VPSs (Virtual Private Servers) have been around for a while, alongside shared hosting providers, reseller hosting and dedicated servers. They can host everything from websites to scripts to game servers. A VPS is basically like having your own computer halfway around the world. You pay a company to rent a part of their larger mainframes so you can develop applications or host websites on it instead of hosting it on your own computer. So what’s the difference between shared hosting and a VPS?
Difference Between Shared Hosting and VPS Hosting
When you open up a shared host, you’ll usually get some sort of interface with the operating system underneath in the form of cPanel, Plesk, Serverpilot or any other web hosting tool. Shared hosting aggregates multiple, sometimes up to hundreds of accounts, into one logical instance on the server. So even if it’s a really beefy server with an amazing CPU and 128GB of RAM, you’re still sharing it with hundreds if not thousands of people who bought the same hosting package.
A VPS is similar in a way, because you’re still sharing things like vCPU, memory, storage and network ports with other neighbours on the same server. The difference lies in the virtualization of all these aspects, effectively splitting off your share of the server from the rest. The resources are still shared, but other users’ performance cannot effect yours since they’re provisioned differently.
Shared Hosting’s ‘Unlimited’ Offerings Are Actually Very Limited
Shared Hosts advertise “unlimited bandwidth” and “unlimited disk space”, but neither are truly unlimited. A shared hosting provider will likely cut off your services long before you’ve reached the usage that a traditional VPS would let you use. Even the best shared hosting providers do this. They’ll claim unlimited disk space, banking on the fact that 99.95% of users won’t use beyond a few GB for their site. In the rare case that you try to upload 50GB of files or use 1TB of network bandwidth, you’ll likely get a desist email from your shared hosting provider. There have been cases where the websites are simply shut off with no warning for “exceeding usage limits”.
The terms of service with shared hosting providers usually shed some light on what’s truly possible. Take a look at Bluehost’s terms of service on Inode limits. An inode is basically a file on the server. It could be an email, or a web page or a CSS file – any file basically. Bluehost’s Inode limit is 50,000 Inodes. It’s not really unlimited storage when basically any dynamic website or a regular email user can hit that limit in 2-3 years. Hostgator only allows 25% CPU usage before throttling down on shared hosting plans.
VPS Services are Less Likely to be Oversold
‘Overselling’ is a big problem in the web hosting industry. Companies may promise 1TB bandwidth or unlimited storage space, but might not have the capacity to provide that to every customer. So they oversell, banking on the fact that customers won’t use these large limits. When you do need to use them for various projects, or during traffic spikes for your website, your account might be shut down.
The reason modern VPS hosts don’t usually oversell is because of KVM virtualization, which is a type of virtualization that essentially makes it really hard to oversell. The reason is the core components of the virtualized server system assigned to you are split up very well. Any Tom, Dick and Harry on the server alongside you won’t affect your VPS when Dick gets DDOS’d and Tom starts uploading 1TB of family pictures. Most VPS hosts use KVM virtualization, though some still use OpenVM, which is still fine. As long as your virtual server is separated from the rest, you’re in good hands.
The other aspect is the economics of it. A VPS is priced just slightly higher than Shared Hosting. VPS providers usually don’t provide support for things like site migrations, and they don’t do anything about what you do within your own server. You’re basically left on your own with no external help. If you don’t know what you’re doing and can’t understand the tutorials and documentation, tough luck! The cost of support is huge for large shared hosting companies, and without this added expense, VPS providers can pass on the server performance benefits to the end user.
Limitless Possibilities: You Can Do Anything With VPS Hosting
A few years ago, I never thought I could take 20 minutes of my day and do so many things online with a VPS:
- With a VPS and OpenVPN, setting up your own private VPN is super easy. One can set up your own email server, though I wouldn’t recommend it, or even start your own image host.
- You can install WHM and become a reseller for webspace or a small time web host yourself.
- You can use virtual hosts and register multiple domain names to become a cheap, local web host.
- Host your own game servers for games like Counterstrike, Battlefield and Minecraft.
- Host your own voice chat servers on Discord, Mumble or Teamspeak. EVE Online players host their own voice chat servers because they have hundreds of people in the same server talking to each other.
If you want to go one step further, you can skip a Virtual Private Server and get your own dedicated server.
But I wouldn’t recommend any of this if you don’t know what you’re doing, and you don’t have the time or patience to learn.
It took me about a year of hosting a small website on a VPS (this one, in fact), before I could call myself capable of doing so. In the meantime, I got DDOS’d, hacked, and my website optimization was so bad that any more than 10 concurrent users would kill the web server. Over time I learnt the tips and tricks of web hosting from places like reddit’s /r/webhosting, Digital Ocean’s documentation and various online tutorials.
So Which VPS Do I Recommend?
The thing about the webhosting space is that nothing you read online is legit. Everything is bought and paid for and every web hosting review is an affiliate. If this post gets any traction whatsoever, you can guarantee that some marketing manager from a web hosting company will try to push their affiliate links on me. Till that happens, here are some of the best VPS providers to choose from:
I personally use Linode’s $5/month option to host this website, since as of today it’s the most well rounded option with 1GB RAM being more than enough for my needs. I also have a VPN on Vultr for when I visit China (literally never).
Stay away from any company owned by Endurance International Group holdings, which includes some of the most popular webhosts. They are notorious for buying smaller webhosts, gutting their operations and amalgamating all their businesses into a shitfest of oversold servers and bad customer service.
Some External Resources to Help You Find the Best VPS
- Joe di Castro’s VPS Comparison Github Guide. A rather technical guide, but it’s honest, and helps explain the performance differences between a few VPS providers.
- Reviewsignal.com: They have a lot of affiliates, but disclose their methodology. Focus on the numbers and not the subjective (paid) reviews.
- VPS Virtualization types: Remember I mentioned KVM Virtualization? This reddit post well help shed some light on why it’s a good thing for VPS hosting.