A Comprehensive Guide to VPS Hosting
Choosing a web host for the first time or moving to a new host after a bad experience, can be a daunting process. There are many different options out there but today we’re going to take a closer look at VPS hosting.
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What Is VPS Hosting?
When searching for web hosting plans you may come across the term VPS. This stands for Virtual Private Server, and is quite literally a virtual version of a web server. This means it will have an operating system like Windows or Linux, and a range of options in a web based control panel for managing the server. This is exactly the same as a dedicated server.
The virtual server is located on a physical machine that will also contain other virtual servers. They all work independently of each other and are guaranteed a portion of the main underlying system’s resources, including the CPU, RAM, and disk space. These resources are not necessarily divided equally between virtual servers, but whatever resources one VPS is assigned cannot be used by another. Hosts will provide different plans to divide up their resources at the data center.
If you think of it like a pie. The underlying physical machine is the whole pie, and each portion is a VPS package that you can purchase. These pieces might vary in size, but they are their own entity and when added altogether, form the whole pie.
Simply put, with VPS hosting you pay for the resources you require and you are guaranteed these at all times. Nobody else who has a VPS plan on the same server can impact the performance of your website and vice versa.
So as long as your plan includes enough resources to accommodate your needs, you should rarely experience any slowdowns or crashes. Especially not in the way they occur on shared hosting plans.
Because a VPS is a virtual imitation of a server, you get complete control as if it was it’s own physical machine. However you do not necessarily have to understand all of the technicalities because the host may provide full support. You will also still have FTP access and various user interfaces to help get your site online and keep everything well managed.
VPS hosting is a step up from shared hosting, but is not as expensive as renting a dedicated sever, which is one whole machine to yourself.
You may be wondering if multiple virtual servers are housed within one primary server, how is this any different than shared hosting? The key difference is in the way the resources are allocated.
With shared hosting many customers are crammed on to one machine and there is a free for all over the resources. Unlike virtual servers, shared plans do not strictly allocate a portion of the pie between customers. A single slice is more of an estimate than a reality.
This is because resources are allocated on a first come, first served basis, depending on the immediate demand at the time.
In other words if 4 sites hosted on the shared server suddenly had traffic spikes, and a few minutes later your site’s traffic also increases, the other 4 sites may already be using most of the resources. The result is that your site will load slowly, because they’ve munched some of your estimated slice while you were sleeping.
This problem is greatly exacerbated by hosts overloading servers with too many customers. In this scenario nobody can quite get a smooth experience because too many sites are jostling for position. If a lot of sites see traffic spikes the whole system can come to a screeching halt and the host may have to work on things their end, or force those hogging all of the resources to upgrade to a VPS.
This eb and flow resources is eliminated with VPS hosting, as you are guaranteed your share of the pie at all times. Because of that hosts do not overload the underlying machine. You can however max out your slice of the resources and experience slowdowns.
If your website is only just starting out and you do not expect much traffic a shared hosting plan may be adequate. However even with just a few hundred hits a day things could begin to slow down abd a VPS may be a better option.
Difference Between VPS and Dedicated Hosting?
The core difference between VPS and Dedicated Hosting, is that the latter provides you with one single physical server all for yourself. This means you benefit from all of the CPU, RAM and disk space available. Instead of having a portion of an underlying machine, you have the whole underlying machine.
The benefits of this are obvious, but if your site functions smoothly in a virtual environment there’s no clear benefit to upgrading. Dedicated servers are for sites that have a consistently high level of traffic (or that use very high levels of bandwidth) and are already using their full slice of the pie in a virtual environment.
Dedicated servers also tend to have less support than your average VPS plan. At this stage the host expects you to know how to manage your server yourself. That being said you can still pay for a “managed” server if you are simply not knowledgeable enough.
Difference Between VPS and Cloud Hosting?
Cloud hosting is often considered a form of VPS hosting, or some may even say its replacement. Rather than relying on one or a small network of servers to divide up resources for customers, a cloud network is a very large pool of servers that allows for much easier scalability and much more powerful virtual servers. The largest and most visited websites will usually turn to cloud hosting to ensure they have the absolutely best performance and can be billed on a pay as you go basis. A standard VPS or dedicated server is still adequate for most website owners with a lot of traffic. If you start reaching the higher end VPS plans it may then by time to start comparing the costs with cloud hosting.
Possible Negatives of VPS Hosting
The obvious downside of VPS hosting compared to shared hosting is the price. You will have to pay more for the privilege of having access to more resources. However if you are serious about your website you don’t really have any other options.
The second possible downside is the fact that you’ll need at least some technical know-how (or the ability to pick things up quickly) because a VPS does not have the same control panels as a shared plan.
A virtual server mirrors that of a physical server. So instead of only having access to the FTP account to upload files and CPanel to configure a few basic things, you have access to an even more complex control panel where you are the one deciding what software to install and what server settings to turn on and off. From here you can choose to setup a CPanel account, but this may beyond your knowledge base. A good host however will help you with all of this and may even have it all configured from the beginning.
