What Is VPS Hosting? A Beginner’s Guide

Intro

Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting is hosting that virtually mimics dedicated server environments within a shared server. It’s become a popular choice because it is generally lower in cost than dedicated hosting but provides better reliability, security, and performance than shared hosting.

Moreover, users get root access to the server, giving them the freedom to install applications and make environment changes without having to go through the hosting provider, as they would with shared hosting.

Choosing VPS helps companies avoid the downsides of shared hosting. With VPS, you won’t have to worry quite so much about resource limitations because VPS environments offer more room for growth.

And if your “neighbor” on the server is hacked, there’s little chance the infection will spread to your VPS because the hypervisors that are used to create separate VPS environments deliver multi-layered network security and keep tight controls on what enters and leaves. Your root access also means you can add or customize your VPS security software as you please.

VPS is often a great option for SaaS providers, game makers, programmers, companies that have outgrown their shared hosting, and any company who needs a secure and affordable backup environment.

But knowing what VPS is and whether it’s right for you are two different matters. In this guide, we’ll give you the information you need to make the VPS hosting decision an easy one.

What Is VPS Hosting?

VPS stands for Virtual Private Server and refers to a private, emulated dedicated hosting environment created through virtualization on a host (a computer or other device connected to other computers or devices via a network), server (called the “parent server”), or cluster of servers. It acts like a physical server but, in reality, it’s a piece of software that’s emulating dedicated hardware.

Types of VPS Hosting

Offerings may vary by hosting provider, but Liquid Web offers two types of VPS hosting: Cloud VPS and Private VPS Parent.

What Is Cloud VPS Hosting?

Cloud VPS is a type of hosting where multiple companies use isolated instances on the same host or parent server. This is perhaps the most common type of VPS hosting — when you hear someone talk about VPS, it’s most likely Cloud VPS. As you probably guessed based on the word “cloud,” another benefit is that you can access your Cloud VPS environments from anywhere.

With Cloud VPS, if a parent server has 64 processing cores, it can host up to 64 instances. Each instance is allocated its own bandwidth and storage, so your performance won’t be affected by other companies on the server in the way it might with shared hosting. You also get more bandwidth and storage since the hosting company is limited on the number of instances they can create on each parent server.

What Is Private VPS Parent Hosting?

Private VPS Parent Hosting is a way to get the benefits of virtualization without sharing a parent server with other companies. This is a robust, flexible, and isolated virtual solution that gives you sole control over a built-to-order parent server and its resources. That means you can add as many VPS environments as the server allows and control them all as you see fit.

Whatever you choose to do, you aren’t charged for the individual environments, but rather for the parent server as a whole.

You can also add parent servers if your needs grow, and if you’re hosting with Liquid Web, you can even use the Liquid Web Manage Interface to easily shuffle your instances around between Private VPS Parent servers or to one of our public Cloud VPS parent servers.

How VPS Hosting Works

To deliver your VPS environment, your hosting company will implement a hypervisor or virtual machine manager on the host or parent server.

From there, you can create individual virtual machines, each of which are called a guest instance, when created on a host, or a child instance, when created on a parent server.

What Is a VPS Server Used For?

A Cloud VPS server is typically used for smaller workloads that need consistent performance. Businesses may use VPS for:

  • Check MarkHosting 1-10 websites
  • Check MarkStoring company and customer files in a way that’s accessible anywhere in the world
  • Check MarkHosting web servers
  • Check MarkHosting email
  • Check MarkDatabases
  • Check MarkcPanel or Plesk hosting
  • Check MarkBuilding and delivering cloud-based services for customers
  • Check MarkDelivering virtual work stations to remote employees
  • Check MarkAnd many other things

For the most part, you can use Cloud VPS for anything you’d use a dedicated server for, however keep in mind you will get less overall storage and bandwidth. If you don’t need an entire dedicated server, VPS is a more affordable choice because you’ll only pay for what you need.

If you’re considering the less-common option, Private VPS Parent Hosting, chances are it’s because you need a virtual private office or you’re a Cloud VPS reseller or web design/development agency. More on the differences between Cloud VPS and Private VPS Parent hosting here

Why Use VPS Hosting?

