Update: We’ve added four more cool things you can do with a VPS!
A virtual private server is a great platform for web hosting, but it’s also useful for many other things. A VPS is an always-on always-connected server capable of running anything that can be run on a standard Linux box (provided it doesn’t need a GUI). That makes it useful for any number of projects.
Let’s take a look at some of the things you might consider doing with yours – any of which can be done in addition to hosting a website.
Create A Private Sync Service
We all love Dropbox: I know it makes my life easier. But sometimes I ponder the wisdom of syncing my private data to a third-party server that I don’t control. There are private solutions like the Transporter, but they’re expensive and not as flexible as a “cloud” service.
BitTorrent Sync is a private syncing service that allows users to sync their data between multiple devices, much as Dropbox does. But without the cloud component of Dropbox, the system lacks an always-on connection to the Internet. Installing BitTorrent Sync on a VPS creates a syncing platform that matches the functionality of Dropbox without the privacy concerns.
Deploy A Personal Cloud
There’s more to the cloud than data syncing – contacts, calendars, and collaboration are equally important. The ownCloud application can handle data syncing too, but it also includes a calendar, task manager, document editing, and galleries. By hosting ownCloud on a VPS, you ensure both that it’s available from wherever you need it to be, but also that it’s completely secure and totally under your control.
Encrypt Your Wireless Connections
When you’re out and about, connecting to public wireless networks can be hazardous: you never know if the fellow at the next table is intercepting your connection. Virtual Private Networks encrypt the connection between your device and an online server, making it impossible for anyone sitting between them to make sense of the data.
As an added bonus, this method can allow you to connect to region-blocked content (such as stuff on Netflix). While I definitely wouldn’t recommend you try that at work, it can be a tidy way to get around region locking, which most users agree is…well, pretty bogus. Just make sure you properly mask your connections, or you might end up losing your Netflix account.
There are lots of VPN solutions available that will work on a virtual private server, but OpenVPN is one of the best – and the one I’d personally recommend.
Run Private Analytics
If you’d prefer to self-host your own web analytics rather than rely on a service like Google Analytics, then Piwik has you covered. It’s a feature rich web analytics tool that includes many of the features of GA, including real time analytics, geolocation, visitor tracking, and referrer analysis.
Web analytics is just the tip of the iceberg here, though. You can also use your VPS to run business analytics, spinning it up to handle large-scale data analysis without the need for a dedicated server. Jupyter is a great example of a VPS-ready app that allows you to do data science in Python – and as an added bonus, it also serves as a development tool (but more on that in a moment).
Manage Your Projects
If you run a small business, and particularly if that business employs remote workers, a good web-accessible project management tool is a must. ProjectLibre is a comprehensive open source feature-rich project management tool that was voted one of the “Top Ten Open Source Projects Of 2013”.
Develop And Test Your Code
If your business is more development-focused, a VPS actually provides you with a perfect sandbox for the development process. You can tap into the VPS’s resources to run whatever development tools you happen to be using, making remote development a breeze. More importantly, you can use your VPS to easily simulate testing environments for your applications, allowing you to hammer out bugs and glitches well before going live.
Manage Your IoT Devices
Does your business use a ton of embedded sensors and ‘smart’ devices? You can actually use your VPS as a hub for the management of those devices. The data gathered by these devices can easily be pushed to your VPN and analyzed with the management tool of your choice.
Run a VOIP Server
Do you need to set up a VOIP service for a few quick calls, but don’t want to shell out for long-term infrastructure? With your VPS, you can install a VOIP application of your choice, and run things entirely off of that. Once you’re done, you can spin the service down until you need it again – no need to purchase any extra hardware.
Do you have a game or media server that you want to automatically manage or administrate? Run a bot off your VPS. You can even use your VPS to setup a lightweight chat client that your users (or colleagues) can use to stay in touch with one another.
What are you doing with your VPS? Let us know in the comments below.