Hard Choices: VPS vs. Dedicated Server

Usually, web hosting services can be broken down into four types: shared hosting, VPS, managed hosting and dedicated servers. Each ones have their own pros and cons so picking the right one is important to not cause troubles to yourself in the future.

Shared hosting plans are basically the lowest tier of all in web hosting services, especially when it comes to performance, customizability and pricing. Performance-wise, it is not really that great since you are sharing one server with hundreds of other websites. Sure, it is very affordable but you can’t customize a lot to fit your needs either. So depending on your need, you might have to look at better options like VPS, dedicated servers or managed hosting if you want serious hosting.

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Then there are so many options out there for VPS and dedicated servers, and a hybrid some people call “semi-dedicated” so the lines are blurry. The choices are confusing for uninitiated, and it is generally unclear what to use for most people.

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Go Go Go, Team Dedicated!

Standalone, dedicated servers would be the fastest and most powerful, yet also the most expensive option available. Of course, let’s forget about clustering a bunch of cloud VPS servers for awhile. But that’s what dedicated servers are. You can get loads of RAM, really powerful CPU and do hardware RAID configurations for really good storage speed and space. So even though high-end and mid-range VPS services could beat lower-end dedicated servers anytime of the day, in terms of standalone performance, dedicated servers are still the best.
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But yeah, the price is high, simply because they are at the highest tier of hosting services. And you are occupying the whole machine which costs thousands of dollars upfront to build, so your monthly cost to rent one is going to be high, make no mistake. The key here is to know if your cost could be justified by the benefits you get from a dedicated server. There are a few, and some of those benefits may not be available on some VPS solutions although nowadays, VPS solutions are getting steadily more powerful.

The main feature that attracts people towards a dedicated server would be that you have complete control of the server. It is all yours. You can reboot it, update the software, install anything you want, or even completely reinstall the OS if you want it. You essentially make it run the way you want. It offers a bunch of benefits of its own too, since you no longer have to conform to the constrains set by the web host. You can optimize and customize the hell out of it. It’s all entirely up to you. This is what shared hosting providers will not allow you to do. You are stuck with what they already did to the server. That’s it. If you need a custom PHP module or something on the server, good luck ever getting them to install it for you. This is the complete freedom and beauty of a dedicated server.

Then another factor is performance. We already talked about how powerful a dedicated server is but we can’t stress enough about it. VPS solutions are powerful but they are still essentially sharing resources of a single computer, although they have dedicated access to the system resources. But for a dedicated server, you get access to every single thing on it. Everything. RAM, CPU, storage, every single goddarn component is at your disposal. Awesome, isn’t it?

So what about the VPS?

We actually really love virtual private servers, but not everyone might. Thing is, while people can see how dedicated servers can be useful and they even accept why those behemoths are expensive, they can’t really get their head wrap around the idea of having a bunch of virtual servers sharing the same machine but still claiming they are powerful along with a heavy price tag (not as much as dedicated servers though). Since they are sharing the same server, aren’t they essentially the same as shared hosting? Not really, although it’s a fair question.
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The most prominent difference is that shared hosting services never have guaranteed or dedicated access to any portion of the server’s resources. Instead, they use up the server processing power, RAM and whatnot as they go. So when one site is taking a lot of traffic, that server is going to give more processing power for it, leaving little room for other shared hosting accounts. Plus, you are running on same environment, same OS and everything. You can’t install or customize server-side features, or even do customization to the server OS.

VPS are different. They use virtualization technologies on a physical server and create their own virtual server environment, with dedicated and guaranteed share of system resources. So if a VPS service states that it has 512MB RAM, it really has 512MB RAM assigned to it, not “useing resources on-demand”. Plus, since it is on its own virtual server environment, you are free to install your own OS, server-side software and whatever that pleases you. So basically, you have all kind of control you can’t get with shared hosting. In fact, the kind of control you have with a VPS is almost on par with a dedicated solution. However, keep in mind that if you go with a cheap VPS solution, then there might be restrictions.

VPS: Things To Consider

The thing is that not all VPS are equal. Neither are they straightforward, especially when it comes to specified hardware. That’s the catch, if you don’t understand the technical side of things. When a provider offers 1 GHz of CPU and 384MB of RAM, it may or may not be split into multiple chunks. This is especially important if you want to run processes that demand high-performance but not threaded well. But if your purpose is just for blogging or some websites that will work fine with a single chunk or node of memory or CPU, then it won’t be an issue since the task is just a low-intensity one.

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The key here is to ask questions – lots of them. Mainly about the hardware and system resources they are getting instead of just relying on your own assumptions based on what you see. And you should always ask if you can temporarily or permanently upgrade your VPS without downtime because if you need a VPS now, one day, you will need to upgrade it to accommodate growing needs. When there is a downtime, you are going to lose customers and revenue. Think about it.

Cloud VPS

Cloud VPS solutions are the latest addition to the VPS marketplace, as they are basically multiple-redundant VPS solutions. With this, you can essentially make redundant copies of entire websites in case one server goes down. Take a look at VPS.NET or Linode for example. They are great cloud VPS solution providers, and the cost isn’t much. Starting cost is only $20 or so. There are other higher-end providers with great plans too.

Pick One?

We gotta admit that it is not always easy to pick one just like that. The right balance between performance and price is important but challenging to achieve. The old saying of you get what you pay for still applies here, even in the age of Web and Cloud. However, the reality here is that sometimes you get less than what you pay for too. So just don’t believe everything you see on a sales page and assume that the amount of money you are paying is a good measure of what you are getting. Reputation is really important here so you may want to stick with top tier web hosting companies with established names. They are less likely to underdeliver.

Cloud VPS and high-end VPS solutions are blurring the line between dedicated servers and VPS. Heck, at Amazon, you can instantly scale up to a really high-performance cloud VPS and scale down when you want it. If you want complete control over the whole machine, with steady hardware performance and whatnot, then you might want to go with dedicated servers. However, bear in mind about upfront costs to have a dedicated server and monthly costs. There are more affordable options for dedicated servers too but always keep in mind that you get what you pay for, nothing more.
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Published on: June 10,2013.
Find him on Google+. Pete runs Best Hosting and wants to get detailed information to the readers. He is dedicated to being the best and providing the highest quality at anything he does.

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