What Can You Do with a Virtual Server?

What Can You Do with a Virtual Server?

This article describes what a virtual private server (VPS) is and how it relates to other major technology concepts: virtual private networks, the virtual machine (VM), shared hosting, and dedicated hosting. We then look at especially compelling reasons to use a VPS and a few of the most prominent ways that one can be used.

 

  • Virtual Private Network vs. Virtual Private Server
  • Getting to Know the Virtual Server
  • Strong Reasons for Adopting a VPS
  • Typical Uses of a VPS
  • Managed vs. Unmanaged

 

Virtual Private Network vs. Virtual Private Server

 

Two major concepts that have closely aligned names are the virtual private network (VPN) and the virtual private server (VPS). While both are virtualized and centered on privacy and security, that’s about as far as the similarity goes.

 

VPN: This technology allows you to securely use the internet and connect to private networks (such as a company’s internal one). All traffic is passed through an encrypted tunnel, and each device uses a remote, proxy server – concealing your IP address, what you do, and where you are.

 

VPS: The virtual private server is an advanced, secure way to divide the resources of a physical server (the main host) within a data center. A hosting provider creates VPSs by slicing up one piece of hardware into multiple, independently operating instances.

 

Getting to Know the Virtual Server

 

Perhaps the best way to approach the virtual private server is the idea of a virtual machine. A VM allows you to run an emulation of a computer within your computer, drawing on the resources of the physical one –  disk space, RAM, CPU, etc. This tactic allows you to run an entirely separate operating system (OS) solely for the purposes of the VM, even if its type and version of OS are identical to what’s on your hardware.

 

Because you only are using a portion of the resources for the VM, you can have several of them running on one computer or server, as is common with hosting services. A hosting provider that offers VPS hosting has a vast number of physical servers that each contain multiple virtual machines. While demarcation and intrusion prevention within the physical machine is not a huge concern on your own PC, VPS hosts must have security safeguards in place to ensure isolation of each customer’s server. That’s why the terminology virtual private server is used – to denote the attention paid to privacy and the server programs that are typically loaded onto this type of VM.

 

Strong Reasons for Adopting a VPS

 

Shared hosting, cloud hosting, and dedicated hosting are the three main alternatives to a VPS.

 

Shared hosting: With shared hosting, your site is stored and served from the same physical machine as many other customers – possibly hundreds of them. All domains are drawing from the same CPU, RAM, and other resources.  This type of hosting is the lowest-priced option. However, your site’s speed and reliability suffer from other users, and you don’t get root access.

 

Cloud hosting: This type of hosting is slightly more expensive than shared hosting (similarly priced to VPS hosting). Rather than using a single server to store and load your site, a cloud system distributes resources across many different computers for faster response times. However, this model typically doesn’t give you root access, and its distributed structure presents fundamental security challenges.

 

Dedicated hosting: This format means that an entire physical server is used solely for your site and applications. While you do have all the resources reserved for your own purposes, a dedicated server is substantially more expensive than shared hosting.

The primary reasons that someone will choose a VPS are performance, flexibility, error-proof sandbox, and security. Let’s look at each of those factors:

 

  •  – Performance – When you switch to a VPS, you will get guaranteed resources. That means traffic spikes on other domains stored on the physical server won’t slow down your site.
  •  – Flexibility – A VPS can be considered your own remote computer. While the primary purpose of a VPS for most hosting customers is to serve websites, you can perform any functions on your VPS (within the hosting provider’s guidelines) as you can on a PC.
  •  – Error-proof sandbox – Virtual private servers give you “do-over” potential because they exist within a virtual sandbox. Damaging a virtual server won’t impact the operating system running on the hardware itself. “The VPS can be rebooted or reinstalled without much issue except maybe for lost data (so always keep backups),” notes Joel Lee of MakeUseOf. “On a dedicated host, a mistake could cause permanent damage.”
  •  – Security – Other users within the physical server can’t hack your virtual sandbox and access your VPS through the relatively simple means they can on a shared server.

 

Typical Uses of a VPS

 

Above, we got a basic sense of what a VPS is and factors that make it attractive. Now, let’s look at some of the ways that this route is useful to people on a day-to-day basis:

 

  1. Serving a website

 

The main reason that someone signs up for a VPS is that they need a server through which to run their site. When you adopt one, you should notice that your site is performing better than it was on a shared account (because of the guaranteed allotment of resources). Also, the full root access gives you better control. You are able to install and get rid of whatever programs you want.

