Shared vs. VPS vs Dedicated: A Comparison of Hosting Plans

The recent DDos attacks on our servers have led me to write a long overdue post about the different hosting options and try to provide some guidance about how to choose between them. Bandwidth and resource usage are not the only considerations. Security and vulnerability to DDos attacks as well as proximity of the server to your users are also considerations. I have had clients with million dollar businesses that don’t want to spend more than $10 a month on hosting their site! Underpaying for hosting is a common affliction to which we have all succumbed at one time or another. Choosing the right hosting plan for your unique situation can be a complicated process. Here are the three main types of hosting plans to get you started.

Shared Hosting

This is the cheapest option. It is often likened to living in an apartment building. Your account shares resources and infrastructure with many other accounts on the same machine, perhaps numbering in the thousands. Like an apartment dweller, you can be affected by what your neighbours are doing. Perhaps one greedy neighbour uses all the water (bandwidth) and there isn’t enough for you. While most hosting providers take measures to prevent such things there are no guarantees. Also because you are sharing a machine with many others, some of whom may not be the most savoury of customers, you are more vulnerable to DDos attacks because a malicious attacker may target someone else on the machine while sapping resources away from your account.

These types of accounts are generally good for personal blogs or sites that are not mission critical. If your world will not end if your site goes down for a few hours or even a day ( as ours did as a result of a HUGE DDos attack) then this may be a good option. If your business completely depends on your site and will be completely destroyed by even a short outage or slowdown – you may want to consider another option.

VPS Hosting (Virtual Private Server)

This is the step between shared Hosting and a dedicated server. VPS Hosting has been likened to living in a luxury condo. While you are still sharing resources, certain amounts of the total available are allocated to your account only. A greedy neighbour can’t use all the water and parking spaces the same way they can on a shared server. While there are still multiple accounts on a single machine there are less of them and they tend to be a better class of tenant. However, it is still possible to have an attacker leach resources from your account while attacking another. There is less chance of this as there are less accounts on the machine to target. VPS accounts tend to have better security as they are cordoned off from the other accounts on the same machine. VPS accounts generally start at $60 a month.

Managed WordPress hosting

This is an option that has recently become more popular. This is essentially VPS Hosting that has been configured with WordPress in mind. They also have staff that specialize in WordPress and help run your site . The two main providers are WPEngine and Synthesis. Look for an upcoming post comparing the two. These types of providers generally offer the following in addition to the regular VPS services.

  • Automatically update your WordPress files.
  • Run NgGinx or other compression software
  • Automatically back up your site
  • Provide proactive scanning for viruses and malware
  • Addition compression and caching of your site
  • In the case of WPEngine – a guarantee to fix your site if it ever gets hacked.

These types of WordPress specific plans are a nice choice but definitely pricier than a vanilla VPS.

Dedicated Server

This has been likened to owning a home. You are responsible for everything, but you are the only account on the machine. DDos attacks only affect you if you are the specific target. You also get carte blache to install and run any software you choose. This is not always the case with VPS or shared accounts. There are two types of dedicated account, managed and unmanaged. Managed accounts as the name suggests have staff at the hosting provider that will take care of updates and reboots etc. While unmanaged accounts leave you completely responsible for everything. Unmanaged may be the way to go if you have your own IT department and want complete control over everything.Dedicated hosting accounts generally start at around$125 a month.

So How do I Choose?

Generally you can look at how much traffic you expect to receive and go from there. If you get less that 10 000 page views per day then a good quality shared account is probably right for you. However, if your site receives less than this but is mission critical or requires custome software and configurations you may want to upgrade to a VPS or dedicated plan for the increased security, uptime potential and configuration freedom.

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