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If you’re just getting started or your web site doesn’t take up too much traffic just yet, then a shared webhost may be all you need.

The only problem is, not all shared hosting is created the same.

The Problems With Shared Hosting

You may think about a shared hosting server like a big house. Every customer who purchases an account gets access to some space inside the house but everyone has to share the dining room, kitchen and even washroom.

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If for one reason or another someone in the house decides to use the washroom for 3 hours, the other house members may have difficulties in getting the right share of resources.

Shared domain hosting companies usually have policies to protect accounts, but none of them are strict rules. In other words, if they don’t do a good job in managing the problem, you end up with something that is less reliable than you expect for your business.

Shared hosting companies also tend to oversell. If only two accounts use as much space and data transfer as promised by the provider, they are more likely to render the server busy enough to serve pages from other accounts. Basically, their offering is based on the fact that only a few web sites have really high traffic so while the server is idle most of the time, the resource is shared among other users.

Of course, the problem comes when a few sites suddenly process a lot of data or get a bunch of visitors. One possible scenario is that some social sites like Digg or Slashdot features pages on their home page. As time progresses, web sites and blogs are going to get even more popular. Is your hosting company willing to migrate your account as necessary to avoid overloading the system?

Some of the above scenarios may not happen, but for serious business owners, they are not going to rely their businesses on such unreliable condition.

Is there a solution to this issue?

Yes, this is when Virtual Private Server (VPS) comes to the rescue. It doesn’t solve everything but at least it removes the limitations within shared hosting and give additional benefits at the same time.

To continue with the above analogy, a VPS server is much like an apartment. An apartment building has limited tenants in it. Basically all the tenants still use the same building, elevator, and other facilities but each of them stays in his or her own unit. They have privacy and much more flexibility.

Benefits of Using Virtual Private Server

Ideally, each of your sites should run on a dedicated server but alas, this is not possible due to its cost and other factors.

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VPS is a great option to go as an alternative. The following are the benefits of using it in comparison to shared hosting.

  • Security. Each VPS account is insulated. It runs its own operating system. That means other VPS users who share the same server with you can’t possibly access data or files from your virtual server.
  • Performance. Resources are shared equally among accounts. Hosting companies usually allocate fewer users per server than in shared hosting packages to make it more responsive, performance wise.
  • Server reliability. If one VPS causes problem, the owner can reboot the individual VPS without affecting others. Network connection and other factors also contribute to site availability but still it is a relief especially for people who experience frequent down time with shared hosting caused by other users.
  • As configurable as a dedicated server. You can install or remove services as necessary to suit your need. If you like to install additional protection for email, you may do so without asking permission at all because it is basically your server. Sometimes this is the only option to go if you have to customize server software configuration without investing on a dedicated server.
  • Independent. Each Virtual Private Server (VPS) has its own IP addresses, so it appears as if you host your site under a dedicated server. This is possible because each virtual server runs its own operating system. You can pick your favorite Linux distribution, for example.
  • Scalable. With shared hosting, you can upgrade to a better and bigger package, but most likely what changes are the amount of disk space or data transfer (bandwidth) you could use. VPS is entirely different though. If you upgrade, you will have to move to another server with less crowded users. Modern VPS supports load balancing or failover technologies too, so you can add more servers to enhance performance and availability of your web site or blog.

The latter point deserves its own mention, so allow me to elaborate further.

How Scalable is VPS?

Virtual Private Server (VPS) is often thought as less desirable as Dedicated Server (DS). From the resource perspective, if everything stays the same then DS is certainly better than VPS. However, with existing technology, you can turn multiple VPS, which are hosted in different servers, to perform different functions and serve your site.

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Even further, you can actually setup load balancing so the loads are evenly distributed across multiple VPSes.

If your web site has 100 requests per second, 50 of those requests go to server A and the other half go to server B. Web users may not see any difference at all. When one server is unavailable, another server can take over the processing load.

From this perspective, certainly VPS is better than DS, which is just one huge server by itself. Moreover, combinations of two or more VPSes can be even more cost effective than a dedicated server.

Another interesting usage of VPS is to distribute different service to its own VPS. A database may reside on a box and web server on another.

