For many developers, choosing the right host is crucial. You often have different requirements and greater demands than regular members of the public and you need to be sure that your VPS host will be OK with your traffic and data movements. Not everyone can afford dedicated hosting, so often the next best thing is a Virtual Private Server. In this article, I will discuss some ways to look at your VPS host and decide which one is right for you.
First: What is a VPS?
A VPS, or Virtual Private Server is a virtual machine that resides on a physical server but is a completely separate operating system environment. This allows you the luxury of having your own hosted server but in essence you are sharing the physical resources with several other virtual servers at the same time. Depending on the plan you choose and the setup, you often get a choice of configuration options and system specifications.
The first thing that developers usually focus on when picking a Virtual Private Server is configuration. There are different types of VPS server configurations and they usually depend on the vendor and their commercial interests. The first area to look at is Virtualization Technology.
There are two major virtualization technologies used by hosts: Xen and OpenVZ. There are pros and cons to each of these solutions and you can check out our comparison article for a more in-depth look. The basic breakdown is like this: Xen is a full virtualization solution for many operating systems and it does not have any inter-carrier resources so there is a separate swap partition created for each virtual machine. Vis is a specialized Linux solution and is a bit faster but it does allow the inter-carrier sharing, thus creating a shared resource situation between your CPU and RAM.
The second area that most developers are concerned with is Control Panel. The most popular control panels appear to be DirectAdmin and cPanel. The control panel makes your VPS a little more user friendly and easier to manage so it is important to get to know your control panel and all of the features it provides. Not all VPS hosting comes with a control panel, so make sure to check if you are wanting one. If you have to pay the licensing feel for a control panel, hosts will often be able to give this to you for a small fee, because the host can get licenses for control panels at a lower cost due to volume. If you find that the fee is too steep, you could try installing the free Webmin open-source control panel.
Now we are on to the good stuff: the installation of basic services. As a developer this is most likely the area where you have very specific requirements. Will you be running the LAMP stack? (Linux + Apache + PHP + MySql) or another configuration? Here is where you can get the option to install .NET services, LightHTTPD instead of Apache or purchase a MSSQL license to use instead of MySQL. Many hosting provides will provide a “blank” server so that you can install your own software or they will install and customize them for you as part of the service. Make sure to check with your VPS hosting provider to be sure that the services you will be wanting are available for install.
Once you have made all of those choices, now you can focus on the physical specifications of your VPS.
When you are shopping for a VPS, make sure you do not get fooled by plans that have a very low cost but offer large amounts of RAM. You will want to check that the number of RAM you expect to be getting is guaranteed RAM. If the RAM is guaranteed + burstable then you will not always have that amount of RAM available since burstable RAM is only available for a short period of time. The most popular RAM quotas are: 256, 512, 1024 MB. As a developer, you should have an accurate measurement of the amount of RAM necessary for your applications so you are sure to pick the right plan for you.
The next thing to look at is CPU units. CPU units is a way of expressing shared CPU power across all VPS on a system. It can often be hard to determine the actual power of the CPU from this number. If you are picky or are looking for something really specific, this requires a conversation with the sale or support department since you will need to know the following information to make an informed decision:
- How many cores the who VPS has available
- What their frequency is
- How much power is delegated to the VPS
Having this information will give you the specifics of the CPU power allotted to your particular VPS. Obviously, the more powerful the CPU units the more powerful your VPS will be.
Finally, you need to look at disk space. VPS are not usually design for large data processing and sometimes do not offer a lot of hard disk space. Be sure to evaluate all of the tasks you will be doing, i.e., mail server, file processing, storage, system setup and anything else you may have installed to find out the total disk space you need. Usually disk space quotas start at 20GB and move up to max around 120GB.
Also make sure you are saving room for backups of your system as well as swap space. Swap space can be tricky depending on the operating system you will be using. If you intend to use a Linux system, swap space is a fixed disk partition, not a file, so make sure you are clear with the terms of your plan on whether or not this is counted with the disk space or not.
In summary, a VPS can be a great solution if you have outgrown a traditional hosting account or if you are looking to have more freedom and flexibility in your hosting system. You will want to shop around and be sure that you have done your homework on your necessary requirements before you choose a VPS provider. Find out as many details as you can before you sign up since you may be entering into a long-term agreement with this company. Make sure to check out their sales and service departments by giving them a call so you can see if they are helpful in explaining everything and answering your questions. In the end, the choice is yours and you have many companies to choose from. You should be able to find a great hosting plan that will fit your needs and provide you with many years of service.