VPS Hosting Guide: How Virtual Private Server Works?

Article by Jerry Low . .
Updated: Jun 18, 2020

* Update: Removed Guhat in free VPS, added cPanel price change, and updated pricing for 2020.

When it comes to website hosting there are many different options available. Each has their own merits, differing in features and price points. Today we’re going to be taking a closer look at Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting.

VPS hosting allows you to store your web assets on space that has been configured to look and feel like a standalone dedicated server.

Table of Content (Quick link)


What is VPS Hosting

VPS stands for Virtual Private Server. A VPS is a siloed space on a server that has the characteristics of an entire server itself. A virtual server hosting has its own Operating System (OS), applications, resources, and configurations. All of this is contained within a single powerful server. Each server can have multiple VPS accounts on it.

How Does VPS Hosting Work?

As the name implies, the entire premise of VPS hosting revolves around virtualization. With this technology, entire servers can be ‘split up’ and allocated to different people.

Virtual servers share a single physical server, but each gain the benefits of being able to set up and configure their space as if it were wholly belonging to them. This gives them a high degree of flexibility along with an added element of privacy – for a fraction of the cost of a dedicated server.

Virtualization technology assesses the server as a whole and then divides resources up among different accounts based on what those account holders paid for. For example, if the server has 128GB of RAM, it may split that up in 2 or more parts.

Each account holder will then be assigned the amount of RAM as specified in their hosting contract. The resources allocated to each account are only for that account and will not be tapped into even if other accounts need or use more.

What is VPS hosting? The biggest difference between a shared and VPS hosting is how server resources are being shared. Note that dedicated server resources (such as RAM and CPU power) are allocated to each VPS slice.
The biggest difference between a shared and VPS hosting is how server resources are being shared.

From a user point of view, a VPS host means:

  • Guaranteed resources – Memory, Processing time, storage, etc will never be shared.
  • Better site security – Your website(s) will be hosted in an isolated environment. If anything untoward happens to your neighbour’s account,it will not affect you; and
  • High degree of agility – You gain server-level administrative powers such as root access, choice of OS, and more.

Advantages of VPS hosting

VPS hosting is the perfect balance of price, performance, security, affordability, and privacy. Some of the amazing benefits you will get by using the services are;

  1. Shared cost of services
  2. Quick server setup
  3. Better server access with more control
  4. Private contained environment
  5. Similar level of services as with a dedicated server
  6. Scalability for better long term use

Shared vs VPS vs Dedicated Server Hosting

Some might get a little confused because of the multitude of choices when it comes to shared, VPS, and dedicated hosting. Let’s do a short analysis and comparison to better understand the key differences.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is like sharing a room with others.

Shared hosting is like you are living in a room with a lot of friends. It means you must fit in the same room and you must split the cost of several things because it is affordable and cheap.

However, having several individuals sharing the same space means there must be some degree of give and take. Resources need to be shared (e.g. 5 people rotating to use a washroom).

It also means that what affects one friend may affect you as well. If one of the people sharing that space has the flu – you might get infected as well. Everything that is in that room is to be shared among all of you (sounds a little unhygienic, right?).

There are many website owners who prefer to use shared hosting services for the simple reason that it is easy to manage and affordable. Hosting service providers will take care of server maintenance, so the web owners only need to focus on building and operating their site.

Having shared resources sometimes can have unforeseen circumstances. For example, if one website were to be very busy and using up a lot of resources, your website might get stuck waiting. This will affect the performance of your site through no fault of your own. Your only hope of resolution is if the resource hog releases resources it is using, or if your web host intervenes.

Shared hosting providers: Hostinger, InterserverGreenGeeks

VPS Hosting

VPS hosting is like an apartment complex.

VPS hosting is like you are living in an apartment complex. It means that other people are living in the same building, but you have your own secure apartment. You may have more space and definately fewer restrictions as compared to living in a shared space. It also means that if your neighbour is misbehaving, it is the problem of owner of building, not yours.

