Virtual private servers have a lot of advantages over shared web hosting, but there are some disadvantages depending on your knowledge and experience. It’s important to understand what you will gain and lose if you decide to switch or purchase a virtual private server for the first time. Even users coming from dedicated servers will receive benefits for switching to a VPS, as long as they are aware of the limitations.
Below we discuss advantages and disadvantages of purchasing and running your own virtual private server. If you’re running a dedicated server or are using shared hosting, you’ll find the pros and cons if you were to switch from your current hosting solution to a VPS. Not all of the advantages and disadvantages will affect you directly, and some may have the opposite affect in some situations. It’s important to know your experience on managing a server and the server requirements your application. Many website owners who only run a single website will benefit more from shared hosting than a VPS, unless their website requires additional resources for automated tasks.
The first main advantage of using a virtual private server over shared hosting is full root access and control over the VPS instance. With root access, you are able to install custom software that your application requires without seeking out a provider with the specific software available. Root access also allows you to remove customize all configuration files to fit your needs perfectly. You can disable services you don’t need, install custom software, configure advanced settings for the software that’s running, and more.
In addition to root access, a VPS will generally have much better performance compared to shared hosting. Shared web hosting is often oversold and each website has very little resources to run on. On a VPS, you are given a dedicated amount of RAM and your access to other system resources is often times faster than shared hosting. Since a VPS also allows for root access, you can remove additional services on the system to increase performance and reduce memory and CPU usage, along with adjusting configuration files that can affect performance. Finally a VPS will generally have faster network performance compared to shared hosting.
A virtual private server could also help you save money. Compared to shared hosting, a virtual private server can come very close to the same price and could sometimes be cheaper depending on the amount of websites you have to host. If you’re using a dedicated server, switching to a VPS is generally less expensive as long as you’re not using all of the resources of your dedicated server. The cheapest VPS is generally around $5/month with shared hosting varying around $4/month to $20/month. Dedicated servers generally start off around $60/month to $200/month for the base level of servers.
With a dedicated server you are almost always given a dedicated IPv4 IP address. Along with a dedicated IP address, you have full control over the ports on your server. Shared hosting plans often lock down access to incoming and outgoing ports. With a virtual private server, you will be able to open incoming access to any port and access any outgoing port. When working with services that use uncommon port numbers, shared hosts may block your access to fetch websites using custom ports but your VPS will not care about the port number unless you change your firewall rules.
Finally, with a VPS you can easily scale your server resources up or down. Because virtual private servers are virtual, the provider can easily adjust the amount of dedicated RAM, hard drive space, bandwidth, and other allocated resources. If you’re currently using a dedicated server, you may have to wait a few hours, days, or are completely unable to upgrade server resources all together. Instead of having to wait for your server to have more RAM or hard drive space, or having to configure a new server with the required resources, a VPS will make upgrading resources much easier.
Being very blunt, running a virtual private server requires more of your time. When you first purchase your server, you have to manually configure all the services running along with any additional dependencies that are required. Initial configuration can take anywhere from a few hours for someone who is experienced to multiple days for people who are inexperienced. After the initial configuration, you’ll have to occasionally update the server software you have running along with modifying the changed configuration files. Lastly, if anything is to go wrong with the server, you’ll have to dedicated your time to fixing the issue yourself.
Another disadvantage of running your own virtual private server is that if something were to go wrong with the software you have running, you’ll have to fix it yourself or hire someone to solve the problem. The support teams that the hosting provider have are generally limited to solving networking issues, billing problems, and issues where you are unable to access your virtual private server. Anything going on inside of your server is generally your own concern. Some VPS providers offer managed servers which can get rid of some of the headaches if anything were to go wrong.
Running a VPS does require additional knowledge to keep your server running smoothly. You’re in control of your server and that means that you have to setup the server from the ground up in most cases. There are many resources online to help install software and fix common issues, but the uncommon issues and the lack of knowing will eventually bite you in the ass. If you don’t know about possible avenues for attacks or how services expose themselves to the world, you could run into some very serious problems. One example that comes to mind is when inexperienced server administrators install MongoDB. MongoDB doesn’t have a password, so if the port is open to the public, anyone can read and write directly to your database. Reading the documentation you will know this, but thousands of servers are misconfigured and you can easily access their databases.
Finally, if you currently have a dedicated server and are thinking about switching to a VPS, keep in mind that you might have noisy neighbors. A noisy neighbor is another VPS on the same dedicated hardware that is using a large amount of the system resources. Many providers try to counteract these noisy neighbors by adding CPU and IO limits, but the burst limits can still affect your service in unexpected ways if you’re accustomed to dedicated resources.
These advantages and disadvantages may or may not affect you directly, and many providers are working to reduce the amount of work it takes to get your server up and running. There are also providers that offer managed services to make setting up your server easier with software that acts as a control panel to your server, such as cPanel or Plesk.