Many people ask “why is VPS so expensive” but it isn’t!
Your own self managed VPS (also called vserver or virtual private server) on the Internet requires a lot of know-how and continuous work. If you can avoid it, I advise against running your own self managed VPS on the Internet. For the operation of a website, I recommend shared web hosting or, if the requirements are higher, using Managed VPS. With managed VPS all the technical work is done by the hosting provider and not by you. Good shared web hosting costs $5 – $10 a month and good Managed VPS starts at around $30. Shared web hosting and managed VPS make my work a lot easier and they are my personal choice for almost every web project.
On the other hand, if you want to run very special server applications, you often only have the option to own your own web server managed by you instead of by the provider. In the hosting industry this is called unmanaged VPS. Instead of a dedicated server, I advise, in this specific case, to use self managed virtual servers. With vServers, the computing resources can be adapted much better to the resources actually used. VPS is also more fail-safe if you are with a good provider. A hardware defect can paralyze a dedicated server for hours, while vServers (depending on the provider) can move to another physical server within minutes which actually looks like cloud hosting.
In this article I’ll show the advantages and disadvantages of having your own server on the Internet and if it’s worth to have your own VPS.
Table of Contents:
- Disadvantages of having your own self managed server.
- Advantages of having your own self managed server.
- Dedicated server vs. virtual server vs. cloud server.
- This is due to the disadvantages of dedicated servers.
- Managed virtual servers.
- For whom is a managed VPS worth it?
- Which features are important for managed vServers?
- The costs of Managed VPS. Are managed virtual private servers worth the higher price?
- Is VPS hosting worth it? – a conclusion.
Disadvantages of having your own self managed server
You can quickly book your own VPS, but setting it up and running it is a lot of responsibility. Because, if you have your own server, you can be held liable for any disruptions (e.g. sending spam). Here are the drawbacks:
- Secure configuration of the server applications: Unfortunately, many server applications are configured insecurely by default. You should therefore check which security measures have to be taken for each server application that is operated.
- Security updates: New security gaps will appear in the operating system used as well as in the installed software. You must therefore guarantee that security patches are imported immediately for all software on the server.
- Firewall, intrusion detection system etc: In addition to the secure configuration of the applications and the installation of patches, appropriate security software such as a firewall or an intrusion detection system should be installed and safely configured.
- Protection against Denial-of-Service (Dos) attacks: Servers are sometimes the target of attacks that aim to overload your server. This can happen, for example, through botnets that send millions of requests to your server. If you run your own server, you should have a strategy to recognize and ward off these DoS attacks.
- Backups: Ideally, you should create daily backups of your server. The backup should not be stored on the same server, otherwise an attacker can delete your data and your backups. Instead, you need an external storage facility for the backups, e.g. a second server. The backups should be safe even if an attacker has broken into your server.
- Monitoring of system logs: How do you find out that no attacker is up to mischief on the server? To do this, you must have a strategy to check the system logs for unusual entries that could indicate an attacker.
- Monitoring of availability: It can happen that the server fails. This can be a hardware defect, a failed update or a targeted attack from outside. So you have to use server monitoring software to ensure that all services are available. In the event of a failure, you should consider how quickly you can react to fix the problem. Also keep in mind that the failure may happen at night, on the weekend, or during your vacation.
Having an unmanaged VPS is too much of a hassle for me, especially since a failure can happen at the worst time. That’s why I use shared web hosting or a managed VPS for almost all web projects. I have rented unmanaged vServers only for a few special applications, which are, however, less critical.
Advantages of having your own self managed VPS server.
Unless the above points have deterred you or you have special requirements, your own server / vServer has the following advantages:
- Operation of any server application: With shared web hosting and managed servers, you have to use the server software provided by the provider. Installation of your own server applications, such as, for example, a Redis server, is usually not possible. This is also the main reason why some people decide to run their own server.
