What is a VPS?

VPS stands for “virtual private server.” It is a virtual machine or container, meaning that you do not control a physical, dedicated server. This is accomplished with type 1 or 2 hypervisor software (e.g. Virtuozzo or VirtualBox respectively) which divides a physical server into dozens, or even hundreds, of virtual servers. Each virtual server can run its own OS and is allotted a certain portion of the physical server’s memory and storage resources. You have most of the same features of a dedicated server, excluding the ability to modify the kernel. Each VPS hosts its own files, databases, and settings.

If you’re having trouble envisioning how it works, think of townhouses. There is one overall physical structure which is broken down into separate units. While the residents technically inhabit and manage their own areas, none of them have access to anyone else’s personal belongings or living space. With townhouses, there are things that have to be shared such as parking space. The same goes for a VPS. Your data is yours to configure, but some resources are shared with others or restricted to accommodate others within the physical server.

Types of VPS Hosting #

You may have seen different VPS product terms during your research:

  • Cloud VPS
  • Cloud Server
  • Managed VPS
  • Self-managed VPS
  • Unmanaged VPS
  • Highly-Availability VPS

Though each of the six terms may seem like different products, there are only two in this case: managed or unmanaged.

Managed VPS Hosting #

A managed VPS, sometimes emphasized as “fully” managed VPS, uses pre-installed server administration software on a predetermined OS. It’s usually WHM and cPanel, the most popular system administration (sysadmin) software, on a CentOS server. This is sometimes called cPanel VPS Hosting cPanel VPS Hosting. But there are Linux web hosting companies that use Plesk, DirectAdmin, or Virtualizor instead.

Regardless of the underlying OS and sysadmin software, core server maintenance and management responsibilities lie with the hosting provider including:

  • Technical support
  • Server monitoring
  • Malware protection
  • Denial of Service (DoS) protection
  • Vetted OS and sysadmin software upgrades

Most companies offer support via email, live chat, or phone call. If you have an issue affecting server performance, you can contact your hosting company for technical assistance.

Unmanaged (Cloud) VPS Hosting #

The other four terms from the aforementioned list mean the same thing – there’s no pre-installed software to manage the VPS. It’s unmanaged. The VPS is not restricted to a single application and OS. It’s sometimes called a cloud server because it’s bare and flexible. You’ll usually have the option to re-OS the server between at least the latest CentOS, Debian, and Ubuntu long term support (LTS) releases.

Core server management tasks are now your responsibility. But your server requires less resources to provision and maintain. Therefore, cloud servers generally cost much less than managed VPS hosting plans which include licenses for enterprise software such as cPanel. It requires advanced skills in:

  • Linux Command-line interface (CLI)
  • Secure Shell (SSH)
  • Security information and event management (SIEM)
  • Web server software management (e.g. Apache, Nginx, Lighttpd)
  • Disaster Recovery (DR), specifically backup and snapshot management

For these reasons, it’s generally only recommended for users capable of and willing to resolve any issues deemed specific to their VPS. That being said, it allows for greater customization and control over the system and is often preferred by experienced web developers and sysadmins.

To learn more, see our article on Managed VPS or Cloud Server Hosting.

Advantages of VPS Hosting #

For many people, the number one advantage of a VPS is that it offers a lot of the functionality of a dedicated server at a fraction of the cost. It also offers more stability than a shared server since you don’t have to share resources with other companies who are hosted on the same server.

But it also gives you more flexibility because you can customize them much more.  With a shared server, the websites are managed by the web hosting company and you have input but not a lot of actual hands-on control.  With a VPS, you can have as little or as much control as you need.

Let’s compare managed VPS, shared, and dedicated web hosting.

VPS vs. Shared Hosting #

Shared hosting and VPS hosting are similar in some ways. Both require sharing a physical machine and its resources with other users. Remember our comparison of VPS hosting to a townhouse? Think of shared web hosting as an apartment, and you have roommates. If a roommate takes a long, hot shower, you’ll have to survive a cold one (at least there are health benefits to it). And since you share a physical address with so many people, you’re affected by many others’ actions. But you make it work because it’s cheap and easy to maintain your limited space.

Shared hosting is very much the same. The resources are theoretically shared equally between all users. But if a site uses more than its fair share of bandwidth (intensive MySQL processes, for example), it takes away from everyone else. This leads to less consistent performance. Worse for many organizations, if other websites that share your server get classified as “adult” or “spam,” it can hurt your brand’s search engine optimization (SEO)  and force your email campaigns into junk folders (unless you’re able to purchase a dedicated IP for your shared hosting plan).

There are many advantages of a VPS over shared hosting.

Performance is more consistent because you are allotted your own share of resources. As there are fewer VPS containers per server, you have a greater amount of resources for your websites and databases. The performance of neighboring VPSs doesn’t affect you.

Better SEO and less spam blacklisting issues since you’ll have a dedicated IP address, maybe more. Search engines and email providers won’t mistake you for being associated with X-rated content or phishing history from other VPSs, especially if you improve email authentication.

Root access allows VPS sysadmins to manage services and install complex software that require admin permissions (e.g. Java, MongoDB, and preferred mail server).

Security is higher because the virtualization process protects VPS containers from being affected by cyber attacks on other customers. With root access, administrators can do a lot more to harden VPS and cloud server security.

Still, many business users prefer shared hosting simply because it is cheapest and easiest to manage. It’s great for those building their first website or with low resource demands.

VPS vs. Dedicated Hosting #

Dedicated server hosting provides all the benefits of a VPS over shared hosting, but now span an entire physical server. This adds the ability to install whatever Linux OS and hardware customizations you wish. You can also upgrade your Linux kernel and remove unneeded kernel modules at will. If shared hosting is an apartment, and a VPS is a townhouse, a dedicated server is a house.

Users with such needs may supplement their defense-in-depth strategy with a hardware firewall such as the Cisco ASA 5500-X available with our dedicated hosting plans. Regardless, it’s the most secure option of the three server hosting types.

However, it is also the most expensive of the options. This is why many compromise with a VPS.

Save money because you are sharing the physical server with other VPS customers. Therefore, you only pay for your portion of costs required to keep the physical server running – routine maintenance, hardware upgrades, etc.

Save time setting up your server environment by using a pre-configured OS, and cPanel/WHM if using a managed VPS, that’s optimized for the hosting company’s infrastructure.

Should you choose VPS Hosting? #

What’s best for you depends on your needs. Shared hosting users upgrade to a VPS because, despite the higher price, they need:

  • Consistent performance
  • Root access for a specific web application
  • More server resources for database-intensive web applications
  • WHM to resell server space with cPanel accounts versus addon domains

Many users who may want a dedicated server settle on a VPS for:

  • cost-effective solution for the amount of resources required
  • Technical support from the web hosting company

The biggest deciding factors: root access requirements, pricing, and bandwidth availability. If you need root privileges and dedicated bandwidth at a low price, you need managed or cloud VPS hosting.

If most of your business is conducted online and your traffic is growing, a VPS could be the perfect solution. NivaCity’s VPS hosting is simple, fast, and reliable – giving you and your clients the power and performance you deserve.