What is a virtual server?

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Let’s talk about virtual servers. About powerful PC’s with «hardware» shared between many users who want to create their own site or application.

We will get deeper into how these servers work, what they are capable of, how they are different from regular servers, and how to choose the best one.

  1. How do virtual servers work?
  2. What are virtual servers used for?
  3. What are the benefits of virtual servers?
  4. Disadvantages of virtual server
  5. VPS and VDS
  6. Windows-based virtual servers
  7. Linux-based virtual servers
  8. Virtual machine versus virtual server
  9. Physical servers versus virtual servers
  10. Are there free virtual servers?
  11. How to choose a virtual server?
  12. Best virtual servers

The idea behind a virtual server is the same as the one behind an ordinary physical server. It is a place somewhere in the data centers around the world where webmasters and developers store files of their websites and applications.

In general, servers are a 24/7 working PC with all the data necessary data to maintain a website or another project that needs to be accessible by users around the world.

The main distinctive feature of virtual servers lies in their implementation. It uses so-called virtualization technology that makes possible the emulation of many computers on one physical machine. That way we have one powerful PC but a lot of space to create virtual ones within it, so hosting providers (who maintain servers in datacenters) don’t have to buy more hardware to extend the service to other users.

How do virtual servers work?

As we mentioned earlier — in the core of virtual servers sits technology called «virtualization». There are various types which differ in technical specifications but mainly perform the same tasks.

how virtual server work

This virtual server is a complex program (hypervisor) imitating a full-fledged OS with BIOS and other low-level stuff. Practically, it gives users fully functional «hardware» that they can use as their own computer. But the «hardware» is not actually hardware in a real sense. It is merely equipment virtualized into a PC and shared between many webmasters and developers using the same hosting provider.

What are virtual servers used for?

Like any server, virtual servers are used to store data from different projects such as:

  • Informational platforms and online stores (most of them have to have a database that also needs a server).

  • Databases with private information to be used inside a company making it possible to share some data and keep it hidden from the outside.

  • Platforms created to test software within the team or in person (when the local machine is not powerful enough).

  • Setups that are made to work with complex systems like Odoo.

  • Gaming servers (like ones used to host Minecraft personal playable worlds) and mail servers (to obtain full control on sent and received email).

  • Systems to implement CCTV (to store a lot of GB’s of recorded videos).

  • And of course personal cloud storages. You can use a virtual server as a remote hard disk to store images, videos, audio files, etc.

And yes, even virtualized hardware can deal with everything listed above. Even if a server is being used to the maximum.

What are the benefits of virtual servers?

Talking about the advantages of virtual servers… benefits of virtual servers

  1. One of the main benefits of virtual servers is that such servers are not as pricey as real physical servers. Logically, virtual PCs cost less than tangible ones. And this is quite an important characteristic of the server because they usually cost a lot of money over the long term. Especially when the site or application is gaining popularity.

  2. Virtualization brings independence from the physical world. Users have something like an image of a computer that can be seamlessly transported to another hardware platform. It means that even if the hardware part fails it will take a matter of minutes to relaunch your «PC» using another physical server.

  3. The hosting provider will take care of your virtual server, doing routine stuff like monitoring system conditions and preventing any failures. There’s no need to hire a separate audition team.

  4. It is a computer with everything you need such as a Firewall, real IP-address, etc.

Disadvantages of virtual server

There are some shortcomings too…

  1. The performance of a virtual server would be worse than the performance of the same hardware configuration but for factual implementation. In fact, users of VS will get only part of the PC’s equipment; other webmasters and developers will get the rest.

  2. Even though you have access to many segments of the actual OS, you don’t have an opportunity to interact with the actual hard disc or CPU of the PC. That’s why some functions might be unsupported or inaccessible.

  3. Usually, hosts revoke some administrator’s permissions from users of a virtual server. So you’ll lose the opportunity to edit any of the system files or any low-level components.

VPS and VDS

vds vs vps

We have two abbreviations: VPS and VDS. The first one stands for Virtual Private Server and the second one for Virtual Dedicated Server. Both are the same technologies in general. Both terms mean one of the ways to rent and use a server. But some users see a slight difference in these. So, dedicated server vs the virtual server, which is better?

You might stumble upon the opinion that VPS is a server that works with OpenVZ-technology and VDS with KVM.

OpenVZ — is a software virtualization layer which is installed on Linux Kernel and functions as a copy of that Linux system. You have a lot of virtual PCs but all of them are actually based on one kernel. That brings shortfalls such as an inability to install an OS other than Linux, no way to change the filesystem (ext4 only), software components like PPTP and OpenVPN are restricted, no privacy (the PC administrator has access to your data). But virtual private servers with OpenVZ are ordinarily cheaper.

KVM — is software virtualization implemented by a specific application called «hypervisor». This app creates an isolated copy of the system that transforms into your own fully functional PC. This approach brings many privileges: you choose what OS to install, what filesystem to use, you can even control BIOS, and interact with low-level components like sockets and the kernel. But the most important part is security. Only the renter has access to the KVM server. A virtual dedicated server with this technology would be more expensive.

