If you’re looking for a web host that’s more reliable than a shared host, but not as pricey as a dedicated host, a virtual private server (VPS) might be what you need. In our testing, these top scorers deftly balance cost and power.
The many web hosts and their hosting tiers can make it difficult for you to find a Goldilocks plan that’s just right. This sometimes happens when your website requires more power than what simple shared hosting delivers, but you don’t want to go all-in on expensive dedicated hosting. The middle ground between the two is virtual private server (VPS) hosting.
VPS hosting contains the best elements of shared hosting and dedicated hosting services. Like shared hosting, VPS hosting puts your website on a server that also has other sites running on it. The difference? There are fewer sites per server, and your website receives its own resource allotment (like dedicated hosting). The sites share the cost of running on the server, which results in a monthly or yearly charge that’s less than dedicated hosting’s relatively high price tag.
How Much Does VPS Hosting Cost?
As a result of VPS hosting’s hybrid nature, its cost isn’t quite as low as shared hosts’ fees, but it’s not nearly as high as dedicated hosts’ fees. You can expect to pay between $20 per month and $100 per month, depending on the configuration. Shared web hosting, on the other hand, is extremely cheap hosting; you can often set up shop for less than $10 per month. Dedicated web hosting will typically set you back $100 per month or more.
Most VPS hosts only offer servers running Linux-based operating systems; you’ll need to dig a bit to find Windows-based VPS hosting. This is important to note if you’re planning on running software that requires a Microsoft-compatible environment. That said, Linux-based VPS hosting will save you a few bucks; Linux servers usually cost $10 to $20 less than Windows servers.
If you host it in a VPS environment, your site won’t share resources with neighboring sites, the way it would with shared hosting. In fact, your site lives in a partitioned server area that has its own operating system, storage, RAM, and monthly data transfer limits, so you can expect smoother, more stable site performance. The sites with which you share your server are far less likely to affect your site—or even take it down altogether—than they would be on a shared site. Knowing how VPS setups operate is just the first step, however. You still need to familiarize yourself with the essential features needed for building a rock-solid, VPS-hosted website.
The VPS Hosting Features You Need
Once you register your website’s domain name, it’s time to start picking the specs for your server. Web hosts typically offer multiple VPS plans that have varying amounts of email capability, RAM, storage, CPU power, domain hosting, and monthly data transfers. The plans typically include website builders that let you quickly create a face for your site without much—or even any—coding required. A solid web host should offer at least 4GB of RAM, 100GB of storage, and an ample volume of monthly data transfers. If you expect a significant amount of website growth, then you should look for a web host that has as many unlimited offerings as possible. For example, Hostwinds—the PCMag Editors’ Choice for VPS hosting—offers unlimited email, domains, and monthly data transfers. Note, however, that as with all unlimited service offerings, you really need to read the fine print to make sure that what you mean by unlimited and what the hosting service means by it.
Speaking of email and limits, you’ll want the ability to create an unlimited number of accounts. Should your website grow significantly, you’ll appreciate being able to scale your email accounts without spending additional money. Web hosts typically place a cap on the amount of storage per email account. In other words, you may be able to create an unlimited number of email accounts, but each one may have a 10GB storage cap. Take time to investigate a potential web host’s email offerings so as not to be surprised by its messaging limitations. Again, find out what the unlimited gotchas might be.
Typically, a web hosting service gives you the option of selecting either a traditional hard drive or a solid-state drive as your website’s storage medium. Traditional hard drives have large capacities and lower prices, but they aren’t quite as resilient as their SSD counterparts. Solid-state drives, on the other hand, are often faster and more reliable than HDDs, but they cost more and have smaller storage capacities. Unless you truly need blazing speed, a traditional hard drive should get the job done.
Do you plan to sell products or services? If so, you’ll want to invest in a web hosting service that offers Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). An SSL connection encrypts the financial information that shuttles between users’ web browsers and your website, thus safeguarding the transmission of the purchasing information. Some hosting companies include a free SSL certificate when you sign up for a web hosting plan, while others charge close to $100. You can save some money by shopping around for services that offer the cheaper SSL plans.
You’ll also want to determine how long you’ll need VPS web hosting. If you need hosting for a short time period—say, less than a month or two—you’ll typically receive a refund should you cancel your hosting within 60 days. These money-back guarantees vary from web host to web host. For example, Company X may offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, while Company Y may offer a lengthy 90-day money-back guarantee. As always, it’s best to shop around for the features that best suit your web hosting needs.
All the features I’ve detailed to this point are valuable to the web hosting experience, but none matches the critical importance of site uptime. If your site is down, clients or customers will be unable to find you or access your products or services. It doesn’t matter how great the features are, or how good it looks; if your site is down, it might as well not exist.
Recently, we’ve added more-formal uptime monitoring to our review process, and the results show that most web hosts do an excellent job of keeping sites up and running. Even if they get everything else right, sites with uptime problems aren’t eligible for high scores. All services suffer ups and downs, sometimes for reasons beyond their control. Those sites that fail to address the problem in a timely manner are penalized accordingly.
Do You Need VPS Hosting?
If you want reasonably priced server space that won’t load pages at a snail’s pace when a neighboring site gets a huge traffic spike, VPS is a good option for your business. We’ve reviewed many VPS hosting services and included the best of the bunch in this guide. You should look into a dedicated server if you want to build a website on an even stronger foundation and can afford the bill.
The chart above will give you a quick overview of the features included with each service, while the blurbs below link to full reviews that offer more in-depth looks.
If you’re just getting started in web hosting, make sure to check out our primer on how to create a website. If, on the other hand, you think you’re ready to start your own web hosting company, you should check out our guide to reseller hosting. The Best Courses for Learning How to Build Websites offers terrific video instruction for people who prefer that style of learning.