VPS hosting delivers several important benefits that combine the best features of shared and dedicated hosting.

Benefits of VPS Hosting

Your favorite VPS features will vary based on how your company uses it. But, in general, there are a few key benefits to Cloud VPS hosting:

Reliable performance

You have your own allocated bandwidth and storage and don’t have to share with other companies.

Value

VPS hosting isn’t as cheap as shared hosting, but it’s less expensive than dedicated because you only pay for what you need. VPS delivers plenty of value for the money.

Control

You get SSH and root access to your environment, affording you more control.

Customization

VPS hosting is highly customizable so you get only the features you want which even includes the OS of your choice.

Growth

Scaling is fast and easy.

Data protection

VPS hosting makes it easy to perform backups. With Liquid Web, daily backups are standard for our Cloud VPS environments.

Security

VPS environments are isolated from each other, making them more secure than shared hosting environments.

Private VPS Parent hosting offers a couple of additional benefits:

Versatility

Deploy both Linux & Windows VPS instances on the same cloud server. You can do this with Cloud VPS as well, however keep in mind that you will pay for each instance.

Monetization

Easily spin up and resell VPS instances or use them to host individual client websites.

All of these benefits mean you’re better poised to meet your business goals. Here’s what one Liquid Web customer had to say:

“After having shared hosting plans with other providers for many years, I switched all of my sites to Liquid Web a few months ago for my first VPS experience. It's been smooth, fast, and easy to use. At one point I suddenly ran out of disk space, and within minutes I was able to use their system to upgrade my plan and move my site to a larger partition.” – David K.

VPS hosting can help you deliver a reliable experience for customers; right size your hosting so you can spend your budget appropriately; and keep your data secure to avoid breaches and fines.

Is VPS Hosting Safe & Secure?

Yes, it’s secure. VPS security comes from each instance’s isolation from the other environments on the server. Contrast that with shared hosting, where environments are sharing the same resources and can be affected by each other’s vulnerabilities. A denial of service attack on a website in a shared environment can bring down other companies’ data and websites hosted on that server, where each VPS environment is isolated and protected.

Is VPS Hosting Fast & Reliable?

Yes, VPS hosting is fast and reliable — that’s a big reason companies prefer it to shared hosting. Since you’re allocated your own bandwidth, you get reliable performance more similar to a dedicated server.

Liquid Web’s VPS hosting, in particular, is known for delivering the fastest Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP (LAMP) stack performance. Third-party performance analyst firm Cloud Spectator found that our VPS speed is faster than Rackspace, DigitalOcean, and Amazon.

proc-perf-graph

Who Needs VPS Hosting & When to Use It

Do I Need VPS Hosting?

You can ask yourself a few questions to decide whether VPS hosting is right for you:

  • If you’re just getting started…

    • What is your team’s technical skill level? Do you want to have root access to your server in order to add applications, make server changes, etc.?
    • What is your biggest priority: budget (shared), peak performance and security (dedicated), instant scalability (cloud), or a balance of everything (VPS)?
    • Do you need to create multiple isolated environments on the same server?

  • If you’re currently on a shared server…

    • Does your website currently experience performance issues?
    • Have you experienced denial of service or other security issues caused by another company on the server? What would be the cost to your business if an issue did arise, and is it worth the risk?
    • Do you need more storage?
    • Do you have basic technical skills and want root access to your server?
    • Do you have a bit more budget to devote to hosting in exchange for solving these problems?

  • If you’re currently on a dedicated server…

    • Do you want to save a little money while maintaining basic security and reliability?
    • Do you need an entire dedicated server, or could you get by with fewer resources?

When Should I Use VPS Hosting?

There are a few common needs that drive companies to use VPS hosting:

  • Check MarkScaling up beyond shared
  • Check MarkScaling down from dedicated
  • Check MarkAchieving reliable performance
  • Check MarkImproving security over shared
  • Check MarkInstalling custom software
  • Check MarkIsolating multiple digital service offerings
  • Check MarkCreating isolated development environments

When Should I Upgrade My VPS Hosting?

