VPS Hosting

7 Differences Between Shared and VPS Hosting: Which One is For You?

Even the best intentions can result in less-than-ideal outcomes. When you don’t have the full picture, the unexpected can happen — and it’s usually not good. Baking a cake, for example, requires a certain attention to detail.

Knowing your options for web hosting will help avoid half-baked results when it comes to setting up your website. Whether you are redesigning your site or putting it together for the first time, you’ll want to find the hosting plan with the greatest potential to make your site taste the best — erm, be successful.

One of the decisions you’ll have to make is choosing between shared hosting and virtual private server (VPS) hosting.

Neither one is inherently better than the other — it all depends on your website’s unique requirements. You may need super-tight security, lightning-fast speed, a low price point, or scalable resources, among other considerations.

By carefully considering the pros and cons of each option, however, you can have your cake and eat it too.

While both shared and VPS hosting can make your website a success, the differences between the two are significant enough to require some explanation.

With one option, you get an entire cake to yourself; with the other, you just get a slice. Before we go into what gives these two approaches their distinct flavor, let’s clarify what goes into each one.

Shared Hosting and VPS Hosting Basics

With shared hosting, your site shares one server with many other sites. It’s kind of like an apartment building: you get one unit in a larger structure. This option tends to be the cheapest because providers can serve many customers from one machine. Shared servers offer customers less bandwidth, management flexibility, and performance, but the hosts take care of all technical configurations, maintenance, and security.

A step up from shared servers is VPS hosting, which offers more room to grow and fewer restrictions. This version of online real estate is more like a digital condo — more space to call home where you can host your website or application on a virtual server allocated solely to you.

You’ll still share the physical server with a few others, but resources are partitioned off and dedicated to each user. Since you don’t have to compete for computing power, there is less worry about other websites using up too much bandwidth or storage and slowing down your site. These plans are typically more costly than shared hosting but still quite reasonable.

Potential customers should check out reviews to learn more about the shared and VPS hosting services we offer. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a closer look at exactly what that entails.

Difference #1: Performance

No matter how aesthetically pleasing or useful your website, the ability to access it quickly matters.

Web users expect sites to load within two seconds, according to a Kissmetrics study, and visitors may abandon a site if it takes more than three seconds — that’s not a lot of time to waste. The survey also found that 79 percent of online shoppers won’t return to a website if they experienced performance issues while using it.

Choosing the right hosting package is a serious business decision when you consider that mere milliseconds can determine whether people will do business with you.

A VPS hosting plan is almost always going to be faster than a shared hosting plan simply because your users don’t have to queue up with other sites’ visitors to access yours.

To illustrate the difference, imagine a carnival with different food vendors; if everyone had to stand in the same line to get to each different vendor, the line would take a lot longer than if each food stand had its own line.

VPS hosting offers more computing resources and processing power, which will boost the speed of most sites and, thus, make consumers more likely to convert. If your site is relatively small, a shared hosting plan will likely do perfectly fine. If your site is larger or is relied on for business and revenue growth, however, you’ll probably notice the difference. Several VPS reviews emphasize performance and reliability when comparing DreamHost with our competitors.

Difference #2: Reliability and Stability

When we talk about the availability of a web host, we’re not checking their calendar or their relationship status. Rather, we’re examining how often you can expect your website to be working properly and how often it may not load because of server or networking problems.

This directly correlates to the uptime of a server, or how often the server is up and running. Uptime is listed as a percentage, and, generally, anything 99.9 percent and above is considered excellent.

Uptime is important for any website because it determines whether your online presence will be available and open to visitors whenever they appear — especially crucial for professional portfolios, business sites, and e-commerce stores.

Problems can arise with servers in both shared and VPS hosting plans. Much of this depends on the quality of the server hardware and software, as well as a provider’s expertise, support, and management practices. However, you can generally expect fewer problems with a VPS plan because fewer customers exist on each server. Each partition can be configured and customized to the most effective settings for a particular website or application’s requirements, and the extra attention means each VPS is typically more secure and stable.

In a shared hosting environment, there are many websites that could potentially overload the server. A VPS resides in an independent hosting environment and, thus, there is no worry about whether other accounts can affect access to your site.

Think of a wall: if each brick is solid and secure, the wall is strong and fortified. If bricks are crumbling or missing, the entire structure is in peril. Shared hosting servers contain hundreds more bricks.

DreamHost is one of a select few providers that delivers a 100% uptime guarantee, meaning we spare no expense when outfitting datacenters with supremely reliable, modern, and redundant infrastructure. In the rare case that your website experiences so much as an hour of unexpected downtime, DreamHost will reimburse you the cost of a full day’s worth of hosting expenses.

Related: Your Website Downtime Survival Guide

Difference #3: Security

In a shared hosting environment, there is typically more risk for security breaches simply because there are more sites — and more websites equals more opportunities for attackers. Additionally, shared hosting customers are usually the least experienced with web hosting precautions, meaning that server vulnerabilities could be caused by your hosting neighbors.

