Everyone who is starting out on the web needs a hosting service. If it’s a personal or family blog, chances are good that a low-cost shared hosting plan is the best for you. A small shared hosting account is cheap but it has the drawback of not being able to serve a lot of users.
With a low-cost shared site, you can try this “web site” thing out without much financial or time investment. Perhaps one of our recommended shared hosting plans is all you will ever need.
The Disadvantages of Shared Hosting
By definition, all the sites on a shared server compete among each other for resources, so page loads can be slower than desired. In the worst case, it might seem like you are off-line when you are under heavy load. You can lose visitors this way.
Also, you are limited to a certain amount of content even if you buy an “unlimited” shared hosting plan. The hosting company may decide that you have too much content on their server and either suspend you or tell you that you need to buy a more expensive plan. Please see our Guide to Shared Hosting.
For example, one of my friends who bought an “unlimited” plan was told that she had too many files and she had three days to trim it down or she would be suspended. So much for “unlimited” shared hosting.
Virtual Private Servers
The next step up is a virtual private server (VPS). The key word here is private. That’s important. It is similar to shared hosting in that several sites share the same physical server but resources aren’t shared with anyone.
A unique feature of VPS over shared is that you can administer your site – just as if it were a separate physical computer. This is not possible with shared hosting.
When you purchase a VPS, you can customize several aspects of the hardware and your own LAMP stack (The LAMP stack is the operating system, the web server, the database, and the scripting language – the components that support your web presence). You are often able to specify these aspects of the hardware:
- Speed of the CPU
- Number of Cores
- Amount of Memory
- Amount of Storage
You can also specify:
- The Linux distro (or whether you want a Windows server instead)
- The web server (Apache, Apache-based, or Nginx)
- The database that you will use (usually MySQL, MariaDB, or PostgreSQL)
- The control panel used to administer the site (None, cPanel, Plesk, or other)
As you can see, you get configuration options that cannot be specified in any shared hosting plan – because everyone needs to share the same thing! Doh!!
Most notably, a some VPS plans give you full root access to your server. This distinction really separates the VPS from the shared plans.
VPS Cloud Accounts
A Cloud VPS is similar to “regular” managed VPS hosting but it has additional benefits for high volume sites. A Cloud VPS can dynamically increase its capacity to meet demand as needed. It has the ability to use other servers in the cloud to meet heavy demands or when the primary server goes down. Sometimes this is called “auto-scaling”, or “auto-healing”.
Its pricing structure is different in that bandwidth is priced according to usage. Typically the bandwidth for a VPS plan is the bandwidth you get for the agreed-upon price, but additional bandwidth can be added automatically to meet demand. Its usually a charge per GB above the base price.
Types of VPS Accounts
There is an important distinction among VPS accounts that you need to consider. We’ll review two flavors of VPS: Managed, and Unmanaged (a.k.a., “self-managed”).
Managed VPS Hosts
If you have outgrown your shared plan but like it in other ways, then managed VPS is for you. Your relationship with the hosting company’s support staff is similar to shared hosting. They are responsible for keeping the LAMP stack up to date and normal services operating. They take care of installing security patches and updates to the core components of the LAMP stack without bothering you.
You usually get a control panel and an installer but sometimes you need to pay a few dollars extra for it. Also, some managed plans do not give you root access; the agreement would be that the hosting company will deal with any issues that require it.
If you are used to shared hosting, the then the experience of running your site on a Managed VPS should be very familiar to you. The differences are that the page loads will be faster and the site should not go down under the stress of a lot of traffic.
A managed VPS costs more than a shared plan from the same company.
Self-Managed, a.k.a., “Unmanaged”
As the name implies, an Unmanaged VPS gives you the responsibility for maintaining your LAMP stack. You are both the webmaster and the site administrator.
This option is intended for developers or intermediate to advanced users. If you’ve been gradually learning about the system administration side of the business, then it may be right for you.
One benefit of Unmanaged VPS is that it can be sold for much less than managed since there is no support staff to do the management and the hosting company does not need to pay the license fees for the panel or the installer.
We’ve chosen 5 highly recommended hosting companies that offer both types of VPS solutions. Decide why you want to step up to VPS and choose a company that offers the type of service that meets your needs.
The Best 5
- Digital Ocean : A developer-oriented cloud VPS at Shared hosting prices,
- A Small Orange : A fantastic managed VPS that features Nginx as a reverse-proxy server,
- Lithium Hosting : A performance-oriented VPS provider,
- A2 Hosting : A cutting-edge unmanaged VPS with its own automated installer,
- Site5 : Great Managed and unmanaged VPS hosting under one roof.
Read more about them after the break!
1. Winner – Digital Ocean – Unmanaged – From $5/mo + $0.02/GB
Digital Ocean is a relatively young hosting company. It is unabashedly “by developers and for developers”. It offers only self-managed Cloud VPS and nothing else. They don’t even offer any shared hosting plans. They use only SSD storage and emphasize speed and performance in other ways as well. For example, they boast that they provision a new VPS in only 55 seconds – as if 5 minutes was unacceptable.
They boast 99.99% uptime – and that should be true since it is a cloud VPS hosting company. If your site goes down somehow, they will credit your account for the amount of time that it was not available. They are based in New York and have servers in New York, SF, Singapore, and Amsterdam. You choose the location of your server when you set up your VPS.
Since they are very developer-oriented, they have a large and active community of expert users and a great library of well-written technical notes and tutorials. The tech notes cover both the common and not-so-common apps and Digital Oceans’s own idiosyncrasies.
