Be a Web Hosting Expert, Part 2: VPS

posted by Dave on January 22, 2015

Our last post talked about shared hosting and why so many hosts are eager to upsell customers to something more expensive. Reading that post, you might even think that there’s really no reason to make the jump to a VPS. For many customers, this is true: our shared hosting is fast, reliable, and easy to use. But some customers — especially small businesses, web developers, and power users — need a little something extra.

Enter the VPS

datacenter dark wide

Owning a VPS is a lot like being in a carshare program. You get most of the benefits of owning your own car, and only pay a fraction of the price of actually buying a car. With a VPS, you get most of the benefits of having your own server, but only pay a fraction of the price of buying and operating one.

To create a VPS, we take a powerful enterprise-class server and carve it up into a handful of smaller virtual servers. We install a program (called a hypervisor) to make sure none of these virtual servers can interfere with each other. Each virtual server gets its own operating system, its own IP address, and its own memory and disk space. Each VPS becomes its own standalone server — but because you’re still sharing one gigantic server, your cost is a lot lower than it would be if you went out and got your own physical server.

At first glance, it might seem like a VPS is going to be faster than shared hosting. And up until just a few years ago, this was true. But thanks to all the recent improvements in shared hosting technology (LiteSpeed, CloudFlare, CloudLinux, and SSD storage, just to name a few), this really isn’t the case anymore. A VPS will still be plenty fast, but the main reason most customers go with a VPS is best summed up with one word:

Flexibility

Because a VPS is its own server, you have root access to the VPS. This gives you total control over just about everything:

  • Install a completely different operating system
  • Use a bleeding-edge (or even outdated) version of PHP or MySQL
  • Use your own control panel
  • Install your own webmail or groupware application suite
  • and so much more

coffee cups fourPut simply, a VPS lets you build the exact environment you want for a fraction of the price of actually roasting your own server. Developers, businesses, and power users love this because they get to build their server exactly how they like it. And even though they may not have the raw speed of shared hosting, our VPSes are still plenty fast — sometimes faster than shared hosting on other providers.

VPSes also provide superior security to shared hosting. Since each VPS is its own server (running its own operating system and applications), it stays alive even if another customer on the same node (that’s what we call the big servers that host VPSes) gets hacked. This makes VPSes perfect for online stores and any other sites that store private customer information.

The Catch

You knew this was coming: not all VPSes are created equal. Some “discount” web hosts use older virtualization technologies that allow them to oversell their nodes. Those hosts can sell more memory or disk space than they really have. This means that when your 4GB VPS tries to actually use all 4 GB of memory, it might crash because the hypervisor has oversold some of that memory to another customer.

Imagine going to your favorite local coffee shop and getting a fresh cup of your favorite brew. While you’re standing around chatting with your friends, an invisible gremlin sneaks around with an eyedropper and steals a few ounces from your cup to sell to other customers. Unethical? Definitely. You’re paying for a 16oz coffee, but only getting 10oz.

With our Xen-powered VPSes, you’re guaranteed to have the memory and disk space offered in your plan. This means better stability, which means less downtime, which means more happy website visitors.

So Why Use a VPS?

servers vertThere are plenty of times where a VPS is the best solution. If you think of shared hosting as a high-performance race car, think of a VPS as a tractor trailer. Both are going to move you from point A to point B, but they’re built for very different purposes. If you had to move 30 tons of cargo, the tractor trailer would be just fine, but the racecar would have to make a few hundred trips. Likewise, if all that mattered was getting there as quickly as possible, then the racecar is the obvious choice.

It’s the same with a VPS. While a VPS might not be as fast as shared hosting, they’re much better equipped for certain types of tasks:

  • Power users love VPSes for the root access
  • E-commerce sites love VPSes because of the improved security and isolation
  • Small businesses love VPSes because they keep their content separate from others
  • Web developers love VPSes because they provide maximum control
  • Volume mailers love VPSes because they manage their own IP reputation

If you’re unsure of whether you should go with a VPS or shared hosting, just ask! We’ll put together the most reliable, cost-effective solution for your exact needs.

Part 3 in our series is going to talk about what you get when you combine the raw performance of shared hosting with the heavy-lifting flexibility of a VPS. Stay tuned!

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