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Blog What is a VPS? A virtual server? An answer from multiple angles.

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This article aims to explain virtualization technology, and the cloud, in an easy to understand language and some visuals. The question "What is a VPS?" is one we get often, and thus, we set out to write the most comprehensive answer we could come up with. It's a bit long, but read on as this is the ultimate guide on this concept! Le's get on with it.

When one of our clients wishes to understand what a VPS is, or what the cloud is, the truth is, our response would not just be a technical one. But mostly a response of why the client needs this technology and how he or she can use it.

And that response depends a lot on where you are coming from. Perhaps your web host told you that you needed to switch to a VPS. Perhaps you are coming from a dedicated server infrastructure and want to find out what this whole "cloud" virtual servers are. Or perhaps you are a new startup and you are looking for a VPS provider that can provide flexibility and speed providing you with servers within minutes.

It is a response of scalability, of affordability, a technical one and of how it can help you.

Let’s go into a few of these, based on your current situation. Let's move into a technical explanation of what is a VPS, and the virtualization technology that goes into it. But let's get something out of the way first, and that is terminology.

EC2 instance? Cloud server? VPS? Virtual server? Virtual private server? Virtual machine? Droplet? Cloud computing? It's all the same!

The industry, and the various "cloud providers" out there have come up with all sorts of names to give to a server running in a virtualized environment. Don't pay attention to that, as all those names you see above are just different names for the same thing.

The term "cloud computing" though is related to basically putting your computational needs (your apps and websites) out in the "cloud". Basically, on a provider like us.

For the purpose of this article, we will mostly continue calling it a VPS, which stands for a "virtual private server".

What is a virtualized server?

That laptop, desktop computer or phone you are using to read this at this moment are, basically, a computer, in different shapes. It has a processor, RAM and a disk to store your data, but most importantly, it stores an operating system and also runs that operating system, which in turn can manage and run apps, provide Internet access, and many other important functions. This computer you are using is running a single operating system, whether it is Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android or Apple's iOS.

But what if that computer could run many operating systems simultaneously, each one independently of the other, and that many people could use each of those operating systems, even though they are all running on the same single computer?

That is what virtualization does. With special hardware found inside the CPU of a computer, and special software, that one computer can simulate multiple computers, called virtual machines, and on each those virtual machines, an operating system can be installed. In the cloud industry, these virtual machines usually run Windows or Linux, and the operating system sees this simulated virtual machine as a real, physical computer.

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With this technology, a hosting provider like ourselves can provide what is known as a VPS hosting service, or cloud server hosting as some people refer to it nowadays.

How do we do this? We build a data center with temperature controlled rooms and fill them with very powerful servers (which is a computer, also in a different shape), along with a high capacity network. We designed automation software, with an easy to use web interface, and we allow clients, from a remote location and with just a few clicks, to request our system to create a virtual machine, install an operating system into that virtual machine, and then give that client remote access to that operating system.

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Let's go on now to an explanation on how you can use this incredible technology, based on your needs.

First reason for a VPS: your web host told you that you needed one, or even that you needed a dedicated server.

Congratulations! When a web host tells you such a thing, it usually means that your website has become quite popular and it needs more resources than what they provide.

But why would a VPS provide more "resources"? And what is that?

See, your typical website hosting account (also known as shared hosting) provides your website with a limited number of resources. That includes the amount of disk space you can use (and remember: there is no such thing as unlimited space!), how much computation your website can use (CPU resources), as well as the amount of RAM your website uses.

CPU, disk space and RAM and basic elemental components of any computer or server, and they are of course limited. If your website uses a lot of these resources, you could end up overloading the server hosting your website and affecting everyone else hosted in that server (this is known as the bad neighbour effect). How can your website do this? The more visitors you get, and the more complex the programming behind your website is, the more resources it will need.

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As an example, WordPress is an app that uses a lot of resources unless certain optimizations steps are taken.

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With a VPS, you can choose how large or little you want those resources assigned to you. You can choose a VPS with enough RAM, CPU and disk space to fit your website's or your application's needs.

How do you know how much will it need? Well, that is difficult. Your web host might give you an idea, but also, one of our expert techs can check how much you need. Usually that is done by just simply giving you a VPS with large resources, monitoring how your website uses them, and then we would suggest a smaller or larger VPS.

In the case of our VPS service, ColossusCloud, we provide a variety of many different sizes of CPU, RAM and disk space to fit your website's or appliction's needs. And these resources can scale up and down with just a click. Let our staff help you determine your needs.

In addition, our staff can also migrate your website and configure everything for you through one of our managed support plans.

