When you’re creating a new website, you face a lot of different decisions.
Some will seem fairly straightforward, like choosing the colors you want to go with or deciding whether to make it responsive (that one should be a clear yes). Others will appear very complex to anyone relatively new to managing a website, such as selecting your web hosting plan.
Hosting can seem a little (or a lot) complicated. You have cloud hosting, shared hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated servers to consider.
And you have dozens of hosting companies to choose from as well—all offering their own bells and whistles with the different plans they provide. There’s a lot of information to navigate, and you have to figure it out in the midst of making a number of other choices about your website.
As if you don’t already have enough on your plate.
To help, we hope to reduce that confusion by narrowing in on two different types of hosting: cloud hosting and VPS hosting to see how they compare. We’ll walk you through how the plans measure up to help you make an informed decision.
(Note: If you’d rather start with a rundown of all the different web hosting types, we’ve got you covered there too).
An Overview of VPS Hosting
VPS is short for Virtual Private Server. This style of hosting is one physical server, which is divided into several smaller virtual servers. Even though they’re physically a part of the same server, each one of these virtual servers acts as its own dedicated server environment.
Since you have your own dedicated section of the server, you have your own set of allocated resources and can customize and configure your server partition exactly the way you want. Plus, there’s no exchange of data or file access between accounts on the VPS server.
However, one risk of VPS hosting is that if one physical server fails, then every VPS using that server fails as well. The performance of a VPS can also vary if one site happens to be hogging resources on the physical server—although most hosting providers partition the different VPS sections off in a way that reduces this risk.
What Is Cloud Hosting?
Cloud hosting is when your hosting plan taps into a network of potentially unlimited virtual machines. All of these virtual machines rely upon an underlying network of connected physical servers. With all of these virtual machines connected together, cloud hosting functions somewhat like one big VPS.
The key difference between cloud hosting and a VPS plan is that instead of having a single server that’s dedicated to your site (as is the case with VPS), the resources are spread out amongst a bunch of different physical machines.
With a cloud hosting platform, you benefit from the use of multiple servers, so you have more available resources at your disposal. You can increase the power of your server whenever you’d like to meet varying traffic needs. While cloud hosting offers more flexibility than VPS hosting, it doesn’t allow for quite as much customization.
VPS Hosting vs Cloud Hosting in 5 Categories: Who Wins?
Knowing the basics of what each type of hosting is probably doesn’t tell you what you need to know to make a decision. For that, you need an idea of how they compare in some of the main categories that matter when choosing a hosting plan.
Below, we pit VPS and cloud hosting against each other in 5 essential categories — from performance to price — and decide on a winner.
1. Performance (Winner: Cloud)
Performance is one of the most obvious factors to consider when choosing a web hosting plan. You want to trust that your website will consistently load fast, always be online when people go looking for it, and will just generally function as it should at all times.
VPS plans tend to have very high performance, as you’re guaranteed a certain amount of server resources. And because your part of the server is sectioned off from the other parts, in most cases, your performance shouldn’t be affected by other websites on the server. In rare cases though, if multiple websites on the server face abnormally high demands at the same time, the server may hit up against its limits, and performance suffer as a result. For most people that choose a VPS plan though, that’s an unlikely scenario.
Cloud hosting can promise impressive uptime because the needs of all websites on the network are divided between various servers. If one fails or gets hit with higher demands than usual, backups are built into the system.
Who Wins? Cloud Hosting
For most intents and purposes, this one is pretty close to a tie. But with VPS plans there’s a small chance of your performance suffering due to higher-than-usual demands on the server, and that risk largely goes out the window with cloud hosting.
2. Security (Winner: VPS)
Online security is a real concern—you hear all the time about websites that have been hacked, and the consequences are big. The web hosting you choose is only one part of overall website security, but it matters.
A VPS is incredibly secure. It’s not quite as secure as dedicated hosting, but it handily beats out shared hosting. Your VPS will operate independently of any other sites sharing the same physical server, keeping it protected from outside access. But there’s a slight chance that poor security of another site could affect your own, particularly if you choose a web hosting provider that doesn’t treat security as a top concern.
A cloud hosting environment will also be very secure and will be separated from other users on the same physical server network. However, since your host is entirely web-based, this does make it more vulnerable to attacks.
Who Win? VPS
If you choose a reputable web hosting provider, security with both types of plans should be solid. But a VPS plan will inevitably offer a little more security than a cloud one.
3. Price (Winner: It’s a Tie)
Both cloud and VPS plans are a step up in performance and features from shared hosting plans, and thus you can expect to pay more than with the most basic plans a provider offers. But they both cost less than a dedicated server (sometimes by a lot). Regardless of provider, both of these types of plans will almost always fall in the middle price-wise between shared and dedicated hosting.
