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Shared Hosting vs. VPS

Why VPS Is the Way to Go for Your Ecommerce Website

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Your ecommerce business is ready to go to the next level. But you are not sure if you should continue with your shared hosting account, or kick it on up to a Virtual Private Server (VPS). This is not a decision to be taken lightly because the website is the heart of ecommerce. Here are some compelling reasons to opt for VPS.

Shared Hosting -- Taking a Chance
Many shared hosting providers claim that you will have unlimited resources, and can run dozens of programs that can be installed with a single-click using software such as Fantastico. They will promise you the moon to sign you up. But make sure to read the fine print. There is no such thing as "unlimited" disk space, bandwidth, or CPU usage. When your ecommerce business grows, and your website runs several scripts to offer all that wonderful functionality to customers, your hosting will hit a wall.

In my first such experience a couple of years ago, I got an email from my host informing me that my website had too many parallel Apache connections and I needed to immediately upgrade my hosting package if I wanted to keep my website up. At that point of time, I had no idea what those "Apache connections" meant. But given that I was being threatened, I learned quickly.

Shared SSL Certificate -- A Big No-No
Some shared hosting providers manage to lower their costs, and as a result your prices, by offering you a shared SSL certificate. Imagine the uncertainty introduced into your customer's mind when they see a warning message that the SSL certificate does not match your domain name. It is likely that this will drive off your customers.

So shared hosting should be considered for an ecommerce website only in two situations:

  1. You are setting up a fully functional prototype website, as a precursor to your actual hosted website.

  2. You are setting up a niche website where customers already have a relationship with you and are not likely to get put off by sow speeds and shared SSL certificates.

VPS -- a Happy Beginning for Ecommerce
No one wants to spend more money than they must. So you obviously want to choose the most cost-efficient hosting. You do not want to spend too much money, and you do not want to choke on limited resources. However, you also do not want to have to stop midstream and move your operations to a new hosting provider. Website migration usually runs into some problems as it involves human intervention.

So you should get it right the first time, and your choice should be good for at least a year. I have already made a case against shared hosting. But that does not mean that we have to consider dedicated hosting (or collocation) right away. Dedicated hosting tends to be too expensive for most self-funded ecommerce startups. The good news is that VPS comes in as a happy compromise.

How Does VPS Work?
VPS involves a shared server that is "split" into several virtual servers by use of software called virtualization software. These servers are imaginary (since they are all just one server, not several), but they are strictly defined and managed by the virtualization software. Based on the hardware setup you purchase, the virtual computer will be allocated with the specified number of CPU's, RAM, disk space, and bandwidth. Many hosts allow for automatic expansion beyond these resources while others enforce them strictly.

Benefits of VPS
All the benefits of a VPS over shared hosting arise from the fact that the resources are isolated and pre-allocated. Here are some of the obvious benefits:

  • Isolation From the Activity of Others on the Same Host
    If another user on your host's services is misbehaving, this will have little to no impact on your VPS service. If their activities crash their server, they do not crash yours. In fact, only their virtual machine crashes. This has no impact on the physical server on which the virtual machines are run.

  • Guaranteed Speed
    No matter what anyone else is doing on another VPS hosted on the same machine, you are guaranteed your speed. If you have two CPU's allocated to you, then you will always have those two CPU's available to your operations. The amount of RAM you have paid for in a VPS setting will always be available to your operations, regardless of what else is happening on the physical machine.

    If you have used shared hosting before, you know that its speed varies based on the time of day, which is influenced by the amount of traffic other websites of other users are getting at that moment. Your resources are being distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis. This never happens on VPS services. Resources are dedicated to your ecommerce website.

  • Guaranteed Stability
    While shared hosting is notorious for hiccups, VPS does not experience any such interruptions. It goes again to the virtualization software that divides the resources, making a dedicated machine with dedicated resources for your e-commerce.

  • Guaranteed Space
    Many shared hosting providers that claim to provide unlimited disk space, actually shield themselves in some kind of a "fair use" clause. In other words, the resources must be fairly shared between all users of that server. That translates to limited disk space.

    In VPS hosting you never have to worry about that. You have an agreed upon disk space that is paid for monthly and is reserved exclusively for you. It sits there, either used or unused, but paid for and allocated to you.

  • Root Access
    If you are technically strong, you might need root access to install some programs. You will never get root access in shared hosting. Root access begins at the VPS level of hosting. Make sure to read the manual or talk to your hosting provider if you think you might need root access.

Final Word
Clearly, VPS is the way to go for a serious ecommerce startup. Shared hosting is an adequate environment for testing. When it comes to taking the plunge, budget for a VPS plan. It is much cheaper than dedicated hosting, while being much more robust than shared hosting.

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