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What is VPS Hosting?
If your site's too big for shared hosting, but too small for dedicated server hosting, VPS hosting may be just the right solution for you.
VPS stands for Virtual Private Server, and it's a type of hosting you'll encounter if you outgrow a basic shared hosting plan. VPS hosting offers a partially isolated environment along with more control, and the ability to do more advanced things with your website. The server space is divided into containers, and those self-contained servers are less prone to risks.
To better understand VPS hosting, you must first understand what both dedicated server hosting and VPS are. A dedicated server offers privacy, security, and dedicated resources. You don't have to compete with any other websites for bandwidth, speed, and storage space. It's your own private little island in the hosting ocean.
A VPS creates an environment similar to that of a dedicated server, but in a shared hosting situation. In other words, you're still sharing the physical server with other publishers, but you have a bit of private space within that shared space. So you're sharing an island with other natives, but your area is fenced off from everyone else.
Why Use a VPS?
Most beginner website owners start off with a shared hosting plan. Shared hosting is designed for small sites that don't demand too much. Once your site outgrows shared hosting, you'll probably look at a VPS for the next step up.
The important part of VPS hosting is virtualisation. The host divides one server into several smaller virtual servers, each with their own chunk of RAM and hard drive space. When a customer takes on one of these virtual servers, they enjoy a more isolated experience, since their virtual server can't be disrupted by other customers. (Note that you still share some things with your fellow customers.)
VPS hosting is ideal for small businesses that want a little peace of mind and are willing to pay for it. If you need to know that your website won't be dragged down by a bad neighbour, a VPS will be worth the extra spend.
Pros and Cons
VPS hosting is a great compromise between shared and dedicated hosting:
- It's affordable
- The VPS can be set up in a few minutes
- VPS hosting tends to be more reliable than shared hosting, since your site can't be affected by another resource-hogging customer
- This kind of hosting gives you more access to the server's configuration, so you can control settings yourself
- You can create and remove sites from your VPS at will
- Each site can have its own control panel
- Software can be installed and modified
- It's more secure
Another advantage of VPS hosting is the ability to customize your operating system, something you can do with a dedicated server, too, but not with shared hosting.
There are a few downsides to VPS hosting:
- You need to know a little more about server administration
- There's quite a jump in cost
- An unmanaged VPS may look like a cheap option, but if you don't know what you're doing, fixing a fault gets expensive fast
- Choosing a plan can be complicated
VPS vs Cloud Hosting
You may be wondering where cloud hosting fits into the hierarchy. In truth, cloud hosting and VPS hosting are very similar. There's no industry definition of the cloud,and in hosting, the word "cloud" might not mean what you expect it to mean. Hosts can also use the word "cloud" fairly loosely in their marketing blurb.
Normally, hosts will roll out a VPS on one server, which has a single disk. That disk might fail. If it does, you'll need backups to restore your site. Other hosts provide a similar service with the VPS hosted in the cloud. This means that multiple copies of your site are stored on a Storage Area Network (SAN). Often, this SAN will be connected to a single physical server.
So while this kind of cloud VPS hosting sounds fancy, there are pros and cons. On the plus side:
- The VPS is saved as several instances across an array of storage devices, with any device ready to step in if the primary device fails
- This reduces the potential for downtime
There are a few drawbacks:
- It's more expensive
- It's less secure
- All the storage devices are linked to one server
A different form of cloud hosting involves clustering servers together and linking them with a cloud platform. Your host can deploy its VPS servers on this platform and adjust resources assigned to your VPS instances. With this method, you can also theoretically grow the VPS beyond the restraints of a single server, giving it much more RAM than a single machine could provide. If you choose this method of cloud hosting, you will lose a lot of the control over your VPS, since some of its traditional server features will be bypassed.
There's nothing wrong with traditional VPS hosting, although cloud hosting may provide some redundancy. The nature of that redundancy needs to be investigated so you know exactly what you're getting. And, in exchange for the extra cost, you should look for a host that's offering a significant uptime boost.
Where smaller sites will do just fine with shared hosting, and large, enterprise-level sites definitely need dedicated server hosting, VPS hosting can work best for medium-sized sites that have a moderate amount of traffic.
VPS Hosting Frequently Asked Questions
What is a VPS?
VPS stands for virtual private server. It's a type of hosting account where you're designated a virtual slice of a server for your own use. While you share the physical hardware with other customers, you have your own container on the server, with your own operating system, resource allocation, and software. A VPS is a step up from shared hosting, and a step down from a dedicated server.
What is a virtual server?
A virtual server is a server running on another server. Think of it like a pizza sliced into segments. Each customer's VPS is a separate container, or slice, but they all run on the same physical computer.
If you've ever used software like VirtualBox, or Parallels, you'll be familiar with the idea of running one operating system within another. VPS hosting is essentially the same.
Why would I upgrade from shared hosting to a VPS?