- Better performance through individual configurations: Shared web hosting and managed servers usually come with a configuration that can be used flexibly for as many customers as possible. Special adjustments are not possible. However, if you have the knowledge, you can get a significant performance boost by configuring the server applications while, on the other hand, if you leave the configuration in the factory settings, the shot can backfire: For example, you should make some settings in MySQL in order to get a fast database server. Without these adjustments, the MySQL server can be very slow under certain circumstances, slower than with managed servers.
- Server caching mechanisms: Caching mechanisms are often quite limited with shared web hosting / managed servers. As long as you understand your company’s application, you can get a significant performance improvement out of the appropriate caching mechanism. Popular caching mechanisms for web applications are e.g. Varnish or Fastcgi-Cache from Nginx. However, setting up the caching mechanisms can require some technical knowledge.
Dedicated server vs. virtual server vs. cloud server
You can choose between the following variants for your own server:
- Dedicated server: With a dedicated server, you own a physical server in the provider’s data center. You can use the complete hardware power for your applications. You can get good dedicated servers from 35 dollar a month.
- Virtual server: With virtual servers, several virtual servers are operated on one physical server. This means that servers with fewer resources can also be booked.
- Cloud server: The boundary between virtual and cloud servers is fluid: Servers in the cloud, e.g. at Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud, are also virtual servers. However, cloud servers are usually characterized by the fact that the service is billed by the hour or by the minute. You should also be able to easily increase or reduce the capacity of the server.
In most cases, I recommend using virtual or cloud servers.
This is due to the disadvantages of dedicated servers:
- The required computing power (CPU power, RAM memory and hard disk quality and space) must usually be known in advance. A change is not so easily possible due to long contract periods and sometimes high set-up fees. An expansion / reduction of the computing power often means that you get a new server in the data center. You have to set up this new server again and migrate your data which could incur extra costs.
- Hardware problems: If there are hardware problems on the server, this usually means longer down times. Because the hardware problem has to be fixed first before your server is back on the network. Similar to a home PC, you can be unlucky and get a server of which the hardware often breaks.
You don’t have these problems with good VPS or cloud servers. Many providers have switched to offering short run times, e.g. there are many providers who bill VPS on an hourly or even minute basis. It is often easy to expand or reduce the computing resources. This expansion / reduction often works with minimal disruption to your server, since the virtual machine simply has to be allocated more resources. This saves you from reinstalling the server, migrating data and probably paying for extra services.
Since you do not have a fixed physical server with VPS or cloud servers, you can react much better to hardware problems. Well-known cloud providers (such as Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud) simply move the VPS to another physical server in the event of hardware problems. In the event of a hardware failure, your server is only unavailable for a few seconds, while a hardware defect on your dedicated server can paralyze it for hours.
VPS used to have a negative image because the computing resources have to be shared with all customers. If you are unlucky, the vServer of another customer uses a lot of resources and your server becomes correspondingly slow.
On the other hand, virtualization software has developed significantly over time, so that good providers can guarantee your VPS a certain performance. Extreme drops in performance or fluctuations are rarely or never noticed. Unfortunately, it is still a problem with low-cost providers that too many customers share the same physical server. This is called overselling. It can lead to poor performance at peak times or even worse.
Managed Virtual Servers.
Since running your own server is quite labor-intensive, many providers offer managed servers or managed vServers. Here you get the full power of a server / VPS, but the management of the server is the responsibility of the provider. The provider also usually takes care of daily backups, which are securely stored on external storage media.
These managed servers are usually designed for the operation of web applications. Appropriate software is pre-configured on the server (web server, database server, e-mail server) and you can make certain settings via the web interface, e.g. create e-mail accounts or manage domains. The provider takes care of the maintenance and security of the server. With some providers it is therefore not possible to install your own server applications on managed servers or to make extensive changes to the configuration of the applications. One of the exceptions to this rule is the very flexible company Linux Hosts Inc. as mentioned in the short explanation above.
For whom is a managed VPS worth it?
For most users, a shared web hosting offer is sufficient. I also use shared hosting accounts for my projects. An upgrade to a managed VPS web server is recommended if you generate significant sales with your site or if the requirements of your site are too high for shared hosting servers. A managed virtual server usually leads to fewer server failures because you can book the resources you need. The switch also often leads to faster loading times and better security.
