What is a VPS?

Many web hosts offer a product called VPS (virtual private server). You may have seen it on their service listing, or perhaps received a recommendation from your web host to upgrade to this option. In this article, we’ll explain what a VPS is and why you should consider one.

A VPS is the middle ground between a shared hosting account and a dedicated server. It acts like a dedicated server, running it’s own copy of the operating system a container. It comes with a specific amount of RAM and CPU power for your hosting environment for your operating system, server software and website to utilize.

Typically, you are allowed to run various software that the OS can support, including those not allowed on shared hosting (such as chat and other resource intensive applications). This doesn’t mean you can run everything ever created, but you are usually allowed to run applications that are banned from a shared environment.

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A VPS usually comes in two flavors: user managed and host managed. While each company will have their own definition of user and host managed, this is the typical meaning of each:

User Managed VPS (also called ‘unmanaged VPS’ or simply ‘VPS’) is a blank install of the OS of your choice, with no control panel and little support from the hosting company. In fact, the support is usually limited to network and hardware issues. In many cases, you can reinstall your OS at any time with only a few clicks. The service comes with root access so that you may handle installation, configuration and maintenance of your hosting environment. At least one dedicated IP address is provided.

Host Managed VPS (also called ‘Managed VPS’) includes a control panel and full support from the hosting company for network, hardware, and the server environment configuration. It may or may not come with root access. A Host Managed VPS is usually very similar to a Shared hosting account, but with less chance of neighbors on the server causing problems and more flexibility in terms of configuration. At least one dedicated IP address is provided.

Why should you choose a VPS

There are a few reasons why you should choose a VPS. Below is a short list of several common instances when you should opt for a VPS.

Your site has outgrown a shared host

Does your website need to move to a VPS?
Does your website need to move to a VPS?

As a website grows in popularity and/or complexity, it will naturally consume more resources. When this happens, your site will eventually reach a point where it needs to move beyond a shared hosting environment. Moving to a VPS will allow your site to grow into the new pool of resources provided by the plan you choose.

You need root access

Some webmasters require root access. It may be for configuration of the website and software or for access to logs when something goes wrong. Since a web host is never going to provide root access for a shared server, you will need to go with at least a User Managed VPS. This will allow you to log in as root and do anything to your operating system and server software that you need.

You need to run software which is banned on shared hosting, is resource intensive, or requires an OS different than that of a shared plan.

chat-smaller-smushitSome software is banned from shared hosting for good reason. Software which is resource intensive or may otherwise cause problems for other shared accounts will not be allowed to run on a shared environment. You can usually find a list of such software in your web host’s Terms of Service or Acceptable Use Policy. In many cases, much of this software can be used on a VPS, though you should double check with your host prior to purchasing a plan.

Some software is OS specific. With many web hosts using CentOS Linux, running software that is made for Debian would require a different OS. With a User Managed VPS, you can typically choose from a list of available operating systems in which to use.

You need to send bulk email

Shared servers will usually have an hourly email sending limit which will stop email from being sent once you reach that threshold. This is to prevent mass spamming and bulk emailing. If the limitation is not network wide, you may be able to avoid the limit by using a VPS. If you need to send bulk email, check with your service provider about sending bulk email via VPS, and if there are any hourly sending limits that you may face.

You want to store large files

Software like ownCloud allows you to backup files to your hosting space to store and share with others. Your web host may have rules against storing files that are unrelated to your website. These rules don’t always apply to VPS and higher. If you need to store files, in particular large files, a VPS is usually the place to do it.

You want to reduce the risk of issues from other customers who share your server.

A VPS is a shared environment of sorts. There are other people on the server with you, but each account is privatized within it’s own operating system container. This reduces the chances for others on the server to cause headaches for you. On a standard shared hosting plan, your server neighbors have a much greater chance of breaking things for everyone on the server.

You Need Additional Configuration Changes

Some websites require changes to various settings in the hosting environment. While your hosting provider may allow you to change PHP.ini settings, they are unlikely to allow you to modify how many concurrent connections can be made to your site (how many people can be on your site at a single instance). Limitations on entry processes and MySQL connections are among some of the most common ceilings that people hit. With a VPS, these can be modified to a higher value.

When to Move to a VPS

WorkingIf your web hosting provider is suggesting an upgrade, don’t just brush it off as a greedy attempt to get more money out of you. Evaluate the reasons behind the request. If your site is breaking a Terms of Service rule for Shared Hosting, there is likely little you can do other than remove the cause for the infringement or upgrade. If the reason is because of resource usage, you may be able to hold off moving to a VPS.

Your website should be as tightly optimized as possible. Make sure your code is strong and well written. If you are working with a system like WordPress, use thoroughly vetted optimization plugins and remove any outdated or unused/deactivated plugins. It is also a good idea to utilize services such as Cloudflare to deliver cached versions of your content, thereby reducing the resource usage on the server. Cloudflare also filters incoming traffic to help prevent malicious users and comment spam.

If optimizing your website isn’t enough, moving to a VPS is going to be the best next step. If you are moving to a Host Managed VPS, the upgrade is relatively painless. A good web host will take care of migrating your account for you. All you will need to do is update the nameservers for your domain.

Using a VPS has several advantages for a website, but make sure you get the correct product. If you are not comfortable working with a user managed product, one which requires you to handle everything about the OS and server software, get a Host Managed VPS. You will pay more for it, but the peace of mind is worth it.

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