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  • VPS

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.

Need more info on VPS hosting, and how it compares to shared, dedicated and cloud hosting? Be sure to check out Chapter 2 on the "5 Types of Hosting" from our Ultimate Guide to Web Hosting.

In Conclusion:

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 is a type of web hosting account called a Virtual Private Server.

  • What does it mean that the server is private?

    This means that you are the only one using the server. No other accounts are stored on it.

  • What does it mean that the server is virtual?

    A computer can be created inside of the software and run on top of another computer. That’s what is happening here — a virtual machine is running on top of a cluster of other computers. The virtual machine is a full-featured computer running an operating system (usually Linux), a suite of apps, and a web server such as Apache.

  • But if several virtual machines are running on top of the same hardware, isn’t that just shared hosting all over again?

    Not quite. With shared hosting, several accounts are running from the same machine. With VPS, a single account is running a machine. In both cases, the machines are virtual, running on top of clustered hardware.

  • With a Virtual Private Server, do I have complete access to the server?

    Typically, yes. You have root and super user access, giving you complete control over the hosting environment.

  • Does that mean that I need to understand server administration?

    You do not need to be a SysAdmin to use a VPS. Most hosting companies provide easy to use control panels and other tools to make server administration a relatively simple task. Additionally, some hosting companies provide a “managed server” experience, where you have a Virtual Private Server and either a person to consult with or a set of preconfigured tools that take care of certain tasks for you.

  • I am a SysAdmin. Will I be able to do what I need to do?

    Usually, yes. In most VPS hosting environments, you have complete root and superuser access, and connect via SSH or other protocols. Often, you can even shut down and reboot the server. From a server administration standpoint, it’s basically the same as having your own server racks, except without all the cables and dust.

  • Is performance better on a Virtual Private Server?

    As compared to shared hosting, usually yes. You only have your own websites competing for server resources. This provides the largest benefit. Additionally, you can tweak the server environment in ways that can improve overall performance. Finally — and this varies from company to company — VPS accounts are often run on better physical hardware with higher connection speeds.

  • Is a Virtual Private Server better for Search Engine Optimization?

    Possibly, but not directly. It seems that Google and other search engines prefer websites that load faster. If using a VPS speeds up your page download times, there’s a good chance this will have a positive impact on your search rankings. Conversely, if it is true that sharing an IP address with spam sites and bad actors has a negative impact on SEO (and it isn’t clear that it does), using a Virtual Private Server will eliminate this possibility.

  • My website is small now but I hope to grow traffic and make it very large over time. Is a Virtual Private Server a good choice?

    Yes. Most Virtual Private Server plans charge for usage — bandwidth, storage, CPU cycles, page views, or something along those lines. This is good if you are starting out small and plan to grow your site over time. You don’t have to pay for resources until you need them.

  • I expect minimal traffic with occasional large spikes, such as when a piece of content goes viral. Is VPS hosting a good fit for me?

    Yes. You should look into the specifics of each plan available, but many VPS hosting plans are built on inherently scalable “cluster” technology.

  • My VPS hosting plan charges for bandwidth and/or processor usage. Is there anything I can do to reduce this expense?

    Yes, and the good news is that all of these things will also improve your visitors’ user experience. The easiest place to start is to use a Content Delivery Network. This will offload the delivery of assets and reduce your bandwidth and the number of requests to your web server. In a similar vein, you can refer users to “canonical” CDN versions of common libraries like JQuery and Font Awesome, instead of serving them yourself. The next thing to do is precompile anything that you can (such as JavaScript templates and LESS or SASS files), and combine and minify these assets wherever possible. Next, you should implement caching of dynamically generated content. Finally, if you wrote the application, you can refactor database queries and other code to improve performance. (It’s worth mentioning that the best thing you can do for performance is to use better software in the first place. Freeware programs, sketchy WordPress plugins, and hacked-together scripts are all recipes for serious slowdowns and other performance issues, which can cost you money.)

  • What are the alternatives to Virtual Private Hosting?

    The most common alternative is the less-powerful shared hosting account. For people who need the resources of a dedicated machine, there are plans available where you control and actual physical server, though this is an increasingly unpopular option. For people looking to run some specific web application or framework, there are a number of specialty or managed hosting services that provide optimized environments and special distributions for things like Ruby on Rails, Drupal, WordPres, or Node.js.

  • Virtual Private Hosting vs. Shared Hosting. Which is better?

    Virtual Private Hosting. Assuming the cost works for you, and you are willing to get your hands a little dirty managing your own server, VPS hosting provides a much better overall experience.

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