Simple Web hosting is fine for smaller businesses – for about $10 a month, your site sits alongside many others on a server connected to the Internet. As your business grows, however, you’ll reach a point where your website and IT needs have outgrown what your original hosting service can provide. The next step is to migrate to a virtual private server, or VPS.
A VPS brings more security, control and flexibility to your online presence. It’s a convenient intermediate step before getting on a full dedicated server, or enterprise-grade cloud infrastructures.
But it comes at a price, and not just in terms of a higher monthly bill. The greater control afforded by a VPS brings a greater responsibility to your IT staff. It’s worthwhile to understand these trade-offs before you make the switch.
The Benefits of a VPS
A VPS gives you a private, secure portion of a full dedicated server. But unlike shared web hosting, you and your IT team have full access to that portion’s allocated resources and complete control of the server configuration.
The first reason to migrate has to do with website capacity. As your site’s traffic grows and the resources your website needs to operate expands, there comes a point when shared webhosting cannot handle the load – yet, getting on a dedicated server would be expensive overkill. This is where a VPS shines.
There are several dimensions to this. If your website gains in popularity, your backend server needs to be able to handle that traffic, and do so without degrading the user experience. Otherwise, just at the height of your popularity, your Web pages may load slowly or not at all, blowing the opportunity to snag a new customer or please an existing one.
Further, VPS solutions are often easily scalable. Once you migrate, if your needs continue to grow, most providers allow you to upgrade to a stronger VPS level through a simple online process. The process requires a few minutes of downtime.
A VPS provides more sophisticated benefits as well. Your IT team has full control of the configuration of your server, with complete system access. This is different from the “walled garden” organization of shared web hosting.
For example, shared hosting is typically structured to serve just one website. If you want another, you must purchase an additional account. But with a VPS, this is simply a matter of server configuration. The system administrator in your team can set up the server to host as many websites as you like, at no additional charge above the regular VPS subscription.
Suppose your company has one main website, and you want to create another centered around a specific marketing initiative. Or you want to deploy new web properties to provide services for specific categories of clients. These types of online business actions can scale much more cost-effectively with a VPS.
A VPS also gives you the flexibility to install customized software of your choosing. Shared web hosting, in contrast, comes with constraints that can make this difficult, or even impossible, depending on the nature of the software.
Many growing businesses eventually experience the need to build their own software to gather business metrics, automate customer service or marketing and any of a wide range of other actions. This is exactly the kind of software for which you would want a VPS. Up until the point you graduate to a full dedicated server or cloud-based infrastructure, a VPS can accommodate nearly anything your business will need.
Your Server Team
To get the benefits of a virtual private server, you must have an IT team capable of utilizing it, or hire the talent to do so. It could also mean training a technically inclined individual on your current staff, or establishing relationships with part-time contractors you can trust. For best results, many find it’s best to have at least one employee of technical ability who has full access to the server, to be in the role of system administrator.
Remember, a VPS is fully functional as a server. Now that you have advanced beyond web hosting, you have the responsibility of configuring and maintaining your online presence. A system administrator is the person who knows how to install the needed software on your system, and can decipher and apply any needed configuration of the system, its software and its installed packages.
Your system administrator (or “sysadmin,” for short) must also have the ability to temporarily take the server down for maintenance, and bring it back up. Similarly, in the event of a server problem or failure, he or she must have the ability to troubleshoot and quickly determine the underlying cause, apply the fix and then make recommendations to prevent the problem from recurring.
The next role is that of security auditor. The privacy of your business data is critically important, not just for competitive reasons, but also for reasons of compliance. A data breach could also create embarrassing public relations issues, lost customers and worse. Half of all small to midsize businesses plan to upgrade their security solutions in 2013.
The security auditor is responsible for making your server as secure as possible. He or she applies the best practices to minimize the odds of a breach. A key part of this process is to regularly update software, especially third-party or open-source tools on which you may be relying. Over time, vulnerabilities in these are discovered and fixed by the provider, but only if your server makes use of the corrected versions.
Often, the security auditor and system administrator are the same person. Depending on your needs, your IT team may need a programmer or Web developer. This person is capable of creating custom-made software to run on your virtual private server or extending third-party open source software to serve a need beyond its original intent. If you are primarily using your VPS as a more powerful Web host, this may not be required – your existing Web designer or system administrator should be able to perform these duties.