What is a VPS and How Does It Work? (Cloud Explained Series)
A virtual private server (VPS) allows users to set up their own virtual machine without the need to pay for using the whole capacity of a bare metal server (i.e., vps hosting in a nutshell). Studying the technology behind a VPS is a good start towards understanding the cloud as a whole because VPS instances are the building blocks of every cloud.
Most people who use the cloud are somewhat familiar with the term VPS, virtual machine, or compute instance. But, very few understand VPS servers on a technical level. This guide will help you understand the nuances of VPS, its underlying technology, and the differences between VPS and other server infrastructure like virtual dedicated servers and dedicated servers.
Table of Contents
- What is a VPS?
- Virtualization. The Technology Behind VPS
- Key Benefits of VPS
- VPS vs Other Compute Products
- How to Choose VPS Hosting for Your Needs
What is a VPS?
VPS is an abbreviation for Virtual Private Server. VPS is a virtual environment which runs on a physical server usually located somewhere in a data center. Thanks to technology called virtualization, a VPS behaves like a virtual computer with its own virtual CPU cores, RAM, storage and network interfaces.
Virtualization. The Technology Behind VPS
What is Virtualization?
Virtualization is the process of creating a virtual operating system on top of a physical server. On one physical computer, multiple users can run different operating systems all of them separated from each other. For instance, user A may utilize CentOS, while user B sticks to Debian on their virtual machine, on the same physical server.
A hypervisor is software that makes virtualization possible. Hypervisors (connected to the server hardware) allocate computing resources (e.g., RAM and CPU) to each VPS.
From the end users’ perspective, each VM is a fully operational environment. And from the server providers’ perspective, each VM is a single data file that can be moved around as needed.
Figure 1: Diagram showing virtualization using a hypervisor. Several virtual instances are created (e.g., VM 1, 2, and 3) with all of them sharing the same hardware resources on a VPS.
We explain hypervisor and virtualization in more detail in How Does Virtualization Work (the next part of our Cloud Explained guide).
Key Benefits of VPS
Independence and Safety
One of the main advantages of VPS is that the instances usually come with the root access and hence unlimited access to modify the operating system, install and run any apps and packages.
Not only does it allow a high level of customization of each VPS independently, but it also ensures full separation between each environment. For example, one VPS becoming unresponsive won’t affect other VPS. This independence is very beneficial in terms of risk reduction – when one element fails, the rest of the environment remains intact. And that also makes VPS the perfect sandbox for developing and testing new things.
Customization and Affordability
The rise of VPS has also contributed to the growing popularity of microservices. If you look at dedicated servers, implementing a “one server : one task” approach would be inefficient: most of the server’s capacity and resources would go unused. But, VPS is much more affordable as you can create a small instance with resources just for that one task.
Portability and Scalability
From a hosting provider’s perspective, each VPS is a large data file running on a host system thanks to hypervisors. That large data file can then be moved to any other server for optimal efficiency. This makes it possible to move a VPS from one physical host to another without stopping the machine.
Because the VPS Operating System is virtual it’s very easy to scale up or down an instance. In other words, in case you’re running out of hardware capacity, you can just always buy more. In case of Contabo, just go to your virtual private instance and click on the Upgrade VPS button. You can immediately increase your CPU cores, RAM, or hard drive capacity.
VPS vs Other Compute Products
VPS vs Virtual Machine vs Cloud Instances
It’s basically just a different name for the same technology. As you might have noticed in this article, we have been using the term VPS, virtual machine and cloud instance interchangeably. In general, they are a virtual environment using a hypervisor. Virtual machines run on top of a physical server. Some companies even use custom names like “droplet” or “ec2”, but they all are referring to a VPS.
VPS vs Dedicated Servers (Bare Metal Servers)
The main difference between a VPS and a bare metal server is the price and computing power available. You can run the same Operating System on both VPS and dedicated server, but dedicated servers will usually come with more computing power and a higher price tag.
VPS vs Virtual Dedicated Servers (VDS)
Virtual Dedicated Server is a virtual machine like VPS. But, VDS has much more computing power assigned to it, and it uses both virtual and dedicated resources. And like a dedicated server, all of the resources (e.g., CPU, memory) in a VDS are 100% dedicated to you. VDS is a great solution for users who need the portability of VPS and the power of dedicated servers.
VPS vs Shared Web Hosting
Some people compare VPS to shared web hosting. Both VPS and shared web hosting can be used to host websites or email servers, but shared hosting doesn’t offer root access and it is limited to just the eponymously named website hosting. If your website performance constantly suffers because of high-traffic and your customers complain about it being slow, it’s about time to switch to VPS.
How to Choose VPS Hosting for Your Needs
Now that you know how a VPS works, you’re probably wondering what kind of VPS and from which hosting provider should you should select from.
Long story short, it really depends on your needs and use cases / projects. And most importantly, shop around to see which vendor really fits your needs. For example, many customers have echoed the sentiment that we have the best price-to-performance ratio VPS plans (i.e., lot of RAM, CPU, and traffic for cheap).
And for the curious, our customers typically buy VPS for:
- Back-end Software-as-a-Solution (SaaS) applications.
- Self-hosted Bitwarden and other self-hosting apps and services like Nextcloud.
- Back-end Software-as-a-Solution (SaaS) applications.
- Microservices infrastructure.
- Email server hosting.
- Website hosting.
- Game server hosting (if you need more powerful dedicated game servers, then check out our sister brand GPORTAL).
- Torrent seedboxes.
- Crypto mining (e.g., staking Ethereum and farming Chia).
You’re welcome to spin up a VPS (no lock-in, no long-term commitment, no BS) and see whether we’re a fit for what you need. Our VPS plan start from $6.99 USD/mo and come with 4 vCPU cores, 8 GB RAM, 50 GB NVMe SSD, and 32 TB of traffic.