6 Key Differences — Shared Hosting vs. VPS Hosting (2017 Guide)

When smartphones took over in the early 2000s, data usage went through the roof for many families, mine included. Monthly cellphone bills climbed, too, so my family went with a shared data plan to keep costs low. This gave everyone enough data to get by, within a reasonable budget. The solution wasn’t perfect – some months, one person would rack up their personal data usage, leaving the rest of us strapped for streaming bandwidth – but it allowed each individual to pay about $30 less per month than if we each had an unlimited data plan.

When it comes to deciding on the type of hosting service you should use for a website, your mind is probably flooded with questions — namely, should I go with shared hosting or a virtual private server (VPS)? In many ways, shared hosting is similar to a family data plan: Responsibility is shared equally among users, and your monthly data needs don’t exceed the amount allotted in the plan. VPS hosting is more like an individual data plan. While you’ll pay more money to customize it to your needs, you’ll get more bandwidth and have full control over increasing, decreasing, or otherwise changing your data setup as you see fit.

While both VPS and shared hosting involve sharing one server’s resources, they have distinct differences.

The truth: Neither solution is better than the other. Selecting the right hosting service depends upon several factors, including resource needs, performance demands, security requirements, cost constraints, server administration preferences, and scalability expectations. What’s right for someone else may not be right for you.

The Difference Between Shared and VPS Hosting in a Nutshell

Simply put, shared hosting means your site will share the same server as many other sites. It’s usually the cheapest option but comes with limited bandwidth, administration, and performance capabilities. VPS hosting is a more premium option, with the ability for greater customization and increased performance. But, as with any premium service, you’ll have to pay more to get more.

Next, we’ll cover the key points to consider when choosing between shared and VPS hosting.

1. Server Resources

As the names imply, shared hosting customers share server resources, whereas dedicated hosting users get a server dedicated to their sites’ needs. A VPS lies in the gray area in the middle — a bunch of slices of the same server acting as their own dedicated hardware entities. That being said, there are pros and cons to both sides of the shared/VPS resource allocation spectrum.

Shared Hosting

When you share server resources with others, you’ll face some limitations. While no single account will impact another’s experience, per say, there will be maximum available CPUs, memory/RAM, and disk space. Your website will not be able to use resources beyond the maximum allowed. This may not be a big deal if your website doesn’t require a ton of space or processing power.

VPS Hosting

With VPS hosting, you’ll enjoy greater private disk space and higher overall resource availability. This will be necessary if you want to expand your business and need to offer customers a user experience that goes beyond the basic shared hosting level.

2. Performance

As you might guess, more resources means more performance. Shared hosting is only as performant as the technologies your host has implemented for speed (e.g., SSDs, caching software, a CDN, etc.). Typically, you have more control over the performance factor with a VPS, but let’s go a little more in-depth.

Shared Hosting

As with any shared plan, other websites could possibly affect your website’s performance – it’s the risk you run by opting for the more economical shared hosting plan. However, if your performance demands are limited and you value ease of maintenance, shared hosting will likely yield a higher return on investment.

VPS Hosting

It’s no surprise that VPS hosting offers better overall performance based on the bandwidth it offers users. You’ll have more flexibility to configure your applications on the server, but you’ll need to make sure you have a dedicated system administrator to keep the server running smoothly. If you have high traffic demands or multiple sites to manage, VPS will be the better option.

3. Security

While sharing server resources presents huge benefits from a cost point of view, it can wreak havoc on the security end of things. It really depends on how much the hosting provider has invested (both operational/team and purely financial resources) in ensuring dedicated protection for its shared hosting customers.

Shared Hosting

While shared hosting is considered very safe, be aware that security breaches can occur simply because a common server cannot guarantee 100% security. The main reason for this is what we call the Noisy Neighbor problem — or the fact that when one shared hosting customer makes a mistake or experiences a technical difficulty, it’ll likely impact other sites because you are all sharing space on the same machine.

Customer support will likely also be limited compared with VPS hosting. However, if your site won’t require sensitive personal information from users, you shouldn’t have an issue with shared hosting.

VPS Hosting

You can ensure your site’s security with more robust safety features that are only available through VPS hosting. If your budget allows, you can implement better customer support services that will assist patrons when they need it. If your business needs to protect personal data, it’s worth considering the upgrade to a VPS.

4. Pricing

Pricing for web hosting is a funny thing. You can easily find yourself paying an arm and a leg (upward of $18 per month) on shared hosting and absolutely hate the piss-poor service, or you could spin up a VPS instance for as little as five bucks and never look back. Those are extreme scenarios, of course, but hopefully, you catch my drift.

