Standard web hosting packages are cheap and user-friendly, but they're also slow, inflexible, and don't have the power or functionality that professional and business users often need.
If you need more than a basic host but can't afford a dedicated server, Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting could be a smart choice.
Buying a VPS plan means that you get your very own virtual server environment. You have full control over the operating system, the extensions and apps you install, and all their settings. Each physical server will still host multiple VPS customers, but not as many as with shared hosting, and typically each VPS will be allocated a share of key resources – RAM, storage space, CPU cores – for their use alone.
This can be easier to manage than you might think. Many VPS plans include standard tools like cPanel to help monitor and configure your site. Some hosts will manage the service for you, monitoring for problems like a crashed service, and fixing them as soon as they're detected.
VPS prices and specs vary from a few pounds a month to hundreds, depending on your requirements. There's a lot of choice out there, but don't panic – our list of five top providers will point you in the right direction.
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Shopping for a VPS host often means staring at some huge product comparison table and trying to figure out which of its many plans works for you.
Namecheap makes life easier by providing only two plans, and making it extremely clear exactly what you're getting in each case.
Prices start low at only £11.85 ($16.60) per month on the annual plan, but that still gets you 2GB RAM, two CPU cores, 40GB of storage, 1000GB bandwidth and one dedicated IP.
Buying add-ons can improve these baseline specs. If you need more dedicated IPs, for instance, you don't have to upgrade to a new plan – Namecheap will add extra IPs to your product for only $2 (£1.45) each.
The service isn't quite as cheap as it sounds. The starter plans aren't managed, for instance (the host doesn't look after them for you), and they don't include a cPanel licence. Adding both of those capabilities will cost you an extra $41 (£29.30) a month.
Still, Namecheap does provide some exceptionally configurable VPS products for users who know what they're doing. Even if you're a beginner, checking out the various options on offer here will help you understand the factors you need to think about when choosing a VPS provider.
Check out a few VPS hosting providers and it's easy to be tempted with low headline rates, but don't be fooled – companies use a range of tricks to keep their charges down.
The hardware specs of a starter product are often kept unrealistically low, for instance, to keep the price right down. Important items – backups, cPanel – may be expensive extras. And even then, the headline rate may only apply if you pay for two or three years upfront, increasing dramatically on renewal.
InMotion Hosting is refreshingly different. Its baseline VPS-1000HA-S plan doesn't have the most eye-catching price at $27.99 (£20) per month over two years, but it's easy to see why the company asks this much. The product has a better specification – 4GB RAM, 75GB storage, 4TB bandwidth, 3 dedicated IPs – than some high-end plans from other providers, backups and a cPanel licence are included for free, and there's a 90-day money-back guarantee.
There's an unusual feature in what InMotion calls "unlocked CPU cores". Rather than having access to one or two cores only, you're able to spread your processing load across all cores on the server, a major performance boost for tasks involving a lot of simultaneous processing.
Welcome bonus touches include a feature called Launch Assist, which essentially means you get two hours of free time with one of InMotion's server administrators. Whether you need to change domain settings, configure cPanel, migrate WordPress or database files, they can help you get the job done.
Put it all together and you're getting a very capable set of VPS hosting plans. If you'd prefer a package which comes with unexpected surprises, rather than hidden catches, we'd give InMotion a try.
Some VPS hosts focus on first-time users, others go for big business, but Hostwinds does its best to appeal to everyone with no less than 10 different VPS hosting plans.
The low-end Tier One plan looks a little underpowered to us, with just 512MB RAM, one CPU core, 20GB of disk space and 1TB traffic. But it's cheap at $7.95 (£5.70) per month for the initial term, $9.95 (£7.10) on renewal, and you can extend it significantly without spending a huge amount (adding basic server monitoring and cloud backups costs an extra $6 – £4.30 – a month for both).
The more realistic Tier Four includes 4GB RAM, 50GB drive space, two CPU cores and 2TB of traffic. It's also significantly more expensive at $37.49 (£26.80) a month for the starting term, $49.99 (£35.70) a month afterwards, but still competitive with other providers.
Meanwhile the top-of-the-range Tier Ten product gets you 64GB RAM, 16 CPU cores, 500GB storage and 9TB of traffic for an initial $551.99 (£394) a month, $735.99 (£526) on renewal. You probably don't need anything like that, but this does show there's plenty of scope for upgrading your site over time.
Every plan has some appealing configuration options. In particular, along with support for the usual Linux variants – CentOS, Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian – you can choose Windows Server 2008, 2012 or 2016 for only a $5 (£3.60) a month premium. That's very good value, and if you're more familiar with Windows than Linux, it could save you from lots of management hassles later on.
Liquid Web is a premium web hosting provider which has been offering top quality managed solutions for more than 20 years, and now handles 500,000 sites for more than 32,000 customers worldwide.
The company doesn't try to beat the competition on price, instead focusing on delivering comprehensive products which will deliver quality results.
The cheapest Liquid Web plan may cost $59 (£42) a month, for instance, but that gets you 2GB RAM, 40GB storage and a very generous 5TB of bandwidth.
There are lots of configuration options. Instead of just telling you that you're getting CentOS 7, Liquid Web allows you to select CentOS 6, Debian 8, Ubuntu 14.04 or 16.04, and often with multiple options of their own: cPanel, Plesk, CloudLinux and more.
This is a managed product, too. Liquid Web fully supports the base operating system, and the support team will proactively restore failed services as soon as they're detected. Getting a managed VPS with other providers could cost you an extra $30 (£21) a month, or more.
If your VPS still has issues, there's speedy 24x7x365 support from knowledgeable professionals who will do their best to solve your problems at speed.
Liquid Web may not have the most appealing headline prices, but it's still cheaper than many others considering the features you get, and the excellent support will help keep your site running smoothly down the line.
OVH is a budget web host which offers straightforward VPS products for some of the lowest prices around.
The range starts with the VPS SSD 1 plan, which gets you one CPU core, 2GB RAM and 10GB of SSD storage for only £2.99 ($4.20) a month for the first year, £3.99 ($5.60) on renewal.
The VPS SSD 2 plan doubles the RAM and storage allocation for £5.99 ($8.40) a month initially, £6.99 ($9.80) afterwards, and the VPS SSD 3 plan doubles it again and gives you an extra CPU core for £12.99 ($18.20) a month to begin with, £13.99 ($19.60) afterwards.
As you might guess, there are reasons why the price is so low. Forget 24x7x365 support by any means, for instance: there's UK-based phone support, but it's only available from Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm UK time.
Speeds are limited, too, with a 100Mbps connection. Many VPS plans will give you 10 times that as standard.
OVH does offer some plus points, though. You can have your VPS hosted in the UK, US, Australia, Singapore or several locations in central Europe. A dedicated proprietary control panel allows for managing your VPS, without the cost of a cPanel licence, and there's simple DDoS protection thrown in.
On balance, OVH isn't a service we would recommend for beginners or anyone who needs rock solid reliability and full-time support. But if you're a technical user looking for a cheap way to explore the VPS world, OVH will have a lot of appeal.
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