If you’re already on VPS hosting but your website isn’t performing as quickly as you’d like, it may be time to upgrade.

Upgrades Based on Performance Needs

Unreliable websites can be caused by a variety of factors, but if your current VPS is delivering errors, there are a few steps we usually take to determine whether an upgrade is needed:

  • Optimize your existing VPS. Sometimes individual applications need changes to their default settings to run more efficiently. Other times, it’s a matter of optimizing your content or using a content delivery network (CDN). Whatever the case, it’s worth attempting (or working with your hosting company to attempt) to optimize your existing VPS before deciding to upgrade.
  • Find what’s weighing your site down and slim it up. It might be an excess of plugins, heavy images, or a multitude of HTTP requests.
  • Analyze your resource use. If your server is performing as it should across load average, memory, and disk usage, you may need to consider upgrading.

Who VPS Is NOT For

So when is VPS NOT the right choice? There are a few situations where you may want to look into other options:

  1. New companies on a shoestring budget. If you’re primarily choosing hosting based on budget and don’t fall under regulations like PCI, shared hosting will be a cheaper option. However, there are security and performance tradeoffs to choosing the cheapest option, as discussed throughout this guide.
  2. Businesses with zero technical skills who don’t want to use managed hosting. Because VPS provides root access to the server, it’s typically used by companies who have at least a basic degree of IT administration and troubleshooting skills. Of course, if you do have a skill gap, you can choose to use a managed hosting provider for VPS to handle virtually anything for which you’d need root access. You will still need the ability to use cPanel and Plesk for basic tasks.
  3. Enterprises who need the power or resources of an entire dedicated server. If you need an entire server, and you don’t need it split up into isolated VMs, dedicated will most likely be a better choice for you. For example, streaming, database-driven, and other bandwidth-intensive sites typically require a dedicated server vs. VPS.

Difference Between VPS Hosting and Other Types of Hosting

We’ve covered the basics of what VPS hosting is, how it works, and who might want to use it. Now here’s how VPS hosting compares to other popular hosting options:

VPS vs. Shared Hosting

Performance

VPS environments run faster and perform more reliably than shared environments for the simple reason that they operate on individually allocated bandwidth. With shared servers, if another customer is a “resource hog,” it can negatively affect the performance of other environments on the server.

Security

VPS is considered more secure than shared hosting because, once again, each environment is isolated and won’t be affected by security issues in other environments.

Cost

Shared hosting tends to be cheaper than VPS, but delivers less value as a result.

Control

With VPS, you get SSH and root access to your server, where on shared hosting, all server changes must be made by the hosting company.

When Shared Wins

You’re on a shoestring budget; You’re only hosting 1 simple website with minimum security or compliance needs

Further Reading

VPS vs. Dedicated

Performance

Dedicated environments are second-to-none when it comes to performance. However, VPS can still deliver plenty of speed for the average company. It’s worth talking to your hosting company about how you plan to use the environment to get their advice on which option will work best.

Security

Dedicated and VPS environments are both completely isolated and therefore secure, as long as you are using a reputable hosting.

Cost

VPS has a big edge over dedicated hosting when it comes to cost, as you have more flexibility in the amount of resources you use and pay for. It’s typically less than half the cost of a dedicated server with scalable pricing based on your business needs.

Control

With a dedicated server, you can install any operating system. Cloud VPS offers a limited selection (at Liquid Web, it’s CentOS 6, CentOS 7, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, Debian 8, Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard, and Windows Server 2016 Standard Edition.) Otherwise, both options give you full root access with control over the OS and all the software in the environment.

When Dedicated Wins

You have hundreds of employees needing VPN access; Hosting massive databases that need quick access by numerous people at once; Hosting hundreds of websites or bandwidth-intensive sites (e.g. streaming)

Further Reading

VPS vs. Cloud Hosting

Performance

The cloud generally delivers high-availability and high performance based on the ability to expand CPU power and memory capacity on demand. VPS hosting delivers a fixed level of performance, so as long as you do not require extra resources, it will meet your ongoing needs.

