You’re updating your website. Or maybe you’re building a new site from scratch. It’s time to figure out what kind of hosting service you need.
A Virtual Private Server, or VPS, is the middle of the road solution for small and medium-sized businesses and blogs. It’s a step up from shared hosting, but not quite all the responsibility and hassle of an unmanaged cloud server.
Before we get into the details of how to choose a VPS provider, let’s get some basics down.
What is a Server?
A server is a computer that is connected to the internet. It could be used for anything, email, hosting websites, playing video games, whatever. It “serves” data to clients [usually web browsers like Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge].
Private vs Shared
A shared server hosts many websites on one machine. All the sites run in the same memory space and use the same operating system.
A private or dedicated server is a machine that is set aside for a specific customer. That user has total control of the system and none of its resources are shared with other customers. This also means that if the server isn’t doing something that particular instant, the machine just sits there and wastes its resources.
Therefore, if you want a dedicated machine but don’t require its’ resources 100% of the time, a VPS might be a better option for you.
What is a Virtual Private Server?
If a private server is one where you have total access to a machine, a “virtual” private server is one which uses “virtualization” to emulate a full-blown server on a shared machine.
Each user on a VPS has their own disk partition and operating system. Software is used to give the experience of having total control of the machine, and user data and memory are totally isolated from one another.
The Operating System and Hypervisor
On your personal computer, you know that it has an “operating system”. This could be something like Windows [Microsoft], MacOS [Apple], or Linux [open source]. The OS controls the computer, and launches and controls individual programs and applications like a browser or a word processor.
On a very powerful machine, like a modern Intel x86 machine, the system can handle running many “virtual machines”. Instead of having one operating system control the entire machine, a “hypervisor” controls several different operating systems, on the same machine at the same time.
The result of this process is that “virtual” machines are created that are essentially totally isolated from one another. A modern hypervisor x86 machine could easily run Windows on the one hand and a MacOS on the other. They’re essentially independent machines that are unaware of each other.
This is done by “switching” the kernel very fast. This switching can happen thousands of times a second. As it switches in and out of each particular instance, that instance gains control of the system resources to do its work. Under normal operating conditions, this allows the machine to produce a “VPS” or a Virtual Private Server.
What to Look for in A VPS provider?
VPS systems are middleware for companies who need control of a cloud computer but don’t want to deal with the complexities of setting up their own cloud system. Therefore, customer support should be number one consideration when dealing with a VPS provider.
If you decide that you don’t need ANY customer support, you can save a few bucks by taking responsibility for absolutely everything and connecting your own network.
This is a NIGHTMARE for most small and medium-sized businesses. Expect constant security breaches and threats from hackers. You wouldn’t try to construct your own office building or install your own plumbing, so why would you try to set up a cloud network without professional help?
A VPS is that professional help. Certain technical aspects are outsourced to the VPS provider, like CDN network support, security, DDoS mitigation and the like. It’s crucial to understand your own needs and map them onto your provider’s capabilities.
In a VPS environment, it is possible to experience a slowdown due to other users’ activities. On a good host, that means your site might experience a slow down for 60 random seconds during the day. Not an outage, a slowdown.
For the vast majority of businesses this doesn’t present a problem at all and is in fact totally undetectable.
Convenience and Security
The bottom line is that a VPS system is slightly more expensive than a shared hosting provider and slightly less expensive than a dedicated private server. You gain security, and customer support but you lose absolute control of your system.
It’s a great option for most businesses who probably don’t need a dedicated server themselves.