The average server sits idle, wasting its clock cycles while processes wait for a spike in traffic. Since most websites don’t have a need for real computing power, virtualization divides a single machine’s resources to give the customer the root access they crave. The majority of virtual servers are GNU/Linux based since free and open source software is cheaper for both the host and the customer. Although most users dedicate their Linux virtual server to hosting a website or project, there are a number of other reasons to use a virtual server. Before you purchase, think about your hosting needs so you don’t spend more than you have to.
Your allocated resources on a virtual server are the basis behind pricing. An extra processor core and additional RAM could up your
yearly price by over a hundred dollars. Some providers offer “burst RAM” or an additional amount of “burst” resources to your server in times of need. This could be important if you are working with software that does a lot of conversions or graphical work when interacting with users.
While most basic websites will be able to run with the absolute minimum, any site with media rich content or a large database in the background is going to need additional resources. Also, if you are running any intensive web applications or any sort of community site, you are going to have large amounts of data to parse at all times. Keep this in mind when you begin shopping for a service. Not all Linux virtual server hosts are capable of quickly and easily upgrading you to a better virtual instance.
Finally, make sure that your host actually provides you with the resources you pay for. Many virtual server providers will claim large numbers and low prices on their site, but fail to provide due to their overloaded servers. Sometimes a few extra dollars each month can make a big difference in the long run.
Bandwidth and Storage
Most Linux virtual server providers are hooked in at large data centers around the world. This typically means that you won’t have to worry about speed as long as you get your virtual machine hosted at a data center near your customer base. Many providers also put restrictions on the amount of data you can transfer each month, providing penalties if you go over the limit. Consider an “Unmetered” host if you are going to be serving a lot of data without any intensive applications in the background requiring large amounts of resources.
As far as storage goes, most Linux virtual servers are given around 15 gigabytes on the low end of the pay scale. While this seems like enough, consider that your operating system is likely to take up at least 500 megabytes. Unless you are hosting a non-community site with static media, 14 gigabytes can disappear rather quickly when you have users adding their own content.
If you are an experienced Linux user, you no doubt have a preferred distribution. Most Linux virtual server hosts do not provide a way for you to upload your own virtual images, meaning you will need to chose from their list of pre-approved distributions. Depending on whether or not a host carries your distribution in their library can be a major deal changer.
Additionally, you may want to consider the management panel provided. Some services provide instances of cPanel or Plesk, both of which require an additional fee because of their licensing. If you use a service that uses a free or open source alternative than you can save up to 10 dollars per virtual machine. While some commercial panels provide a lot of extra features, if you are not sure if you will be needing them, then there is no reason to incur the charge.
The Host’s End
Many people set up a Linux virtual server for a specific purpose then find that the terms of service and hosting provider limit their access. This is most common with the running of IRC servers and BitTorrent applications. Providers find these services dangerous since they can often host adult and even illegal content. You should check with your provider before attempting to host anything that could be considered illegal.
Hosts also control the number of IP addresses your Linux virtual server will have. If you need additional IP addresses to run extra services that can be virtually allocated, then you should confirm what your host can provide. While many hosting companies only offer a single IP address, some provide 2 with their low end plans.
Reconsider Your Use
Finally, before purchasing a dedicated virtual server, reconsider your use. There is a big push toward self-managed virtual hosting, but if you are only running a website your content may be better hosted by a professional. Linux virtual servers, although cheap, may not be as cost effective as a hosting provider taking care of the details for you. If you are unversed in server security practices, you could open up your content and users to malicious hackers, costing you a lot more in the end.
Also, if you are considering purchasing a Linux virtual server as a cloud storage solution, look into an alternative with more storage space. Seedboxes, while normally used for BitTorrent usage, may provide more storage and bandwidth for a lower price while sacraficing some of the self-management features.
Switching your current services over to a Linux virtual server can seem like a dream; all of the pros of having a dedicated server without the cost. However, remember that servers require regular updates and a conscious administrator to make sure that they continue running properly. Managing your own server can be a lot of work.
This post is part of the series: Linux Hosting Shopping Guides
Looking to save some money by hosting your project or website on an open source system? Find out what kind of hosting is right for you and what to look for when finding the perfect solution for your web needs.