Windows-based virtual servers

You can rent a virtual server with preinstalled Windows Server OS. It will certainly be a KVM-one with almost uncompromising access to any component or chosen virtual PC.

We would recommend this type of VDS for those who for some reason want to or already work with Microsoft’s software:

  • You are acquainted with applications like Outlook and Office so you want to continue using them while developing an online working environment for your team or maybe yourself.

  • You work with a team that strongly relies on Microsoft’s ecosystem and are used to working with Windows-connected applications only.

  • You want to set up a remote working space with a graphical interface.

Also, a virtual server for Windows is a great place to cooperatively develop products with Microsoft’s proprietary technologies like .NET or using specialized applications like Microsoft Visual Studio.

To create a virtual server with Windows you should either rent an «empty» VPS and manually install Windows there as you would do with a regular PC or choose a plan with Windows preinstalled on your host’s website.

Linux-based virtual servers

This one could be using two different technologies: OpenVZ and KVM. You choose.

We would recommend a virtual server with Linux for those who don’t really need any Microsoft software and at the same time want to have a functional and performing platform:

  • Those who want to gain more control over the used system.

  • Who want to save on renting an expensive and overperforming server using a lightweight Linux-based system with no interface and other «resource hogs».

  • Who would like to use VDS to develop or host projects made using web technologies such as Node.js, JavaScript, etc.

Furthermore, Linux is a safer place to store different kinds of data.

To create a Linux virtual server you usually just need to buy a VPS and that’s it. Ubuntu (Linux distributive) is the number one OS pre-installed on servers. So there’s a 99% chance you won’t spend time installing or reinstalling OSes.

Virtual machine vs virtual server

Both are great tools to develop and test software products but in different ways.

A virtual machine is a virtual PC inside your PC. So it is installed locally via a hypervisor that is included with your motherboard and OS. Basically, it is similar to VDS but you’re the host. It uses your machine’s resources and you decide how many resources the server should take.

Why might you want to use a virtual machine instead of a virtual server? For example:

  1. You have an outstandingly performant computer and a VM would just be a more reliable platform to develop and test your applications.

  2. You want to save money on renting a VDS.

  3. Have poor internet connection and in any case, the VM does its job faster.

  4. Going to work with some confidential data that shouldn’t be stored somewhere on the web.

If that’s not you, a VDS might be a more reliable platform to work with.

Physical servers vs virtual servers

This is fairly straightforward. A physical server is a regular PC that stays somewhere in a data center and never in theory turns off.

Is there a big difference between virtual and actual ones? Not really. Generally, you can use VDS to do all the stuff you can do on a dedicated server. There would be almost no drawbacks. Because, as we pointed out earlier, KVM-technology makes it possible for users of VDS to access even things like BIOS.

The only reason you might want to go with a dedicated server is performance. It will be fast enough to deploy some complex and resource-intensive projects like gaming worlds where it is absolutely necessary to keep things going fast (in terms of CPU and RAM capability and internet connection capability too).

Are there free virtual servers?

Yes, but we wouldn’t recommend using them. Moreover, we would recommend avoiding them.

It seems a great opportunity to host your project on a free server. Nothing to give and a lot to get. But that’s not really true.

Free virtual server hosts will negatively affect your app or website because its hardware and software are usually quite slow. There’s no incentive for such servers to provide adequate speed of loading and operating.

Free servers give you only third-level domains. So you’d have to forget about good SEO scores.

A host would severely limit the amount of free space for your files. Of course, you would never have any control over the server.

The free server is free for you but not for the provider, so don’t be fooled by the «price». The provider will definitely try to make money out of you. For example, he might put an ad on your site or in your app without your consent. Or secretly will sell your confidential data to advertisers.

By using a free server you should be prepared to lose all of your content at any moment without any warning. So, as you can see, the price is high.

How to choose a virtual server?

In choosing a virtual server you must consider 5 key criteria:

Linux or Windows

We discussed it above, so reread that part and decide what OS do you want (or need) to use on your VDS.

Hardware

Modern technologies give hosting providers the ability to serve developers and webmasters with a certain performance level. You may without any hesitation choose VDS based on this information. For small apps and sites, you don’t need a superpowerful PC but you should definitely consider an option with SSD storage.

Geolocation

The closer the server to a user of an app or site the faster it works for him. Try to choose one that will be fast enough for everyone.

Control Panel

Besides the command line, you will sometimes use the Control Panel to interact with the server. So it should be user-friendly and functional enough to fulfil your needs.

Best virtual servers

You can find thousands of hosts around the web, but there are some big names you must consider as the best solution. For example Digital Ocean. One of the most modern and reliable providers that are quite popular and relatively inexpensive. Additionally, you might consider the IBM platform and rent VDS there.

If you don’t really need to control your server but want to host an app or website in a few clicks with the power and quality of Microsoft’s and Amazon’s ecosystems, you might want to consider Hostman as your provider.

best virtual server

It makes managing any web project or application a breeze, so you can concentrate on the creative part of your work while delegating all routine tasks to the Hostman’s professional administrators.

You can try with free7 days trial. Create your virtual server here.

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