Security

VPS security is virtually the same (no pun intended) as dedicated hosting, which is to say it’s the least vulnerable to outside attacks. Cloud hosting is generally also secure, however its physically distributed nature makes it a bit more vulnerable to attacks, and generally public cloud hosting does not meet compliance needs.

Cost

With VPS, you pay for what you use in the sense that you select a certain amount of bandwidth and storage to be allocated in advance. Scaling involves resizing your resources. But with cloud hosting, you pay for what you use in that your resource levels are not pre-determined, which means unpredictable pricing that tends to be more costly than VPS due to the overhead and complexity involved.

Control

Cloud hosting delivers the ability to choose between Linux and Windows OS and tweak network architecture, firewalls, load balancing, and IP addresses. However, the complexity of a cloud environment means it requires more technical expertise to configure than VPS.

When Cloud Wins

Your primary goal is real-time scalability; You do not have compliance needs; You are not concerned with having a predictable monthly spend.

Further Reading

VPS Functionality Compared to Other Types of Hosting

Shared Hosting

Number of websites you can host Typically 1 per plan
Resource utilization Limited by plan
Skill required to manage account Little to none
Hosting support Fully managed
IP address Shared with other companies’ websites
Operating System Whatever shared host provides
Hosting control Practically none
Remote access to server No
Install custom software No
Cost $3 to $10 USD/Mo.
VPS Hosting

Number of websites you can host Unlimited
Resource utilization Pre-determined; Can expand when needed
Skill required to manage account Basic server admin and troubleshooting
Hosting support Varies by plan
IP address Not shared with other companies; All of your sites within each VPS share IP address
Operating System Limited, options vary by provider
Hosting control Full root access
Remote access to server Yes, via SSH or Remote Desktop
Install custom software Yes
Cost $59 to $179 USD/Mo.
Cloud Hosting

Number of websites you can host Unlimited
Resource utilization Variable
Skill required to manage account Full server management
Hosting support Varies by plan
IP address Possible to assign static IP on AWS or Azure
Operating System Choice of almost any OS
Hosting control Full Root
Remote access to server Yes
Install custom software Yes
Cost Varies, no minimum
Dedicated Server Hosting

Number of websites you can host Unlimited
Resource utilization Entire server
Skill required to manage account Basic server admin and troubleshooting
Hosting support Varies by plan
IP address All of your sites on the server share IP address
Operating System Choice of any OS
Hosting control Full root access
Remote access to server Yes, via SSH or Remote Desktop
Install custom software Yes
Cost $199 to 3596 USD/Mo.
Comparison of Features
Shared Hosting

VPS Hosting

Cloud Hosting

Dedicated Server Hosting

Number of websites you can host Typically 1 per plan Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Resource utilization Limited by plan Pre-determined; Can expand when needed Variable Entire server
Skill required to manage account Little to none Basic server admin and troubleshooting Full server management Basic server admin and troubleshooting
Hosting support Fully managed Varies by plan Varies by plan Varies by plan
IP address Shared with other companies’ websites Not shared with other companies; All of your sites within each VPS share IP address Possible to assign static IP on AWS or Azure All of your sites on the server share IP address
Operating System Whatever shared host provides Limited, options vary by provider Choice of almost any OS Choice of any OS
Hosting control Practically none Full root access Full Root Full root access
Remote access to server No Yes, via SSH or Remote Desktop Yes Yes, via SSH or Remote Desktop
Install custom software No Yes Yes Yes
Cost $3 to $10 USD/Mo. $59 to $179 USD/Mo. Varies, no minimum $199 to 3596 USD/Mo.

Managed or Unmanaged VPS Hosting

Once you’ve decided VPS hosting is right for you, the next choice you’ll face is whether to use managed or unmanaged VPS. The basic question comes down to how much control you want (and are comfortable having).

What Is Managed VPS?

Fully Managed VPS is a virtual private server that lets you take a hands-off approach. Your hosting company will handle the technical side to ensure the VPS provides the functionality and virus and spam protection you need without any work on your part. They’ll also handle maintenance, troubleshooting, and software installs, saving you time and making sure the job is done with expertise.

