What is VPS Hosting?

Everything You Need To Know About VPS Hosting

It’s important to understand your needs before selecting a web hosting plan. We assist our customers with migrating to a different plan, but researching your options can save you a lot of time and energy. Do you need a particular Linux operating system (OS)? Do you need WebHost Manager (WHM) to manage customers with individualized cPanel accounts? Do you need root access? These are just some of many factors that can help you decide what’s best for you.

The type of web hosting you choose for your business can make or break your website. In a world that demands speed, reliability, and security, you can’t risk having a site that isn’t up to par. In fact, 47% of consumers expect a webpage to load in 2 seconds or less before they bounce. This is why VPS hosting has grown in popularity in recent years. It is a cost-effective way for webpreneurs, startups, and bloggers to gain more power than a shared hosting site without the price of a dedicated server.

If your business has grown large enough that you’ve outgrown shared hosting, you might find yourself feeling overwhelmed with the many upgrade options. If you’re the average small business owner or C-level executive, you might not understand much beyond your website base requirements to function.

Below we cover the following to help you better understand VPS hosting and whether it’s the right choice for you:

What is a VPS?

VPS stands for “virtual private server.” It is a virtual machine or container, meaning that you do not control a physical, dedicated server. This is accomplished with type 1 or 2 hypervisor software (e.g. Virtuozzo or VirtualBox respectively) which divide a physical server into dozens, or even hundreds, of virtual servers. Each virtual server can run its own OS and is allotted a certain portion of the physical server’s memory and storage resources. You have most of the same features of a dedicated server, excluding the ability to modify the kernel. Each VPS hosts its own files, databases, and settings.

Infographic: Where Does Your Website Live?

If you’re having trouble envisioning how it works, think of townhouses. There is one overall physical structure which is broken down into separate units. While the residents technically inhabit and manage their own areas, none of them have access to anyone else’s personal belongings or living space. With townhouses, there are things that have to be shared such as parking space. The same goes for a VPS. Your data is yours to configure, but some resources are shared with others or restricted to accommodate others within the physical server.

What is VPS Hosting Used For?

A VPS server is used for a lot more than a static website in most cases:

  • Cloud infrastructure for small to medium-sized businesses (e.g. Nextcloud)
    • Collaborative document editing
    • Private video teleconference hosting
    • Customer relationship management (CRM)
    • Project management and other task management
  • Live streaming events (e.g. Owncast)
  • Load balancing traffic between multiple other servers (e.g. HAProxy)
  • Web application firewalling (WAF) traffic to and from another server (e.g. pfSense)

Learn more about what you can do with Linux VPS hosting.

VPS Server vs Linux

This guide focuses on the Linux virtual private server because we’re a Linux web hosting company. However, any operating system (OS) can be installed as a VPS. For example, there are Windows VPS hosting providers. IT / IM college students will likely interact with a virtual Windows instance at some point in their curriculum.

Also, the pfSense cloud instance is a popular example of FreeBSD VPS hosting, though many run other web applications on the FreeBSD OS.

What makes Linux so great? Linux OSs are free, stable, and well supported by so many essential applications today (proprietary and open-source).

You may have seen different VPS product terms during your research:

  • Cloud VPS
  • Cloud Server
  • Managed VPS
  • Self-managed VPS
  • Unmanaged VPS
  • High-Availability VPS

Though each of the six terms may seem like different products, there are only two in this case: managed or unmanaged.

Managed VPS Hosting

A managed VPS, sometimes emphasized as “fully” managed VPS, uses pre-installed server administration software on a predetermined OS. It’s usually cPanel, the most popular system administration (sysadmin) software today, on a CentOS server. This is sometimes called cPanel VPS Hosting.

WebHost Manager (WHM) is the application that manages a group of cPanel accounts. The ability to separate sites and applications between cPanel accounts serves various use cases:

  • Freelance developers “reselling” web hosting services as their own
  • Web design agencies that offer web hosting with web development services
  • STEM teachers educating students on Linux system administration

There are Linux web hosting companies that use Plesk, DirectAdmin, or Virtualizor instead.

Unmanaged (Cloud) VPS Hosting

The other four terms from the aforementioned list mean the same thing – there’s no pre-installed software to manage the VPS. It’s unmanaged. The VPS is not restricted to a single application and OS. It’s sometimes called a cloud server because it’s bare and flexible. You’ll usually have the option to re-OS the server between at least the latest CentOS, Debian, and Ubuntu long term support (LTS) releases.

Core server management tasks are now your responsibility. But your server requires less resources to provision and maintain. Therefore, cloud servers generally cost much less than managed VPS hosting plans which include licenses for enterprise software such as cPanel. It requires advanced skills in:

  • Linux Command-line interface (CLI)
  • Secure Shell (SSH)
  • Security information and event management (SIEM)
  • Web server software management (e.g. Apache, NGINX, Lighttpd)
  • Disaster Recovery (DR), specifically backup and snapshot management

For these reasons, it’s generally only recommended for users capable of and willing to resolve any issues deemed specific to their VPS. That being said, it allows for greater customization and control over the system and is often preferred by experienced web developers and sysadmins.

To learn more, see our article on Managed VPS or Cloud Server Hosting.

VPS Server Benefits

For many people, the number one advantage of a VPS is that it offers a lot of the functionality of a dedicated server at a fraction of the cost. It also offers more stability than a shared server since you don’t have to share resources with other companies who are hosted on the same server.

