Dedicated vs Virtual Private Servers

Hostingcon brought out many vendors talking about the virtues of hosting and for many in particular the benefits of dedicated hosting. It really got me thinking about what Bluehost might offer in the future. A higher end offering is definately in our future, but do we choose dedicated servers (A single physical server dedicated to a specific client), or VPS (Virtual private server)?

In our case dedicated servers will NEVER happen. I think their time has come and is quickly going into the sunset. Let me tell you why. Virtual private servers are great, but the marketing behind them has given them a bad name as well. VPS can be lumped into two different categories as far as hosting and bluehost is concerned.

1) Shared kernel, shared memory, but seperate environment VPS implementations – This is the first category of VPS that many hosts offer. It has many advantages to it, but in my opinion is geared toward a lower end client in the VPS market. There is nothing wrong with this type of VPS, but it simply doesn’t have the control of the other type that I will talk about in a moment. VPS that fit into this category are usually using Virtuozzo (A VPS Product sold to web hosting companies). The big advantage of this type of VPS is that you can fit between 50-100 VPS clients on a single highend server. All customers have their own “virtual instance” of linux running, their own dedicated CPU resources, and minimum levels of memory that can come and go to other customers as the need arises. You still use a single kernel to run all these VPS customers, but it is ideal for a certain segment of the VPS market. Customers that would be interested in a VPS in the $15-$39 price range usually fall into the Virtuozzo VPS category. For those looking to avoid CPU quotas with your shared host, and want an environment to run your own servers (require open ports) and have dedicated IP(s) for your system this is what you are looking for.

2) The second type of VPS does full OS Virtualization – These type of products include VMWare, Xen, and others. Using Intels Vanderpool (VT) technology, or AMD’s Pacifica technology these type of VPS products can run at 90-95% of the speed of the physical machine. This type of VPS product allows each client to run whatever operating system they want. One customer can have a windows install, while another has Redhat Linux, while a different customer has Novell Entrerprise Linux. To go above and beyond what is offered by Virtuozzo’s product I would suggest putting on 5-15 the these types of VPS on a physical high end machine. In the case of Bluehost we would use 4-8 core multi-processors with a minimum of 16 gig of memory, and in many cases 32 gigs of memory, and would choose the Xen virtualization product. These type of VPS products have every benefit of a full dedicated server without the drawbacks that make dedicated servers undesireable for most web hosting companies. These benefits include a GREATLY reduced power draw by your clients (15 users on a single highend server), far smaller data center, and many less rack cabinets. A typcial 2U (About 4″) server can hold 15 clients easily, whereas 15 dedicated clients would require at least 15U of rack space. The primary advantage of highend VPS comes in the form of on demand increases in resources that simply can’t be done in an effective manner on traditional dedicated servers. I can increase disk space, and memory for a client with the click of a button. I can also migrate a VPS customer from a server that is having problems to another server in a matter of seconds. High resource customers that need complete control of a system down to the kernel and want complete separation from other users on the server should consider this type of VPS.

Dedicated servers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but I think you will see that for 90% of the market out there VPS solutions exist that are less expensive and in every way better than dedicated servers. Whether or not VPS wins out in the end will be determined more by marketing than by the technology. Bluehost is going to do its best to promote both types of VPS environments. We are considering doing both types now and will probably start with the basic version first and then move on to the Xen version next. We have no plans to do dedicated servers in the future, and for those that are doing dedicated servers I wish you luck :)


Matt Heaton /

19 Responses to “Dedicated vs Virtual Private Servers”

  1. Matt,

    I have been researching this space recently and I agree with you wholeheartedly. Good luck to those doing dedicated servers!

    The future of the hosting industry is providing a failsafe, network connected computing resource with smoothly scalable bandwidth, storage and cpu cycles. At the entry level, I will be able to prototype my ideas at $5 per month and as my business grows there will be no limit to the bandwidth, storage and speed that my ISP will provide me.

    Matt – Bluehost is awesome – I look forward to seeing your next steps towards this future.

  2. Hercules says:

    Hi Matt,

    Is there any time scale @ Bluehost when people will be able to “upgrade” their platinum pack and what monthly rates would we be looking at?

  3. Scott says:

    Having operated and set up both Xen and OpenVZ/Virtuozzo based VPS for software development (rather than hosting), I’ll have to say VZ is definitely not on the low-end of the scale.

    Yes you can squeeze more VM than the physical memory/disk storage you have, i.e. overselling, but you don’t have to. A well optimized OpenVZ VPS can run as fast and more efficient than equivalent Xen-based VPS. It is much easier to change storage/memory allocation, and you can even do it while VPS is up! If my need is simply web hosting, I’ll probably go for a OpenVZ/Virtuozzo-based VPS that has not been oversold.

    On the other hand, if I need to compile my own kernel modules (VPN for example), or insist to run Windows on a Linux hypervisor, then having Xen will be more convenient. It’s a niche market though.

  4. Brian A says:

    Virtual servers with VMware’s ESX server is a dream. You can move virtual servers back and forth across diferent hardware server types and adjust almost on the fly unlike their standard product. Of course, you are then paying for their licencing.

    The free product does the same basic thing as ESX, but none of the benefits of the datacenter features.

  5. Steve says:

    good write up. what is blue host curently doing as far as servers, if youre not using dedicated ones? are you using any virualization at the moment?

  6. svrsolid says:

    Is the use of Xen due to its opensource nature or primarily due to the cost factor that the commercial product (VMware) would cause? I haven’t worked with Xen, but I’ve sold and installed VMware and its product, especially the features in the 3.x release make it very compelling.

    I guess I’ll need to see how far Xen has progressed, especially in the multiple o/s implementations.

