There are an almost limitless number of options available for website hosting, especially if you have a number of websites. You can pack all of your sites into a single Shared hosting plan, utilize a reseller-style hosting which allows you multiple Shared hosting accounts, or get full assisted control of your hosting with a Virtual Private Server (VPS).
But when is it better to stay on a Shared Hosting plan compared to upgrading to a small VPS Hosting plan?
Here are some key questions to consider:
- How much disk space does your site need, and how quickly do you expect that to grow?
- Does your site need a higher memory limit than average, or does it require more processing power?
- Are there additional server-side applications that you need for back-end processing, like LaTeX, FFMPEG, ImageMagick, or Java?
- Do you have an application that runs exclusively on Windows, or would a less expensive Linux package work just as well?
- How much bandwidth do you currently use or expect to use for all of your websites?
- What kind of content do you have on your sites (online shopping, static content, private information, blog, etc)?
Shared Hosting Vs VPS Hosting: Six Areas To Consider
Let’s dive into six core areas to consider as you make your decision:
- Traffic volume
- Management level
- Resource availability
The amount of bandwidth in and out of your server is one consideration. Inbound bandwidth is usually less important than outbound bandwidth because unless your visitors will be uploading a lot of data, inbound HTTP requests will be small in size compared to the documents and images that your site will return for each page request.
Shared hosting platforms are usually not set up for high volumes of traffic and processing since the power of the server must be distributed between dozens, or sometimes hundreds or thousands of other users and websites. But, for average sized and trafficked sites, such as hobby sites or “pamphlet” information-only domains, or even small blogs, shared hosting is perfectly acceptable. Sites that require more intense server-side functions, like online stores or sites which generate documents such as invoices or quotes, or sites which convert audio or video on the fly, may need more resources allocated than would come with your average Shared hosting account.
Additionally, sites which have higher outbound bandwidth, like those that serve up audio or documents to users, will need additional bandwidth (and disk space) that Shared hosting may not provide, and a VPS would be better in those cases.
The plain number of visitors or page loads on your site may not completely describe the processing and bandwidth needs of your site. If the site is not properly optimized for processing, the server will have to work harder for each page load. And, if you utilize a Content Delivery Network (CDN), then your outbound bandwidth usage will be considerably lower since images and other static files will be served from other locations.
Once you have your list of requirements, think about your comfort level with controlling your hosting. In the realm of both VPS and Shared hosting, there is a breadth of support types available.
If you prefer a hands-off approach, you might want someone else to monitor the services on your server, help you install programs, troubleshoot server issues, and make adjustments to configurations. So, a fully-managed hosting package with a server control panel might be better, though it comes at a slightly higher cost.
If you are comfortable working on your own server and have some command line knowledge, an unmanaged VPS without a control panel could save some support and licensing costs. Most Shared hosting will be fully managed since you will not have the access levels necessary to manage the machine yourself.
Advantageously, some hosting providers may specialize in one type of website hosting, such as supporting Joomla sites or assisting with commerce site integrations. If you know you will need assistance in the future with your specific hosting type, it may be worthwhile to seek out providers that could assist you with your particular needs.
This leads us to a major difference between VPS and Shared hosting. If you need to have specific software installed, or need special configurations on your server, it could be uncommon to find a Shared hosting package that includes exactly that feature set. (though it is common to find hosting providers that will already have installed popular software, like FFMPEG or ImageMagick) And, it would also be unlikely that your host would install a special package for you on a shared machine, which could pose a security risk to other tenants. Therefore, a Shared hosting package would have low controllability.
A VPS, on the other hand, gives you complete access into your system, so that you can enable, disable, install, or remove any software you wish, and adjust configurations exactly to your specifications. So, you aren’t restricted to the software that your hosting provider gives to your environment.
A shared hosting package is, of course, shared amongst multiple occupants. Therefore, if you have a “noisy neighbor” who is overusing CPU time or eating up memory, then there will be less available for the remaining websites, including yours, causing them to suffer in performance.
Modern Shared hosting providers will combat this by introducing resource limitations, such as maximum RAM usage, maximum number of processes, and maximum CPU percentage. These work to combat the “noisy neighbor” problem, but could limit you from temporarily overusing resources to run, say, statistics, or compile your nightly order list. Being able to temporarily break these shared resource limits is called “bursting”, which is an option for some hosts.
To a much lesser extent, the noisy neighbor issue is also present on Virtual Private Servers that have multiple tenants per server node. Multiple virtual servers can be run on one physical server, but modern hypervisors (the software that runs the parent machine) are intelligent enough to silo VPSs very well, and even if one VPS is going hard and running out of memory, even to the point of having a kernel panic or halt state, the other VPSs on the parent machine will generally take no notice at all. But, several hosts also offer bursting of CPU and RAM for VPSs, which can still affect your own private server.
There are “Virtual Dedicated” packages available at some hosts which provide all of the resources on one parent (dedicating it to your VPS) to avoid noisy neighbors but retaining the hypervisor’s scalability and management.
Shared server packages are generally not very elastic. Options for changing the resources on your package generally include increasing your disk quota, and in some cases, removing limits on your CPU access. However, more meaningful adjustments to your resources would necessitate migration of your account to a more powerful server, or if one is not available, upgrading to a VPS or Dedicated hosting package, a task which takes considerable time.
VPSs will have more functionality available for adding or removing resources, including CPU cores, system memory, and additional disks or disk space through your hosting provider. If you are, for instance, running a promotion in which you expect to receive considerable extra traffic, then a VPS will afford you the ability to scale up your server size, adjust your server-side settings to utilize the new resources, and once traffic has tapered, resize back down to your original values.
One of the major differences between VPS hosting and Shared hosting is the average price of each platform. Shared hosting could be had for anywhere between $2 and $30 a month from various vendors, while VPSs start somewhere around $30, with nearly no upper price boundary. With these various price points come varying amounts of resources, including support, Memory/CPU resources, disk space, and bandwidth.
Different hosting providers may provide different price points for seemingly identical resource availability, but make sure you discern these differences carefully. Find out what kind of scalability is available, if there are any baked-in backup solutions for the platform, support response times, and what portions of the hosting platform are managed. You should also ask to see what self-service documentation is present and whether you can preview the control panel and management interface for your hosting. Finally, see if there are extra costs necessary for any of these add-ons that could affect your final monthly or yearly hosting costs.
Which One Is Right For You?
There are strong advantages to both Shared and VPS hosting, and there is no perfect catch-all answer for which you should pick; your hosting needs to be tailored to the current and future needs of your websites. But, resources and costs are always driving factors.
If you already have multiple Shared hosting accounts for multiple domains, you could save a good deal of money by combining them into a single VPS. And, if you feel your Shared hosting service is limiting your site’s performance, upgrading to a VPS can unleash its full potential by allowing you to tune settings specific to your needs. If you are hosting just one or two domains that don’t have outrageous requirements, a Shared hosting package could suit you perfectly.