But whether cloud or VPS plans cost more depends a lot on the details. If you go with HostGator, choosing a cloud plan will cost you less than going with VPS. With a number of other providers though, cloud hosting costs more than VPS hosting. That makes this category a hard one to pin down.
Who Wins? It Depends
Make sure when comparing the cost of a specific cloud plan vs a specific VPS one that you factor in the details. In some cases, cloud hosting plans offer a pay-for-what-you-use model, so you may end up paying more than you expected based on the amount of traffic you get in a month.
4. Scalability (Winner: Cloud Hosting)
Some websites will tend to have pretty consistent needs month to month. But others will see big fluctuations based on seasonal factors or the occasional viral piece of content. An eCommerce store, for instance, may see much bigger traffic numbers during the winter holiday season than the rest of the year. That makes scalability an important concern for a lot of website owners in choosing a web hosting plan.
VPS isn’t the most scalable solution. You’re guaranteed a certain amount of server resources, and so as long as your traffic doesn’t go beyond your typical needs, you should be fine.
But if you face the need to scale your site quickly, you’ll find it difficult. Your existing host might not be able to handle any traffic surges, depending on the volume.
Cloud hosting truly shines in its ability to scale. Essentially you’ll have an entire network or servers to tap at a moment’s notice for additional storage, or to meet rising traffic needs. Also, due to the high availability of servers, you’ll have high uptime and great performance. If a physical server failure ever occurs, then your site will be switched to another server.
Who Wins? Cloud Hosting
This is the area where cloud hosting probably shines the most. If you have any expectations of inconsistency in your website’s popularity and needs, cloud hosting likely makes the most sense.
5. Customization (Winner: VPS)
For anyone with a particular idea of what they want their website to be able to do and the types of software they want to be able to use with it, customization is an important concern. This is a factor more likely to be important to website owners with some tech savvy. But to anyone it matters to, it probably matters a lot.
VPS can be heavily customized. A virtual private server is similar to a dedicated server in that you have root access to the server and have control over the OS and server software. However, there may be some limits imposed due to the physical server configuration.
Cloud hosting offers decent customization options. However, you may be limited due to the sheer amount of servers you need to distribute the settings across. Configuring your hosting setup to get the most out of your network also might require some technical skills.
Who Wins? VPS
If scalability is where cloud hosting really shines, customization is the area where VPS is an especially strong contender. The only type of plan that fares better in this category is dedicated hosting (but at a much higher cost). If customization is a priority for you, VPS is probably the way to go.
Who Should Use VPS Hosting?
A VPS can be a great choice for website users who have outgrown their shared hosting plan. However, it’s not perfect for every kind of website out there. Virtual Private Server hosting is great for users looking for more control over their website, with the technical skills to set up a customized environment.
Specifically, VPS may be right for you if:
- You’re planning a website that has complexity, and your programmer will want more power over customization.
- You have too much traffic for a shared web hosting plan to make sense, but your traffic numbers are typically consistent month to month, so you have a pretty good idea of how much bandwidth you’ll need.
- You have a specific type of software (or more than one) your website will require, and you expect to need direct access to the server to install and maintain it.
- You expect to run custom scripts and plugins on your site—the customization power VPS plans provide often work better for this.
Who Should Use Cloud Hosting?
Cloud hosting is a great choice for website owners who need the flexibility that the cloud provides to enable increased performance to meet surges in traffic.
Specifically, cloud hosting may be the best choice for you if:
- Your traffic numbers vary considerably month to month, such as with an eCommerce store with seasonal products or a media site with the occasional viral article.
- You anticipate a lot of growth in the coming years and want to choose a web hosting plan that can grow with you. New startups or companies implementing a growth strategy are likely to prefer cloud hosting.
- You like the idea of only paying for what you need. That can mean inconsistent billing month to month that’s harder to plan for, but it could result in overall savings for some websites.
VPS Hosting vs. Cloud Hosting: What’s Best For My Website?
The biggest difference between the two server environments is scale. If you’re looking to launch as quickly as possible and don’t care about scale, then a VPS server can be a great starting point. However, if you demand a flexible hosting setup and a high level of site performance and storage then it’s worth checking out a cloud hosting environment.
With cloud hosting you get access to a near unlimited supply of server resources. For sites with variable traffic levels, or sites that are scaling quickly, then cloud hosting can be the perfect solution. Cloud hosting offers you great server power and ultimate flexibility, from resource usage to pricing.
Overall, VPS hosting is a great fit for people who simply want to launch a website and have outgrown the limits of their shared hosting environment. A VPS is powerful and does offer improved performance, and is a strong choice for any business that expects (and appreciates) the consistency of a stable server.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.