You are coming from a dedicated server environment and would like more flexibility and shorter TTM (time to market). You also want to respond to sudden bursts of traffic and computational needs faster.

This one might be a tough one, as most customers are hesitant to migrate from a dedicated environment to a shared, virtualized environment.

A dedicated server environment is basically the opposite of virtualization. It is one single server running a single operating system. Customers coming from years of using a dedicated environment have many concerns. Some of these are:

  • I get more performance for the dollar with a dedicated server.
  • The "cloud" is more expensive.
  • All of a dedicated server’s resources are mine and mine alone.
  • The technology behind the cloud is quite complex; too many things can go wrong. In the meantime, my simple dedicated server has been running for 5 years non stop.
  • I "know" a dedicated server and trust it.
  • I’ve heard of too many downtime events involving the big cloud companies.

And to be honest, we completely understand. All these concerns are quite valid. Some of the responses we’d like to present though are:

  • At ColossusCloud, we guarantee our hypervisors (the servers that host the virtual servers) are not overloaded to the point that it would affect a client’s performance.
  • We make it as affordable as possible.
  • Resources are widely available; for example, our hypervisors have at least 384GBs of RAM and plenty of CPU cores, and we don’t push them beyond a certain threshold. Although resources are shared with other clients, we make sure you get what you are paying for.
  • We created the ColossusCloud platform with our more than 20 years of expertise; the technology behind it is sound and stable.
  • Downtime is extremely rare.

There are many other pros though:

  • It starts at just $5/month, making it affordable to launch small test or development virtual servers.
  • It’s fast! You can deploy a new Linux or Windows VPS in just minutes, while a dedicated server can take up to 24 hours (or more if it is a custom configuration).
  • Easy remote access through a KVM console, even if you accidentally firewall yourself out.
  • Distributed storage, powered by Ceph, increasing the safety of your data.
  • One click backups, with nothing else to configure.
  • And best of all is the ability to scale up quite fast. Need 400 new servers all of a sudden? You can, in just minutes.

The best attack to this problem is simply to utilize the best of both worlds. Private, dedicated server infrastructure is great for a lot of performance at a price lower than the largest virtual servers. You can use dedicated servers for high end jobs, specially the intensive jobs that happen in the background, while you use a public cloud virtual server provider, such as us, to deploy and scale your website’s front end.

This is known as a hybrid cloud approach and it is what we recommend the most. Enjoy the affordable performance to dollar ratio of a dedicated server environment and use the public cloud to handle any sudden bursts of traffic.

Connecting both is quite easy. All the major cloud providers, such as AWS, Azure and Google, offer private connections between your cloud with them and your private dedicated infrastructure located at select data centers (such as ours. Contact our sales team for more information). We also provide the same, connecting your virtual servers at ColossusCloud with a dedicated environment also hosted here.

You are a startup.

There are many things to think about when you are a startup, but among all of those your primary concern should be one thing: money. As all great executives say, your time needs to be spent raising money and hiring. But when you raise that money, you need to be frugal, because money doesn't last forever.

The Silicon Valley culture quickly thinks "we must set up on Amazon...", and the reason for that is that most of them don't know better. Ask most people why they chose GoDaddy for their website hosting, and their response usually is "I didn't know of any other".

But Amazon's AWS is the most expensive of all cloud providers, and what they offer is not exclusive to them. You need to know that there are plenty of providers that can give you what you need.

Another major reason most startups choose Amazon's AWS is because their team knows "it can handle anything". But do you need to pay the extra price for that? One of our largest clients, a company valued at over $1 billion dollars, used to run their entire infrastructure with us on a simple dedicated server infrastructure of 300 low to medium end servers. After many years of hosting with us, a new chief technology officer came in and convinced them to switch to Amazon because "we can scale with them". Look, 300 servers is actually a small client for us. Your company might be valued high, but you don't need Amazon to operate. After two years at Amazon, they've seen their bill go from the $200,000 they used to pay us per month, to $2.5 million per month, a 12.5x increase. Has their traffic grown 12.5 times? No. Not even close. They fell into the Amazon AWS pricing trap. They learned the hard way how oversold AWS' infrastructure is, thus requiring to buy more and more resources (and their bandwidth costs are killing them!).

You are a startup. You need to save money. Companies like ColossusCloud, or the other small providers like DigitalOcean, can easily handle your startup's cloud computing and storage needs, at a fraction of the cost.

We also recommend a hybrid approach later on. Once you learn what your CPU, RAM and disk needs are per clients, and you can more easily predict future needs, then moving some of that computation and storage need over to a private dedicated server cloud environment would be a wise choice. One thing though: make sure you base it all on container technology such as Kubernets! It will make it extremely easy to move containers back and forth between your private dedicated server cloud and your public cloud platform.

