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I've been running small websites for years, but recently developed a site that is attracting more traffic than expected. My shared web hosting provider has warned me that this is causing a high load on the server and that I might need to look into getting a dedicated/vps hosting server (which they do not provide).

I've never used dedicated or vps hosting, so I don't really know what to look for. Will it be significantly more expensive? Are cloud services like Amazon EC2 or Windows Azure something I should be looking at? Can you recommend a particular service?

My site is built using PHP, and I am in Canada, if that helps. Thanks!

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There are already quite a few questions covering the basics of dedicated hosting, VPS, and cloud hosting. See the "Related" questions to the right. –  Lèse majesté Dec 19 '10 at 14:40
    
Some of the related questions have clarified a few things. I know I don't want to manage the server myself. –  shipshape Dec 19 '10 at 14:51
    
OK, then you should make sure it's fully-managed if you go the dedicated hosting route, and you probably don't want something like Amazon EC2 if you decide to go with cloud hosting. Perhaps you should list your development platform, as that could make a big difference as well. I'd also modify the question to narrow it down to some specific things you still have questions about that weren't covered in the existing questions. –  Lèse majesté Dec 19 '10 at 15:52

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I would strongly recommend against EC2 for your first foray into dedicated hosts. EC2 has very specific applications, and there's a much steeper learning curve involved.

At this point, there are coarsely three directions to go, and pros and cons for each:

Managed dedicated hosting: I've never shopped for managed hosting firsthand, although I've interacted with it in the past when working for clients who have pre-existing sites. In the higher-service levels of managed hosting, you'll have a salesperson guide you through the entire process including purchase, migration, and so on. Associated bills run around $500-2000 per month in my experience. Managed hosting may be the best choice if you don't want to be a generalist, don't have a partner on whom you can pawn the server management role, and have a large hosting budget/requirements.

Unmanaged "assisted" dedicated hosting: MediaTemple is the name that pops up most prominently in my mind for this. I have used MediaTemple extensively, and their services were the first ones I used after "graduating" from shared hosting. Their dedicated hosting package is unmanaged in the sense that they won't set up your load balancing, DNS, migrations, backups, and so on. Nevertheless, they have a nice control panel for system tasks, and a whole bunch of software comes pre-installed like Plesk, which in turn manages/implements pretty much the "all you'll ever need" stack including Apache, PHP, mail, monitoring, MySQL, and so on. I have managed fairly large sites on this not having to touch the command line more than once or twice. Another plug for MediaTemple is taht they also have quite good telephone support, at least when I used them. Unlike shared hosting, where support is (understandably) non-existed, even when I was on their cheaper plans, there was always someone to pick up the phone 24/7 who was quite knowledgeable. Unmanaged "assisted" hosting is probably your best choice overall. You can manage this yourself with limited difficulty. It's a hell of a lot more affordable than the managed solution (roughly 50-75% savings, hardware for hardware). A the end of the day, most such hosting providers do give you full access to your system in the manner of a full-fledged VPS, so you probably won't be constrained on what you can do.

VPS: Finally, you can go with the almost completely unmanaged VPS route. Linode is a big name here and what I currently use. Slicehost is also a big name, although comparisons generally have it coming up short (its prices for each VPS size are also less competitive). Another name floating around these days is prgmr for the more 1337 among us. Prgmr offers the best prices, (allegedly) the best performance, and the most customizability at the low levels. In any of these, you'll essentially be put on a basic installation of a Linux distribution with some of the other stuff sorted out for your (DNS records, IP addresses, intranet, some router/firewall-level protections against, for instance, DDoS). Beyond that, the instructions are basically just "go". Slicehost and Linode both offer quite extensive guides to do almost all basic tasks like install the LAMP stack or maintain your system. For me, a huge benefit was being able to move stuff, test, and deploy across multiple developments in an instant is the biggest plus. Before, I had to FTP lots of files, manually run queries in the lovely world of phpmyadmin, set up site-by-site deployment scripts, and deal with cross-system messes all the time. Now, I can just have everything hooked up together! Finally, with the VPS, I know what's going on on my server, and I can do anything to it. One of my first steps was to install a private Git "server", but you could just as easily set up a VPN, an SSH tunnel, or a distributed programming project node. *The VPS solution is by far the most work for you in terms of actually touching the system administration. However, it is the most customizable, which just may save you work at the end of the day (isn't that the goal). *

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Try an hosting like 1and1.

It's cheap, and supports the load well. They also have some easy to use VPS

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I've been happy with MediaTemple.com as well. They have plans starting around $20/month and a good migration path to bigger and better if you need to go up the chain. –  digit1001 Dec 28 '10 at 22:03

Supplementing Steven's great post:

"Managed" vs "Unmanaged" is one big distinction you'll find in hosting. You'll find hosting packages that look equivalent, but some will be much cheaper than the others. The cheaper packages are generally unmanaged. There's no support staff to help you upgrade PHP, tell you why your script stopped working, or tell you why your website is suddenly slow. Managed hosting, on the other hand, had staff to answer questions for you.

I recommend managed hosting for you. You sound like someone who wants to copy your PHP application over, change some lines in a config.php file, and be on your way.

Dedicated vs Semi-Dedicated (Hybrid) vs VPS is another distinction. Since you're on a very limited shared platform, you probably don't need a huge upgrade, nor do you need to spent over $100/month for hosting, so you can cross Dedicated hosting off the list.

Hybrid servers are basically another way to say "VPS on great servers". They're also more expensive and powerful than what you probably need.

I recommend a VPS package. It's pretty much THE "next step" once you outgrow a shared environment. You can expand your resources easily and they're cheaper than dedicated and hybrid servers.

Some personal testimonies:

  • I run a busy vBulletin forum (1,100 users login each day). It became too busy for the shared platform it was on, so I moved it to a VPS where it sat for a year. Last year, I moved it to a WiredTree Managed Hybrid Server, and it's been terrific ever since. Support was necessary for me at the time, as I wasn't comfortable with SSH'ing into the server command line, and I could spam them with support tickets and get responses within 10 minutes. Generic questions like "Why did my server seem to crawl last night" would return good answers "Well, X and Y were doing Z, so I reset X for you and modified Y." Only recently did I get into programming, command line interfaces, and server configuration, but unless you are too, I recommend looking for a good managed host. WiredTree offers VPS packages, but WiredTree, as a host, is more expensive than other managed alternatives (finding this out as I'm Googling at the moment)

  • I've recently started deploying my own web applications, learning how to do everything from the command line. If you are comfortable with an environment that lets you choose an operating system (it'll at least install that for you) and then make you do the rest on your own from the command line, Linode VPS hosting is my top pick. Cheap with great performance. Great backend panel to manage your package as well.

  • VPS.net also looks good.

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An excellent logical increments post from my Slavic friend here! OP would do well to read this. I don't know how much you paid for your WiredTree, but my gut feeling is that managed is not worthwhile in this case. In practice, any installation that works in a shared environment will "just work" in a drag and drop hybrid dedicated environment with little fuss. It's not until we're talking about extraordinary loads (which I doubt the OP is getting since the shared environment still works) or complex implementations like SSL or load balancing that a more complex solution is definitely required. –  Steven Xu Dec 21 '10 at 14:24
    
Thanks, this is super helpful. I wish I could mark more than one answer as accepted answer! –  shipshape Dec 21 '10 at 18:00

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