The advent of Virtual Private Servers revolutionized the shared website hosting industry. Is a VPS right for any situation, and when does a fully dedicated machine become a must have? This article examines the issues.
Virtual Private Servers remain the latest innovation in the fairly stagnant, technologically speaking, sphere of website hosting. They represent a different way to break up a server and separate user accounts, providing higher levels of control and security that mimic what was previously available only to fully dedicated servers. They can provide solutions for websites regular shared hosting is not able to handle, but still cannot handle every situation. This article looks at what a VPS can do, and when it may be prudent to consider stepping up to a fully dedicated solution.
What is a Virtual Private Server?
First a brief overview of what, exactly a VPS is and why it is able to simulate a dedicated server environment when, in fact, multiple VPS hosting plans can reside on the same server. VPS works because of the way it partitions the user accounts on the server. If you think about how your home computer stores files, most likely you have a single hard drive which has “folders” or directories on it. Inside the folders/directories are individual files. These files are managed by the computer’s operating system, which may be Windows or Mac OS. In a regular shared hosting environment all the customer accounts are directories on the same “hard drive”, managed by the operating system and made available to the internet via an installed web server, such as Apache. All files in all accounts are managed by the same webserver, share the same applications, and generally compete for the server’s attention depending on the popularity of the hosted site.
In a VPS, the accounts are not hosted only in individual directories, but on individual disk drives. Think of a computer with multiple hard drives, or, more commonly, a hard drive and a CD-ROM drive; each one of these drives has its own system of folders/directories, completely separate from the other drive. Via a process called “partitioning” a single hard drive can be divided up into many smaller drives that the operating system sees as unique, separate entities. On a VPS system, individual accounts reside completely within these separate drives. Applications are installed to individual accounts and are not shared between a single group of accounts on one big drive. This provides not only additional security, but additional control, as users can be granted “root access” to their unique drive to install and configure their own environment without effecting the configuration of any other client.
This is how VPS mimics the functionality of dedicated server, by having each account reside on is own “drive”, which is roughly equivalent to the single drive that would be found in a basic dedicated server. Software on the VPS server manages the individual drives/accounts to assure the smooth functioning and availability of all accounts on the server. This environment is ideal for those looking for an environment that has root access but are not able to afford a completely dedicated solution. Larger, modern VPS accounts can handle sites that may have required a dedicated server only a few years ago.
Fully Dedicated Solutions
A fully dedicated server is a single machine leased to a single individual for exclusive use. Root access is generally a given in any dedicated environment, allowing the sever to be customized with applications that suit the user’s needs. It is this root functionality that VPS hosting provides, but does so on a server that is still “shared” by other users. A dedicated server is completely at the disposal of a single users, to administer as they see fit. Due to the exclusive nature of a dedicated server, they generally require a larger capital investment than regular shared or VPS hosting plans. Many companies will offer a managed dedicated server for an additional cost. This is an important consideration, as most “budget” or low cost dedicated servers are unmanaged, perhaps leaving out even rudimentary technical support. Those unfamiliar with managing a server should strongly consider managed solutions if shopping for dedicated servers.
Though large VPS accounts can take the place of some dedicated solutions, they cannot completely replace them. There are a variety of activities and applications that only a fully dedicated server can adequately handle, such as very large, high traffic databases, large media hosting, and processor intensive web applications. At a very basic level, even simple sites that achieve massive amounts of traffic could outpace a VPS’s ability to effectively host them. Mostly though, the combination of high traffic and highly processor intensive, scripted, database driven web applications remains the domain of a fully dedicated server. Some of the largest, most popular websites are hosted on more than one dedicated server in order to handle the load.
A good host will provide a smooth upgrade path between VPS and dedicated solutions. There are a variety of management systems, such as HSP by SWsoft, that can provision both VPS and dedicated servers, and move accounts between these 2 different types of server. This would allow individuals with growing websites to transition from a large VPS to a fully dedicated quickly and easily, without any interruption of service.
Today, VPS hosting can handle some of the duties formerly solely the realm of dedicated servers. They will never completely replace dedicated servers, though, for very high traffic, processor intensive sites. Customers looking for the economy of a VPS should ask their prospective hosting companies if there is a smooth, automated upgrade path between VPS and dedicated hosting. Ideally such a path will allow a successful website to grow and prosper without any interruptions for server changes and site moves.