You have had a website for a while and your projections were correct - it has become quite popular and it is getting more traffic (or visitors). Like most people, you started out using shared hosting and now, perhaps it is time for a review. Perhaps you need something a little more powerful that the hosting package you have right now.
Why do you need to move from shared hosting?
As the name might imply, shared hosting is shared! If you are hosting a website using a shared hosting package, a number of other websites are using the resources available to the physical server your website is located on. That means all the websites on a server are vying for the same RAM, the bandwidth and the same disk space. Every time there is a visitor to any of the sites that are hosted alongside your website, a fraction of these resources is used up. This means that potentially just one of two popular websites on a server they can use up all the available resources a server has to offer, and this can result in websites slowing down or even failing to operate - something the visitors to your now popular website wouldn't appreciate. Perhaps it is time to invest in a Dedicated Server or a Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting account.
What is a Dedicated Server
Once again, as the name implies, a Dedicated Server is dedicated. That means you own (or more properly rent) the physical machine and the resources (RAM, disk space, etc.) it offers. The processing power that the server's RAM offers is 'dedicated' to your site (or sites). So is the disk space and the bandwidth - typical servers might offer 16GB of RAM, 2 × 1000GB of storage, unmetered bandwidth and a transfer speed of 100Mbps all for around $150 - and it is all yours as there is no-one else to share it with. You can host as many or as few sites as you want, and allocate the resources to each site as you see fit. With a Dedicated Server any spikes in traffic can easily be managed meaning your site really is going to be online for that 99.9% of the time your shared hosting package offered. With all those advantages, what are the disadvantages?
What are the disadvantages of Dedicated Hosting?
You have probably already raised your eyebrows at the first disadvantage - cost. $150 isn't a lot of money if you have it, but of course if you don't, it can seem a fortune. If your website is making serious money, then $150 to be sure your site is always online isn't going to break the bank. However, do you need all those resources? If you have a small site of a few pages probably not, but if your site is big and resource hungry (database driven, etc.), then it is more likely. The number of visitors and page views you receive are some indicator, but often it is dependent on personal opinion how many visitors you need to genuinely benefit from a Dedicated Server - some say 1,500 visitors a day, others stick with shared hosting with up to 8,000 visitors a day.
The transition to a Dedicated Server isn't painless, especially as far as money is concerned. The question is whether you get enough visitors now to warrant a change, or do your projected figures on the number of visitors you are going to receive warrant the change. For many, if you have some revenue from a site the transition is worth it. If not, perhaps an upgraded Shared Hosting account, or the new SSD Shared Hosting will suffice. If not, and you find yourself in an in between world regarding the number of visitors your site receives and the revenue it generates, then perhaps you need VPS.
When you buy or rent a dedicated server, you get all the hardware as a package. That means at times there might be costs for maintaining the physical machine (new disks, etc.) and these costs can become prohibitive. However, the question comes to mind whether you would in fact be able to maintain a Dedicated Server. Do you have the technical knowhow to change a disk? Could you, for instance, even upgrade a server's Operating System, or apply patches? If the answer is "no", don't feel too ashamed - you stand alongside the bulk of mankind! If you can't do it, you will have either employ technical staff, which might really be overkill for a small company, or you must opt for a Managed Dedicated Server, which is basically where you hire a server and if you don't know how to the technical stuff, someone does it for you - at a cost of course, and often quite a substantial cost. If you aren't technical, again perhaps VPS is an option you should consider.
Where is the server?
For some aspects of running a Dedicated Server, physical access is required, but if you rent a server in another state (or even country) is access viable? At that stage you need to ask what the Dedicated Server provider does for its money and what your responsibilities are. Backups, restarting servers, maintaining security, etc. can all be done remotely up to a point, and at that point you need a pair of hands on the machine. Before you decide on a Dedicated Server, read your potential provider's Service Level Agreement (SLA) and get a good understanding for who (you or your provider) is responsible for what.
What is a Virtual Private Server
With Shared Hosting, any number (sometimes thousands) of websites reside on a server and share available resources. With a Dedicated Server, the owner ('renter') decides how many websites go on a server, and what resources are allocated it each. A Virtual Private Server is something of a midpoint between the two. Like Shared Hosting a number of websites are hosted on a machine, but unlike Shared Hosting, the number is strictly controlled.
Like with a Dedicated Server, a server's resources are strictly allocated between the sites hosted on a server. This means if one website is enjoying unparalleled success, it only devours the resources that have been allocated to the VPS account that hosts it - the demands of one particular site do not impact the performance of the other websites on the same server. Like Shared Hosting, the company that you get your VPS account from do the heavy lifting - OS, patches, server restarts, etc., they are all in the realm of the provider (unless of course you have a 'Bare Metal' VPS account, which is another kettle of fish entirely!).
Like with a Dedicated Server you can chose how few or how many sites you host, and how you share your accounts resources between the sites, bearing in mind that of course these resources will be significantly less than those available through a Dedicated Server. However, the result is very similar to a Dedicated Server - VPS offers solid results and excellent uptime. At a cost of around $30 per month, VPS accounts are a very affordable upgrade from Shared Hosting and alternative to Dedicated Hosting. For $30 you can usually get around 2GB RAM, 60 GB storage and 2 TB per month of bandwidth. As you can see, VPS offers a very viable solution to the upgrade problem!
What are the disadvantages of VPS?
Users of VPS accounts can specify particular Operating Systems and add the software they require. As a result, it becomes difficult for a web host to fully maintain a server and maximize uptime. In addition, with such a variety of software on the same machine, security becomes more of an issue because applying patches is often out of the hands of the provider.
Spikes in traffic
With 'dedicated' resources, it is difficult for VPS to manage spikes in traffic - times when, for one reason or another, many more visitors than usual actually visit a site. Most of the resources allocated to an account are set at minimum, so when increases occur, this impacts performance. As such, you may need a 'burstable' VPS account, but that again is a different beast with different pricing.
As with Shared Hosting, any security issues that impact a particular website could potentially impact any site hosted on the server. These types of issues are rare - accounts are usually well protected from each other - but the potential is there.
How do I know if I need a VPS or Dedicated Server?
First, check your income - if you can't afford a Dedicated Server you need a VPS account! Then check your skills - if you can't manage a Dedicated Server a VPS account is probably for you. If your site is big and resource hungry (database driven, etc.) then a Dedicated Server might be best just to be safe, regardless of the resources available through a VPS account.
Better still include both VPS and Dedicated Servers as part of your transition plan. Most web hosts these days are capable of taking a site from Shared Hosting, through VPS, to a Dedicated Server, and these days Dedicated Servers are getting cheaper - $99 per month can get you a decent machine. So, start with Shared and transition to VPS when your site is a moderate size and you are getting a decent number of visitors, and move to a Dedicated Solution when the visitors and money are really coming in!
What are your thoughts? VPS or Dedicated? Let us know your point of view. Add your comments below.