One should not underestimate an accelerated loading time. Amazon found out that a 100ms longer loading time leads to a 1% loss in sales. Google and Mozilla Firefox have also been able to determine a strong correlation between the loading speed and the number of page views/sales.
I would recommend switching to a managed VPS for online shops with a turnover of around 5000 dollar a month or more. For content websites, e.g. based on WordPress, I would recommend switching from around 100,000 page views per month. These are of course only rough guidelines, but if you stay below this limit, you are usually in good hands with shared hosting.
Which features are important for managed Vservers?
The most important criteria when choosing a managed virtual server are (sorted by importance):
- Competent server administrators and technical support
The best CPU or the most RAM will not help if the provider’s server administrators are not able to operate and maintain a fast, secure and highly available web server. Also technical support engineers should be fast, competent and always available. The system used on the server should be appropriately secured and optimized for performance. The provider should also react quickly to malfunctions in order to ensure smooth operation. Unfortunately, this criterion is difficult to check before buying. I would therefore look at short contract periods and consider moving accordingly if there are problems.
- Random access memory
One of the most important technical criteria when choosing a managed server is the available memory. If your server is configured correctly, your server can receive a significant performance boost through more memory. If the server is configured correctly, the database can hold important tables and table indexes in the main memory. The PHP cache can also be used and the fully compiled PHP files can be kept ready in the main memory. Since there is no access to the slow hard drive, you can achieve extreme acceleration. Ideally, all PHP files and your database fit completely into the main memory.
After memory, computing power is the most important component. Since a server tends to have to process several calls in parallel, it is particularly advantageous if the server has multiple CPU cores. In this way, the work of the various calls can be conveniently distributed across the various cores. The clock frequency of the individual cores is then rather subordinate.
- Hard disk
Many providers advertise with particularly large hard drives in the terabyte range. However, if you don’t use the server to store large files, e.g. films, then the hard drive space is relatively unimportant. The space requirement for many websites is significantly less than you might think. Even large web shops can do just fine with 10GB of storage space. Much more important than the size of the hard drive is the type of hard drive. SSD hard drives offer significantly faster read and write access here. Ideally, however, the server comes with sufficient main memory to be able to permanently store all important data in the main memory. In such a case, the read/write speed of the hard disk is, as with its storage space, of secondary importance as well.
The costs of Managed VPS. Are managed virtual private servers worth the higher price?
The price depends largely on the resources required. Good managed VPS starts at around 30 dollars per month. For a dedicated managed server you should plan at least 100 dollars per month.
My recommendation is to start with a Managed VPS first, ideally from a recommended provider such as Linux Hosts Inc. (see the start of this article) so that you can avoid the very cheap bad offers. When choosing the provider, you should make sure that you can easily increase the resources booked in order to find out how many resources you actually need step by step.
The resource requirement depends largely on the applications, the number of users and the caching mechanisms used. If I run this website (which is based on WordPress) on a vServer with a 1 CPU core and 1 GB RAM, the server can process approx. 10 calls per second. This corresponds to 36,000 calls per hour. If I activate a WordPress caching plugin (e.g. W3 Total Cache), the server creates 40 calls per second (144,000 calls per hour).
These values can of course vary greatly depending on the application. If only static content is delivered, a well-configured server with 1 CPU core can easily manage 10,000 calls per second. If you have a very complex database or a poorly optimized web application, the one CPU core may only manage 2 or 3 calls per second.
Is VPS hosting worth it? – a conclusion.
We may now conclude that it’s certainly worth to try a virtual private server instead of dedicated or shared solutions. It’s relatively cheap and you have all the freedom to decide what to do with your server as long as you’re not spamming and as long as you stay away from illegal activities. Linux Hosts Inc. (see the beginning of this post) sells unmanaged VPS from $11 a month and their most comprehensive package costs $197 per month. You then have 8 CPU cores, 32,768 MB RAM, 480 GB SSD disk space, 7 TB monthly traffic and full root level access available. Success with your VPS!