply cannot have the necessary peace of mind to focus on your work. It’s a great comfort knowing that at the first sign of trouble, you can just get on a live chat or call with a human being who will fix the problem for you.

Customer support with shared hosting is part of the package, and is always available 24×7. It’s included with the cost of your hosting. With Amazon’s Lightsail, you’re on your own. Unless you’re willing to pay a huge monthly fee for the privilege. And that’s the biggest difference between the two.

About Bhagwad Park

I've been writing about web hosting and WordPress tutorials since 2008. I also create tutorials on Linux server administration, and have a ton of experience with web hosting products. Contact me via e-mail!

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