Speaking of idiosyncrasies, they offer none of the familiar installers or panels. They do have a panel of their own that you use to create a new VPS and do some configuration. In their lingo, a VPS is called a “droplet”. You begin by creating a droplet that installs the core components of your site. If you really want to configure the VPS totally on your own, you can choose a droplet that installs only an empty LAMP stack. With root access in your hot little hands, you hit the Unix command line and install anything you like!
The other option is to choose a droplet that installs an app with its stack. Here is a shot of the current options for apps.
In this case the selected droplet installs a custom Linux stack that uses the Nginx web server instead of Apache and the node.js scripting language. This type of customization is impossible in shared hosting. This combo is a speed demon – and it works fine in a $5/month site!
Many apps that you might want to use do not currently have droplets, so you can start with a droplet that creates a stack, SSH into your site, and install the apps yourself.
Digital Ocean Pricing Table
Digital Ocean does not need to bear the costs of managed hosting, so they run mean and lean. The excellent support is in the form of email to the staff, the library of tech notes and tutorials, and the community of developer/users.
Notice that their cheapest plans give you more storage and bandwidth for the money than many shared hosting plans.
If you exceed the bandwidth of your plan, you are charged $0.02 per GB.
If you want the chance to be the sysadmin yourself, you will love it. But if you want to concentrate on your site and not the details of managing the LAMP stack, then blow this off and check out the managed VPS companies.
2. A Small Orange – Managed – From $25/mo
ASO’s VPS plans represent a gentle upgrade from their winning shared hosting plans. They are all fully managed and, as is typical of ASO, offer deluxe features that are included in the advertised price. They all include the cPanel installer; the standard CPU is equal to a 2.5 GHz Xeon (server grade) or better and SSD storage is included without any upselling. Backups are included; if you sign up for a year, you get two extra months.
Here are selected Cloud VPS plans:
ASO also has a premium-priced “Managed SEO Services” plan as a high cost option. It is only for business and promises to hand-tune your site for maximum SEO. That’s not what we mean by “managed” here, though. This is a deluxe service and it is more typical of what you’d hire a free-lance web developer to do for you.
3. Lithium Hosting – Unmanaged – From $18/mo
From their top-notch shared hosting offerings, you’d guess that their prices are very competitive. They are but…
…they are unmanaged. You do not get a panel or an installer package such as Softaculous. You manage your VPS with the command line. You have access to root and full control over the entire LAMP stack.
Thus, you can compare their prices and service to Digital Ocean and other unmanaged VPS hosts. Here are selected Lithium Hosting plans:
They also offer great performance for the dollar.
4. a2Hosting – Unmanaged – From $15/mo + $0.12/GB
Among the recommended hosting companies, A2 has one of the most complex price sheets. a2Hosting is an excellent state-of-the art host, but you need to review its price sheet carefully to be sure what you are buying and are satisfied with the final price.
As is the case with many companies, you can vary the values of several features to create a customized VPS for yourself. This table represents only some of the values of those features. This table is only for the lowest processor speed and mechanical drives. See the notes at the end of the table.
1. Bandwidth is $0.12 per GB after you reach 2TB.
2. These prices are for their slow processor, 600MHz. For a 1.2GHz processor, add $5/mo; for a 2GZHz processor, add 13.64/mo.
3. These prices are for mechanical disks; for SSD storage, add $5.00/mo.
A2Hosting is an excellent hosting company, but its pricing puts it at the upper range of scale and the complexity of their price sheet gives me a headache. I tend to prefer the simplicity of the higher rated hosting companies, but I can’t deny the excellence of their service.
5. Site5 – Unmanaged From $25/mo; Managed From $72/mo
Site5 is certainly unusual in that it offers both managed and unmanaged VPS hosting plans. This is the ideal situation for someone who is price-shopping. It turns out that you will be paying more than twice the price for the managed plan over the comparable unmanaged one.
Unmanaged VPS Plans
Here is the price sheet for unmanaged VPS hosting.
These aggressive prices do not include a panel or an installer. The cPanel and Softaculous installer are available for an added $11.25/mo. With these options, this is an attractive package for someone who is comfortable with shared hosting but needs the performance of a dedicated server.
Managed VPS Plans
Site5 also offers “no-worry full management”, but this option does not include root access.
They offer this description of “full management”:
Site5 handles all server updates, security fixes at the operating system level, monitoring and more. We include this excellent extension to our VPS hosting service because we want to help you host and run the absolute best VPS hosting environment.
- We keep your software up to date.
- Secure monitoring 24/7 by our team.
- Proactive response to any attacks or problems.
- 24/7 monitoring because your site is our baby.
That’s what you’re paying for; here are their prices:
The cPanel/Softaculous package is a $10/mo add-on and a comprehensive backup package (30 days of backups) will run you an extra $14/mo.
Its clear that service costs extra. If you add the panel and the installer to the prices of their unmanaged plans, they are about half their managed counterparts. Service for shared hosting is cheaper than for VPS since the individual sites cannot be customized.
The unmanaged flavor of VPS hosting is web hosting in its purest form. For all intents and purposes, the hosting company is turning over a machine to you – except that the machine is not literally a physical computer, its only a virtual one. You get to spec out several important aspects of the hardware and customize your suite of software. For example, if you don’t want to use Apache, you can install NginX instead. Because they turn over root access, you get to run the show your way.
The downside is that you assume responsibility for maintaining that software and you need to use the Unix command line. You have to be concerned with keeping the software current and the site secure.
Besides the advantages of configuring the machine your way, you also get the best prices available. But if the added expertise and responsibility is not for you, then check out our top-rated managed VPS hosts and use our Cloud VPS hosting comparison tool.
Both extremes are represented in this list. In automotive terms: If you want the keys to the Lambo, you’ll love Digital Ocean but if you want the seat in the limo, check out the fully-managed plans.