One of the initial hurdles facing someone who wants to set up a website is deciding which type of web hosting they need. In this article we will give a brief overview of one popular type of web hosting – Virtual Private Server, or VPS. We will also look at the type of websites that might benefit from this type of web hosting.
What is VPS hosting?
Web hosting is a service that utilizes web servers to allow websites to be displayed on the Internet. Web servers are computers, and (typically) physical machines that are linked to the Internet (although these days they can be based in a private or public cloud). Each web server offers a range of resources that enable visitors to visit websites. These include storage, Random Access Memory, or RAM (processing power) and bandwidth (the level of access a server has to the Internet and ultimately, how many visitors a server can accommodate), amongst others.
How does it work?
If you envisage a web server as a computer, then it is easy to imagine the physical machine having a single interface for a single operator. However, in VPS hosting, a server's resources are shared amongst more than one user. Virtualization technologies such as VMWare, Linux, QEMU, XEN and Virtual PC split up a server's resources to create 'virtual' servers. If, for example, a physical server has 100GB of disk space, when the machine is split into 10 VPS accounts, each account will have 10GB of disk space at its disposal. Other server resources are shared on a similar basis. Although the distribution is more complex than this, this explanation gives the basic outline of what VPS hosting is.
Each virtual server has a control panel, and users can utilize the resources made available to their account has they see fit. They can add their own websites, and each will be visible to visitors through the Internet. Thus, as the name suggests, with their own 'server' users can modify their accounts as they wish. Being 'private', servers are highly separated from each other so the performance of one does not impact the performance of another.
VPS hosting is more often available on Linux servers, but it is becoming increasingly available on Windows machines. VPS hosting is generally more expensive than standard shared hosting (where server resources are shared between numerous users). However, with more server resources at their disposal, VPS hosting offers a number of advantages.
What sort of sites can VPS be used for?
VPS is ideal for websites that have become too big or too complex to run effectively on shared hosting, but do not require the power (or cost) of dedicated web hosting. It is also ideal for websites that utilize databases and require more capacity than shared hosting can provide.
Websites that leverage typical Content Management Systems (CMSs) such as Drupal, WordPress, Plone and Joomla are ideal candidates for VPS hosting if they are receiving between 50,000 and 100,000 visitors a day – below that they can fit on shared accounts. In addition, custom built websites that require server root access so as to allow the installation of particular programs and apps also have a natural fit with VPS.
VPS is ideal for users that need to host multiple websites as VPS allows users to determine exactly what share of resources can be allocated to each site – high priority sites more resources, lower priority sites fewer. It is also ideal for users with 'mission critical' websites.
If your business is entirely dependent on your website (i.e. it provides online bookings for your hotel, for example), the level of certainty that your site will be online 24/7 is much greater with VPS than with shared hosting. In addition, if, for instance, your website collects online payments, VPS would offer a much higher level of security that shared hosting.
Are there any downsides?
However, it is also important to consider that VPS still shares resources. Things can go wrong with other websites hosted on the server your site is hosted on, and in extreme instances, the performance of your website might be impacted by the breakdown of another. To give yourself an added level of wiggle room, truly mission critical sites might best be hosted on dedicated servers, where all a server's resources are 'dedicated' to a single user.
VPS hosting is a cost-effective solution for websites that require additional resources to operate smoothly. They offer many of the advantages of dedicated hosting, especially in terms of access, but at substantially lower cost. If you have a website that is medium-sized, database-driven and needs to be highly available to customers or users, VPS offers numerous advantages over shared web hosting.