Similarly, in the case of VPS, there are several users that are using the same server but they are isolated from each other. It means that no one will be affected by how much resources another is using.

You will get the speed and security that you need without compromise. It is almost a perfect scenario because you gain the benefits of a private server but in a way still share the cost of services.

VPS hosting providers: InMotion Hosting, TMD HostingBlueHost

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated server hosting is like a bungalow.

Dedicated server hosting is like being the owner of a house. You are free to move anywhere within your property that you like. however, you will have to pay for the mortgage and bills that can be expensive.

Similarly, in a real dedicated server, you will pay for the entire server that is not shared with anyone else. You will get complete control over all services. Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive hosting option and needs some technical expertise to manage.

It is commonly used by those who have websites with specific requirements. THis can include the ability to handle high levels of web traffic or increased security requirements.

Dedicated hosting providers: A2 Hosting, Altus Host, HostPapa


VPS Host: When is the Right Time to Switch?

It's time to upgrade to VPS when…

* Note: In case you were looking for a VPS hosting – here's my list of best VPS hosting.

1. You Need More Speed

When you add more content to your website, its speed will likely slow down after some time. This is especially true for websites that rely on database-intensive operations (like WordPress!). If you notice increasingly long process times, it’s time to contemplate an upgrade in hosting type or plan.

Further, most websites will see increased traffic over time. Popular sites mean much higher traffic rates, which is fantastic for you. However, it means that your existing plans will likely not be able to manage that volume of traffic. Upgrading to VPS hosting is the next logical step for you at this point.

KnownHost speed feature
Example: Some Managed VPS hosting services come with extra speed features. KnownHost VPS (see image) users can optimize their web host with built-in LiteSpeed (+$20/mo) and LS Cache (+$6/mo) at reasonable fees.

2. Performance Degrades

Continuously getting 503-server errors most probably means that your website services are not being made available to your visitors and customers in a timely manner. This is often caused by a lack of resources such as memory. If it happens frequently, your site visitors may stop coming, so again,  it may be time to move to VPS hosting.

Hostpapa vps features
Example:  VPS hosting users get dedicated server resources for their websites. HostPapa VPS Hosting (see image), HostPapa VPS Plus users are guaranteed with 1.5 GB RAM and 4 core CPU.

3. Increased Security Concerns

If you’ve become unlucky enough to have gotten onto a server which is facing multiple attacks against another site hosted there, things can get tough. Under this scenario, you’ll have to rely on the good graces of your host to manage the situation; or alternatively, switch to VPS hosting and avoid the situation altogether.

A2 Hosting security features in VPS plan
Example: A2 Managed VPS Hosting offers proactive protection (features include KernelCare, DDoS protection, dual hosting firewall, routine virus scanning) against malicious hackers and security threats.

4. Special Operating System Needs

With full root access (that usually comes with unmanaged VPS hosting plans), you are able to install and customize any software that you need to optimize your hosting experience. This is flexibility is especially valuable when you need to install a custom OS.

interserver vps operating system
Example: InterServer Managed VPS Hosting offers 16 operating system options; including Debian, CentOS, Ubuntu, Gentoo, Open Wall, Fedora, and Slackware.

Free VPS Hosting: Where to Find Them?

Here are some free VPS hosting we found online.

Free VPS ProvidersStorageMemoryCredit Card?Support?
Ohosti25 GB512 MB
InstaFree5 GB256 MB

Searching for free VPS hosting may not be as elusive as the dodo bird, but you might be disappointed at what you find. Most free VPS are simply not as powerful and robust as paid ones.

Security is usually a major issue when you are using a free platform. Imagine hosting your sites alongside with spammy / outdated / unmanaged sites – you never know when these neighbors are going to cause troubles (even though you are on VPS).

So are customer support and performance. You can't ask for high level support and topnotch server performance when you are not paying any amount of money, right?

