Your website is going awesome. So awesome that you need more server power than a shared web host plan can provide. If you find yourself in this situation, your next web-hosting step will be a VPS or Virtual Private Server. This is simultaneously a great feeling and a frightening experience. You are happy that your website has grown so much, but are afraid that the transition to a new server will be hard and cause downtime. Unfortunately, web hosts are notoriously shady when it comes to VPS hosting.
What is VPS Hosting?
Before we get into the things you should know about VPS hosting, we thought we’d take a moment to talk about what a VPS actually is and how it’s different than a shared hosting or dedicated-server hosting plan. If you are new to the hosting game, you might not know. If you already have a good idea, then you can move on to the next section.
A Virtual Private Server is actually just one physical server, but instead of everyone being on the same server and using the same software like a shared hosting scenario, every customer has his or her own virtual server. This means that the physical server is divided into smaller parts that virtually (i.e. with software) act as if they were separate servers.
You can think of hosting servers like a swimming pool.
- A shared hosting system is everyone in the pool together. Same water, same urine, same filtration system. Users intermingle with one another and share resources.
- A VPS hosting system is everyone in the same pool, but the pool has been divided into smaller parts. Everyone still shares the same pool, but everyone has his or her own section, and nobody can intermingle with anyone else.
- A Dedicated hosting system is everyone has his or her own pool. Their own water. Their own filtration systems.
Obviously, there is some technical voodoo going on in the background, but you should at least have an idea of what the differences are. Now, let’s get into the five things you should know about VPS hosting.
#1 Know Why You Need a VPS
Every web host on the Internet is going to try and upsell you to a VPS hosting plan. They get to offer you less virtual resources in exchange for (usually) a lot more money. They will try to tell you the virtues of having a VPS. They will do this with many trumped up features, and claims of support. DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM!
Only choose a VPS if you KNOW you need it. Asking a web host if you need one is like asking a car salesman if you need the extended warranty. Of course he or she will say yes, that’s how they make money.
Write down the reasons why you need a VPS. This could be: more resources like memory, bandwidth, or storage space. It might also be a hedge against future growth. Whatever the reasons, know them before you go into a hosting agreement. That way you know what you need, and what you don’t. And you won’t get talked into features you won’t need.
#2 Know What You Don’t Know
There are two kinds of VPS hosting plans: managed and unmanaged. Managed is more expensive (usually appears that way at least), and unmanaged is cheaper. At least that is what the web host wants you to think. First, let’s look at the difference, it’s actually rather simple:
- Managed VPS systems have management software installed on them. Things like CPanel, which offer tons of features. It also means your new virtual server is ready to go out of the box. The advantage is that you don’t have to pay for that management software extra, it’s already included.
- Unmanaged VPS systems are exactly that. A blank server. No OS, no management software, no web server software. Nothing. Everything will need to be installed by you. If you want a web interface for server and website management (like CPanel), you’ll need to pay for it. That will pretty much eliminate any pricing benefits you received by choosing unmanaged. Unmanaged VPS systems also usually come with much less support.
Our advice here is to know what you don’t know. Managing a VPS sever is hard. It almost always entails learning how to manage Linux and Apache. That means learning how to use the command line and root access. If you don’t know at least a little about this, but still need a VPS, then the managed VPS is the way to go.
Web hosts will try and get you with their pricing advertisements. They will only give you the prices of the servers. If you choose unmanaged there are almost always outside costs that will increase the monthly run cost. Keep that in mind.
#3 Know Your Responsibilities
Both managed and unmanaged servers will require a certain level of knowhow. Obviously unmanaged requires a ton more than managed. When you’re searching for a VPS host, know what comes with the plan. What are the responsibilities of your host? What are your responsibilities? Who manages the server updates?
Chances are, you’ll find that the web hosts place as much responsibility on you as they can. The more they take, the more it costs them. And that’s fine, as long as you know what you will need to do while you’re on that server going in. You don’t want it to be a surprise when something goes wrong.
#4 Know Your Budget and Resource Needs
VPS systems can be expanded and extended. That is one of the great things about VPS hosting. It is the reason to upgrade. It is also another way web hosts will try to upsell you. They want you to buy as much as possible.
Know how much you need before you buy. Look at previous server usage, and that will help you buy the correct amount of resources. If you don’t have access to those records (and you might not if you were on shared hosting), then you might have to make an educated guess. Buy more than you need, but not so much that you waste money. Use your head. Then make adjustments once you have the data of how much you’ve used.
Almost every reputable VPS hosting provider will allow you to scale both higher and lower when it comes to resources. They won’t make you sign a contract or lock you into a certain amount of server resources. After all, the benefit of a VPS is that you can get more resources immediately when you need them. If you find a host that tries to do that, look elsewhere.
#5 Know Your Web Host
Finally, know whom you’re doing business with. Look for a host that offers the functions you need now, and might need in the future. Look for one that will help with the transition. The more support they offer, the better.
If there are tons of statements and fine print saying that you are responsible for everything and that the host has no responsibility of support, find someone else. Do your research, look for reviews here on HostJury, and be cautious.
Choosing to go to a VPS is a tough decision, but as your website grows, will become a necessary one. Be wary of too-good-to-be-true offers. You really do get what you pay for. Hosts will try to be as cheap as possible, so know what you’re getting and how much that will cost you. Our best advice is to be prepared for any situation, that way you won’t be surprised. The more info you have on the transition, on the server, and on the host, the better off you’ll be.
Have questions or comments? Talk back in the comment section below and write a review of your web-hosting provider.