I was talking to a person on a Facebook group today, and I started thinking about how often users get pushed or heavily “encouraged” to upgrade to a VPS. I briefly stated that a VPS may be overkill, and I thought it may be good if I go into detail of why it may be a waste of resources, and therefore not the best option for you. With larger hosting companies, it seems to be the trend that if you mention that your site is slow, they instantly recommend that you need to upgrade to a VPS. Let’s dig into why this may be a bad path:
Often the issues stem from users just not realizing that they need to optimize their site. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a 50MB JPEG right? All hosting products are powered by physical hardware in a datacenter. How this physical equipment is deployed may vary from hosting provider to hosting provider, but it’s all physical hardware, and it’s basically just an enterprise version of the desktop/laptop you have in your house. Where your laptop or desktop may have 4GB of memory, a quadcore CPU, and a 500GB hard drive, our servers might have dual twelve core CPUs, (24 cores) and 256GB of memory, and 16 1TB hard drives, and dual power supply units. WordPress is a dynamic application, which is very different from the HTML sites back in the day. It requires a lot more CPU and memory to run, and hosting providers have had to institute limits on hosting to ensure server stability. Today, on modern hardware, we can run thousands of HTML sites on a single server. HTML is static, and doesn’t really change, so it can be delivered fast, and the device you use to visit the site reads the code and renders the output. WordPress is different in that when you visit a site, the server builds it on the fly, and then displays it to you. Naturally, this uses a lot more server resources than the old HTML sites of the day. So, in the hosting world, a shared server, is just that, a *shared* environment, and so you’re getting a portion of the available resources. We have to use those resources wisely, and the very first step you should take is, if you’re not running a caching plugin, check with your hosting provider first to see if they are using a server side caching option like Varnish, or LiteSpeed LS Cache. If they aren’t running server side caching, get a caching plugin installed if you don’t have one. I like WP Super Cache, but there are other good options too, like W3 Total Cache, and some people swear by WP Rocket. After that, use tools like Pingdom (https://tools.pingdom.com) and Google (https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/) to gain insight into what is causing slowness on your site. Taking the time to optimize your site is worth it, because it can help you stay on cheap shared hosting longer. That saves you money. Additionally, if your site is performing badly on shared, it may also perform badly on VPS. I’ve seen some very poorly optimized plugins. My hope would be that if you have to upgrade, it’s because your site is exploding with traffic, not because it’s poorly optimized. VPS is great technology, and when used for the right reasons, it makes a lot of sense, but like all hosting technologies, it’s about using the right technology to fit your needs.
Now let’s discuss precisely why jumping into a VPS may be a bad idea. Depending on how you look at it, VPS can be a lot more expensive than you realize. Let’s look at it from a licensing perspective. Let’s say that you use cPanel, and you love cPanel, and want it on your VPS. On a shared server, I pay for the license, and every customer on the server shares that cost. So, if the license costs $20, that cost is spread amongst all customers on the server. If you have 200 customers, it’s $20 divided by 200. Not bad at all. On a VPS though, a VPS is a shared, but private system. You have a physical server that the VPS (also known as VM, Virtual Server, Virtual Machine, etc) runs on top of, but VPS works pretty much just like a physical server. So, if you want cPanel, you have to pay that full $20 license. It’s no longer shared with anyone else. Now, some hosting providers hide this cost in with the cost of the VPS, or something like that, but ultimately you are paying for that license somewhere. This applies to things outside of licensing too, like backups, any secondary costs, etc.
Another way that VPS is more expensive is from a risk/cost point of view. Some providers offer completely unmanaged VPS servers. What does unmanaged mean? It means you have to manage it. Unmanaged means the same thing as self managed. Managing is making sure the software on the server stays up to date, fixing any problems, monitoring for load issues, runaway process, uptime, etc. If you don’t know how to do this, you’ll either become compromised at some point due to lack of security patches, or you’ll need to pay someone to do this for you, which is another added cost. With shared hosting, this all handled by the provider for you, and the cost of it is diluted amongst many people. On VPS though, you take on that full cost. With VPS (and dedicated), you have three spending areas, Hardware Resources, Software Licensing, and then Support/Management. On VPS, you save money on hardware resources, because you’re getting a slice of that physical server, but the Software and Support/Management categories are the same as if you go for a dedicated server. I know of some customers who opted to get a dedicated server because they thought it was cheaper than a VPS, but what really happened is their spending went up in the Hardware category, but their costs in Support/Management, and some in software went down because they weren’t getting as much in terms of software or in support. Always make sure you compare services apples to apples :).
While I say all this though, VPS is a great technology, and when it’s used for the right reasons, it’s great. For example, if you want to run custom software, a VPS is a good way to be able to run that software. Or, if you don’t need the fluff of cPanel, you can do a server with just a web server, SQL server, and PHP installed, and it can make your site scream with performance (if optimized of course). Or, if you’ve simply outgrown shared hosting, VPS is the next step. It’s a good middle ground before you go Dedicated.
If you would like an analysis of your hosting, and objective recommendations, I’m happy to do that, and you can contact me via email (Bobby *at* PreciselyManaged.com), or via Facebook or one of my other contact methods.
I hope this sheds some light on how things work