A VPS is a virtual private server. Explaining the acronym probably makes it no clearer, as if you know what a virtual private server is you will know the acronym and if you don’t then the actual words themselves will bring no enlightenment. Basically it is a way of having server functionality available to you at a fraction of the cost: a server is segregated into a number of nodes, each of which is a VPS, and these share the functions of the server. If a server has a 2GHz processor, 4GB of RAM, 4GB of storage and a 2MBit connection you may find it segregated into 4 nodes, each of which has 500Mhz of the processor, 1GB of RAM, 1GB or storage and 0.5MBit of connection. This is a gross over simplification, but explains the concept.
Onto a VPS you put an operating system, which is usually a Linux distribution. This eats some of your storage, processor and (most importantly) memory. Careful selection of your operating system and what processes it runs means that you will have more or less memory available to you to actually process your website when it comes to people using it.
Once you have your operating system installed you usually set about installing the modules you need to host a webpage on your VPS. Not all VPS are used to host webpages, but it does seem to be the primary reason that people get them. Personally I am currently experimenting with a number of them to host various sites, having left Dreamhost last year after having been with them for 8 years.
Leaving Dreamhost was not a decision I entered into rashly, and I did do a lot of reading up and experimenting first. I also made a lot of mistakes when I did and had to learn a lot the hard way, often finding myself abandoning hours of work and configuration and ending up with a new installation. I left Dreamhost for 3 main reasons: 1) I felt I had outgrown their services and wanted to learn how to do it myself, 2) I realised I could save quite a bit of money by actually doing some of the configuration myself, and 3) the email had become a problem and the only way I could see to fix it was to change it to Google mail.
Helping me massively on my way, as well as Wayne, has been (the seemingly on its way out) LowEndBox, which was constantly updated news about VPS and a good community section as well as tutorials and scripts for creating a VPS.
Now, by using a VPS, I can add only the features I need to a server and lock down a lot of the insecurities caused by a one size fits all solution. I can omit to run an FTP as I wish, replace apache with nginx and do horrible things to the php and mysql implementations to make sure they serve only my purpose and don’t actually have anything I don’t need on them. This drives down my memory footprint, which means I can have more consecutive server requests and fulfil them, as well as making the server itself more secure. Of course, with the level of control I now have, I can just reinstall the server in an afternoon should it be compromised.
It’s been an interesting journey to this point, and it is something that I have only just started out upon. It has led me to new opportunities and means that there may be some interesting projects and sites ahead in the new year.