A new webmaster may ask “Is VPS hosting better than shared hosting?” The answer, of course, depends on the website and the individual needs of the webmaster. In this article we will define VPS hosting and shared hosting then take a look at the pros and cons of each. With a better understanding of both VPS hosting and shared hosting a webmaster will be able to choose which type of web hosting will better suit his/her needs. The choice of VPS hosting or shared hosting is an individual decision and will depend on the requirements for the web hosting account.
What is Shared Hosting?
Shared hosting is the most basic type of web hosting where dozens, or even hundreds, or web hosting accounts are all hosted on one physical server. All of the resources: disk space, bandwidth, etc. are shared between the web hosting accounts on that server. The physical and virtual security of these servers is maintained by the web hosting provider and the webmaster has no real responsibility or access to the hardware or root level configurations and features of the server. If a webmaster has a preference of operating system, database features, control panels or other specific features, he/she will need to research the shared web hosting plans to find a provider offering the particular configuration that is desired. Shared web hosting plans are typically very user-friendly and rich in simple tools and features that anyone can use (e.g. free website builders and free website templates).
What is VPS Hosting?
Virtual private server, VPS, hosting is similar to shared hosting in that one physical server hosts multiple web hosting accounts. However, unlike the dozens or hundreds of accounts on a server offering shared web hosting, VPS hosting drastically limits the number of accounts per server (the actual number will vary depending on the provider and the capacity of the individual server). VPS hosting provides many customization options, root level access, and all the basic features of a dedicated server, at a fraction of the price.
The question remains: Is VPS hosting better than shared hosting? Looking at the pros and cons of both types of hosting can help a webmaster deduce whether VPS hosting or shared hosting is the best web hosting option to meet his/her needs.
Pros of Shared Hosting
- Price: shared web hosting is the cheapest type of hosting (excluding free web hosting, of course). Shared hosting prices range from as low as $1 or less per month up to $30-$40 per month. Typically the larger, well-known web hosting companies offer the cheapest we hosting. These providers often host a million or more websites on their web hosting network. Because they are experts and have so many customers, they are able to under-cut the price offered by most smaller web hosts.
- Technical skills: anyone (with basic computer skills) can successfully host a website using shared hosting. He/she does not have to be a programmer, or even have any programming knowledge, design experience, of have any specific skill set. A stay-at-home mom, teenager living at home, or the local mom-and-pop store owner can use shared web hosting to design, build, and host a successful website.
- Maintenance and marketing: most shared web hosting accounts provide all the server maintenance, data backups, security features, and tools needed. Many provide extra SEO (search engine optimization) and marketing services (often for free) as well because they know that the average Joe doesn’t know anything about optimizing a website for search engines or marketing a website.
- Tools and features: most shared web hosting plans are packed with a ton of features and web hosting tools because they aim to meet the needs of many types of websites from ecommerce to business brochure to personal and family websites. Shared web hosting will usually have simple one click, graphical interface programs that are very easy to install and use. Most shared hosting plans include some more technical features as well to meet the needs of seasoned webmasters that want access to these features.
- Support: support options vary greatly from one host to another. Most will advertise 24/7 web hosting support but be sure to research what that means exactly. Some hosts consider an FAQ page 24/7 help because users can access it anytime and get answers to questions. Other, more reputable, hosts will have 24/7 support via phone, live chat, email, video tutorials, etc.
Cons of Shared Hosting
- Reliability: while most shared web hosts claim a 99.9% uptime, this isn’t always the case and doesn’t allude to all the other problems that a webmaster may encounter on a shared web hosting plan. Complaints about shared web hosting range far and wide from downtime to “undisclosed” limits on file size, bandwidth, backups and more. Not to mention the impact other accounts on the same server can have on your account. If one or two accounts are using huge amounts of resources or hosting illegal content, the whole server will be negatively impacted or may even be shut down.
- Support: this is both a pro and a con. Many smaller hosts actually do a much better job at providing individual support because they don’t have as many customers to keep up with. Other problems may come from support that is outsourced, based in a foreign country, or responses that are very generalized, slow in coming, or even flat out rude. Don’t automatically assume that because a web host has excellent “sales” support it means the customer support will be the same. Many hosts put a lot of extra effort into the sales team but then leave customers on their own from there.
- Price: again, a double-edged sword. Read the fine print! You may sign up on a plan advertised for $2.95 per month but this will often be applicable only if you pay two or three years in advance and this is for the initial web hosting term only. Be sure to find out the renewal rate. Also beware of any setup or extra fees that may be applied like domain name registration, paid support, and extras like IP addresses, SSL certificates, design, marketing, SEO tools, and more. Your “cheap” web hosting plan can quickly become very expensive.
Let’s compare the pros and cons of VPS hosting to help webmasters decide if VPS hosting or shared hosting is the best option.
Pros of VPS Hosting
- Customization and control: VPS hosting is an excellent choice for the webmaster that needs the customization and control of a dedicated server but doesn’t need all of the resources and doesn’t want to pay the price of a dedicated server. VPS hosting allows users to choose the operating system, configure server settings, reboot the server (his or her portion) when needed, run on your own IP address, and much more.
- Security: because each VPS hosting account is isolated from other web hosting accounts on the server, the security is greatly enhanced. On a shared web hosting account you are dependent on the provider, with a VPS plan you can set up your own security features and you don’t have to worry about your account being negatively impacted by security issues of other accounts on the same server. Accounts using VPS hosting usually run much faster as well because of the limited number of users on one account.
- Support: VPS hosting service providers usually have a lot fewer customers per server and may provide much better support than a shared web host. Again, this will vary greatly from one company to another. Whenever possible talk with current customers or read user reviews for the host to get a better idea of the overall satisfaction and reliability of the support options. Keep in mind that most VPS hosting accounts are unmanaged so you will be responsible for the basic software upgrades and care and maintenance (the company still maintains the physical server and associated hardware). If you don’t know how or don’t want to have this responsibility, be sure to find a managed VPS plan but expect to pay more.
- Price: VPS hosting is more expensive than shared hosting but usually much cheaper than a dedicated server. Many of the big name hosts like DreamHost, GoDaddy, and HostGator have VPS pricing starting as low as $15-$20 per month. Some hosts advertise VPS hosting for as little as $5 a month but other hosts are charging $50 or more a month. As you can see, there is a wide range in pricing so do some comparison shopping to find out why there is such a big gap in pricing. Ask about resources, how many accounts are on one server, what flexibility you have in features, what is managed vs. unmanaged, what support options are available, and other applicable questions.
Cons of VPS Hosting
- Managing server: if you are familiar with server management this is not a con but if you are new to server management and don’t know how to ensure your settings are secure, software is up to date, firewalls are enabled, etc. you may find that your site is at risk. Again, you may choose a managed VPS account where the host takes care of all of this for you, but know you will pay more and make sure you know what exactly they will manage and what you will be responsible for.
- Price: VPS is more expensive than basic shared hosting but still reasonably priced, especially if you are drawing any income from the site. It is worth paying a little extra for the added security and reliability.
- Setup: because you are responsible for more of the server settings, operating system, security, etc. it will take longer to set the account up than with a simple shared hosting plan where everything is ready to go as soon as you sign up.
- Backups: you may need to schedule your own backups. Many shared hosts have automatic backups but on a VPS account you may be responsible for making sure your backups are current and available if you ever need them.
As long as you are aware of what is required with VPS hosting and you’re in a position with your website(s) that you need the resources and reliability, VPS hosting is a great option. Overall you will have most of the same benefits as a dedicated server without the hefty price tag.