 

Example: You can use a VPS to run your e-commerce platform (Magento, WooCommerce, Shopify, etc.). With the stronger resources of a VPS over shared hosting, you have a competitive advantage over many other sites in terms of stability, speed, and general user experience.

 

  1. Hosting a server or business files

 

Sometimes people will use a VPS to run a Minecraft server or host Mumble for private chatting. Businesses will often use it to host media or other files.

 

  1. Testing

Virtual servers are a cost-effective way to test anything before you bring it live. That includes new environments, operating systems, applications, frameworks, or anything else.

 

  1. Torrents

 

You can use a VPS for torrenting, in which case the machine is called a seedbox. By moving your torrent activity to a VPS, you clear out that bandwidth on your local system and designate a 24/7 machine for that purpose.

 

  1. Backups

 

You can also use a VPS for the storage of key files. That’s something that customers will often do if there is extra space available beyond what they need for their primary purposes. Assuming that it’s leftover space, you are able to effectively get free file storage in this way – and it’s within a private environment, so your security is strong.

 

Managed vs. Unmanaged

 

One final key consideration when you look into a virtual private server is whether you want to get an unmanaged or managed VPS plan.

 

If you are unsure which way to go and perhaps don’t feel technically confident with a VPS, “it is recommended that you go with a managed VPS solution,” advises Creativeoverflow. “[I]t is better to go ahead with a specialist hosting company that can manage the technical aspects of your VPS solution.”

 

*****

 

Are you considering a virtual private server to run your website or for any other purpose? At KnownHost, our hosting packages – all of which are managed based on our 15+ years of experience – offer great speed, incredible support, and a 99.9% uptime guarantee. Compare managed VPS plans.

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Why is Shared Hosting Like Taking the Bus on the Information Superhighway?

Public transportation allows people who can’t afford cars to get where they need to be, and it means you can sit down and read rather than having to focus on the road. In other words, it’s cheap and easy. Those are positive aspects of a vehicle that is structured to fit many people. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a wise idea to put your business website on the bus.

 

What’s the “bus ride” for web hosting? The similarly cheap and easy solution is shared hosting. While shared hosting is the most affordable and accessible type of hosting, it suffers in the same way a trip on public transportation can: security and speed. Let’s look at those two issues in detail.

 

Sharing a Ride Makes You Vulnerable

 

Security is kind of a boring topic to many people, so it’s critical to know why this issue generally deserves greater attention. Even back in 2013, the National Cyber Security Alliance found that:

 

  • – 20% of small businesses get hacked or digitally assaulted every year; and
  • – Of firms that do get targeted, 3 in 5 are bankrupt half a year later.

 

Those statistics are disturbing certainly, but how relevant are they to your situation? Some small businesses are more likely to be attacked than others. Bear this in mind, though: attackers will sometimes go after certain industries, but the key factor in why companies get hacked is not related to industry or value; rather, it’s simply the presence of vulnerability.

 

“Most small business owners still don’t get security, don’t think it’s an issue, and are pretty defenseless,” explained Think Security First consultant Neal O’Farrell. Owners and managers of SMBs often think that a hacker would have to select their company out of tens of millions of others, he said, “not realizing that the attacks are automated and focused on discovering vulnerabilities.”

 

What are the biggest security concerns related to taking the “information superhighway bus” that is shared hosting? As the numerous visitors and internal users of sites share the resources of one server, it makes sense that would be an environment in which there would be greater security risks, both from outside the server and within it.  Think about it this way: the server itself is under greater threat based on the number of sites running on it.

 

“No matter how you try to institute security measures with a shared hosting environment,” noted Web Hosting Provider List, “the fact is that, it is plainly not possible to ensure a 100 percent airtight protection.”

 

The sites on a shared server are positioned on different domains and obviously have disparate login credentials, but they are using the same operating system as other users and typically even share an IP address. Sharing resources cuts the costs of these hosting plans, so they look attractive to startups, nonprofits, and others on shoestring budgets. However, the sharing of resources in this manner means a greater likelihood that your data or services will be compromised.  Major security issues with shared hosting include:

 

