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Beginners Guide to VPS and Hosting

VPS Servers and Hosting – What it is, How it Works, and Cost

You want to start a new online venture, be it a website or your desire to just get your business in the cloud or on this thing called a VPS. However, you have no idea how these concepts relate to you or your business, and all that pops into your head is the cloud icon.

Image of cloud computing

You’re not alone. So, HOSTAFRICA created this comprehensive guide to walk you through everything you need to know about VPS and VPS hosting.

What is VPS?

VPS stands for virtual private server (not to be confused with VPN, which stands for virtual private network). Simply, a VPS is a virtual server sold to someone for their private ownership and use.

If that’s not self-explanatory, here’s the breakdown of the basic concepts you’ll need to understand first:

What is a server?

Think of it as an industrial-sized, powerful computer. Much like the personal computer (PC) you have at home, they also contain hardware like memory (RAM), computing power (CPU), storage (SSD), etc. Likewise, their purpose is to store data, run applications and connect you to the world wide web.

Conversely, however, while PCs are intended for an individual, servers are intended for commercial use, and do much more heavy-lifting, requiring considerably more resources. This makes them extremely expensive for most individuals or even businesses to buy themselves.

As most people don’t need and cannot afford to buy an entire physical server merely for a website or a few applications, hosting providers (hosts) like HOSTAFRICA buy these servers for them. Then, thanks to cloud technology, they economically divide up physical servers (aka bare metal servers) into virtual servers. This process is called virtualisation.

What is a virtual server?

Think of virtual reality. It’s a computer-generated simulation of the physical environment. Virtual servers are software-generated simulations of a physical server or a software-based computer. Their purpose is to create smaller, lighter portions of a physical server for individual use, making it affordable for everyone.

Now, clients only pay for their private portion of a server and its resources that they use for their online endeavours.

The private in VPS

The word private is just a marketing term which refers to the fact that a VPS host gives each client their own (private) virtual server and share of resources, meaning no one else has access to their virtual server, its data and resources. Your VPS is yours alone.

Virtual Private Server

To sum it all up, technically, a VPS is just a virtual server. For marketing purposes Virtual private server describes virtual servers sold as a private service by hosting companies.

Types of VPSs – container vs. virtual machine

VPSs are marketed differently

The fact that VPS is more of a marketing term and not a technical one has resulted in hosts around the globe marketing them differently. Typically, there are two types of VPSs you can encounter in VPS hosting, namely containers and virtual machines.

VPS hosts can market VPSs as containers, and/or virtual machines. This can cause confusion. Let’s clear it up.

As explained earlier, a VPS is technically just a virtual server. However, the term virtual server is a general name for servers that have been virtualised. What it doesn’t specify is that there are different ways to virtualise a server, which affects the limitations, cost, and practicalities of a virtual server.

Therefore, in order to know which kind of VPS a host is offering, and which one is right for your business or online venture, you need to understand how virtual machines and containers work.

Virtual machines (VMs)

Virtual machines (VMs) are essentially virtual computers that, like physical computers, run on their own operating system (OS), share of resources, and applications on a server.

VMs are created (or spun up) by hardware virtualisation. The server hardware is known as the host machine (or the host for short), which is the underlying foundation of the server.

virtual machine virtualisation graphic

Above this sits the software layer, which contains the host OS kernel (usually Linux), and the hypervisor, aka the virtual machine monitor (VMM). The kernel is the core of any OS and is responsible for communication between hardware and software.

The hypervisor is the virtualisation tool. It enables the host OS to virtualise and mange the host’s resources. The hypervisor is also responsible for:

  1. allocating a slice of these virtual resources to each virtual environment;
  2. logically isolating each virtual environment with its own OS (called the guest OS — Linux or Windows Server) into virtual machines;
  3. managing all VMs running together on the same host.

The result is as follows:

  • several VMs can run simultaneously on a single hypervisor,
  • each VM is a fully isolated environment, meaning each operates completely separate from others. This self-sufficiency enables:
    • the ability to provision any operating system on each VM, and each VM can run a different OS,
    • high security, as one VM cannot affect another,
    • instant, live migrations of VMs from one hypervisor (or host) to another.

Therefore, VMs are considerably more resource-efficient and therefore more cost-efficient than bare metal servers. Additionally, a good hypervisor facilitates virtual machine performance close to native speeds of the bare metal server.

In summary, each virtual machine has their own slice of resources, operating system, and applications; is completely isolated, and runs independently alongside other VMs on a physical server.

Last but certainly not least, this incredible virtualisation technology also makes it possible to access and manage these virtual (cloud) servers from anywhere in the world via the internet. This is called cloud computing. It is why virtual servers can also be called cloud servers.

To identify VM virtualisation, names to look out for are KVM, Virtuozzo Hybrid Server, and VMware ESXi.


If you’re thinking of a shipping container or a plastic one, you’re on the right track. It the relates to the concept of putting things in a container to separate them from others. In other words, they are contained in an environment.

Containers are lightweight virtual environments that contain only applications and their processes within a server, and nothing more (not to be confused with Docker, which uses application virtualisation, and is not a virtual server).