Pros of Managed VPS

  • Saves you time
  • Requires no IT expertise on your part
  • Ensures OS updates are completed, keeping you secure and current
  • Ensures changes are made correctly

Cons of Managed VPS

  • Costs more than unmanaged
  • Gives more control to an outside party (it’s important to use a reputable hosting provider)

What Is Unmanaged VPS?

Unmanaged VPS or self-managed VPS is a virtual private server that a company manages for itself. The hosting company is responsible for providing the VPS, maintaining the hardware, and performing system-level health checks, but the VPS customer performs the rest of the maintenance, monitoring, and changes.

Pros of Unmanaged VPS

  • Cost savings over managed VPS
  • More control, less trust required

Cons of Unmanaged VPS

  • Takes time away from core business functions
  • Requires 24/7/365 IT expert on the clock
  • Difficult to keep up with OS updates and patches
  • Potentially reduces overall security and reliability if in-house team is slow to perform updates

Semi-Managed VPS Hosting

A middle-ground option between fully managed VPS hosting and unmanaged is core managed. Here, the hosting company provides the same basics as unmanaged hosting but adds on core software installation and support, OS updates and patches, security enhancements, full web server support, and pro-active response and restoration of monitoring events.

Core managed hosting differs from fully managed hosting in that core doesn’t include virus and spam protection, external migrations, full control panel support, or control panel upgrades and patches.

Why You Should Probably Go the Managed Route

Fully managed VPS makes the lives of you and your staff considerably easier, but that’s not the only reason it’s the best option. Consider the difference in the skill levels and efficiencies of a person who is focused full-time on managing hosting versus someone who is doing it as a small part of their larger job.

Hosting company team members stay up to date on best practices, new technologies, and current threats. They also quickly gain on-the-job experience working with a variety of environments and troubleshooting common issues. That means they know how to optimize your environment for performance and security, and they know how to quickly resolve common issues.

Unmanaged hosting requires that you ask your IT team members (or, often, a single IT person) to do the work of a skilled, full-time hosting team while also performing their other duties. And, unless you want to open up the risk of downtime, they’ll have to perform those duties 24/7/365. As you can imagine, the results are typically not as good and companies often end up paying more in the long run due to security breaches and downtime when they choose to go with unmanaged hosting.

Choosing a VPS Hosting Provider

So you’re all in on VPS hosting — now you just need to choose your hosting provider. The company you choose will play a big role in the performance and reliability of your VPS, so it’s important to do your research.

What Is the Best VPS Hosting Service?

The best VPS hosting service is the one that you feel most confident and comfortable with. For you, that could mean the provider with the best reviews or the one who offers the best price or the best technical specs. Ideally, you’ll choose a provider who offers a balance of all of these.

When you’re vetting VPS hosting services, start with the companies who show up on “best VPS hosting” lists over and over again. Then reach out to get a sense of how responsive they are and how their offering stacks up against competitors.

Liquid Web has worked hard to build a competitive VPS offering, and as mentioned in this guide, third-party testing has found our VPS hosting outperforms Rackspace, DigitalOcean, and Amazon's. Moreover, our customer reviews will bear out that our customer service and support teams, the Most Helpful Humans in HostingTM, deliver responsive support, pro-active service, and immense value to the businesses we work with.

What to Look for in a VPS Hosting Provider

Uptime

Don’t just ask the hosting provider about their uptime guarantees, check their third-party customer reviews to see whether their hosting is reliable and how quickly and effectively the provider responds in the event that downtime does occur.

Performance

Research third-party vCPU performance tests to get a sense of each hosting provider’s benchmarks. Obviously, the better the performance, the faster your VPS-hosted website or applications will run, improving sales and productivity. Cloud Spectator has tested some of the leading VPS services and released their findings in this report.

Customer Service

Don’t just research by visiting hosting providers’ websites. Reach out to see which companies are the easiest to speak with, who responds most quickly and thoroughly, and who takes the most pro-active approach to working with you.

Scalability

Ask each provider what the process is for scaling VPS hosting on their servers. Can you self-serve, and if not, what is the turnaround time for making changes? How does the pricing change as you scale?