  • – An attacker can use reverse IP lookup to get a list of all the sites on a shared hosting server. This method is fast and simple, actually: you can find the information through free services (example tool), the Dig command on Linux (Dig –x <ip address> +short), a search engine (Search Query: ip: <IP Address>), or using a script to automate it.
  • – The behavior of other users that share your IP will impact your online reputation and the continuing strength of your domain. If another site sharing the IP gets blacklisted for spam, your site will get blocked as well.
  • – A hacker can enumerate the CMS installations on the shared server. This tactic is often used because CMS software like WordPress includes the name and version information in the HTML. A vulnerability scanner such as WPScan can be used to gather data on the site, including a list of its plugins, themes, TimThumbs, and usernames. “An example attack would be to bruteforce the admin account of WordPress using a list of commonly used passwords,” explained a report by c0d3inj3cT for the InfoSec Institute. If you don’t have a captcha set up on your admin login page, it could actually be compromised by WPScan using brute force.
  • – Using a shared server puts you at greater risk of malware attacks. Malicious script can be uploaded to other sites, which in turn means that your site can be quickly compromised. The malware may occur because one of the other sites is vulnerable. It provides a channel through which the intruder can steal data.
  • – Customers may have PHP, Perl or shell accounts that make it possible to hit the other sites on the server with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.
  • – Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks may target another site that shares your IP address. In this case, you are hit with a DDoS attack essentially as collateral damage of an effort to hit someone else.
  • -DDoS malware could be loaded onto the server, which could put the hacker in control of the entire server for launching attacks.

 

You Can’t Step on the Gas

 

Taking the bus of shared hosting isn’t just a security concern. It can also significantly slow down your site and dampen the growth of your business. When other riders on the bus have needs, the driver meets them. Just consider the stop-request cord: in this manner, every rider on the bus has a democratic ability to grind it to a halt. You see the same ability of individuals to slow down the ride on shared hosting – with resources handed out “first come, first serve” to all sites, which can lead to slow loading on your site when another site peaks.

 

Security is an issue on shared servers because, basically, there are too many accounts without enough isolated designation of resources; and the same is true of the slow speed that can occur in these environments.

 

Speed is one of the primary arguments many experts mention when they advocate for VPS over shared hosting. Speed and other benefits of the virtual private server are all related in some way to the isolation and pre-allocation of resources that VPS plans allow – versus the “first come, first serve” nature of shared hosting.

 

On a VPS, it doesn’t matter what another customer might be doing on the server; your speed is guaranteed. If you have two CPUs dedicated for your use, then those CPUs will always be there for you to use. The allotment of RAM for which you pay within a VPS are always set aside for you, no matter what other tasks might be running on the physical hardware.

 

Ajeet Khurana of The Balance noted that on shared hosting plans, the performance of a website will fluctuate throughout the day based on how much activity is shared by all the businesses using it. “This never happens on VPS services,” he said. “Your resources are dedicated to your… website.”

 

Getting into the Fast Lane with Managed VPS

 

Do you want to improve the security and speed of your website without having to worry about managing the server yourself? At KnownHost, we offer ultra-high VPS performance with unparalleled support by professionals. See our fully managed VPS plans.

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Tear Down: The Specs to Look for When Choosing a Server

You’ve been tasked with finding a hosting solution for your project. Typically, you’re looking for a way to get a website online. But, there are other reasons why you would need access to a server. Maybe you’re running proprietary software or a web app. Maybe you’re an avid online gamer who wants to set up a server for dedicated multiplayer. There are many reasons beyond having a website that a person would be interested in signing up for a hosting plan. Regardless of the reason you’re shopping around for a host, it’s important to know what your specific needs are.

 

Whether you opt for a VPS or a dedicated server, it’s important to look at the specs on the hardware. While there are certainly tiers when it comes to overall horsepower of a hosting solution, each specific category will have its own specs to peruse. Yes, a VPS is faster than shared hosting and dedicated servers are the fastest of all, but you can get dedicated servers at higher and lower relative speeds.

 

At the end of the day, servers are computers just like the ones you use at home or at work. They have the same components with the same functionality. However, the specs you’d look for when building your own gaming PC differ from the specs you need for a server. It’s not an exact match. You’ll notice pretty significant capacity differences that you wouldn’t even dream of using on a home machine. That’s because performing a task like hosting a website is significantly different than running an entire operating system with an assortment of applications and sufficient space for storing all of your data.

 

Let’s do a virtual tear down of server hardware and examine the major specifications prospective customers should take note of when looking to sign up for a hosting plan.

 

CPU

 

Just like when shopping for personal computers, it’s important to start with the processor since it’s “the brain” of the machine. There are two main manufacturers of processors that you’ll find in nearly every machine: Intel and AMD. Some simpler devices like netbooks use ARM processors, but they haven’t really been adopted for server technology due to their overall low power. Some servers have attempted to use them but the market seems to be highly niche, if not fading away.

