What is a virtual server? Website owners who are looking for hosting for their pages have three basic options. They can choose to use a shared server, a dedicated hosting service, or virtual server hosting. Shared and dedicated servers are fairly self-explanatory, but virtual dedicated servers are a bit more ambiguous. Understanding how virtual server web hosting works begins with a little history lesson.
Computers have come a long way since they first entered the scene. Think about what you were doing with a computer 20 years ago, if you were even in contact with one. It was probably little more than word processing and playing games. Today, you are communicating in real time with friends and business associates, checking your stocks or sports teams in an instant, and enjoying access to entertainment whenever you wish with your computer or personal electronic device (PDA).
In order for a website to be online all of the time, it must be defined on a computer that is always online. This computer, or server, must remain online at all times. If it is not, the website is not available. In the past, websites had to run on dedicated servers, because the computers were slower and did not have as much memory as they do today. Hosting a website was a costly endeavor, because most people did not have access to a computer that could always be connected, and those that had the machines charged a high price for them.
However, in the years since the advent of the internet, computers have gotten faster and have more memory. Today, one machine can run multiple websites easily, and this has opened the door to virtual server hosting.
Just what is virtual server hosting? In a shared server situation, many users share the same server (very easily over a hundred users). Each user is assigned a certain amount of disk space on the shared server however; The data port (and Ethernet card that lets data flow between the Internet and the web server) and both the RAM and CPU usage on that computer are free game. This is an ideal situation for beginners in the field of web design, but when a website begins to get a lot of traffic, the system resources can get eaten up rather quickly and if you have out of 100 users just two that have a very busy site you may find your own site slow to load or even in extreme cases unavailable.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a dedicated server is a server that is used just for one customer's website or set of websites. There is no limit on the amount of CPU usage, other than the physical limit of the machine itself. This is the most expensive way to host a website and is often the choice of a busy website that needs their own server or large corporations that expect high traffic on their sites. For more information on the differences between dedicated servers and shared servers, you can read our web hosting comparison
A virtual dedicated server is a combination of the two. It takes one server and breaks it into several virtual machines and is nearly a dedicated server. While technically the user is sharing the server with other users, it sets up what appears to be a dedicated unit. The physical machine is shared, but the users are not affected by the actions of the other users and appear to be on a unique server to outside observers. In other words, a virtual server is a server that looks and acts like a dedicated server, but in reality shares a physical machine with other clients. This becomes a cost effective way to host a website while eliminating the problems that can come from a shared server.
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