When one customer sharing the server forgets to update WordPress or becomes compromised, it can impact other sites on the same machine. Just like performance and reliability, however, the actual security risks can vary wildly depending on how much the hosting company has invested in the security of their servers.

DreamHost, for example, offers Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates on all domains it hosts, meaning that data passed through each site is always safely encrypted.

Websites that deal with a lot of user data or payment information may benefit from choosing VPS hosting. This option offers robust security features that are usually managed by seasoned professionals, so you have less to worry about when it comes to securing sensitive information.

You can think of the differences in security levels by considering what it would be like to purchase home security. Basic options come with a few sensors and signs that deter people from breaking in. More sophisticated options, however, include cameras and other monitoring devices that provide additional protection — this is more like a VPS hosting environment.

The world-class security engineering team at DreamHost, lovingly known internally as Nightmare Labs, helps keep websites running smoothly without breaches by ensuring that your site has the latest patches and security upgrades.

Obscuring aspects of your website as your main form of security just isn’t what it used to be. Check out 9 ways to *actually* lock down your WordPress admin area.

Difference #4: Price

You can generally expect to pay more for VPS hosting than for shared hosting simply because the cost of shared hosting is split among the many users of the shared server. VPS hosting provides more resources and tends to be more reliable, so it often costs more.

Ideally, you’ll find the sweet spot between what you are willing to pay and what features you absolutely must have.

From the standpoint of pricing, shared hosting is usually going to be the most economical option. At DreamHost, shared hosting plans range from a modest $7.95 to $10.95 per month depending on the features and billing cycle you choose.

VPS hosting plans come with more premium features like increased performance and customizations for online business. The VPS hosting plans at DreamHost start at $13.75 to $110 per month, offering a range of four options with varying storage and RAM allocations. Figure out your ideal price point and the features you need to determine the level of service your website requires.

Difference #5: Managed Services

So far, we’ve talked about what constitutes shared servers and virtual private servers, but we’ve yet to talk about who manages them. Most of the time, shared servers are managed, which means that expert employees of the hosting provider will ensure the servers are updated and secured. Using a relatively loose definition of managed services, shared hosting technicians assist with tasks such as migrations, backups, monitoring, updates, and maintenance.

A VPS can be either managed or unmanaged, with the latter referring to a service where the company only assists with problems with its server or network — the customer is responsible for installing and maintaining software installations and configurations, for example.

To be clear, however, managed shared servers and managed virtual servers are not created equal.

When you select a VPS host, you can expect to see more features and more support when you go with a managed plan. Whether you choose managed or unmanaged, VPS comes down to how much time you want to invest in maintaining the reliability and performance of your site, along with your technical ability to do so.

At DreamHost, we offer managed VPS, so you can be assured that you will get high-quality assistance from the 24/7 technical support team to diagnose and resolve performance and security issues.

Difference #6: Scalability

Scalability is the capacity for a hosting account to accommodate the growth of your website. This is often the make-or-break feature when deciding between shared or VPS hosting. There are several aspects to scalability, including storage and server capabilities.

If you have an average of 10,000 visitors per month, a shared host will be able to support that level of usage. As you expand and grow your website, however, a shared hosting plan may not be able to keep up. Although shared servers are limited in their ability to support an increased workload, VPS hosting plans have relatively unlimited potential in this area.

Resources can often be adjusted to adapt to various traffic trends — for instance, e-commerce stores will likely need more bandwidth to handle the rush of shoppers on Black Friday. If you expect to add a lot more content and traffic, a VPS hosting plan is typically a good investment.

Some website owners opt to go with an affordable shared hosting plan initially to test an idea and then will switch to a VPS plan later. If you anticipate rapid growth, however, you may want to consider starting out with a VPS host. When user demand starts to exceed server resources, there is no other option but to upgrade your plan.

Related: When Should You Upgrade Your Hosting Plan?

Difference #7: Customizations

Sometimes you may want to have more control over the software you can install to optimize your website’s performance. With a virtual private server, you generally have fewer restrictions on what you can and can’t do as far as customizing and installing applications on the server. You won’t have the same clearance on a shared server.

Remember, with great power comes great responsibility. Although the potential for software configuration is unlimited, you don’t want to overdo it and accidentally destroy or delete files or programs. Make only the changes that are necessary for your site.

So Which Option is Best for You?

Remember the cake fail at the beginning of this article? Running out of icing resulted in a birthday cake that would make even Hagrid shout “Pinterest fail!”

Choosing the wrong type of server can result in a similar lack of resources.

This could be in the form of storage space if you have a large site, scalability if you want room to grow, or money saved if you need a cheaper hosting plan. Whatever your website and business require the most should be central to your decision-making process when considering either shared or VPS hosting as an ingredient for your recipe for hosting success.

About the author

Megan Hendrickson

Megan started her career in women's magazines, but after authoring waaaay too many "Walk Off the Weight" columns, she merged into the tech lane. She writes and edits for DreamHost and shares an inordinate amount of WordPress content on Twitter.