While shared hosting is the best for affordability and ease of use, VPS hosting reigns supreme for scalability.

Aim for a balance — high-quality features (as many as you require) meets low-as-possible price.

Shared Hosting

With shared hosting, you defray the expenses associated with running and maintaining a server because you’re sharing server space with thousands of other websites. From a pure price point, shared hosting is the most economical choice and is a great option for those looking to host a site with standard functionality.

VPS Hosting

As with any paid service, a more expensive plan offers more premium features, and the same rings true for VPS hosting. If you want to improve your website’s performance, or if you need to increase your business’s online services, VPS hosting will give you better customization and performance options than shared hosting.

5. Server Administration

Long story short, shared hosts handle the hardware for you. You’re responsible for managing your VPS — unless you choose a host that handles server monitoring, bug fixes, and security patches for you (i.e., managed hosting services).

Shared Hosting

If you choose to host your website on a shared server, there is little to no technical maintenance of the server required on your end. That means you can enjoy basic server administration for your website at no additional cost to your budget or your precious time. For many, this is a huge plus as no dedicated system administrator is needed.

VPS Hosting

VPS-hosted websites are often more complex in terms of resource management and therefore will usually require a specific system administrator to focus on maintaining the server. The tradeoff is that you’ll be able to customize your site and configure whatever applications and software you want while increasing performance and security.

6. Scalability

The scalability factor is the tipping point for the shared-vs-virtual server debacle. If your site sees, or is expected to see, roughly 30,000 monthly visitors, a shared host can accommodate you and your site’s hosting needs. Much more than that and you might start receiving internal errors from your host. You’ll then need to consider a VPS or dedicated plan, and a VPS can handle any amount of traffic.

Shared Hosting

While shared hosting is a great option for the short-term, you might face scalability issues in the long run depending on how your website grows. If you find you’re maxing out your storage capabilities, or if user demand is exceeding server space, you may need to consider scaling up to eke out better performance.

VPS Hosting

The customizable features of VPS hosting allow you to scale more quickly and easily. If you predict you’ll eventually need to scale up on the fly to meet demand, the investment in VPS hosting now may pay off in the future.

Best Hosts for Shared or Virtual Private Servers

As is the case with any cellular data plan, you want to know where you can get the best coverage for the most reasonable price. How can you possibly evaluate which providers truly offer the best deal amid the marketing jumble?

Here’s our gift to you: the top recommendations for both shared and VPS hosting plans. We scoured the web and evaluated countless plans, ultimately selecting the cream of the crop and sharing them here. You’re welcome.

Top 3 Shared Hosting Plans

We cover a lot of variables when judging shared hosting providers, especially since we know we’re often guiding first-time website owners. The hosts that get our seal of approval make plenty of server resources — bandwidth, storage, memory, et cetera — available for a competitive price, and they often throw in free perks such as a complimentary domain name registration. Ease of use is an important consideration, too, so bonus points go to those with drag-and-drop website builders or easy installation options for popular tools like WordPress.

Below you’ll find the most affordable, best value shared hosts on the market today.

