As a webmaster begins planning for a new website, one of the first decisions that comes up is the hosting mechanism. IT professionals generally recognize three levels of hosting: shared hosting, dedicated hosting, and VPS hosting. Although choosing the hosting method is ultimately up to the experience and discretion of the webmaster, there are a few factors that should be considered before making a decision. Here’s a list of pros and cons of choosing to use a VPS to host a website.
Positive Features of Using a VPS
We’ll start out with going over the pros of using VPS hosting. The biggest plus is that a VPS offers a hybrid between dedicated server hosting and shared hosting. Shared hosting is often the cheapest option, but it comes with no access to internal server functions. Dedicated hosting provides the website with dedicated resources and full server access, but it often comes at a prohibitive premium for small to midsize projects.
On the other hand, a VPS costs much less than a dedicated server, but as a virtual machine, it gives the user the same operating system-level access that a dedicated server does. A VPS shares resources with other customers on the same dedicated server to help everyone defray costs who cannot use all the resources on the dedicated server by themselves.
A VPS allows a webmaster to install the operating system that he or she is most comfortable with. Many professionals have a lot of training on a certain operating system or class of operating systems. Once the operating system is installed, there are no restrictions on the software that can be installed or modified. This is especially helpful for web applications that require features of PHP and ASP that shared hosts traditionally disable due to abuse potential.
A VPS allows very easy resource provisioning. Shared hosting typically offers static, inflexible plans and offers little to no migration capabilities. When setting up a VPS, a webmaster can use his or her favorite backup utility to make migration to a new host in the future easy. If a web application starts to receive more traffic than anticipated, VPS plans allow the user to easily pay for more resources on the fly that are added to the virtual server almost instantly so no money or traffic is lost by unnecessary downtime.
Especially when compared with shared hosting, VPS providers generally offer higher caliber support. The staff usually is more technically knowledgeable than their shared hosting counterparts. Because the webmaster interfaces directly with system resource allocation, alerts can be set up for system downtime, breaches, and other miscellaneous problems. Although it may be more work to set up in the beginning, it can save time and hassle in the long run.
The Cons of Using a VPS
While there are many technical and economic benefits to using a VPS, there are some issues that may make it undesirable for some users.
No True Dedicated Resources
As we talked about above, a VPS is a hybrid between shared and dedicated hosting. This also means that the actual server that hosts the discrete virtual machines is shared. Problems stemming from this can be multifaceted. Malicious fellow customers is always a concern. Although it’s unlikely, there’s a chance that customer will figure out a way to break through the internal firewall set up by the host and cause temporary damage to your VPS. The other possible risk is that one customer will intentionally or unintentionally max out resources. If too many customers max out resources at the same time, it may congest the bandwidth and physical server resources to a point where it’s almost unusable. However, different hosts have different procedures for dealing with this, so it’s possible that with your host this would not be an issue.
All In-house Security
Some companies offer “fully managed” or “partially managed” plans for VPS servers. However, most customers opt out of this due to the cost. This means that a customer is fully responsible for external security. This involves a decent degree of DevOps, meaning the customer must either know someone with decent knowledge of IT fundamentals and security or have this knowledge independently. It can be highly risky to have a public-facing virtual server without the proper security toolbox. While less sensitive web applications may fare well with the default firewall and a few safeguards like a two-factor authentication mechanism and Fail2Ban as well as port switching, more in-depth security consultation may be required.
For most customers, the pros of using VPS hosting will outweigh the cons. Without some forethought, money and time can be wasted on a VPS. However, most businesses and individuals don’t need to rent an entire dedicated server. Shared hosting is mostly intended for very small hobbyist websites and has arbitrary restrictions and very low customer support priority. A VPS can essentially be used for anything the customer desires between shared hosting and dedicated hosting. It doesn’t require much advanced knowledge beyond some IT fundamentals and use of any operating system. If a customer isn’t fully comfortable with independent management, the company providing the server can easily perform this service.
Ultimately, every business and personal website and web application has unique needs that only the webmaster can determine. Using a VPS is an easy and highly scalable option for most practical applications. At the very least, website managers should have an impetus to run a cost-benefit analysis on using a VPS versus more traditional and less dynamic hosting options.
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