  7. Mike S says:

    I’ll be very interested in seeing how this pans out in the end. I’ve got a website that was hosted on a virtual server for a number of years, but we finally upgraded to a dedicated server a little over a year ago. The VPS we were using at the time ( simply couldn’t handle the I/O. (Whether it was misconfiguration or what, we’ll never know — the support couldn’t really identify what the root cause of the problem was. The symptom was that it couldn’t handle the disk writes for our 500MB/day apache logs.) We moved to dedicated servers at — and they do it right, by the way. And it’s a good thing we moved–the VPS couldn’t handle our 25k daily visitors, so I’m sure we’d have been dying with our current 35k/day.

    If the VMWare/Xen/etc offerings have the proven ability to perform for a moderate traffic site like our’s, I think we’d have to consider shaving off a couple hundred bucks each month by trying it out. But only at a provider we trust, like BlueHost. 😉

  8. Alex Reid says:

    I can’t wait! Keep up the good work!

  9. I for one, will certainly be watching the evolvement of virtualisation at Bluehost. Currently I already run a number of individual Bluehost accounts (and many more to come) and in future I will certainly be switching to full OS virtualisation.

    From an administrative standpoint, it will be a benefit to consolidate all the existing accounts under one structure. Currently using shared code between multiple domains running the same CMS environment (Drupal) will be a massive time saving and administrative convenience. Currently an unacceptably large amount of my time is spent uploading the same patches, upgrades and modules to different accounts, over and over and over.

    Currently MySQl access is through the PHPMyAdmin. If full OS virtualisation means a local MySQL server, it will be a great time saver. Yes, PHPMyAdmin can do absolutely everything, but it takes significantly longer than using the MySQL interface in a SSH terminal. The single most constrained resource at present is my time, and anything the hosting provider can provide to take up less of my time (as a web developer and administrator) will be much appreciated.

    Furthermore, my development bed is a Linux based PC running exactly the type of shared code environment that I would require from hosting in future. It will be a massive benefit to have a (nearly identical) mirror of the hosting server as well as my local environment with the same tools etc. I already have the headaches of crashes on the hosting server that I cannot replicate on the local environment.

    Then there is the developing situation whereby CMS systems are increasingly reliant on other Unix tools, whether curl or imagemagick for new modules and new functions. Some of the tools exist in the present hosting environment while others don’t. It will be nice to know that if something is required I can load it. And then everyone has their favorite tools for doing things, which (mostly) is not the hosting co’s favorite tools.

    Lastly, not every report and statistical function is available at present in the Bluehost control panel. When things go wrong I need more info, without necessarily involving support staff – I try to be pro-active on the websites by monitoring what happens while support is focussed on being reactive to issues. Basically everything I need exist in the log files, but of course I don’t have access to that. Maybe virtualisation will offer that functionality. And with busy or moderately busy, CMS systems that monitoring function is vital!!! An example is where I simply do not know which email user is sending the most mail, and when. That info is in the log files, but I have to wait until my hourly quota has been reached, and then in effect waste the time of support staff to view the available logs on my behalf.

    I must confess, I have been scanning the features offered by alternate hosting environments while wondering how I will cope with demands that I will have to deliver to clients in six months, or a years time.

    At least now I know that Bluehost will offer a high-end hosting account other than the current (somewhat cast-in-stone – meaning that you have to take what is offered) accounts.



  10. Sam England says:

    I cant wait for this service, and the upgrades to the existing package are amazing.

  11. David Sims says:

    I need a VPS and I want to stay with Bluehost. It would be helpful if Bluehost offered VPS.

  12. Mathijs says:

    Nice article.

    I’d go for VPS hosting, but moreover: I’d choose Xen.

    From my experiences (from a customer point of view) with VPS’ I can only conclude that Xen is much faster compared to Virtuozzo. I have a server with BudgetDedicated, which are also great (have no experience with yet). Their datacenter is located in Europe so it’s extremely fast for me, but they also have 10 Gigabit connections to the rest of the world.

    Perhaps important for some: As far as I know, Xen is entirely FREE, while OpenVZ is only the ‘open sourced’ branch of a proprietary system (Virtuozzo).


  13. Aaron says:

    We have been investigating using Xen rather than OpenVZ/Virtuozzo and found Xen to a more stable solution. Sure you can put more VPSes using Virtuozzo, however when you start to send the VPS some decent traffic it won’t handle it to well. Using full OS virtualization yields better performance.

    – Aaron

  14. Simon says:

    Hi Matt, you spoke about this in 2006. When is it going to become a real product?

  15. Dave Freeman says:

    Yes, I want this. I’m already running 5 sites at BlueHost, but I need to tweak some MySQL server variables that they won’t touch with the shared account. This article is quite old, what is the current state of this offering?

  16. Richard Ressler says:

    Matt…You posted this in 2006…is this an idea that fell by the wayside or is this still in BlueHost’s future and if it is, any idea how close in the future? I am working on a site now that could potentially grow into a very large mySql database with high traffic. I want to start it out on a shared plan while I am getting it built up but have to think about the future and when I will need to move it out of a shared environment. I would like to use BlueHost but I would really need to know that I would have a non-shared option when I need it.

  17. Tony says:

    Good post. I will agree with what you’re saying and I am very interested in seeing Bluehost come out with some VPS product. It will be interesting to see. I have several accounts at some of the big hosting companies. I only have one VPS and it’s with Vistapages, they are using Virtuozzo, and it works quite well. I had a heavy site and I put it on the VPS and so far no complaints!

  18. Dedicated servers are the best when you want a stable webhost. ~.,

  19. Ellyn says:

    Hi Matt,
    Since this posting I have not heard much about Bluehosts plans for VPS environments. Any news? I have a customer I would like to move to Bluehost, but I need VPS.


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