Unlike VMs, containers don’t each have their own operating system and resources. These are the key differences between containers and VMs.

Containers are created by operating system (OS) virtualisation. This form of virtualisation does not use a hypervisor, so it does not virtualise the hardware. Instead, the host OS does the virtualisation. It containerises (packages) applications along with their processes into isolated virtual environments.

container virtualisation graphic

Therefore, all containers on a host share the host OS (usually Linux kernel) and physical resources. This means all processes run on the the host, but the host OS kernel isolates (jails) the relevant processes to each container.

As a result, containers only contain its own applications. This is makes containers very light and fast. It takes mere seconds to provision or spin up a container; and allows for very economical use of host resources. Like VMs, multiple containers run simultaneously on a host, and they can all be managed from anywhere on the planet.

To identify container virtualisation, look out for OpenVZ, LXC, and Virtuozzo system containers.

What is VPS Hosting?

VPS hosting is a cloud computing service called infrastructure as a service (IaaS). VPS hosting providers manage the infrastructure: the servers, storage, virtualisation, and networking. Cloud computing defines how VPSs are available on demand, meaning able to access and manage from anywhere on the globe via the internet.

While hosts are responsible for infrastructure performance, security, and monitoring; clients are responsible for the applications and security of their own VPS servers. Clients get root access to their virtual servers, meaning they have the freedom to customise their VPSs as they please. This is called self-managed or unmanaged hosting. Most VPS offerings are unmanaged solutions. Managed solutions are available with some hosts, but for the purpose of this article, we will only focus on unmanaged.

VPS hosts sell VPSs on a monthly/yearly subscription basis, or on a pay-as-you-go basis where you pay for exact resources used by the minute. Subscriptions are usually packaged into VPS plans according to various resource requirements.

The purpose of VPS hosting is provide clients the performance benefits of dedicated (physical) server hosting without the high costs of it, as well as without the limitations of web (shared) hosting.

The work that goes into VPS hosting

VPS hosting includes acquisition, installation, virtualisation, maintenance, updates, and support. VPS hosts carry the enormous up-front costs of the this process so clients don’t have to. The process that goes into providing VPS hosting is as follows:

  • source and buy physical servers,
  • install and house them in state-of-the-art data centres,
  • have expert system administrators (sysadmin) configure and secure networks, and virtualise servers into VPSs,
  • sysadmins constantly maintain and improve server and network infrastructure, as well as monitor server performance 24/7/365,
  • have support engineers provide daily client support.

So, the next time you think a VPS is expensive, think again.

How much does VPS hosting cost?

Considering the cost and work that goes into a VPS, they are the most cost-effective server solutions available. VPS hosting is more expensive than shared hosting, but considerably cheaper than dedicated server hosting, giving you the best of both worlds for the best price.

Of course, the actual cost to clients will depend on their specific resource requirements. The most expensive components of a VPS are:

  • SSD storage: the more storage you require, the more you will pay for a VPS.
  • software licences: if your host is using proprietary software like VMware, Windows Server, cPanel, Plesk, etc. costs go up.

Generally though, there is a clear distinction in costs when it comes to containers and virtual machines. Also, keep an eye out for discounts and introductory prices! Many hosts offer savings on your first few months. But make sure to read the details of what is included in each VPS plan, such as the type of virtualisation used, bandwidth, exact resource limits, software licencing fees and obscured fees.

Cost of containers

Due to their lightweight virtualisation and the fact that they run open-source OS Linux, containers are the cheapest solution on the market. This can cost as little as R100 or $4 per month.

Cost of virtual machines

Because VMs provide the full virtual computer experience, they are more resource-intensive than containers, and therefore more expensive. Linux VMs can cost from R130 or $10 per month, whereas Windows VMs may cost from R400 or $30 pm due to the Windows Server licence and the fact that Windows is uses more resources than Linux.

Cost of customer support

One feature that you won’t see in VPS packages, is the quality of client support provided. One of the biggest mistakes people make when choosing a VPS host is neglecting to consider what happens after they’ve paid for this service. A VPS host can make or break your online endeavour.

Client support is time- and expert-sensitive. The longer you have to wait to for your issue to be resolved or just get answers, the more it costs you. Therefore, consider the hidden cost of poor support, which can be detrimental to your business. Don’t just go for the cheapest VPS solution available, do your research, and find a reliable host that will uplift your business.

Buy VPS hosting

When looking to buy VPS hosting, keep in mind that your business or online venture will only be as good as the server it runs on and the client support provided. Therefore, finding a reliable, responsive host is imperative.

At HOSTAFRICA, we earned our reputation for unparalleled customer support and reliable, fast service. We market containers as VPSs, and virtual machines as Cloud Servers. Our VPSs are hosted locally in South Africa, while our Cloud Servers are hosted in South Africa, Germany, Chicago, L.A., U.K.

We are transparent about all our fees, resources limitations, virtualisation, and services. See our VPS plans below:

hostafrica virtual servers
HOSTAFRICA virtual servers

The Author

Maab S.

Maab is an experienced software engineer who specializes in explaining technical topics to a wider audience.

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