Why Use VPS Hosting?
In light of this information the key reason to upgrade to a VPS is to maintain performance for your site if it has outgrown the shared environment. You will have more resources and those resources will be dedicated just to your site. If you are technically savvy it also gives you much more freedom, since you get root access to the virtual server and can configure it any way you wish.
One often overlooked benefit is the fact that you will get a dedicated IP Address. This is the backend identifier for your server and is one way of accessing your site if no domain name has been applied. Having your own IP is a nod to search engines that you are not associated with any other sites, who may actually be having a negative impact.
What To Look For When Choosing a VPS Provider
Not all VPS plans are the same, so there are several different features you may want to consider before diving right in.
- Operating System: This will either be Windows or Linux, or something less common. Unless you have experience with servers and have a preference, this choice is not necessarily that important. However if your site uses the ASP programming language you will need windows.
- Managed or Unmanaged: Most hosts will provide support for VPS plans if you ask, but how closely they will monitor your virtual server falls under the terms Managed or Unmanaged and could alter the price. Unmanaged means they set it up in the beginning and the rest is on you. Managed means they will closely monitor the server for performance and security issues, and will be on hand for crashes and other issues.
- Backups: Whether managed or unmanaged it is important to determine whether there are regular backups of your site files and databases, or whether you need to do these yourself.
- Scalability: If you know your site has the potential to grow you may want to ensure your VPS plan has the option to easily upgrade if you require more resources. Some hosts have things setup so efficiently that you can add more resources in your admin area. Others may need to perform a “migration” which could take time and even take your site offline. The big advantage of cloud hosting is easy scalability because the cloud is a network of many different servers pooling together, and all hosts need to do is pull some more resources from the cloud.
- Know Your Features: Moving from a shared to VPS plan can be daunting if you’re not too familiar with the elements that make up a server. The key one to look out for is RAM. Just like when you open a lot of programs on your PC and you need a lot of RAM to keep things running smoothly, if lots of people visit your site at the same time you need lots of RAM to prevent server slowdowns. CPU Cores (processor power) are less important for web servers because it’s not like you’re playing games or video editing on the machine, but still the more Cores and the more Mhz the better.
- IP Addresses: Many people who make the jump to VPS hosting have several different websites. So have multiple IP addresses allows you to separate them all in the eyes of search engines.
Some Recommended VPS Hosts
- Bluehost: Virtual servers start with the standard $14.99 plan. This gets you 2 CPU Cores, 30GB of space, 2GB of RAM, 1TB of monthly bandwidth, and 1 IP address. Jump forward to their $59.99 Ultimate plan and you get 4 CPU cores, 240GB of space, 8GB of RAM, 4TB of bandwidth, and 2 IP addresses. Bluehost offer 24/7 support and the server is managed for any major problems. If however you do find an issue you can just ask and they will fix it. What’s really useful is you can add additional resources on the fly, for instant scalability. One downside is they don’t use Windows servers.
- InMotionHosting: Provide a starter VPS plan for $29.99, which includes 4GB of RAM, 60GB of space, 2TB of bandwidth, and 2 IP Addresses. They use super fast SSD Drives, free regular backups, and an easy solution for scaling up to more resources. They are known for providing excellent performance.
- 1&1: Offer both Windows and Linux solutions for those that require either, and they have great phone support. They stand out with their cheap starter plan of just $4.99, which is perfect for those that really are straddling the shared/vps crossover line and don’t want to spend big money right away. There top plan is just $29.99 and has 6 cores, 6GB of RAM, 400GB of space, and unlimited bandwidth. This makes them one of the best VPS hosts for value for money.
- HostMonster: Starts their VPS plans off at $29.99. For this you get a single core CPU, 2GB of RAM, 1TB of bandwidth, 1 IP, and 30GB of space. They use the Cent operating system. If scaling up is important to you all of their VPS plans have an instant upgrade feature allowing you to easily add more resources.
- Green Geeks: At $39.95 per month the environmentally friendly Green Geeks offer 4 CPU cores, 1GB of memory, 1TB of bandwidth, and 2 IP addresses. Their top VPS package costs $159.99 and bumps the RAM up to 8GB and bandwidth to 3TB. Upgrades become active in just 1 minute, so scalability is never an issue. What’s more is you can do your bit for the environment because Green Geeks servers are powered by renewable energy.
If your website is starting to pick up in terms of traffic or you have already outgrown the shared hosting environment then a virtual private server is the next step up. It gives you a guaranteed portion of a server’s resources, and your site cannot be impacted by anybody else on that server. Finding a host with good support and easy scalability should be able accommodate you for many years. If however you begin experience slow downs with the top end plans it may then be time to try a dedicated server or cloud hosting.