Virtual server hosting

Brownies in a square - Virtual server hostingVirtual server hosting is a mid-range type of web hosting which offers many of the features of dedicated hosting and does so at a much lower cost. However, you'll need reasonable technical skills to use it effectively

Many businesses use virtual server hosting – it's useful for websites which have outgrown shared hosting, or for running tools and applications that need extra space or which can't be run in shared hosting due to technical restrictions.

Virtual server hosting: how does it work?

Virtual server hosting works a bit like shared hosting, in that your hosting space is on a server shared with other websites and applications. However, virtual server hosting offers more power and freedom.

This is because virtual server hosting uses a technology called virtualisation to split one physical server into several virtual servers.

Each virtual server behaves like a separate physical server. This means you get more flexibility to install the software and tools you need and can scale operations without purchasing or renting additional server hardware.

You can think of virtual server hosting like a cake that's been cut into pieces, (pictured). The whole cake is the physical computer server. You can't have it all (if you want it all, you need dedicated hosting), but you don't have to share your piece with anyone else. You can eat it (or use it) however you like.

Virtual server hosting packages usually give you access to certain amount of disk space on the server, as well as a specific volume of website traffic each month. You should also check for some other important features:

  • Administrator level access. This allows you to install anything you like on the server (within reason). It can be essential if you want to run applications you've developed yourself on your virtual server hosting. (If you're not sure about this, your web developer or IT supplier should be able to advise.)
  • Guaranteed resources. A good virtual server hosting package will guarantee you access to a certain proportion of the main server's computing capacity. This is important, because it means other customers sharing the same hardware will have no negative effect on the performance of your hosting.
  • A service level agreement (SLA). Some virtual server hosting packages include an SLA. This guarantees you a level of service, entitling you to compensation if the hosting fails to live up to what's promised. An SLA is important if you'll be running critical apps or websites from your virtual server hosting.

As with other web hosting services, you'll probably get a choice of packages. Expect to pay from £15 a month for a basic package, up to £50 or more for a top end service.

Virtual server hosting should also include a good range of programming languages and pre-installed applications. Expect lots of extras when compared with shared hosting packages too – like more storage space for emails, backup tools and stronger hacking protection.

Virtual server hosting: what's it good for?

Virtual server hosting gives you much more freedom to configure and use your web space in any way you choose. This makes it an excellent choice if you're developing your own website or applications from scratch, or need somewhere for your software developer or web developer to carry out experiments and try new ideas.

The extra capacity also makes virtual server hosting a good step up if your website is starting to outgrow shared hosting. However, it's not your only option; cloud hosting may be more suitable if you think your website will continue to grow.

Because virtual server hosting gives you more control than other kinds of hosting, you also need more technical knowledge to set up and use it properly. In particular, you need to watch for any security issues that could make it easier for hackers to access your data.

For this reason, it's usually a good idea to get a web developer or IT supplier to set up your virtual server hosting. Some virtual server hosting is managed for you, but this usually means sacrificing some flexibility.

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