Things to Consider When Purchasing a Virtual Private Server
Last updated on Oct 31, 2016
A virtual private server (VPS) is often considered to be an ideal choice for those who have outgrown shared hosting but are not yet ready for a dedicated server. A VPS offers you more power and control over your hosting account, and costs less than a dedicated server.
Thus, it is only fair that a VPS acts as a direct upgrade from shared hosting. However, much like any other hosting terminology, you should be aware of certain things related to virtual private servers as well.
Here are some key considerations that you should bear in mind when purchasing a VPS.
Why Do You Want a VPS?
This is the first question that you should ask yourself: why are you planning to buy a VPS?
If you have just outgrown shared hosting, and are getting more traffic than a basic shared account can handle, your first leap should probably not be towards a VPS. Yes, almost everyone advises users to upgrade to VPS from shared hosting, but if it’s only because of traffic’s sake, you would be better off with a semi-dedicated hosting package.
If, however, you need better scalability or control over your server’s resources, then a VPS does make sense. Virtual private servers are scalable and grow as your website grows. You also get better control and server root access, allowing you more liberty with your web hosting account.
Managed Versus Unmanaged
If you have ever gone VPS shopping, or been active in the web hosting world for a while, you might already have heard of “managed VPS” as opposed to “unmanaged VPS”. What is the difference between the two?
Well, an unmanaged VPS is just that — the web host sets up a virtual private server account for you, and leaves it at that. You get full access to your account, including the ability to install whichever control panel you feel like, whatever scripts you feel like, and so on. Since an unmanaged VPS does not require the web host’s management services, the prices are fairly cheaper.
However, what many buyers do not understand is that unmanaged is not really “unmanaged”. Instead, it is “self-managed”. You need to keep your scripts and software updated, as well as secure your VPS from attackers and malicious hackers. As such, you need to have a good grasp over IT and technical matters (and time to indulge in VPS management) in order to actually work with an unmanaged VPS.
If that is something you cannot deal with, a managed VPS is the way to go. Here, you still get to pick your scripts and software, but the web host manages your virtual private server’s updates and security patches, etc. Naturally, the price covers the management fees as well and is therefore higher. However, it is worth the extra money if you cannot manage your VPS (due to lack of know-how or time or both). A good web host will keep your virtual private server in good standing and manage it well, allowing you to focus on your website and not server-side administration.
Managed: Proactive or Reactive?
But there is more to VPS management than meets the eye. This is where you must read the fine print; probably even consider checking with your web host before you purchase a VPS. Simple question: what type of “management” is included in a managed VPS?
Broadly speaking, most web hosts tend to offer reactive management services. In this, your scripts are kept up to date as needed and when possible, and security patches are applied promptly. However, you still get root access and if things go wrong, the web hosting will help you. Note that, “if” things go wrong, the web host will help you. This is reactive service — the web hosting provider still takes a back-seat and allows you to work with your VPS at greater freedom.
But if you are not really fond of working with VPSs, proactive management might be better for you. Here, your account works as if it were a shared hosting account. You do not get to make gigantic changes. In fact, all you get is access to cPanel (or some other control panel, as the case maybe). You can install scripts such as WordPress, setup email accounts, and so on. But you cannot really do anything “VPS-like”. Your web host proactively works while managing your VPS, including updates, operating system handling, and a lot more. You get the resources and power of a virtual private server coupled with the simplicity of shared hosting.
Proactive VPS management is often quite costly, and for a good VPS configuration, it might run even more budget-unfriendly than a dedicated server.
A lot is often talked about the specifications and technical aspects of VPS hosting. Now, operating systems are often a matter of personal choice and needs. If you do not know which operating system you need for your VPS, there are high chances that you need Linux and not Windows.
That said, what about hardware? If your budget permits, a clustered cloud-based VPS is generally a better pick as compared to a conventional VPS. In terms of RAM, be sure to never look at a VPS that has less than 1 GB of RAM (that’s the bare minimum). It is rather surprising to see that even to this day many web hosts offer VPS plan with 512 MB of RAM — that’s even weaker than a shared hosting account!
Storage and bandwidth depends on your own needs. However, be sure to check with your web host regarding additional goods: the number of IP addresses that are included, if there is any discount being offered on cPanel (or Plesk) pricing, etc. For CPU cores, it once again boils down to your needs. For as far as I have seen, most websites running on VPS require not so much CPU power, unless you are running something enormous such as a game server.
All said and done, you should also check with your web host regarding the scope of support. In fact, it has nowadays become a trend for below par web hosts to shy away from offering proper technical support for unmanaged VPS customers. The standard excuse, “Hey, this is unmanaged please don’t expect help”, is rather common, sadly.
Lastly, if your web host offers a trial period, make good use of that before finalizing a VPS. Virtual private servers are not the cheapest thing in the world of web hosting, so you should always be certain about your requirements and priorities before investing in one.
Sufyan is a contributor to a variety of websites and blogs about technology, Linux, open source, web design, content management systems and web development. Learn more about his works on sufyanism.com