VPS vs. Dedicated Hosting: Understand The Options

Chances are, VPS is the solution for you.
 

I Want Cheap and Reliable

  • 24/7 phone support
  • Huge reliable company
  • Low prices, good service

We recommend Hostgator VPS →

 

I’m Green

  • Windpowered hosting
  • Great service and prices
  • Reliable small company

We recommend Green Geeks VPS →

 

I’m Tech Savvy

  • Complete control
  • Great Prices
  • Limited Support

We recommend Linode VPS →

This article was originally written in 2010. Since that time the VPS space has grown up quite a bit with better virtualization software and the ability to affordably scale how much hosting you need as you need it. That being said, we think that VPS is the best solution for the majority of people since it can provide power that is many times better than shared hosting at comparable rates to shared hosting.

Which Hosting is Right for You?

Hosting can be broken down into four general types: shared hosting, virtual private servers (VPS), managed hosting, and dedicated servers.  Shared hosting plans are the lowest tier of web hosting in terms of performance, price and customizability, which leaves those with serious hosting needs to look into VPS, managed hosting, or dedicated hosting options.

There are many different options available to customers seeking VPS and dedicated hosting solutions, which creates a somewhat blurry line between the two general types of hosting solutions.

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Get Dedicated!

Dedicated servers are often the fastest and most powerful choices available, though some of the high-end VPS options can give the lower performing dedicated servers a run for their money.

The point is that dedicated servers really occupy the upper strata of the web hosting performance spectrum, and are typically priced accordingly.  There are a few benefits to selecting dedicated servers, some of which may or may not be available on some VPS solutions.

One of the major attractions of a dedicated server is that it is generally completely under the control of the customer.  Therefore, it can be rebooted when needed and can also be completely customized in terms of the software it runs.  Customized software can be very important for a number of reasons, but even if the software is off-the-shelf, not all VPS and shared-web providers give their customers carte blanche to install and run additional software.

In fact, most shared hosting providers have limits to what can be installed in terms of resource allocation, and VPS providers may not always give 100% control of their virtual modules to customers.  In short, dedicated servers are usually able to run anything that their hardware can handle.

That hardware is another attraction to dedicated hosting services.  VPS solutions share the resources of a single computer in most cases, but dedicated servers put all of the resources at the disposal of a single customer.  Memory, hard drive storage capacity, processing power, and network access are all 100% dedicated to a single customer instead of shared amongst multiple VPS customers or dozens of shared web hosting customers.

The result is that performance should be very predictable, which is very important for those who are planning on hosting e-commerce solutions or planning on monetizing their website(s) in other ways.

A Primer on Virtual Private Servers

Virtual private servers are a little harder to get one’s head around than dedicated servers, mainly because dedicated servers are something that nearly everyone can identify with: a computer.  Virtual private servers are different from dedicated servers in that instead of running one hosting account on one computer/server, virtual private servers share a single server.

This may cause one to wonder what the difference is between a VPS solution and a shared web host.  This is a fair enough question, and there may be variations to the answer depending on who one chooses to ask.

The most basic answer is that shared web hosting plans are mostly offering unlimited bandwidth and often unlimited storage, but there is no promise in regards to the amount of CPU power and/or memory available in most cases.  Additionally, there are often restrictions on installing and running CPU/memory intensive modules or software, as hosts may view such software as very disruptive to the other accounts on their server(s).

VPS solutions almost always offer a minimum allocation of resources that is guaranteed 24/7, and some even offer ‘burst’ resources that may be available whenever the load on the server allows for it.

The other thing that separates VPS solutions from shared web hosting is the amount of control customers will have over their hosting plan.  Does the server need to be rebooted?  No problems, just flip the digital on-off switch from the control panel and wait a few seconds.  Want to install a resource-hungry software package without looking through approved-lists?  That is also possible with most VPS solutions, but not with all.

The old expression advises that it is not possible to get something for nothing, so be wary of making assumptions about this level of control on the cheapest of VPS packages on the market.

VPS: Terminology to Consider

Having minimal hardware allocated to web serving sounds great, but there is a catch: not all of the hardware specified is necessary as simple or straightforward as it might initially seem.  For example, just because a VPS package claims to offer 1 GHz of CPU performance and 384 MB of memory, does not necessarily mean that either the memory or CPU allocation is not split into multiple chunks.  This might be important for those who plan on running software or processes that are high-performance but poorly threaded.

For the purpose of setting up blogs, however, having virtual ‘pieces’ of a different CPUs and memory contribute to making a single ‘chunk’ or ‘node’ of memory/CPU performance is probably not a serious issue due to the low-intensity of the task at hand.

The bottom line is that consumers shopping for VPS packages need to ask questions about the hardware instead of making assumptions based on what they see.  It also pays to ask whether it is possible to permanently and/or temporarily upgrade a VPS account without downtime if one plans on growing their online presence.  Remember: downtime is the enemy if all websites, especially those that are generating money or anchoring a presence in cyberspace.

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VPS In the Clouds

One of the latest innovations in the VPS market is the use of cloud-VPS solutions.  Cloud VPS solutions make multiple-redundant copies of entire websites in case one server were to be taken offline unexpectedly.  VPS NET (vps.net) is a great example of a cloud-VPS solution provider that can cost between $20 and $234 per month, but other top-tier providers offer great plans as well.

Specific examples include MediaTemple ($50-$150 per month), and HostGator ($19.95-$209.95 per month).

Update: Managed WordPress Hosting

When this article was written, managed WordPress hosting was not very popular. But the past year has really seen the rise of managed WordPress as services such as WP Engine, WordPress VIP, Synthesis, and others have come about. The reason managed WordPress hosting has become so popular is that for all of the power it has, WordPress can also be a pain sometimes.

WordPress can be hacked. WordPress does not scale well. Managed WordPress hosting usually takes the hassle out of hosting your WordPress website by:

  • Automatically updating your WordPress files.
  • Running your websites on Nginx and other powerful software
  • Automatically backing up your website
  • Proactively scanning for viruses and hackers
  • Automatically compressing/caching/and optimizing your website
  • and in the case of WP Engine, guaranteeing to fix your websites if it’s ever hacked!
Managed WordPress hosting provides the same performance benefits of VPS and dedicated hosting, but with less of a headache since you are paying for professionals to manage your website for you.

How to Decide.

Finding the right balance between price and performance is always a challenge, but remember that one usually gets what they pay for.  Sadly, sometimes people get less than they pay for too, so be careful when assuming that money alone is a good measure of quality and capacity.  Compatibility is also important, and thus sticking with top tier hosts with established names is probably a good idea for those with serious hosting needs.

The distinction between VPS and dedicated servers can get blurry at the high-end of the VPS scale and the low-end of the dedicated server scale.  If steady hardware performance and ultimate control of software is important, then dedicated servers are probably a wise choice.  MidPhase has dedicated server packages that start at $89.95 per month and can scale to $349.95 without customization.

There are less expensive options out there, including ServerPronto, but remember the earlier advice about getting what one pays for.  That being said, deals such as ServerPronto’s limited-availability dedicated server for $4.95 per month are amazing, and an affordable way to learn more about dedicated hosting and grow a site or collection of sites until they are ready for some more serious hardware.

If you are looking for great performance and ease of use, then you should look into managed WordPress hosting. WP Engine has packages starting at $29 a month and Synthesis has packages starting at $27 a month. Both of these companies provide unbeatable customer service and amazing performance.