Too big for existing shared accounts, but too small
for a dedicated solution, many companies are finding
virtual private servers are just right.
Allan Liska special to HostingTech
Many companies are outgrowing their shared hosting accounts and
need to move their website to something more powerful. When a
company outgrows the constraints of a shared hosting account,
the traditional next step has been to move the website onto a
dedicated server. This upgrade can be problematic for small to
midsize enterprises without the expertise or the budget for a
dedicated server. Fortunately, there is solution for these companies,
one that has been growing in popularity in recent years: the VPS
(Virtual Private Server), sometimes referred to as the VDS or
Virtual Dedicated Server.
With a VPS, a hosting company cordons off a server into smaller
accounts, creating a shell for each account. Each account has
full administrative access, but to only to their portion of the
server. Customers get the advantages that come with having root
access, without worrying about hardware maintenance.
Hosting companies also benefit from VPS accounts through increased
revenue. For example, if you purchase a server for $2,000, you
would be lucky to lease it as a single dedicated server for $300
per month; whereas, if the server is shared between 10 VPS accounts
at $80 a month, the return on the server could easily be $800
VPS pricing can range from $50 to $200 per month, depending on
the user's preferred options. This makes a VPS attractive, even
in the face of the $99 dedicated server packages available from
companies like RackShack (www.rackshack.net),
because VPSs require less management by the user. The $99 dedicated
servers typically come without managed services. The degree of
managed services common to a VPS package is appealing for companies
with minimal I.T. resources and experience.
Creating a VPS
There are several ways to create VPS partitions; Ensim (www.ensim.com)
and SWsoft (www.sw-soft.com)
have products that are designed to segment a server into VPS accounts;
however, the most common method of VPS deployment is the BSD jail.
Traditionally, a BSD jail has been used as a security feature.
The jail imprisons an application within a restricted environment,
so the application cannot affect other processes. The BSD jail
is often used in BIND (Berkeley Internet Domain Name) installations.
BIND is installed in a separate jail - with only the necessary
binaries - so if BIND is compromised the attacker does not have
access to the full system. This limits the potential damage an
exploited weakness in an application can cause.
When a hosting company creates a BSD jail for a VPS, the entire
BSD distribution is copied into the jail, rather than just a few
binaries. This gives the customer almost the same level of access
that a dedicated server would. There are certain things a VPS
cannot do (and should not be able to do), such as reboot or shutdown
the server and interfere with the other VPS accounts.
A mid-range solution
The rise in VPS solutions can be attributed to the increasing
demand for complex hosting solutions from smaller companies and
individuals, according to David Tong, chief executive officer
of Fluid Hosting (www.fluidhosting.com).
Fluid Hosting has been offering VPSs since February 2002.
According to Tong, customers are "mostly software developers who
would like to have the freedom to install whatever software they
choose. Others are people who would like to learn about maintaining/administering
their own 'server' [through VPS] before getting their own real
which has been in the VPS business since its acquisition of iServer
in 1997, agrees. Dawn Wells, VPS product manager, sees two types
of VPS customers.
"First, [there are the] value-added resellers: Web developers,
designers, and programmers," Wells says. "These VARs [Value-Added
Resellers] typically have medium-to-advanced technical knowledge.
Second, small businesses that require flexible hosting, but can't
afford dedicated hosting. They typically have a small I.T. staff,
which is why outsourcing hosting and managed services is critical."
Currently, VPS users account for less than 5 percent of hosting,
but as the need for complex hosting continues, the market for
VPS accounts should increase.
Wells says, "As website requirements continue to become more complex
and financial resources are more strained, businesses need a solution
that offers more functionality than a traditional shared hosting
plan, but at a more economical price than a dedicated server."
Tong thinks more people are seeing the benefits of VPS hosting:
"The ability to have an environment similar to having a dedicated
server so people can install their own choice of software - Apache,
MySQL, PHP, et cetera - is a benefit that can't be offered through
ordinary virtual hosting."
Software for success
The success of VPS accounts depends largely on the type of software used to implement them. Although the BSD jail is a simple and quick way to set up VPS accounts, it does not offer the same benefits more complex hosting software offers. SWsoft's Virtuozzo, for example, allows hosting companies to allocate system resources on a per-VPS basis. This allows hosting companies to offer service guarantees with their VPS products, thereby increasing the appeal of VPS accounts. Fluid Hosting is one of the companies migrating to the Virtuozzo solution.
"With the right software implementation, we believe there will
be an increased demand for this," Tong says. "We have received
many requests regarding our readiness to offer Virtuozzo."
The other advantage to using a software-based VPS solution is
that it allows hosting companies the ability to offer a VPS service
on multiple platforms. Fluid Hosting will offer the Virtuozzo
product on Linux and FreeBSD platforms. NTT/Verio, which uses
software developed largely in-house, offers VPS accounts on FreeBSD
and Solaris. The flexibility of VPS accounts is their greatest
asset. Both Wells and Tong see several new markets opening for
the VPS services.
According to Wells, "One of the greatest market opportunities
for the VPS is global expansion. There are many international
markets that have not historically had an 'in between' option
in hosting. The VPS offers more functionality and flexibility
than shared [hosting], but less costly than [a] dedicated [server]."
Tong says the strength of VPS accounts is in the quality-of-service
"The current hosting industry is mostly based on virtual accounts
in which one account is capable of bringing down the
whole server - for example, a run-away script - or using
up most of the resources, which degrades the server's
performance," Tong says. "If all of these virtual accounts
can be sand-boxed from one another, then the host will
be able to increase its service quality guarantee by
offering each customer the guaranteed system resources
- CPU, RAM, disk [space] - in accordance to the customer's
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