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Feb 13, 2011

Shared Hosting vs. VPS Hosting

When I switched Tech Cores to a VPS back in early August of 2010, it was a turning point for us. Before that, we were using shared hosting which in the long run, started to hurt us more than anything. We switched from InMotion Hosting to a VPS for many reasons and quite honestly, I was done with shared hosting.

I manage quite a few websites for friends and colleagues; if you add them all up, you're talking about at least twenty websites. I've worked with a good chunk of the 'best' shared hosting companies so let's just list them out:

  • InMotion Hosting
  • iPower
  • iPage
  • Yahoo Small Business Hosting
  • DreamHost
  • HostGator
  • GoDaddy
  • WebHostingPad
  • FatCow
  • JustHost
  • BlueHost
  • HostMonster
  • And some other smaller ones...

Yup, that's pretty much every popular host out there. Now this isn't a post on my thoughts of these hosts, but if you want to read my thoughts on InMotion Hosting, feel free to do so. But enough of that, let's get into the real part of this post.

Shared Hosting

The biggest problem with shared hosting would have to be that many shared hosts get away with over-selling their services, or in other terms, selling too much for their servers to handle. There are tools out there to determine this but I won't get into that. The main thing people need to realize is that most of these popular hosts have easily 2,000+ accounts on one server! And the #1 reason why most hosts kick their customers from their servers is for over-use.

Most shared hosts offer 'unlimited' deals to get you to buy their services. But with all honestly, it's nothing but a gimmick! Let's take a look at InMotion Hosting's ToS, shall we?

Unlimited Disk Space & Bandwidth - IMH Personal & Business Class hosting are shared hosting environments, so to ensure fast & reliable service to all of our clients, accounts that adversely affect server or network performance must correct these issues or will be asked to upgrade to a virtual or dedicated server.

Practically every shared host claiming to unlimited hosting and bandwidth will have something like this in their ToS. Basically what it means is if you're using too much of their server's resources, which is very easy to do, they'll terminate your account with no notice at all beforehand.

When I was hosting with InMotion Hosting, they terminated our account once because we were using too many resources. They never informed me of what exactly was causing it, but all they did was recommend for us to turn on caching. It's not that heavy of a load and it's for sure not using too many resources for a good amount of time; at most, it was for five minutes.

Some shared hosts are very easy to take down when using too many resources and others you need to purposely try to get your account terminated. The main thing you need to know is if you're going to be using a terabyte of bandwidth and having 100,000 visitors each month, you can expect for the shared host to terminate your account and tell you need to upgrade to a VPS or a dedicated server.

The second thing about shared hosting is that most shared hosts rely on the cPanel control panel. cPanel is fairly easy to use but it has too many quirks to name.

Lastly, you're typically guaranteed free technical support if you have any problems. But keep in mind that not all support reps may be as helpful as you may think. One time, it took over two months to get a rather simple issue sorted out with InMotion Hosting. The main thing that caused it was that cPanel was controlling too much and the system admins weren't entirely smart about how to fix the issue. I ended asking them to transfer my account to a new server and that fixed the issue. I'm betting some configuration file was messed up, but the system admins didn't bother to look to greatly into it.

But don't think that all shared hosting support is bad. People always criticize me for this, but actually, Yahoo Small Business Hosting has some great support representatives! It's almost like every one of 'em are system admins. Of course, if you're not too shabby at computers this won't matter to you, but if you want to geek out with them and ask them some higher-level questions, they will answer it. I like that much better than having those support reps who rely on the help documentation their company provides them... cough InMotion Hosting! It's almost like every question I ask they respond with, "hold on... let me research this." I shun those people; they need better training.

VPS Hosting

VPS hosting, unlike shared hosting, is practically open for anything you want to do... that is, legal of course. If you want to install some special server software, you can do that. If you want to to set up Apache to use 500MBs of RAM on a 2GB VPS, you can do that. The possibilities are endless.

The thing with a VPS is most of the cheaper ones are unmanaged. With an unmanaged VPS, you're basically setting yourself up for trouble if you don't have a knowledgeable server admin. Managing your own VPS is a big pain. You never know what can happen to your server that you've spent days setting up.

Recently, one unfortunate outage happened to us; some software on our server started removing itself. That was not a good thing at all but luckily, all data was retained. Took us nearly an entire day (working for at least ten hours straight) to get it fixed.

Some VPSes, are managed. This means if you need something done, even if you're not all to knowledgeable, the hosting company will do it for you. This is a great thing for most people because some people 1) don't have time to working in a terminal or 2) don't even have the ability to do things with a VPS. Sure someone can use Google on how to set something up, but if you're doing it for the first time, your chances of getting stuck somewhere are pretty high.

The only problem with a VPS is that they typically cost more than shared hosting. If you don't set up your server correctly, you could be using more resources than you need to be and you'll need to upgrade the VPS, which is typically very expensive. Unlike shared hosts, you don't find unlimited resources on a VPS. You pay for what you get in other words. You're not going to get unlimited hard drive space, memory, or even bandwidth. If you need 1TB of data, you might as well look into a CDN like the Rackspace's Cloud Files.

So... What to Get?

This is the big question for most people trying to start up a website is whether or not to go with shared hosting or VPS hosting. If you're just starting out small, I would stick with shared hosting. If you're planning on getting very popular or you need more freedom on how to set up your website, get a VPS. Shared hosts are very restrictive and you can only do so much until your host starts sending you warnings. With a VPS, as long as you stay legal and following the terms of service, they won't scream at you.

The choice is yours. What are you going to use to host your website? A stringy shared host or an open and capped VPS?

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