 

The two major players have their supporters and detractors. In discussions of PCs this is much more pronounced because there are positives and negatives to both, especially when it comes to high-performance systems and wanting to control costs. With servers, however, it’s generally accepted that Intel is the way to go. This is because, from a performance standpoint, Intel is faster. Intel processors have quicker read and write speeds from memory on a per-core basis. Many of the offerings you see will advertise sixteen cores.

 

When you get to dedicated servers, you’ll begin to see processor choices that more closely resemble the processors you’d find in a high-performance home machine. Most will be familiar with Intel’s i7 processor which is generally considered the top tier for the typical consumer machine. Beyond that is their Xeon line which you’ll find in the most specialized machines designed for maximum performance.

 

Most people shopping for hosting won’t have to worry too much about the processor if they’re only looking to host a website because they’ll be opting for a VPS and won’t need that kind of CPU power. Taxing use cases like heavy software will probably benefit from a dedicated server with at least an i7.

 

RAM

 

If the processor is the brain, the RAM dictates how many different processes the brain can juggle at the same time. It is memory, after all. Choosing the appropriate RAM for your server is when you’ll notice a fairly big difference in comparison to shopping for RAM for a personal computer. While most people will tell you four gigabytes of RAM is the absolute minimum a desktop or laptop should have (and realistically, it’s more like eight gigabytes these days) the same doesn’t hold true for your server.

 

The bare minimum your hosting solution would need is about 512 megabytes but realistically you want to opt for one gigabyte or more. A standard VPS plan starts at the one gigabyte mark and would be fine for simple sites with average levels of traffic. Also keep in mind here that you are using a portion of a machine rather than a whole machine. You’ll notice this difference when you start shopping for dedicated servers and see they start with sixteen gigabytes of RAM.

 

Multiple factors go into having to figure out how much RAM you need. While a definitive calculation is difficult to make, you of course want to opt for more if you can afford it. Here are some variables you’ll want to be aware of.

 

Traffic: The higher the anticipated traffic, the more RAM you’ll need to keep up with demand.

Content Management System: Popular CMSes like WordPress and Drupal need at least one gigabyte of RAM, though two certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Control panels: Software like cPanel will count towards what uses up your alloted RAM.

Scripting languages and databases: Running PHP (like in WordPress) and SQL databases will require higher amounts of RAM.

Applications: Just like on any computer, the more applications running simultaneously on the device, the more RAM needed to keep them working.

 

Storage

 

Finally, let’s look at storage. Like with your own machine, you have a choice between standard hard drives and SSDs. A managed SSD VPS is often a popular choice because you’re getting a significant speed boost by using an SSD. Solid state drives have a few advantages over their spinning hard drive counterparts. For the purpose of a server though, the speed boost is your primary concern. Aspects like greater durability are nice, but that’s really your hosting company’s concern.

 

As for how much storage you need, the answer might surprise you. If you see a plan that offers thirty gigabytes of space, you might be taken aback. Your smartphone has more storage than that. But, you can’t think of hosting like a personal device. If you’re hosting a simple site, all that’s taking up space are text files and visual assets. They don’t add up to much at all. Now, if you’re hosting your email on your server too, you’ll quickly run out of space.

 

Essentially, you need to be aware of what you actually need to keep on your server. Does your site require huge databases? Will you be hosting multimedia? Taking an inventory of your assets before launch will save you a headache down the road.

 

Conclusion

 

We’ve broken down the major components of what makes a server run. However, every situation is unique and you may need more guidance on what monthly plan, exactly, would best suit your needs. You may still be on the fence between a VPS or dedicated server. Would an SSD really be necessary? If you still have questions about what server to choose or you’re ready to get started setting your hosting environment up, contact the team at KnownHost today.  Our experienced staff is always here to help.

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Basic Security Features of Your New Site You Need to Know

Security on the web has been a huge topic of conversation for the past several months, if not years, though our last election cycle has seemed to really spotlight it for the general population. More people than ever have been exposed to a conversation that business owners and IT professionals have been engaged in for years which is trying to find the best ways to protect sensitive data from malicious attackers. The security of your customers and visitors is also of the highest importance. So, what do you need to know to get your new site up to speed as far as standard security protocols?

