Should you go with a VPS (virtual private server) or a dedicated (bare metal) server?
What are the pros and cons? Is the difference just performance or other things as well? How to know when you’re truly ready for a dedicated server?
Who needs a VPS or DEDICATED server?
There are 3 main reasons why anybody goes with a VPS or dedicated server:
Performance on VPS or dedicated server will typically be faster than shared hosting since you have more resources dedicated to you. This makes your websites run faster and respond immediately without having to wait in line.
Cost is cheaper since you own the entire server and can use (or abuse) the resources however you want. You can load as many websites as you want, or have as much traffic, and as much bandwidth as you want. No concerns about hidden limits in the fineprint. It’s your server!
Flexibility is a huge deal when you need custom modules or server configurations. This can be the case if you’re running a particular application that needs certain modules to function properly. Quite often on shared hosting, many modules or particular configurations are not allowed because they use too much resources or are “insecure” on shared hosting environments. With your own server, you are free to configure it exactly as you please.
DEDICATED (bare metal) server
+ Cheap at the high end (compared to VPS)
+ Super fast TTFB (on a fast-enough machine)
+ Lots of bandwidth
+ Can have multiple IP’s
– Expensive at the low end (compared to VPS)
– More prone to hardware issues (compared to VPS)
I have to list dedicated servers first because they came first. All web servers pretty much start as dedicated servers. They run out of a single hardware machine and then used to load websites. Obviously, renting a dedicated server all to yourself would give you fantastic performance since you don’t have to share the machine with anybody else. Think of it as having your own laundry machine, or how about having an internet connection all to yourself. You never have to wait for anyone else. The server, and all of its resources/power, is there for you whenever you need it.
The term “bare metal” is now used to describe true dedicated servers because VPS are so popular nowadays. Many hosts are using the term “dedicated VPS” or “dedicated virtual server” or “virtual dedicated server”. Neither of these are actual dedicated servers (one machine with one environment). They are all VPS’s (virtual private server) where one physical machine holds multiple environments and multiple tenants. And so the term “bare metal” was coined as describing that the “dedicated server” is not virtualized in any way and that you are getting an actual physical server and running directly off that server (with no virtualization layer).
The main reasons for having a dedicated server is because you want super fast performance, handle massive traffic, and you have a dedicated server provider who you absolutely trust. To be safe, I much prefer a local hosting company with an admin on hand to quickly swap out parts should there be any hardware failures.
The scariest thing about going with a dedicated server is that you use some big company that gives out great prices but doesn’t care about you as an individual. When your server fails, you are only one customer and they can take many hours to get the machine back up online. A failed motherboard or hard-drive can be 8 hours to replace. Or maybe only 1 hour. It depends on the provider’s reaction time…so choose carefully!
Top reasons for getting a dedicated server:
- You have tons of traffic – at least over 5 million hits/month. I think 10 million hits/month is a better minimum.
- You need really strong hardware – heavy dynamic processing that can’t be cached.
- You want faster TTFB – dedicated servers are especially snappy with this.
- You have at least $150/month budget – this is for the hardware cost alone. Doesn’t include any software or support costs. I think $200/month minimum is a safer bet.
- You want to save money – at the high end ($200/month and above), dedicated servers are much cheaper than VPS. You get a lot more hardware for the money compared to VPS.
- You have a solid datacenter and/or trust the personnel on hand – this minimizes downtimes as much as possible.
VPS (virtual private server)
+ Cheap at the low end (compared to dedicated)
+ Still very fast
+ Same flexibility (as dedicated)
+ Easy to upsize and downsize as needed
– Less power (than dedicated)
– Can suffer from neighbor noise
– Expensive at the high end (compared to dedicated)
VPS servers are a relatively new technology that started around 20 years ago. They’re created from dedicated servers using virtualization software to split themselves up into smaller “dedicated servers”. Each of these smaller splits are called “virtual private server” as a way of referencing their virtualized and isolated nature. They behave as dedicated servers, having their own operating system and dedicated resources, but require less cost and effort to set up. They’re also quite convenient to upsize and downsize as needed since the resources are somewhat virtual. It’s not like with an actual computer where you have to manually add hardware.
VPS are very powerful options (if not the best option) at the $20-100/month price-range. Very powerful and flexible. You can get a lot done with it. They’re often treated like mini-dedicated servers. You can do a lot for a very affordable price and not have to deal with the cost and hardware-maintenance hassle of true dedicated servers.
If there are any drawbacks, it’s that they can be somewhat subject to similar issues as with shared hosting environments. You might have a neighboring VPS on the same physical host that’s using up a lot of CPU processes and slowing the server down, or also eating up the bandwidth. VPS, somewhat like shared hosting accounts, can be oversold on the same physical host in order to increase profits. VPS can also be considered very expensive at the high-end. A $500/month VPS can seem like a ripoff compared to a $500/month dedicated machine that isn’t using any virtualization layer. If anything, a dedicated server at that same price point might have even more space and also more performance. But of course, there’s still the issue of whether or not the datacenter and host is equally responsive with repairing dedicated machines in a timely manner.
Top reasons for getting a VPS server:
- You want more power and flexibility without the cost of a dedicated server. VPS are an incredible option at the $20-100/month price range.
- You want something more powerful and robust than regular shared hosting.
- You want a server that can upsize and downsize as needed.
- You don’t want the hassle of dealing with the hardware layer. You simply need a dedicated environment but don’t want to worry about hardware issues.
VPS or DEDICATED?
Can’t decide between the 2? Try these questions…
What’s your monthly budget?
- $150 and under – definitely stick with VPS.
- $300 and over – may consider DEDICATED.
- What about $40-150 dedicated servers? – the cheap ones may be with an unreliable datacenter selling used hardware or being slow to repair machines. You might have 2-3 downtimes per year, and as long as 8 hours. With a VPS running off a solid physical host at a reputable company, downtimes might occur only once a year, and only as long as 1 hour.
- What about $150-300 dedicated servers? – can get some nice rates and good performance but the scary downtime issue is still there.
How heavy is your website and traffic?
- Lightweight website – stick with VPS.
- Heavy website – dedicated is faster if you need it.
- Cacheable content – VPS.
- Dynamic (uncacheable) content – can consider DEDICATED.
- 5 million hits a month or under? – VPS.
- 10 million hits or higher? – VPS still works well but may consider dedicated.
- 2k concurrent users or under? – VPS still works well.
- Over 2k concurrent users? – probably DEDICATED.
How do you plan to use the web server?
- Hosting low-cost sites or client sites? – either is fine.
- Hosting mission-critical sites for yourself? – I think dedicated is slightly less reliable, although still very reliable.
- Hosting mission-critical sites for clients? – are they prepared to take 3-4 hours downtime twice a year? Huge clients can be very unhappy/unforgiving when it happens.
- Selling shared hosting accounts? – either is fine.
- Selling VPS accounts? – dedicated is the only way to go.
Great article! can you write an article on how to get the best server stack for WordPress? Especially for non-techies who want something better than shared, but yet not as complicated as managing their own server?
Your best bet is either something like Cloudways or GridPane or something like my service. 🙂