The Difference Between Shared Hosting, VPS, And Dedicated Servers

Blade ServersGiven that there’s not exactly a dearth of hosting options available, it can sometimes be difficult to determine which is the best choice. While making the wrong choice probably won’t cause an business to collapse, it could still result in a lost revenue.  Knowing the difference between the different breeds of hosting is the first step towards making the right one.

Shared Hosting

First up is shared hosting, which is where a lot of small businesses will start. It’s essentially exactly what it sounds like – each client shares server resources with other clients. If you sign up for a shared hosting solution, you’ll be provisioned an individual ‘section’ of a server and sandboxed off from other users on that same server.

Understandably, this solution is best-suited for smaller sites with minimal requirements for scale, smaller budgets, and no need for custom applications. Clients with heavy traffic or growth requirements will often find that a shared host is unable to keep up; organizations that require a specific application or set of applications might further find their apps aren’t approved by the host.

Lastly, the hosting service ultimately controls resource allocation. Websites may occasionally suffer from poor performance due to other clients on the server, and each site has a limited volume of resources available to it before the host shuts it down.

VPS Hosting

At first glance, virtual private servers don’t appear to differ at all from shared hosting. After all, a VPS host still runs multiple clients on a single server, where resources are technically still ‘shared.’  There are two primary differences between VPS hosting and shared hosting. The first of these is ownership.

With a VPS solution, a client is given complete control over their server environment. This means that the server is operated at the client’s behest. On unmanaged servers, there are no restrictions on installed applications and they’ve complete control over uptime and maintenance; managed servers come with a few more guidelines but nevertheless offer more freedom than shared hosting. In both cases, the client doesn’t control the physical infrastructure, yet they’ve still the freedom to do as they will with the virtual.

The second difference involves resource allocation.  With VPS hosting, there are far fewer clients per server than with shared hosting; each client using a particular server is given access to their own individual resources. Many VPS solutions also offer dynamic scaling for periods of particularly high demand.

VPS hosting isn’t without its weaknesses, of course. Since the client has no control over the hardware being used for their server, they need to be particularly cautious about how a host manages its resources. For example, simply because a VPS host claims they offer a particular sum of memory and CPU performance, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not split into multiple chunks; an important consideration for anyone thinking of running high-performance but poorly-threaded applications.

Naturally, it’s also more expensive than shared hosting – but then, you get what you pay for.

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated servers offer the most control of the three options. Unlike both VPS hosting and shared hosting, all resources and infrastructure – both virtual and physical – belong entirely to the owner either temporarily through a lease agreement or permanently through a purchase.  This means that whoever operates a dedicated server essentially has full access to both the hardware and application infrastructure, and they’re the only ones who do. Maintenance and upkeep are frequently taken care of by the host, although a client may choose to co-locate if they wish to maintain their own hardware.

Although dedicated hosting offers the most control and (potentially) the best scaling of the three options, it’s also the most expensive. Smaller organizations and businesses that don’t expect rapid growth are probably safer sticking with shared hosting, while established businesses with high demand and significant traffic spikes would be better served with a dedicated server.

In Closing

Ultimately, which hosting solution you choose depends on three things: budget, necessary resources, and the degree of control required. As such, understanding one’s own hosting needs is just as important as understanding the different options available. Failure to take both factors into account is likely to lead to a string of costly – and entirely unnecessary – mistakes.

Image: Flickr/bobmical

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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