You seek an easy way to scale up.

This is something only a virtualized solution can provide.

Let's say you need 200 servers with 64GBs of RAM, minimum space and at least 4 CPU cores and you need this by tomorrow. Can you do that in a private cloud or dedicated server environment?

Most likely no. But with our cloud VPS service, you can.

How is it possible? We've already installed hundreds, if not thousands, of very high end physical servers. These servers have easily up to 40 CPU cores, 768GBs of RAM each and a lot of scalable space.

Your request for those 200 servers easily fits within a few dozen of our very large capacity physical servers.

That is the secret to scalability in "the cloud".

You have an in-office infrastructure or your company colocates equipment at a colo facility.

Tired of those late night trips to the colo facility? The server in your office crashed and now you have to wait for the local IT support company you have a contract with to respond to the phone and schedule a visit?

We understand you. We know plenty of clients that go through those things, often.

No doubt though you've been told "you should move to the cloud" many times, and you've been considering.

There really isn't any need anymore for that ten year old Microsoft Exchange server running in a closet in your office, a room with poor air flow, lots of dust, and a mess of cables.  And those of you with equipment at a colo facility... we've also seen their mess. :)

The truth is, between the headaches, cost of repairs to your server, and slow response time of your hired IT contractors, you are spending more money than you should.

Moving your company's functions to virtualized servers at a cloud provider like us, who can provide managed support also, is the way to go. When hardware fails, your virtual server, running your operating system and apps, just magically shifts to another functioning hardware. When you need an expert, we are here 24/7, for a cost far lower than the IT company you currently hire. Or if you have an in-house IT team, you may no longer need them (send them to work for us! We are always looking for a few good men or women!).

We can work with your IT team to transition you over to "the cloud!".

How did the "cloud" industry become what it is?

The truth is, the cloud industry has been around for a long, long time. If you were using Hotmail back in the 90s, you were using a "cloud" product. That just simply means that the functionality of that software wasn't installed in your computer or your office server, but on a server at a remote location.

In fact, anything that involves a server in a remote location is just simply in "the cloud". This has been happening since the 80s.

The proper question would be more, when the did the cloud computing industry, at large scale, began? For that, we have to give credit to Amazon, for building a service where clients can lease computation within their data centers using virtualization technology.

A wild idea at first, but it worked. Many other companies, including us, followed pursuit. And while they are the leaders, their reign in the kingdom is slowing diminishing.

In fact, Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform is eating away at their dominance. And with smaller players, like us, growing and slowly taking away a growing piece of their pie, their dominance is growing smaller.

A saying about the cloud...

An easy way to understand what the cloud provider or hosting industry is:

"The cloud is simply the concept of using someone else's computer".

Easy explanation. :)

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What makes each cloud provider different? Are they all the same?

Yes, there are many like us out there. And you might wonder what makes them all different. We'd say it would be the underlying technology, however, most companies will not reveal that (specially Amazon AWS). But we'll give you some of the details that make ColossusCloud tick. A bit of techno babble will follow:

  • The disk of your virtual server, and all its contents, is actually stored in a SSD based Ceph distributed storage system. If a disk or physical server that is part of Ceph fails, there will be no interruption to your operations. Most providers don't use this technology, as it is more expensive. With them, your virtual server is running on a single disk (or RAID system), but that is a non redundant option (if the physical server fails, your virtual server goes down with it).
  • We do not use gig networking technology. All uplinks from the hypervisors (the physical servers running your virtual server) are 10 or 25gigs, with the backbone network being 40g or 100g. All hypervisors have dual redundant network connections to two physical network switches.
  • We do not run any Intel processors older than a Xeon E5 v2.
  • We offer a no-overcrowding guarantee. We do not let a server reach an average of more than 50% of its CPU capacity.
  • We invest more per clients than most of our competitors. Using SSDs, Ceph, and 10g/40g/100g network technology is more expensive, but offers better reliability and performance. Thus, you pay a bit more, but you get a lot more.
  • ColossusCloud's control panel is beautiful and so easy! It was designed by our veteran development team.

You will certainly find cheaper VPS hosting options out there. But know that a low price does have a high price in the long run.

Conclusion

You should certainly give a VPS hosting a try, no matter where your mindset is coming from. It is, after all, the future of the web hosting industry.

It is fast to deploy new servers.

It is scalable.

And it just takes a few clicks of the mouse.

 

  • The current CTO of Serverpoint.com and an accomplished web developer. Peter is one of the leading voices at Serverpoint and one of the founding members.

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