SHARED RATING
★★★★★ 5.0/5.0
  • Known for high-performance, low-cost shared hosting
  • FREE website builder with 1,000s of templates
  • Endorsed by the WordPress.org team as a top WP host
(read more)
Starting Price/Mo. $2.95
Money Back Guarantee 30 days
Disk Space Unlimited
Domain Name FREE (1 year)
Shared Hosting Plans www.bluehost.com/shared
Our Expert's Bluehost Review
If you’re looking for an affordable host, Bluehost is a solid, reputable choice, but their low cost coupled with their supremacy in the shared hosting arena is what makes this provider such a value deal. The Bluehost name is listed toward the top of many of... read more + If you’re looking for an affordable host, Bluehost is a solid, reputable choice, but their low cost coupled with their supremacy in the shared hosting arena is what makes this provider such a value deal. The Bluehost name is listed toward the top of many of our reviews categories, and with good reason. They offer excellent hardware configurations, a generous list of extras, and fantastic support and reliability — all at a price point that’s, generally, lower than the competition.The speed and performance result from very modern hardware and a global content delivery network. They also offer nearly unlimited everything, including storage, emails, and bandwidth, and many other perks. For example, they include a free domain and marketing credits to get your site off the ground — adding to their value.We rank Bluehost at or near the top for their WordPress, VPS, and dedicated options and if those fit your needs, please check them out. You’ll be happy to note their incredibly competitive pricing across the board.We are convinced Bluehost has the goods to meet your hosting needs today and in the future, but more importantly, they are too. They offer a 30-day money-back guarantee should you become dissatisfied with any of their plans for any reason; however, we’re willing to bet you won’t be. collapse info -
SHARED RATING
★★★★★ 4.8/5.0
  • An industry-leading shared host with competitive pricing
  • Attract visitors with a complimentary marketing suite
  • $500 in extras like Google AdWords and SiteLock security
(read more)
Starting Price/Mo. $1.99
Money Back Guarantee 30 days
Disk Space Unlimited
Domain Name FREE (1 year)
Shared Hosting Plans www.ipage.com/shared
Our Expert's iPage Review
Whether you're a first-time website owner or a web veteran, iPage’s excellent hosting services and fantastic list of extras make them one of the best values in web hosting.Unlimited disk space, bandwidth, and emails are just a part of what makes iPage’s... read more + Whether you're a first-time website owner or a web veteran, iPage’s excellent hosting services and fantastic list of extras make them one of the best values in web hosting.Unlimited disk space, bandwidth, and emails are just a part of what makes iPage’s shared hosting plans a great deal. They offer very good "suites" of extras focusing on web hosting necessities like security, marketing, and support.If you don’t yet have a site, they include a free domain and website builder to get you rolling quickly. We especially love their inclusion of eCommerce templates and online shopping carts for the same low price.Support is one factor that’s very important to us, as it should be to you. For customer support, iPage has US-based phone, email, and chat available 24/7. For the DIY crowd, they also have an extensive list of tutorials and helpful documents.One of the very best budget web hosts out there, iPage offers great hosting features and server performance for a low price. If you are searching for a cheap, reliable web host, iPage should definitely be near the top of your list. collapse info -
SHARED RATING
★★★★★ 4.8/5.0
  • A favorite for shared hosting (and dedicated or cloud)
  • FREE SSD storage packs 20x the performance
  • FREE SSL certificate and 24/7 support
(read more)
Starting Price/Mo. $2.95
Money Back Guarantee 90 days
Disk Space Unlimited
Domain Name FREE (1 year)
Shared Hosting Plans www.inmotion.com/shared
Our Expert's InMotion Review
InMotion offers an excellent business-class shared hosting plan. While carrying a higher price tag than other cheap hosts, it has a very nice list of features to help justify the extra cost. For the IT crowd in the audience, you’ll appreciate SSH access, as... read more + InMotion offers an excellent business-class shared hosting plan. While carrying a higher price tag than other cheap hosts, it has a very nice list of features to help justify the extra cost. For the IT crowd in the audience, you’ll appreciate SSH access, as well as support for PHP, Ruby, Perl, Python, WP-CLI, and other popular languages. You’ll also appreciate the 20-times faster speed, which comes from all-SSD storage and your choice of datacenter locations. You needn’t worry about data security as InMotion plans include data backups.For the rest of us, we can appreciate the convenience of the free website transfers and 24/7 US-based support. A free domain and website builder with eCommerce support are also appealing.The overall package and business-class hardware make InMotion’s shared hosting a great choice for businesses or those looking for a little higher-end hardware. And, as one of the few remaining independently owned hosting providers left on the market, InMotion has taken every effort to remain cost-competitive. collapse info -

See more cheap shared hosts »

Top 3 Virtual Server Plans

VPS plans are judged based on hardware quality, support level, price, and customization options. We find the top providers offer flexible packages that can be easily configured (much like the servers themselves) to best meet dynamic needs.

An extra gold star goes to those that throw in added benefits such as SSD storage, pre-installed WordPress, a CDN, and 24/7 security monitoring. Check out the top VPS plans below.

VPS RATING
★★★★★ 4.9/5.0
  • 50% off the first month with added discounts the first year
  • Real-time redundancy powered by a cloud infrastructure
  • FREE cPanel/WHM licenses with enterprise-grade CentOS
(read more)
Starting Price/Mo. $19.99
Money Back Guarantee 90 days
Disk Space 75 GB - 260 GB SSD
Domain Name New or Transfer
VPS Hosting Plans www.inmotionhosting.com/vps
Our Expert's InMotion Review
Boasting market-leading VPS hardware, slick management software, and free SSD drives and backups, InMotion offers the most attractive VPS plans you'll find anywhere. Each VPS plan comes with free SSD storage arranged in RAID 6,... read more +

Boasting market-leading VPS hardware, slick management software, and free SSD drives and backups, InMotion offers the most attractive VPS plans you'll find anywhere.