In the near future, cloud computing will combine the processing power of multiple servers and bring much more flexible offerings. Hosting buyers may soon buy as much resource as they require. This is certainly an interesting space to watch.

Note: Basically cloud computing is like VPS with a twist. With cloud hosting, the hosting companies allocate as much server resource as you need in a series of servers. The topic is out of the scope of this article though.

VPS Has Its Own Drawbacks

Let me be frank up front. VPS is being sold as being insulated from each other, with perfect resource allocation. Each account will get the fair amount of share and the capability to burst — use more server resources — if they are available / idle.

While it is true each account actually runs separately as a virtual machine, but that doesn’t mean the resource allocation is perfect. If one account decides to exploit the server resources aggressively, still the others will be affected.

As much as I like to compare it to an apartment, still VPS is just a virtual compartment so you should know it before buying. Picking a reputable company who monitors servers and your neighbors closely is necessary. You also want to make sure that they don’t oversell and cram too many users into one server.

Another drawback of running a VPS is that it is harder to maintain. If you purchase a managed server, it will add to your overall cost.

One thing that may surprise some users is the fact that you have to pay if you want to manage your account with cPanel. That is an additional cost per month for each VPS. In shared hosting, the companies offering the service pay the license and share the cost among server users but in VPS you can’t share it with your neighbors.

How Will This Information Benefit Web and Blog Designers

First of all, as your site outgrows your shared hosting, VPS is often the next logical step to take. Nowadays as VPS becomes more affordable, rarely do I need to sign up with shared hosting for my web site. You may also propose this to your clients as part of your offering.

In early 2000 when I started a local Linux and email consulting service, my friend and I often referred businesses to each other. He was a web designer. More often than not, a client who was to build a new site needed infrastructure for hosting the site.

Shared hosting was a solution, but if the client wanted a more reliable service, that’s when my service could be of help. Some of my clients also asked me if I knew a local web designer that they could work with. I was more than happy to refer my friend in return. We had established a kind of partnership that way, although there’s no legal document that backed it up.

This idea certainly will work nowadays. Shared hosting is now a commodity, thanks to the same old pitch about better reliability, low cost, and faster servers.

With a bit of creativity, web and blog designers may re-package their offerings to include hosting. Buying a reseller package and reselling it may be an idea. In several offers, I’ve seen a reseller package that even includes unlimited support for the customers of the reseller. That may sound like a great package, but most likely you also need a staff to provide customer and billing support.

For that, I prefer another route, which is to package VPS from one of my trusted hosting companies as part of an integrated service. Not only this allows you to create a value-added service, but also the potential of recurring income of maintaining client’s site.

While web designing and infrastructure are two entirely different services, they often go hand in hand. Clients often ask about response time of the server to a web designer or developer because they think it has to do with the code or design, and vice versa. Yet another reason why an integrated service is an idea worth considering.

VPS usually offers a more reliable service, so that’s a truly a win-win situation.

The challenge is, of course, to find a good partner that will fill the gaps for your current service.

Conclusions

After some time, your blog or web site may demand a better and more reliable server. While it is possible to upgrade to a more powerful shared hosting package, VPS solution in my opinion is a better path to take.

If you are willing to learn a bit about server management, VPS gives you a much better environment to host your web sites. And unlike what most others believe, it doesn’t have to be costly too.

Reputable VPS solutions start as low as $20 per month (as of this writing).

Finally, packaging web / blog design and server maintenance is still mostly untapped value-added service. If you are looking to grow your business, even during recession, this option provides you with another way to stand out from your competitions. I’m not here to say that everyone should leave what has been working so far. The point is, reluctance to think out of the box may as well mean leaving money on the table.

Stay tuned for an upcoming article from me here on Pro Blog Design next Monday where I’ll give you some tips on getting the most out of your VPS setup!

Now, let’s start an interesting discussion about this. Have you considered switching to VPS? What’s your experience with it?

What’s your idea for value added web design services? Do you think this is a good model? Who knows, we can help each other make our businesses thrive this year.

hendrylee Hendry Lee helps people overcome strategic and technological challenges in starting and growing their blogs. Get more blog tips from his blog where he reveals his writing secrets and how to make money blogging. While you’re there, don’t forget to download your free e-book and subscribe to the e-course.

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