Choose Your VPS Solution Carefully

Choose Your VPS Solution Carefully

Virtual private servers are springing up everywhere. With all the loaded terminology and noise in the market, you may find yourself confused--or worse--feeling like you’re not getting the whole story.

What is a virtual private server, and what should you expect from it? Amidst all the VPS options, how can you be sure you are getting the best solution for your needs?

What is a virtual private server?

Virtualization is a technological term that has come to mean a lot of things. In the world of Web hosting, virtualization is based on the concept of partitions on a physical server: a method of partitioning an operating system into many smaller isolated operating systems, all running on the same server hardware.

Virtualized servers, such as VMware and Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, require that you install a separate operating system on each partition of the core hardware, which can result in significant resource demands on the physical server CPU, disk and memory.

The virtual private server (VPS) refines this method by virtualizing only the core services of an operating system so that by design, a VPS should appear and behave like a fully dedicated server. You can reboot a VPS, install applications on it, create and save files, change the configuration, set up administrators and users, and just about anything else you can dream up, all while sharing the core operating system.

The benefit of this approach is that because you can have multiple virtual servers running on one physical server, you don’t need to buy more hardware every time you want another server. Even more importantly, this approach translates into an excellent solution for people who need all the power and flexibility of a dedicated server at a fraction of the price.

Are all Virtual Private Servers created equal?

There are a wide range of VPS options to choose from, but for the most part, VPS can be generalized into three basic types:

1. VPS Software. Shrink-wrapped software that you can install on a dedicated server to create your own set of VPS machines.

2.VPS Hosting. A hosting service that provides a pre-configured VPS residing on hardware in a network hosted by a provider.

3. Managed VPS Hosting. A hosting service that provides a pre-configured VPS fully optimized to your requirements. This option includes an operating system that has been tuned specifically for the certified hardware and network configuration on which it runs, and is maintained, updated, managed and supported by the provider.

A managed hosting VPS provides regular updates and ongoing security patches for your virtual server; ensures that your virtual server has allotted access to the CPU, bandwidth and processes on the hardware; and provides a range of software and applications certified to run on the managed system, as well as the option to freely install your own software choices.

What I can do with a VPS?

A VPS offers myriad capabilities. Unlike shared Web hosting which limits you to traditional Web hosting capabilities, a VPS is a hosted server that goes beyond Web hosting to provide all the capabilities of a standard server and operating system. You can install your own applications, even replace the standard components pre-installed on your server with components of your own choosing.

For example, if you don’t like the email system installed on the VPS by your provider, you can replace it with a different one. As a result, the best way to determine what you can do with a VPS is to consider what you can do with any dedicated server that does not require 100 percent full-time access to the CPU.

A VPS can be used to display a Web site or house a complex e-commerce site. Virtual private servers are used for intranets, web-based calendaring, file servers, application servers, database servers, gaming servers, email, development/testing/production platforms and much more. Additionally, a VPS can be divided into multiple sub-accounts, making it possible to host multiple Web sites and Intranets on the same VPS account.

Virtual private servers are a perfect solution for small businesses that need more powerful and economical servers but may not have the up-front capital to invest in their own solution, or the internal resources to manage and maintain a solution in-house.

Many small businesses don’t want to spend their time focusing on IT; they prefer to focus on their core business while letting experienced hosting providers manage IT needs for them. Some of these services—often referred to as Managed Services—are included in the cost of your VPS, and in some cases, additional Managed Services can be added for a fee.

A VPS enables multiple businesses to share the expense of hardware and network connections without sacrificing flexibility, security or freedom of choice. With VPS, small businesses around the globe can establish a sophisticated Web presence—previously a reasonable option only for larger corporations—thereby leveling the playing field for all businesses.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you expect your hosting needs to expand significantly, it can be difficult and costly to upgrade to a dedicated server. Smaller businesses that plan to grow should seek out a host provider that will help to ease the migration from a VPS to a larger, managed dedicated hosting solution. Finding a provider now that will grow with your business will help to alleviate expansion headaches later on. During growth spurts, you need the time and the freedom to focus on your business—not the technology.

How can you be sure you get the right VPS for your needs?

There are many pretenders out there who claim they offer VPS technology, but be warned: not all VPS offerings are equal. So when you’re researching the best solution for your needs, remember that a hosted VPS should be evaluated by more than just price, disk space and bandwidth. A VPS should be judged by the comprehensive set of services you receive. You’re paying for the network, the hardware and software, maintenance and managed services, support and a good relationship with your vendor.

Some criteria to consider:

  • How long has the VPS provider been in business? Can you count on the provider to be there when you need them, several years down the road?
  • Is the VPS you are considering a mature solution (seasoned OS on proven hardware), or is it a newcomer? When it comes to reliability and stability, experienced providers are the best bet because the technology has been proven.
  • Does the provider use refurbished desktop hardware that may not have the most reliable components or drivers?
  • Are the operating system and hardware tuned for optimal performance?
  • Are hardware/software updates and upgrades included as a part of the service, or will you be expected to pay for upgrades or do the upgrades yourself?
  • Does the provider offer constant patches and security reviews to lock down possible vulnerabilities?
  • Is the provider using certified hardware and applications for security, performance and reliability?
  • Are applications available to install on your VPS that have been certified to run on your VPS, so that you aren’t required to compile and install applications on your own?
  • Does the provider ensure that your VPS is allotted a fair share of server resources, such as CPU, bandwidth, memory?
  • What type of network connectivity can you expect with your provider? Going with the big guys should get you much more reliable network connections and network peering, which ensures better and faster access to your server regardless of what functions it has been set up to serve.
  • Is free support included in your VPS hosting plan? For how long? What type of support is offered—can you ask “how to” questions? Will they help with you questions about using your server, even if your questions aren’t about the server itself?

VPS hosting plans are a fantastic solution for most small business hosting needs, but choosing the right VPS can be as difficult as choosing the right car. The trick is to keep it simple by looking at the bigger picture. Ask the basic questions, and don’t buy if you don’t get a satisfactory answer.

If you don’t assume that a lower price and more disk space is the better deal, you won’t wind up broken down in the desert heat, wishing you’d spent a few extra dollars to buy the more reliable car.


About the Author

As director of product management for Verio -, Heather Boyer is responsible for Verio’s portfolio of complex shared and dedicated hosting services, including Verio's VPS Product Line