One of the problems with building a website is how you are going to get it onto the Internet. Unless you have your own hardware and connection to the Internet network (which few people can afford), or you are going to use a service that is dedicated to allowing people to create websites (for instance WordPress.com and Joomla.com), then you are almost certainly going to need a web host. As you will find out, there are countless web hosts to choose from (use FindUKHosting.com to help you make a decision about which one to use), but before you can choose a web host, you need to know what sort of web hosting you need. That in itself is going to take quite a lot of time and effort!
There are numerous types of web hosting available on the market, and depending on the type of website you need, some types of web hosting are going to be better than others, and some might not be able to accommodate your website at all. In this article we are going to look at two key types of web hosting - Virtual Private Server (VPS) and dedicated server hosting. The objective of the article is to give you a general idea of what the differences between the two are with a view to you making the right decision for your site. First we will start with dedicated hosting.
What is Dedicated Hosting?
Once upon a time, before the cloud, dedicated hosting was reasonably easy to explain to a web hosting newbie. These days it takes a little more effort, but it is still doable. Traditionally, dedicated hosting has involved renting a server from a provider, and in many ways, it is useful to compare a web hosting server to the PC you are using to read this article.
A server is like your PC in that it stores and processes data, but rather than being in yourhome, it is located in your web host's data centre. While a PC is (fairly!) private (meaning only you can see what's on your hard drive using the computer's software and your monitor), what is stored on a web hosting server (i.e. your website) can be accessed by anyone via the Internet.
Like a PC a web hosting server has storage and processing power. The performance of a server is dependent on the power of the processor it uses, the amount of memory it has, and the amount of data it can store is dependent on the hard disk you use. As you might imagine, the more resources you need, the more expensive it is to rent a dedicated machine.
One of the key advantages of a dedicated server has been that all of the resources of the physical machine are 'dedicated' to you and your website(s) needs (of course, a dedicated server can host more than one site). That is important - generally when you pay for a dedicated server, you are paying for extra capacity. Imagine if your website goes viral and instead of the 1,000 visitors a day you usually receive, you suddenly receive 100,000.
With lesser types of web hosting, where resources are shared between a number of customers and a number of different websites, your website might appear as nothing more than an error message on your visitors' (customers'?) screens when a physical machine's resources are depleted. As you might imagine, a dedicated server, with all its resources supporting your website(s), can generally manage such a transition. However, what if you suddenly get 100,000 an hour? What then?
With traditional dedicated hosting, where a physical machine is rented, when a website starts using a server's entire capacity, it requires adding more hardware components to the machine (additional memory, more hard drives, faster processors, etc.). The advent of the cloud has put a few dents in this traditional view of a dedicated server. Instead of having individual dedicated machines that are rented to individual customers, these days providers link up all their servers, and dedicated "capacity" is rented out to customers.
For all intents and purposes, this dedicated capacity operates in the same way a physical machine does, but disk space, memory and processing power is in the cloud and shared across a large number of machines. This has added another dimension to dedicated hosting.
Rather than having to add additional components to a physical machine to increase capacity, a dedicated server that is hosted in the cloud can be 'scalable' - meaning if your website does go viral, and thousands upon thousands of visitors arrive at your site, then additional capacity can be automatically added with no disruption in service. When 'spikes' in traffic die down, the capacity returns to normal levels. Of course, this level of flexibility comes at a cost - above and beyond your monthly rental agreement.
With dedicated hosting you are paying for resources you might one day use, but which in reality, might never be fully utilised. Dedicated hosting is good for large websites that are 'mission critical' in that they drive a business and are absolutely necessary for a company's operation. The website might manage customer payments or link your travelling sales team together, and as a result, when your website goes down your business ceases to function. For peace of mind, you have to pay - dedicated hosting is generally much more expensive that other types of hosting, whether it is in the cloud or using a physical machine.
What is VPS hosting?
Once again, traditionally the definition of VPS has been quite clear but the cloud has made the waters a little murkier. Like dedicated hosting, VPS hosting was originally based around a single, physical machine. However, unlike dedicated hosting, a machine's resources are shared between a number of users in a very controlled fashion. Rather than having hundreds of websites on one machine, VPS strictly shares resources between a fixed number of website accounts.
To give a broad, sweeping example, if a machine hosts 10 website accounts, then 10% of the available resources are allocated to each account. The account user can then use those resources as required - either dedicating the resources to a single site or to a number of sites. If, for some reason, an account holder only uses 10% or his or her available resources, the remaining 90% remain untouched - they are not allocated to other users but sit there idle. But if all resources are used, then as with dedicated hosting, a web host will have to add more components to a physical machine, and obviously this can be problematic as resources are shared amongst a number of customers. Once again though, the cloud has put an angle on this.
Cloud-based VPS hosting provides a host with a fixed amount of resource capacity, which is then shared between customers in fixed amounts. However, as there is no individual physical machine supporting that capacity, and additional capacity can automatically be added to a VPS account. This though might not be advantageous to VPS customers. The biggest distinction between the two types of hosting is price. When VPS accounts are scalable, the additional resources are paid for on an "as used" basis, and this means costs can quickly become very much more than the monthly fee a web host charges for dedicated hosting.
Which is better - Dedicated or VPS hosting?
This is a good question and the answer depends on the site and the provider. A low-end dedicated server might not offer significantly better performance than VPS. However, being 'dedicated', a user can add and subtract from a dedicated server as he or she sees fit. That means if your website needs some specific software, you can go ahead and install it. VPS on the other hand is often more controlled in the sense that sometimes providers don't allow much customisation. VPS often provides a very much 'off-the-shelf' experience.
Likewise, if there is a problem with a physical machine and it needs repairing, with VPS it will remain a problem for all sites hosted until the host addresses the issue. With a dedicated server, you can go ahead and reboot or make other alterations at will. Although VPS hosts often put restrictions on the installation of software, apps and other modules that can drain resources, that doesn't mean customers don't add such items. Where a VPS account's resources are depleted, it might impact the performance of ALL VPS accounts on a physical machine.
VPS is a great option when a website is important, but not 'mission-critical'. For instance, if your website is simply for advertising proposes, if it is down for a couple of hours now and again, that won't make a massive difference to your operation. That's not saying that is what happens with VPS - generally VPS services are rock solid, but if you are absolutely dependent on your site, then dedicated hosting might well be the way to go for the extra reassurance.