With shared hosting, several accounts are running from the same machine. Each customer gets their own folder, but they all share the same server. If one customer gets a virus, or runs a buggy script, there's a risk that everybody else will be impacted. Usually, you'll notice that your site runs more slowly when this happens.
With VPS, you are more insulated against service problems, because you are allocated your own container with your own resources. So if you want to ensure that your website isn't slowed down by other people, a VPS should guard against that. Additionally, VPS packages tend to provide more control, and bigger disk space allowances. The resource you buy is reserved exclusively for your use.
Is my VPS truly private?
It's private in the sense that it's a chunk of the server that only you can use. So the software, operating system, and resource on the VPS is entirely separate to the resources allocated to other customers. You still share the hardware with other customers, so a disk drive fault would impact all of the virtual servers on the physical box.
On a shared hosting account, you're essentially allocated a directory on a server, but everybody is hosted under the same operating system. There is less separation, and that can cause problems if one customer hogs resource.
Will I have complete access to the server?
The physical server is split between different customers, so you won't have any control over that. But you have root and super user access to your own virtual server, so you have complete control over the hosting environment that your site uses.
Do I need to learn server administration?
If you select a managed VPS, your host will typically act as the server administrator. And if you have a control panel pre-installed, you can control most settings yourself, just as you would if you had a shared hosting account. So assuming you have both of those resources, you don't need to have technical knowledge. Having said that, a willingness to learn will help you to get more out of your account.
If you select an unmanaged VPS, then you're essentially getting a bare server with no technical support. It's not a good idea to sign up for an unmanaged VPS if you don't know how to manage a server. You could wind up hosting malware, running outdated scripts, or relaying spam emails. This will almost certainly get you banned from your host, and could also get your IP blacklisted.
If in doubt, choose a managed VPS to be safe.
Will my VPS have the same technical capabilities as a dedicated server?
In most VPS hosting environments, you will be given root and super user access. You'll be able to install software, connect via SSH, and reboot your virtual machine.
However, your host might limit what you can install, and root access isn't guaranteed on all plans.
Will my site be faster on a VPS, compared to shared hosting?
You should find that performance is better, although there are a lot of variables involved. The fact that you aren't sharing resources will definitely improve performance. But you'll also need to ensure your site is running smoothly, and you'll need enough resources to run all of your chosen software without reaching a bottleneck.
Compared to shared hosting accounts, VPS accounts are often run on better physical hardware with higher connection speeds. You should check that your host offers SSD storage, and review its data center credentials.
Will a VPS improve my SEO?
Not necessarily. You might see some side benefits, like improved site speed. Assuming your VPS is sufficiently resourced, you should get a good page load time. There’s a chance this will have a positive impact on your search rankings.
Additionally, sharing an IP address with spam sites and 'bad actors' may have a negative impact on SEO. While having your own IP isn't a sure-fire benefit in SEO terms, it's certainly safer than risking sharing an IP with a spammy customer.
Should I start with shared hosting, or go straight to a VPS?
Shared hosting is ideal for small websites that don't take up huge amounts of resources. However, you might want to go straight up to a VPS plan if you need that extra control or root access, especially if you need to install your own software.
For a critical business website, a VPS is sometimes more sensible than shared hosting, because your site will probably load faster and be less susceptible to outages.
If you're not sure, go with the cheapest option. Most hosts will help you to upgrade from shared hosting to a VPS when it's time to increase your resources.
Will a VPS protect me against traffic spikes?
It might, but you need to look into the plan details carefully.
When a traffic spike occurs, some hosts will proactively increase resources for you, and bill you for the overage. Others will cut off your hosting plan until you upgrade the plan by contacting support.
The safest option is to choose a cloud VPS plan that has elastic resources, so you can increase your allowances during a spike to ensure that your website continues to be available. Using a CDN, like CloudFlare, can also be beneficial.
How do I know what RAM and processor resource to select?
If you're moving from shared hosting, take a look at your usage in your control panel. cPanel reports this on its home page. Use this as a guide when shopping for a VPS, allowing some headroom for growth.
If you don't have any figures to refer to, make sure you can alter your plan once you understand the resources you need.
What are the alternatives to a VPS?
If you don't need a large amount of resources for your website, you may be better off starting with a shared hosting account. Many shared hosts will not place resource limits on a website, providing it performs within acceptable limits.
If you need complete control over a server, consider a dedicated server instead of a VPS.
If you need to be able to increase resource dynamically, look for a cloud VPS plan.
Should I use a CDN with my VPS?
It's a good idea to set up a CDN, regardless of the type of hosting you choose. A CDN, or content delivery network, helps to save resources by reducing bandwidth and the number of requests to your web server. That can help you to save money on your hosting plan, and mitigate threats from malicious visitors.
Some hosts have their own CDN that you can implement once you've signed up for your plan. If they don't, you can use a third-party service like CloudFlare.