Each VPS plan comes with free SSD storage arranged in RAID 6, which is incredibly fast and secure. Each of their plans also come with an awesome amount of RAM for the server cost, so the speed-to-dollar ratio is high with this host.

InMotion’s VPS packages run on CentOS 6 Linux operating systems and all feature a license for cPanel. Each plan also comes with Web Hosting Management (WHM) software, making it super-easy to resell some unused server resources.

InMotion's reputation for uptime is second-to-none, with a solid track record as a large-scale VPS host and a large, friendly support team available at any time.

Lastly, InMotion has a 90-day money-back guarantee and offers a choice of datacenters, which are nice customer-centric features. Their support is top-notch and 24 hours. We highly recommend you check them out if you are looking for a VPS with great hardware and reseller options at a low price.

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VPS RATING
★★★★★ 4.9/5.0
  • Only pay for resources you use with daily billing
  • 5TB of outgoing bandwidth and FREE incoming bandwidth
  • API access and cPanel available
(read more)
Starting Price/Mo. $29.50
Money Back Guarantee N/A
Disk Space 50 GB - 1.6 TB SSD
Domain Name FREE (1 year)
VPS Hosting Plans www.liquidweb.com/vps
Our Expert's Liquid Web Review
It's no secret by now that Liquid Web is known for best-in-class technology and reliability that exceeds expectations (from uptime to technical support). Their VPSs embody that reputation to its fullest — including a new... read more +

It's no secret by now that Liquid Web is known for best-in-class technology and reliability that exceeds expectations (from uptime to technical support). Their VPSs embody that reputation to its fullest — including a new Managed WordPress product (Hop one tab over to the WordPress Review for more info on this awesome addition.).

Perks of a Managed VPS: Support Meets Reliability

They offer a high-powered VPS solution as well as their in-house-built, cloud-based Storm® Servers, all of which are backed by their popular SLAs (service-level agreements) promising high uptime rates and highly reliable help from the Heroic Support® experts.

Better Performance with Liquid Web Virtual Servers

With high-powered SSDs and, of course, the Heroic Support® team, the VPS platform shines among the managed services offered at Liquid Web. You'll pay a bit of a premium for managed hosting, but there's a reason customers rave about the Heroic Support®, incredible SLAs, and excellent uptime rates.

SSD Power & Fully Managed Support

RAID-protected SSD storage comes standard for Liquid Web VPS users, which decreases latency and keeps your page loads fast and secure. They offer a range of management plans, as well as cPanel control and API access, so you get the perfect level of infrastructural management support for you and your site.

Cloud-Level Flexibility & Supreme Uptime

The Liquid Web VPS infrastructure was engineered with customer priorities in mind. These solutions are ideal for users that want cloud-like flexibility, such as billing by the day and custom configurations, but also seek the affordability of shared hosting. Customers can instantly provision and deploy their virtual server, easily upgrade, downgrade, clone, or resize, and only pay for the resources they use.

Award-Winning Heroic Support® & Sonar Monitoring™

Liquid Web's SLAs promise speedy response times and industry-leading performance. Their blazing fast and fault-resistant servers are backed by the round-the-clock attention of the Sonar Monitoring™ team.

Heroic Support® Team Helps Consistently Earn High Net Promoter Scores

Not only does the Heroic Promise ensure a Heroic Support® technician will get to you quickly, but their policy of Best Effort Support guarantees that they will attempt to help with any problem you encounter. That kind of customer support translates into customer loyalty, and it's a commitment that's rare and wonderful in this industry.

Sonar Monitoring™ Team Helps Yield Virtually No Downtime

In 2014 Liquid Web yielded an incredible uptime rate of 99.995%. With their wholly owned hardware being watched over and maintained by highly trained technicians, there's no reason to doubt their promise of virtually nonexistent downtime in the future.

All server statuses are watched around the clock by the Sonar Monitoring™ team, which is trained to detect system issues quickly, and ideally have problems resolved before a hiccup even shows up on your radar.

Storm® Platform, Private Cloud, & Add-Ons

In addition to a heroic army of support, Liquid Web has 50+ developers dedicated to the build-out and up-keep of custom solutions. A great example would be their Storm® Platform: an in-house innovation based on their top-of-the-line VPS infrastructure.