But it also gives you more flexibility because you can customize them much more.  With a shared server, the websites are managed by the web hosting company and you have input but not a lot of actual hands-on control.  With a VPS, you can have as little or as much control as you need.

Let’s compare managed VPS, shared, and dedicated web hosting.

VPS vs. Shared Hosting

Shared hosting and VPS hosting are similar in some ways. Both require sharing a physical machine and its resources with other users. Remember our comparison of VPS hosting to a townhouse? Think of shared web hosting as an apartment, and you have roommates. If a roommate takes a long, hot shower, you’ll have to survive a cold one (at least there are health benefits to it). And since you share a physical address with so many people, you’re affected by many others’ actions. But you make it work because it’s cheap and easy to maintain your limited space.

Shared hosting is very much the same. The resources are theoretically shared equally between all users. But if a site uses more than its fair share of bandwidth (intensive MySQL processes, for example), it takes away from everyone else. This leads to less consistent performance. Worse for many organizations, if other websites that share your server get classified as “adult” or “spam,” it can hurt your brand’s search engine optimization (SEO) and force your email campaigns into junk folders (unless you’re able to purchase a dedicated IP for your shared hosting plan).

There are many VPS advantages over shared hosting.

Performance is more consistent because you are allotted your own share of resources. As there are fewer VPS containers per server, you have a greater amount of resources for your websites and databases. The performance of neighboring VPSs doesn’t affect you.

Better SEO and less spam blacklisting issues since you’ll have a dedicated IP address, maybe more. Search engines and email providers won’t mistake you for being associated with X-rated content or phishing history from other VPSs, especially if you improve email authentication.

Root access allows VPS sysadmins to manage services and install complex software that require admin permissions (e.g. Java, MongoDB, and preferred mail server).

Security is higher because the virtualization process protects VPS containers from being affected by cyber attacks to other customers. With root access, administrators can do a lot more to harden VPS and cloud server security.

Still, many business users prefer shared hosting simply because it is cheapest and easiest to manage. It’s great for those building their first website or with low resource demands.

VPS vs. Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated server hosting provides all the benefits of VPS hosting over shared hosting, but now span an entire physical server. This adds the ability to install whatever Linux OS and hardware customizations you wish. You can also upgrade your Linux kernel and remove unneeded kernel modules at will. If shared hosting is an apartment, and a VPS is a townhouse, a dedicated server is a house.

Users with such needs may supplement their defense-in-depth strategy with a hardware firewall such as the Cisco ASA 5500-X available with our dedicated hosting plans. Regardless, it’s the most secure option of the three server hosting types.

However, it is also the most expensive of the options. This is why many compromise with a VPS.

Save money because you are sharing the physical server with other VPS customers. Therefore, you only pay for your portion of costs required to keep the physical server running – routine maintenance, hardware upgrades, etc.

Save time setting up your server environment by using a pre-configured OS, and cPanel/WHM if using a managed VPS, that’s optimized for the hosting company’s infrastructure.

Other Virtual Technologies

VPS vs. Virtual Machine

Virtual machine” (VM) is a general term for an OS hosted on a physical machine (hypervisor) in a manner which allows it to act as a lone physical system. Oftentimes “VM hosting” is used as an umbrella keyphrase for different virtualization solutions, primarily virtual private servers. Think about it. An unmanaged VPS is a cloud VM running its own kernel and your OS of choice from a list of vetted VM images. Other examples of virtualization:

  • DistroTest.net uses QEMU to create VMs for testing Linux distributions
  • Linux PC with Virtualbox or VMware for Windows 
  • DOSBox game emulator for older DOS games
  • Java Runtime is occasionally referred to as a VM

In each example the OS or application instances you use are software-defined containers “jailed” in VM software on a physical system you don’t manage.There’s little differentiating VM vs VPS hosting since terms are sometimes used interchangeably for defining a private web server or application. When searching for cloud VM hosting, you’re likely looking for an unmanaged VPS or single-purpose web application hosting. Perfect example: WordPress Hosting where you only maintain that WordPress site.


A virtual private network (VPN) is a server or group of servers providing a private, encrypted connection to websites. It’s a niche use case for an unmanaged VPS. The two most common use cases:

  • Remote access to an internal business network (business VPN)
  • Mask your true location during online activity by acting as a proxy service and replacing your local broadcast IP address with that of a VPN server

There are VPN services and VPN web hosting providers available, all with varying degrees of true privacy. Some users build their own private VPN on a cloud server with OpenVPN or WireGuard software. Learn more from our blog: “VPS vs. VPN.”

Do I Really Need VPS Hosting?

A VPS gives your business room to grow without the restrictions of shared hosting or the cost of dedicated hosting. With VPS hosting, you’ll enjoy:

  • Better, consistent performance
  • Root access for essential web applications
  • Higher server resources for database-intensive web applications
  • Reseller hosting capabilities to separate website owners while offering more control over their data

A lot of shared hosting customers upgrade to a managed VPS at some point due to exceeding database resources allotted.

Many users who may want a dedicated server settle on a VPS for:

  • A cost-effective solution for the amount of resources required
  • Technical support from the web hosting company

If most of your business is conducted online and your traffic is growing, a VPS could be the perfect solution. InMotion Hosting’s VPS hosting is simple, fast, and reliable – giving you and your clients the power and performance you deserve.

Get better performance and security with our VPS Hosting.

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