 

There are a few settings and features to be aware of as you explore the backend environment of your new VPS in an effort to bolster your security. This is a good point to throw in some caveats when we talk about the security of any website. There are no guarantees. Hacking attempts continually get more sophisticated and things can happen despite one’s due diligence. What the following is meant to do is to inform you of some best practices that will help keep your site more secure, but is it in no way a definitive guarantee that nothing will happen to your site if you do “X” things. Taking preventative steps is better than taking no action, of course, so use this information to your advantage.

 

Once you’ve logged into the hosting environment of your VPS, here are some things to keep an eye out for.

 

CSF/LFD

 

The good news about a lot of the terms and acronyms that are going to be coming your way is that they refer to things that are (or should be) already installed on your server. If they’re not, you can contact customer service to get it remedied. So, you won’t have to worry too much about making sure all of these things are in place yourself. Let’s start with CSF and LFD.

 

ConfigServer Security & Firewall (CSF) with Login Failure Daemon (LFD) is a security application that can be accessed through cPanel, which will already be established for you when you log in. CSF/LFD does a few things. It is a Stateful Packet Inspection (SFI) firewall and login and intrusion detector. CSF/LFD sends notifications in the event that something with some importance is potentially happening. That’s to say, getting an alert doesn’t mean you’re in the midst of an attack. But, something worth your attention is occurring.

 

LFD has a variety of useful features built into it that we’ll touch on briefly here. You can read more about these features and examples of the kinds of notifications you’ll receive at our wiki.

 

LFD will automatically perform IP blocks based on reasons that can be configured by the user. By default, you receive notifications each time an IP is blocked. Whether or not you want to disable this is up to you. Depending on your traffic and your filters, you might be getting alerted to things constantly, which would be a distraction. Make sure you’re confident in your configurations before doing this.

 

LFD “keeps an eye out” for things like too many failed login attempts within a short period of time, too many connection attempts being made from a single IP address, certain email issues as they pertain to volume, and successful login attempts through a variety of methods including cPanel or SSH.

 

SSL

 

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is maybe a bit more familiar to people because of its general acceptance as a must have for many sites, especially e-commerce sites where you’re handling sensitive customer information.

 

To explain the technology in brief, having an SSL certificate is important because it signifies you’ve put certain protections in place to ensure the safety of your customers’ information. SSL encrypts the path between the server and the client. When customers type in their credit card information to make a purchase on your site, for example, that information is transmitted securely thanks to encryption instead of the plain text it is transmitted as without SSL. Because one method of stealing information is intercepting it as it is transmitted, SSL is more or less a must have these days.

 

You’ll have to install your SSL through cPanel. To do this, you’ll need to generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) in cPanel which you can do by following our guide. The signing authority you purchase your SSL from will need that CSR to complete your certificate. You can then install the signed SSL certificate through cPanel. You can typically tell if a site has an SSL right from the address bar in your browser. There may be a lock next to the URL to indicate security, or you can look for https:// to precede the site’s address. The key detail there is the S as the unsecured http:// delineates no SSL. If you’re unsure that your SSL has been installed, there are sites online where you can type in your domain name and it’ll tell you.

 

User Decisions

 

Moving along from server issues to issues that are more user based, it’s important to be smart with your content management system (if you’re using one) as well. Popular CMSes like WordPress often find themselves targets of malicious actors because of how widely used they are. It’s important to do your due diligence and ensure that you are regularly updating your CMS’ core software as updates are released. The nature of open source software is such that updates come out frequently because the user base is always inspecting the code. Vulnerabilities can also come from that same public knowledge of the code. It’s important to be on top of those updates because they almost always include security and bug fixes. This need for vigilant updates also applies to plugins, extensions, and whatever other additional modules that your CMS allows you to install to expand functionality.

 

Additionally, if you have multiple users with access to your site, be sure to restrict access to the bare minimum so that they can perform their job. The fewer people that have full administrator access, the better. Passwords should also be complex, a random assortment of characters greater than ten, and not a duplicate of any other password you use for any other service. Password breaches are still one of the most common methods of unauthorized entry to a site. Most of the time it’s because the user was either phished or the password was something relatively easy to guess.

 

Finally, backups are critical. Your host may perform backups for you, but you should still manually save things yourself on a local drive whenever possible just to be doubly sure you always have your information in the event of something going wrong. As a best practice, one backup of something is never enough.

 

Conclusion

 

At KnownHost, we value customer satisfaction. That’s why we want to set you up for success. Whether it’s needing faster hosting solutions than you’re already using, you have questions about security, or you’re looking to establish a web hosting reseller business, we’re available to help. Contact our team today and we’ll get you setup with the hosting that you need.

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