The bottomline is that hardware, software, and bandwidth all costs money. If service providers are giving you all of this for free, they have to earn money from somewhere else – most likely from your data.

But then again, these VPS plans are FREE. They fit the needs of certain web owners – especially for users who are developing a web application or users who want a taste of VPS hosting before going for the paid options.


VPS Hosting Frequent Asked Questions

How do I get started with VPS Hosting?

Most good VPS web hosts will offer comprehensive knowledge base articles on how to manage your VPS host. This should be your first stop in familiarizing yourself with the environment if you're new to the VPS environment.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is where the resources of several networked computers are pooled together. This gives far more potential in terms of scalability than many other types of web hosting.

What is VPS hosting used for?

VPS hosting is typically for websites that need to handle larger amounts of traffic. In these cases, the host would be able to guarantee resource availability and increased security.

Here are a few tips on picking the right VPS hosting.

How much is VPS hosting?

VPS hosting will typically cost more than shared hosting but less than a dedicated server. Prices are usually set depending on the amount of resources required and other features such as managed accounts, ranging from as little as $6 to as much as a few hundred dollars per month.

Check out the popular VPS hosting provides and their notable VPS features.

Which VPS hosting is the best?

There are many reputable web hosting companies offering solid VPS plans. Some of these include InMotion Hosting, A2 Hosting, InterServer, and SiteGround.

Managed vs Unmanaged VPS Hosting

If you’ve ever used a computer on your own (yes, this might sound strange, but there’s a reason for it) then you’ll probably know what it’s like to use unmanaged VPS hosting. In both situations, you’re responsible for the setup and maintenance of all applications which run on the system.

Unmanaged VPS:-
With an Unmanaged VPS, your hosting provider has only two responsibilities – making sure your VPS is running and that it’s connected to the network. As you can imagine, this may take a little technical expertise on your part to handle.

Managed VPS:-
In a Managed VPS environment, you can sit back, relax and let your host know whatever you’d like done. There are no security issues to be concerned about, not function-specific tasks you’ll need to handle. Your host will manage everything for you and resolve any issues that crop up.

VPN vs VPS: What’s the Difference?

To be honest, there is not much of a similarity.

What is a VPN?
A VPN is a private network (ie. ExpressVPN and NordVPN) which most people use to keep secure and private on the Internet.

What is a VPS?
A VPS on the other hand is a virtual server you can use like a dedicated server to host your website or manage other web-related tasks, such as setting up Cloud Storage, hosting email or such. The two are similar in acronym only.

Here comes the but – I include this segment because you can use a VPN to connect to a VPS server and manage it. The VPN will keep your connection private and untraceable, so you can sign in to the VPS without anybody knowing otherwise.

More importantly, when using a VPN connection, any data which is sent to and from your device is all encrypted. This means that if you’re sending sensitive information like passwords, using a VPN service is recommended.

Some good VPN providers offer fixed IP addresses and that gives many users another advantage since almost all ISPs make use of dynamic IPs for most customers. By using a VPN with a fixed IP, you can choose to only whitelist your IP to allow it to connect to your VPS. This increases security by a very high degree.


The Bottom Line

The average VPS is more expensive than shared hosting, but this is not always true. Because of the scalability that VPS accounts offer, prices can vary a lot. When considering whether you need to move to a VPS host, I would rather you focus on whether you’re able to manage a VPS account.

There are some that come managed, but the level of technical knowledge needed is different from regular shared hosting. It’s not insurmountable but wouldn’t your efforts be better expended on managing your key asset – your website? Do you want to spend the extra time learning to manage your VPS account instead?

The flip side is scalability. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, users of VPS hosting have an easier time in two ways: A) It’s easier to scale up and there are multiple tranches, so your cost of running a website increase slowly and B) it’ll give you a technical edge when your site has grown so large you need to move to a dedicated server.

Relevant Resources

We have also published a number of actionable guide and helpful hosting reviews for those who are searching for a web host.