If you want to get some sort of server space, you don’t necessarily need to rent an entire physical server, there are plenty of other options available. One of the most interesting is to use a virtual private server or VPS. Let’s take a look at how they work and what they can do for you.
What is a virtual private server?
A VPS is a small simulated server that runs virtually on an existing one. Like any virtual machine, it is separate from its host and functions as an independent entity, but it cannot exist outside of its host either.
The technology behind VPS is similar to other virtual machines: the host machine runs a program called a hypervisor or VMM (virtual machine manager) that manages all the smaller virtual machines below it, called guests. In a diagram, it ends up looking like this:
If you think of a computer as a cake, then a virtual machine is a single slice. Virtual machines are a very cost-effective way to subdivide the processing power of larger machines and are used in all kinds of applications, large or small.
Why use a VPS?
To understand why VPS exists, we should probably take a little step back and look at servers first. A server is a computer that provides files or data to other computers over a network. Servers can be accessed directly, via mouse or keyboard, or it can be what is called a headless server, which can only be accessed remotely.
The entire Internet is, at its heart, nothing more than a massive collection of interconnected servers. To do anything online, like start a site like How-To Geek or run a service like a weather app, you have to run a program or host files on a server. No server, no site.
The thing is, though, servers are big, powerful machines that are expensive to buy and run. As a result, most servers are owned by large corporations for their own use (Google and Facebook, for example, mostly run their own servers) or are leased by web hosting providers to smaller companies. These are companies that own and operate servers for that very purpose.
However, if everyone who wanted to start a site had to buy or rent an entire server, they would be broke before they got off the ground and the internet would be a much less diverse place. This is where virtualization comes in: Instead of having to buy or rent an entire server for each site or online service, individuals and small businesses can rent just a fraction of a server from a web hosting company.
The great thing about a VPS is that, to build on our analogy above, you not only get a slice of the computing pie, but you get to decide how big that slice will be. As a result, they are a very flexible solution for businesses that want to grow online and want their hosting to grow with them.
On top of that, VPSs are also interesting because they give users a lot of control over how they want to use the resources they have, just like having their own server, and still only pay a fraction of what a full machine would cost.
VPS vs. Shared Hosting
At first glance, VPS can look a lot like shared hosting, where multiple sites share the resources of one server. The key difference between the two is virtualization – since they are virtual machines, each VPS is its own computer and does not share resources like computing power or memory.
However, shared hosting shares these resources, so it’s pretty much a single server with many different people running their own site at the same time. As a result, when a website on the same server but running on another VPS experiences problems, they won’t affect you. However, when they use shared hosting, they will.
However, the advantage of shared hosting is that it is cheaper and has less setup hassle, making it ideal for people just starting out or those with less technical knowledge. In contrast, a VPS is a complete closed system that must be set up from scratch. As such, you need to know a bit about what you’ll need and how it will be used.
For example, when you’re setting up a VPS, you need to configure the operating system it will run on, whether and how to optimize the CPU, plus add memory, storage, and a host of other details. Each of these will impact the performance of your VPS, so you should have an idea of how your site will perform before setting it up.
That said, if you have the necessary skills and knowledge, using a VPS is a great alternative to other types of hosting, particularly shared hosting. The ability to control the performance of your hardware can pay off in many ways, so if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, VPS hosting may be the way to go.