Cost

Weigh not only the monthly cost but total cost of ownership. If you’re considering unmanaged VPS hosting, that means taking into account your own staff’s management time and the cost of potential downtime or cyber attacks.

Hardware

Ask for details on the servers each hosting provider uses for VPS. Providers who use more up-to-date hardware with current-generation processors will be more reliable long-term partners than those who don’t.

OS

Learn what operating systems the hosting providers support on VPS, and decide whether those will work for your needs or not.

Security

Find out what sort of security comes with each VPS offering. For example, does the hosting provider offer DDoS protection?

Backups

Backups are an important feature of VPS hosting, so ask how often each provider performs backups. Opt for a company that does nightly backups if possible to ensure you’re always just a step away from full recovery should something happen to your data.

DDoS Attack Protection

Does the hosting provider automatically include basic DDoS protection with their servers? And what options do they have for upgraded protection in the event of larger attacks?

CDN

If you’re using VPS to host a public-facing website, find out whether the VPS package comes with a CDN, either as an included feature or an optional add-on. If the provider offers managed CloudFlare, for example, that sweetens the deal, as it can mean a faster and more secure site.

Migration

If you’re already hosting elsewhere, it’s important to understand each prospective hosting provider’s approach to VPS migration. Will they manage the migration, and if so, what is the cost and approximate timeline?

Cost of VPS Hosting

How Much Does VPS Hosting Cost?

VPS hosting pricing depends on a number of factors like the provider’s level of service and support, performance, bandwidth, and the features included with the hosting package. Overall, you can expect to pay more than you would for shared hosting but less than you would for dedicated.

To help you ballpark the costs, you can view Liquid Web’s Cloud VPS starting prices here and Private VPS Parent starting prices here.

Is VPS Worth It?

Yes, VPS is a powerful and versatile type of hosting that many companies will find meets their needs. If you’re already hosting in a different type of environment, you may be wondering whether it’s worthwhile to migrate to VPS. This is an important discussion to have with each prospective hosting provider in order to understand how they handle migrations, what would be required from you, how long it might take, and any costs associated.

The Cost of Picking the Wrong Hosting Provider

Sometimes fledgling companies pick their VPS hosting provider based solely on price. This is not a good strategy for a few reasons.

Cheap VPS hosting usually comes with tradeoffs that increase the overall cost to the company’s bottom line. For example, cheap hosting providers typically don’t deliver the best performance, leading to slower-loading websites. This alone can have a huge impact on sales, considering one in four people will abandon a website if a page takes longer than four seconds to load.

Another drawback of cheap VPS hosting is that it might not deliver round-the-clock support from knowledgeable or helpful staff. That can mean that, if and when downtime happens, it’s difficult to get answers much less issue resolution. You may also find that cheaper providers use less reputable security software and protocol or don’t provide security at all.

Most companies only make the “cheap host” mistake once. When it comes to your company’s health and security, compromising on your hosting provider doesn’t end up saving you money in the long run.

Getting Started with VPS Hosting

How to Get Started with VPS Hosting

Not quite sure where to start? Chat with us now to speak with a Managed VPS Advisor.

Once Up and Running, Optimize Your VPS

Once you’re set up, there are a few things you can do to optimize your VPS. We recommend five key tasks:

Configuring your Apache settings

Apache can be a big resource hog on VPS if it’s not configured correctly. See our Apache optimization KB article for more details.

Ensuring you’re on an updated MySQL version

You’d be surprised how operating on an older version can affect your performance. Here’s how you can check your MySQL version.

Caching your content to RAM

This will speed up processes and reduce latency. Read more in our guide on Caching Options for Optimizing Your VPS.

Optimizing your content

There are many factors that can affect the load time of your content. Using a free tool like Google PageSpeed can help you identify issues that may be bogging you down.

Using a CDN

As previously mentioned, a CDN can significantly improve the delivery speed of your content. Here is a great resource for learning more about CDNs.

Learn More About VPS Hosting from a Helpful Human

Whether you’re ready to choose a VPS provider or still trying to pick the right hosting option for your company, we’re here to guide you down the right path.

Liquid Web - Helpful Human