My first attempt at creating a web site started with Homestead.com back in 1999. I was in high school then, and the Dot-com Bubble was still growing. Homestead, like all early web hosting providers, was a shared web hosting service. This meant that users had very little control over what could be done with the web site. Even web hosts that targeted the tech-savvy web developer had their limitations. The machines powering these web sites ran a single operating system instance and provided only the most common services: web server, FTP, and perhaps CGI-Perl, PHP, or MySQL.
The shared hosting market has undoubtedly matured since then. Many web hosts now provide a plethora of services — anything from SSH access to automated push-button installation of web applications. But the shared web hosting paradigm still restricts web developers in many ways.
On the other end of spectrum is dedicated web hosting. This gives users complete control over the machine. Users can choose which operating system to install and what applications and services to support. But this flexibility comes with a significantly higher price tag than shared hosting. So, for many web developers, shared web hosting was the only affordable option.
Fortunately, things have changed since then. Many web hosts now also provide virtual private server (VPS) hosting. This can be best explained as a hybrid of shared and dedicated web hosting. It provides the freedom of a dedicated web host, with the economies of scale of a shared web host. The availability of this newer service comes from innovations in virtualization technology. This allows machines to run multiple instances of an operating system, with complete control over distribution of computing resources.
Until recently, I used a shared hosting service from Bluehost.com. Their services seemed sufficient for me at the time, but as I discovered the hard way, the shared hosting paradigm also exposes users to security risks. (Note that I did not link the URL, since I didn’t want readers to risk installation of malware by visiting the site).
I used to run a private Gallery installation on my web site, so family members could share photos. About a month ago, one of my relatives told me that her antivirus software warned her that my web site was distributing malware. Surprised, I logged in and verified this. It seems that someone hacked Bluehost.com and inserted malicious content everywhere. It wasn’t just my web site; even Bluehost.com’s control panel triggered a warning from my antivirus software.
So, I took a look around for a new web host and decided to give virtual private server hosting a try. I ended up going with a Rackspace Cloud Server. It was surprisingly affordable, since you only pay for what you use. And it has been very useful to have complete control over the web server. I would highly recommend this service for anyone who needs a little more control over their web site.
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Share your own thoughts or experiences on virtual private servers by leaving a comment. Know of a better service? Let me know.