Getting a VPS and things to know about

Just a little back-story about how this article came around.

We do a lot of web development, mostly WordPress projects, but started to branch out into Laravel a bit.

Until recently we used a shared hosting plan and we were very happy with it: no downtime, a lot of flexibility concerning different PHP versions, full backups for the last 14 days, no limit on traffic, databases, files, a lot of space. And because it was only used for development and no real traffic directed in there, it wasn’t slow at all. It also was in the same city, basically in our back-yard.

Things changed at the end of 2019 and we started to get a lot of downtime. Something was wrong with the server we were hosted on, meaning that at times we got 20-50 minutes per day downtime on various sites that we had in there. Support was not helpful in this matter since, being a shared hosting, they don’t track everything that is happening in there.

So, in January we switched from a shared server to a VPS.

Why switch to a VPS?

There are multiple reasons to do that:

  • Your business got bigger and you need to support more traffic.
  • You’re working with new/different technologies that require control over the environment
  • Having dedicated resources from the server and not sharing them with others
  • Taking things more seriously, by investing a bit more on something that your business relies on.
  • Problems (like downtime, or lack of support) with the shared hosting that you’re using

Let’s say that, for us, traffic was not the issue.

We wanted to fix the downtime problem that started occurring in the past month. We also wanted to work with Laravel more and it required an SSH connection. At the same time, we were intrigued by the idea of managing a VPS and working directly with the machine. Last but not least, it was about taking things more seriously by investing in something that, from our point of view, is more reliable.

VPS alternatives

There are a lot of VPS alternatives out there. Pretty much every hosting company has a VPS option.

Look into all the options and see what suits you.

Things to consider:

  • data center location
  • price
  • managed or unmanaged
  • the operating system options
  • what is included in the support

Here are some VPS providers that we worked and had good experiences with: Inmotion Hosting, Digital Ocean, Hostinger. You will find articles comparing them with one another, go ahead and read them.

If you’re mainly interested in development, get one that is in the same location as you. That’s what we did. Personally, I need the thing to be easy to access (fast) and have support in the same working hours as me.

Managed vs unmanaged VPS

All VPS options will have a managed or unmanaged alternative.

A managed VPS is one that already comes installed with a WHM/cPanel or other alternatives, it has everything set for you: installed libraries, the configuration in place, support that will do anything you need without you having to worry too much. All these, while in most cases also providing you access to all the VPS awesome features via a terminal.

An unmanaged VPS only comes with the OS installed and from there it’s up to what you need. You will have to install the WHM/cPanel, but apart from that you can install libraries and dependencies at your own will. When something is not working, it is you that has to go and look why. Also, support is limited to the OS and VPS – in most cases, they will not fix issues related to what you installed on the VPS.

To sum up, if you don’t want to ever worry about how things are working and what library is missing, etc., the managed VPS sounds like the better alternative. However, keep in mind that it is expensive. There can be a big difference in price (up to $35/month in some cases) between a managed and unmanaged version of the same VPS.

If you’re not afraid of using a terminal and you want to pick up some new skills regarding VPS configuration, go with the unmanaged version. It is not that hard. It took us half a day to get it up and running from zero to moving all the websites to it. And it will save you some money.

WHM and cPanel alternative

Something that you might not be aware of is that cPanel is actually not free. It’s licensed for about 15$ for one installment (1 account).

If you used a shared hosting until now, you most likely had cPanel and didn’t have to worry about it.

When you get a VPS you need to decide if you want to get cPanel (which comes with WHM), as it’s not included in the price.

The good thing is that most hosting companies that offer VPS are able to provide you with an offer of 5 cPanel licenses for about 20$. So you’ll be able to install cPanel accounts to manage different sites/domains however you find it useful.

Why you need WHM and cPanel

WHM (Web Host Manager) provides administrative control over your dedicated server or VPS. It allows a hosting provider to manage a customer’s account

To put it simply: WHM allows you to control the VPS and install cPanel accounts.

Without having this (or something similar) in place, you will only have to deal with the console in order to accomplish things and it might be a loss of time.

There are other free alternatives for cPanel, but I’ll mention just the one that we found to be the best: Virtualmin.

Virtualmin is easy to install, it comes with Webmin. Webmin is the equivalent of WHM.

It’s pretty intuitive, it has a nice visual dashboard, it allows you to run “scripts” – this is similar to the Softaculous part in cPanel. So you can easily install WordPress, a PHPMyAdmin, and other things in a specific folder.

Virtualmin has support for Let’s Encrypt certificates, which is also a huge plus. They are very easy to generate and will automatically be renewed, all done from the Virtualmin interface.

You have control over everything and the documentation is good.

Things to consider

  • You will need to know how to work with a terminal, especially if you opted for the unmanaged version of a VPS.

Depending on the OS that you have, the commands will change a bit.

I know it seems scary, but it’s not that bad. Yes, you can break things, but if you follow the steps and read some articles + documentation for the problem you’re trying to solve, you will be alright. Think of it as an opportunity to learn new things.

  • When installing a package/library, you need to know what it is for. You should check if you have a version of it in the first place, so you don’t have it in duplicate or add bloatware in there. You should also look over what is installed and clean things up from time to time

Our VPS option

Details at the time of writing this article:

  • KVM VPS
  • 50 GB storage (SSD)
  • 4 GB memory
  • 3 cores
  • CentOS 7 (didn’t go with 8 because at this point Virtualmin doesn’t have support for CentOS 8)
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Unmanaged
  • Virtualmin
  • 9 EURO/month (+taxes)

Details at the time of writing this article.