VPS vs VPN: What's the difference?

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The IT world is complicated, almost intimidating at times. So much technical jargon and endless abbreviations make it quite hard to understand for everyday users. 

Choosing the right software for your needs can then be daunting work. Particularly, the name of the technology itself can be pretty confusing much of the time. 

If you came across a Virtual Private Server (VPS) and a Virtual Private Network (VPN), you might be puzzled about the difference between these two software types and what they can actually do. Even though their acronyms differ just by one letter, they are two distinct pieces of tech with a very different end goal

Let's have a look at the differences, advantages and disadvantages of VPS and VPN to help you choose the right service according to your needs. 

What is a Virtual Private Server (VPS)? 

A VPS is the piece of tech you want if you are interested in setting up your own website. As the name suggests, it is a hosting service that enables you to host your site on a virtual server environment

A server can be seen as the home for all the data and files that make up your website. Every time you add some elements or make some changes, that information is all stored in this space. 

It is private because the server is reserved for you. You don't have to share RAM, bandwidth or any other data with other accounts. A VPS separates your files from other users connected to the same operating system (OS).

Finally, it is virtual as its technologies are able to divide your physical server in multiple virtual components that support several accounts simultaneously. A VPS is built on top of the server's OS using virtualization methods similar to Virtual Machines (VM) software. Check our virtual machines guide to know more.  

What's special about a VPS? 

VPS services are not the only web hosting solutions out there. To truly understand where this software sits among those, we should first have a look to the other available methods to set up your website.

When using shared hosting, its key elements like RAM and cloud space are split between all the users. This solution is really popular mainly for its simplicity - you don't need great IT skills to set it up - as well as its cheaper rates. 

If you are expecting huge traffic volumes coming through your website, it might not be the right host for you, though. The sharing of resources could indeed affect the overall site performance.   

On the other hand, dedicated hosting is exactly the opposite. In this case, you will be allocated a server just for you to use. That means that all the resources will be entirely yours. You will also have the freedom to customize the software to best meet your own needs. 

A VPS lays exactly in between these two. If the same hardware hosts several websites at the same time, its virtualization technology creates a virtual space that will support only your domain. That means that you will have your own operating system, a dedicated storage space, a powerful processor, scalable RAM and unlimited bandwidth solely supporting your activities.  

web hosting

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The positives of VPS

Using a VPS brings then several advantages. These include:  

  • Better performance: As we have seen before, higher-traffic websites benefit from dedicated resources for better running. With a VPS, the speed of your site won't be affected by other users' activity as just you will have access to the resources allocated to your virtual server. 
  • More freedom: A VPS allows you to customize the software to best suit you, without the need to ask permission from your host provider. You can easily adding new features - like a bigger disk storage - or simply scale down resources that you are not using.
  • Privacy friendly: Storing your data in a private server is also a better way to secure you sensitive information. VPS offers users reliable resources together with enhanced security features to protect the privacy of the website host and its visitors.  
  • Good value for money: Even though a VPS is more expensive than a shared hosting solution, it is certainly cheaper that a dedicated web hosting subscription. It is then a good solution to cope with sharing issues while saving some bucks.  
  • Available as a cloud-based solution: Cloud VPS hosting is now a viable alternative to cope with some of the cons of VPS or dedicated host services. Available on a pay-as-you-go model, you'll only spend what you need. Read our guide of the best cloud VPS hosting services around to know more. 

The downsides of VPS

VPS hosts are not perfect though. They have a few downsides that you should keep in mind before subscribing. 

VPS are not easy to install and maintain. If you are an inexperienced user or your business lacks a dedicated IT team, this software may bring you more troubles than comforts.  

The price, even though cheaper than a dedicated hosting server, might be still too much for small businesses or start-ups that are looking to save money.  

Plus, the allocation of resources can be problematic at times. For instance, if another website linked to the same physical server is running at huge traffic, you may see your site performance slowing down. 

VPN encrypting a flow of data

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What is a Virtual Private Network (VPN)?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a completely different tool. You can think of it as an encrypted tunnel over your internet connection that makes your online activities secure and anonymous. 

When browsing the web through a VPN, you choose a server among a network of available ones. Some of the best providers offer a huge choice across several locations worldwide. 

Your activities are private as the VPN hides your IP address whilst encrypting your data. In this way your sensitive information is protected from snoopers - whether it's your ISP or authorities - and other malicious intents. The top services all use the best encryption protocols, like OpenVPN and WireGuard to name just a couple.  

Lastly, it is virtual as everything happens in cyberspace - without the need for a physical hardware. 

Why use a VPN?

Beside protecting your privacy, hiding your IP address can have several advantages. That's why VPNs can be really handy for different purposes. 

Masking your real location will allow you to bypass geo-restrictions that streaming platforms apply on their content. This feature have provoked a spike in popularity of streaming VPNs

This security service also enables you to avoid ISP throttling and torrenting restrictions. A torrenting VPN is essential for downloading torrents securely - check our guide on how this software can protect you from the dangers of torrenting if you want to know more.   

It is also worth mentioning that a VPN cannot shield you from every risk of the online world, but it can certainly lessen those threats considerably. Head on our explainer to check your service's security.

VPS vs VPN: Choose the best for your needs

As we have seen, VPS and VPN do not have much in common - except for the name, at least. The first is a technology meant for those looking for a secure and reliable website hosting solution, whilst the latter improves the security of your online connections. 

Being that they serve very different purposes, you would never have to choose one software over the other. You can actually use the two together to boost even more your overall online experience. 

While VPS use is specific to those who want to set up their own website, a VPN is a much more popular software for supporting everyone browsing online in many different ways. 

Chiara Castro
Senior Staff Writer

Chiara is a multimedia journalist committed to covering stories to help promote the rights and denounce the abuses of the digital side of life—wherever cybersecurity, markets and politics tangle up. She mainly writes news, interviews and analysis on data privacy, online censorship, digital rights, cybercrime, and security software, with a special focus on VPNs, for TechRadar Pro, TechRadar and Tom’s Guide. Got a story, tip-off or something tech-interesting to say? Reach out to chiara.castro@futurenet.com