A Newbie Guide to VPS Web Hosting


Contrary to what the title of the article says, no newbie (when it comes to web hosting) should be considering a Virtual Private Server (VPS).


Because it’s more expensive option than shared hosting, you should go for it only if you already have some experience as a webmaster (most of the time a VPS comes unmanaged unless you pay extra) and your website receives some traffic. Only then can you justify a move to a better server. But if you know that you need better hardware to keep up with the increasing traffic, a well-managed VPS can be a powerful choice – of course as long as you choose a good company and configure it correctly.



A quick note for those who have no idea - What is VPS?


Similarly to shared hosting, a VPS offers you some space on a physical machine. The difference between shared hosting and virtual private server is that the latter gives you a part of the machine of which you are a sole owner. Unlike on shared hosting, all of the resources which are assigned to you are yours to use. This means that although some other websites may be hosted on the same machine, they won’t affect your site as each of them has its own resources assigned to it. You get what you pay for, nothing more and nothing less.



How to choose one?



1. See if you can justify that choice - money and experience-wise


A VPS is not as easy to manage as shared hosting. If you have some experience or time to learn a lot in a very short amount of time, go for an unmanaged one which can be grabbed for as low as a dozen or so bucks per month. Keep in mind that you will be responsible for everything on an unmanaged VPS and will have to install everything from scratch. All you get is a virtual server with one of the Linux systems – either Ubuntu or Centos – installed, and from there you have to take care of everything else (unless you decide to pay extra/month for a CPanel license).


If your budget is a bit bigger and you don’t want to waste time on taking care of everything on your own, choose a managed one (or, at least, get yourself CPanel, which is super easy to use but costs extra). Remember that the level of management is different between vendors, so you should definitely check both the offer as well as recommendations/reviews from other customers. When I chose my first VPS I had to learn everything from scratch (I went with an unmanaged one) and honestly, despite having a lot of satisfaction after setting it up correctly, the beginning was a real nightmare.


2. Find as much information about customer support as possible


Of course, you don’t have to collect thousands of reviews but go through as many as you can and see what people say about the company’s support. Honestly, because I started my VPS adventure having no idea what I’m doing, I’ve spent a lot of time chatting with support – my first evening I lost my root password twice! Luckily, there wasn’t much done on the VPS, and a quick system reset was enough to get me going again.


Other time, I’ve had a huge technical issue, and my VPS company was at fault – my server stopped sending and receiving emails, and I was unable to communicate with anyone or send emails after people registered on my site. Lucky for me, my customer support was really professional and not only did they admit to making a mistake, but they moved me on to a new, working machine and helped me configure my server and put my websites back again.


3. Check your server configuration


I chose to move from shared hosting onto a VPS because I wanted to create a friendly environment for my sites. When choosing a VPS hosting package, check the amount of RAM, disk space (don’t go for anything other than an SSD), the number of CPUs and transfer bandwidth (it’s sometimes called unlimited and unmetered, but even then it’s still measured, only the cap is really high). When moving onto a VPS don’t go for the lowest package (usually with 1 CPU and 512MB/1GB RAM as it’s really not that much). Go for at least double that, as your control panel will eat a lot of resources on its own.


Depending on what kind of control panel you decide to choose, keep in mind that if you are on an unmanaged VPS, you will have to install every piece of software on your own. Personally, I use Webmin + Virtualmin as my control panel, as it’s considered one of the safest and most professional choices available for free. Remember to make sure that you configure it properly – a newbie mistake I once made was allowing my server clock set in Webmin to run late, which desynchronized my applications from the Unix time and caused some of them to stop working. For example, all of my opt-in plugins were unable to process signups as my server was unable to connect with AWeber.


4. Check if your VPS provider is OK with some of the extra options


To make your VPS even more powerful, it’s worth investing in a Nginx with PHP-FPM setup instead of a typical Apache server. A proper VPS Nginx configuration can bring a massive increase in performance of your sites, speed up your server and improve user-experience of your websites. This setup alone can make your two core VPS function much better than an Apache HTTP with more cores. Before you choose a company, it’s worth checking if they offer help with configuration and management of such server setup (some offer Nginx out of the box), as well as some other options such as keep-alive. The keep-alive function allows visitors to use the same connection during their whole stay on a site, without having to reconnect each time they click on a link).



Final Words


At some point VPS hosting may become a necessity. Before you decide to make a move, calculate all the costs associated with it and consider all the technical specifications that you require.


Remember, that it’s a whole different world compared to shared hosting – especially if you go with an unmanaged VPS, and the number of things that you have to take care of at once can be overwhelming, especially in the very beginning.


On the other hand, having root access and being able to utilize Nginx, different PHP setups and a huge variety of applications, can easily turn even a very low-budget VPS into a very powerful hosting machine. In the end, it all comes down to the time and effort that you are willing to put into its management.

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