VPS stands for Virtual Private Server, and it’s a type of hosting you’ll consider 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 security risks.
Why Upgrade to 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 vs Shared vs Dedicated Hosting
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.
Security levels are judged in comparison the best available option, shared hosting is still relatively secure.
Let’s compare the most popular types of hosting and see the real differences in security:
Virtual Private Server (VPS)
Shared hosting means your client’s sites can be affected by other websites on the shared server. Generally, this exposes the sites to a higher risk of viruses or attacks.
Users of the server occupy their own private space, although vulnerability could be an issue if the hypervisor is compromised. The hypervisor is at the pinnacle of the server.
By using a dedicated server, security measures are irrelative to other sites. Depending on your team or package type, your websites’ security is entirely reliant on you and your team.
Image courtesy of Flickr under a CC-BY 2.0 license.
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.
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 virtualization. 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 for Business
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 neighbor, a VPS will be worth the extra spend.
So let’s take a look at a brief recap of 6 reasons why one should use VPS hosting:
Greater private disk space
Higher availability of resources, without interruption
Ability to manage and intake high traffic demand and application configuration
Robust safety features and security measures
Customizability while maintaining security and performance
Scalability at it’s best.
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.
VPS on the Cloud
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.
Cloud VPS Pros and Cons
So while this kind of cloud VPS hosting sounds fancy, there are pros and cons.
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
It has the potential for more downtime.
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 to 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.
How Do You Manage Sites on a VPS Hosting Plan?
If you’ve never used a virtual server before, you might not be sure what to expect.
On a typical web host, it’s almost identical to how you managed sites on shared hosting plans.
The majority of hosts will let you manage your site through cPanel. Everything will be the same, you’ll just have a few extra options.
Let’s look at the Bluehost cPanel front-end as a demonstration:
Before purchasing a web hosting service, you’ll want to look for a few other features aside from just cPanel.
Most Important Features
Here are the most important ones, in my opinion:
Solid-state drive (SSD) — one common motivation for buying a VPS is speed. SSDs help speeds up your site in just about every way.
Managed — there are different levels of server management that a host can provide. At the very least, look for managed VPS hosting that monitor and detects security issues.
Linux or Windows — only some VPS host plans support Windows.
Root Access — root access lets you install any software you’d like, or modify any files with no restrictions (just be careful!).
Instant Reboot — while instant reboot capability is almost standard, it’s vital to know ‘instant’ really does mean instant.
VPS Is Perfect for Medium-Sized Sites
Where smaller sites will do just fine with shared hosting, and large, enterprise-level sites definitely need dedicated private server hosting, VPS hosting can work best for medium-sized sites that have a moderate amount of traffic.
VPS Hosting is Great Value for Money
Pros and Cons
Like all forms of hosting, VPS has its good and bad points. Below, we list the primary ones.
VPS hosting is a great compromise between shared and dedicated hosting.
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
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 than shared hosting.
Another advantage of VPS hosting is the ability to customize your operating system. You can do this with a dedicated server, of course, but at a much higher price.
There are a few downsides to VPS hosting too.
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 have a lot of experience
There are a lot of hosts who provide VPS plans. So it can be hard to know what to choose. To make it a little easier, I’ll tell you my favorite hosts for VPS.
Liquid Web Cloud VPS
Liquid Web has a great reputation as a hosting company when it comes to high performance and support. They do not offer shared hosting anymore and specialize in cloud computing plans (like VPSs) and dedicated servers now.
All VPS plans come with root access and server management that takes care of most security and performance concerns. The technical specifications of all Liquid Web’s VPS packages are better than just about all competitors and have a large amount of SSD disk space included.
InMotion Hosting VPS
If you’re looking for a slightly more affordable host provider, InMotion Hosting might be a better fit.
The one potential catch is that all their operations, including datacenters, are based in the United States. If most of your customers are on the other side of the globe, this could cause slower than ideal loading times.
However, the VPS plans offered by InMotion are priced reasonably and come with a lot of great features. All plans have SSD storage, and free SSL certificates are offered through AutoSSL in Cpanel. Finally, InMotion Hosting has fantastic support documentation, and a great U.S. based support team.
If you’re really on a budget, BlueHost is another option for VPS hosting. While BlueHost is primarily known for their shared hosting plans, their VPS host plan options are pretty solid.
They offer a great amount of SSD disk space and RAM, as well as “unlimited” bandwidth for a low price. Don’t expect the same level of performance and support as Liquid Web and InMotion Hosting, but it’ll beat your typical shared hosting performance comfortably.
VPS is a great choice if your website has grown beyond shared hosting but isn’t ready for a dedicated server or a full cloud-based solution.
But there are a lot of things to consider in choosing a host. Hopefully, the information here will help you make the right choice for your site.
Other features in Types of Web Hosting: How to Choose
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.
With shared hosting, 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. 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 which 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.
Although 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. A CDN 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.
About Dale Cudmore
Freelance blogger by day, developer by night, Dale is a freelance writer who specializes in technology and digital marketing. He studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo. After finding that unfulfilling, he moved onto a career in freelance writing, while self-teaching himself web development on the side.