With automatic migrations and provisioning and easy scaling options, the Storm® Cloud Server offers all the SSD speed and custom functionality you want in an affordable, shared cloud environment. To give users even more options, Liquid Web developers are constantly working on new projects, including the latest Storm® Private Cloud functionality and their Block Storage, Object Storage, and VPN Storm® Add-Ons.

Liquid Web VPS in a Nutshell

If you want easy scaling, screaming fast speed, custom functionalities, and unparalleled support, look no further than Liquid Web for your VPS. They own all the hardware and have a rather large development team in their corner, so the technological possibilities are pretty much limitless. We'd recommend going with their custom Storm® Servers, which offer all the power, flexibility, and scaling options you'd require of a virtual or dedicated server with the affordability and ease of use of a shared hosting solution.

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VPS RATING
★★★★★ 4.8/5.0
  • 2-4 cores and 4-16GB of RAM
  • Endorsed by the WordPress team
  • Redundant storage and optional SiteLock security
(read more)
Starting Price/Mo. $19.99
Money Back Guarantee 30 days
Disk Space 30 GB - 240 GB SSD
Domain Name FREE (1 year)
VPS Hosting Plans www.bluehost.com/vps
Our Expert's Bluehost Review
When comparing the performance versus price of VPS plans, Bluehost brings supreme value to the table. In addition to competitive pricing, they offer premium support and excellent uptime compared to other VPS options in the... read more +

When comparing the performance versus price of VPS plans, Bluehost brings supreme value to the table. In addition to competitive pricing, they offer premium support and excellent uptime compared to other VPS options in the industry. If you’ve outgrown shared hosting, or need the flexibility and security of a VPS, Bluehost is a great choice for you.

Bluehost’s virtual servers boast several benefits compared to standard shared hosting and other VPS offerings. The first is speed; Bluehost offers your choice of two or four cores and 4GB to 16GB of RAM with guaranteed resources, so you have the power you need when you need it. The second perk is security; Bluehost offers redundant storage and optional SiteLock protection to secure your data.

For those new to VPS hosting who may not know exactly what is needed, Bluehost makes it incredibly easy and seamless to switch between their plans to find the perfect package for you. If you have questions or need some advice, their wonderful support staff is standing by to assist 24/7.

Formed in 2003, Bluehost has long since been a hosting innovator and leader. Today, the company powers more than two million websites and carries the official seal of approval given by the WordPress.org team for their managed WordPress services hosted on their VPS platform. With years of experience, competitive pricing, and excellent support, Bluehost is a pick you can take to the bank in the VPS hosting space.

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See more VPS plans »

Consider Your End Goals When Deciding Between a VPS or Shared Host

After several years of dealing with limited data availability on my family plan, I decided to leave the data battles behind and upgrade to a plan that offered me unlimited data usage. While I now pay a premium for the service, I enjoy increased media streaming, GPS app usage, higher quality image resolution, and other perks. In the end, the cost-benefit analysis led me toward the more expensive option; however, the rest of the family remains on the data plan, and it continues to work for them based on how much they’re willing to spend for these services.

Having your own dedicated server — even a virtual one — brings new scaling potential, but make the decision wisely!

The decision to host your website on a shared versus a virtual private server is an important one. For a majority of sites, a shared hosting plan will more than suffice. But if you’re seriously considering a higher-end hosting plan, here are some signs it’s time to migrate to a VPS.

I’ll leave you with the following takeaway tips if you’re considering the move to a VPS:

  • Identify the reasons you’ve outgrown shared hosting, or why a VPS may be appropriate.
  • Determine which features are most important to you. Pro/Con lists are very useful!
  • Compare prices and providers as part of your decision-making process.
  • Conduct your own cost-benefit analysis.
  • Project your long-term business growth. Are we looking at a major growth spurt?

With this information in mind, you’ll have your website on its way in no time at all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alexandra Leslie

Alexandra Leslie serves as Tech Vertical Manager of Digital Brands Inc, spearheading the charge to deliver technical expertise and thought leadership to our rapidly growing audience of developers, engineers, and website owners here at HostingAdvice. You'll find her engaging with leaders in web hosting and tangentially related industries, enjoying honest discussions of their cutting-edge technologies. She loves getting her hands dirty with comprehensive reviews of popular hosting platforms and services, and she's a die-hard WordPress fan. Alexandra leads the HostingAdvice team with a passion for translating technical jargon into digestible action items anyone can use to build, monetize, and scale a web presence.