Copyright (c) 123RF Stock PhotosVirtual private servers (VPS) are frequently billed as a lower cost alternative to a dedicated server. From the perspective of a remote user, a VPS can look and act like a dedicated server while, behind the scenes, being very different. However, for many applications, a VPS can be an excellent alternative, offering comparable performance and flexibility at a lower cost.

Understanding Dedicated Servers

A dedicated server is actually what it sounds like: a specific computer that is set aside for a single user. The user of that server can control it as if it was sitting at his or her desk. He or she can usually install or delete software, change system configurations, and reboot it at-will. When a user takes on a dedicated server, he gets access to its entire storage capacity, every one of its CPU cycles, every byte of RAM, and all of the bandwidth that its network interface card can deliver. For many companies, the dedicated server is the gold standard, especially when compared with shared hosting.

The Drawback of a Dedicated Server

Dedicated servers have one key drawback: cost. When a company chooses a dedicated server for hosting, it pays for bandwidth, support, and space in a data center. However, instead of just paying for its share of what a machine consumes, it has to pay for the entire machine. For this reason, dedicated server costs are typically much higher than for other types of hosting.

The VPS Solution

A VPS attempts to provide the best of both worlds by offering the user experience of a virtual private server with the cost saving benefits of a shared hosting account. A VPS is usually a virtualized server running on a shared machine. What this means is that, within his own little compartment, the user has the same control that he would otherwise have on a dedicated server. He or she can frequently add and delete software, edit system files, and even reboot it. However, everything he does only affects his small slice of the overall machine. At the same time, other users have their own applications and their own instances running on the same hardware.

VPS vs. Dedicated

For many users, a VPS is an excellent alternative to a dedicated server. Priced more like a shared plan but designed like a private plan, VPS can be a "Goldilocks" solution. However, there are some important differences between VPS and dedicated hosting:

  • What you see isn't what you get. A dedicated server with a 1 Gbps Ethernet connection, 2 GHz processor, and 16 GB of RAM provides all of those resources to a single customer-- all of the time. A VPS running on the same machine shares those same capabilities among multiple instances, giving each user much less total capability.
  • You can't always get what you want. While a VPS is typically much more flexible than a shared account, some server providers still limit what users can do with VPSs. These limitations can include preventing VPS users from installing custom software.
  • Total security. With a dedicated server, there is no chance of another user's rogue application compromising its operation. Virtualization software does a good job of sandboxing every user but is not perfect, and there is always a risk that one user's instance could negatively impact other ones on the same server.

With this in mind, businesses that are choosing between a VPS account and a dedicated server would be well served to talk with this hosting provider to better understand the options. For some companies, the extra money for dedicated services will be well-spent.