Choosing the best Linux hosting for you

Many small businesses get to a point where they take the step beyond shared server hosting for their websites, databases, email, and app backends.

Many small businesses get to a point where they take the step beyond shared server hosting for their websites, databases, email, and app backends.

With a small website and online presence, you can get by with just a few gigabytes on a shared hosting server. But what about when you grow —  and sharing power with all your neighbors means bringing the server to a halt too often? You’ll need more power, and chances are more high-grade features too.

You could be an indie game developer, starting to code in languages not allowed on a shared hosting provider? Maybe you’re an online shop owner who wants to apply a custom payment gateway that is only possible to use on a VPS hosting or Dedicated server? Basic services just won’t cut it anymore

It’s the painful thing about growing: sometimes you have to move. Once you understand that you need to grow your hosting plan, it's time to research the specs for the new plan, compare the pricing, and if there's a choice between Windows and Linux, things get more complicated still.

There are plenty of good reasons to choose the slightly more complex Linux, as we’ll explain next. Once you’ve seen the pros and cons of Linux as a server operating system, and decided a Linux server could be right for your growing business, you have to consider the kind of private server you want to get. There are a few tiers beyond shared hosting: Virtual Private Servers (VPS) or Dedicated Servers, Unmanaged or Managed.

Why Linux?

The world of internet servers is split into two big families based on their operating systems.

Commercially, Windows is established wherever big corporations reside. A lot of organizations are tied down to business software that only runs on Windows. In connecting teams, partners, and clients, Windows uses interlinked servers for project management and databases.

Often when it comes to a big corporation’s IT strategy, the thinking is, “We already have the training. We have a discount on the licenses.” And the machines can be administered through a Graphical User Interface (GUI). They were designed from the ground up to be less intimidating to non-technical managers.

But you have to pay subscriptions for everything. Almost every advanced service Microsoft offers is billed per user, per CPU Windows also has a worse track record on security than Linux.

Linux private servers to the rescue!

In the other corner, the Unix family, of which Linux is a healthy sub-branch, beloved by academic IT departments, development shops, and anyone looking for scalability and security in massive deployments. Linux can look like an anarchic bunch with its decentralized development model, the many branded distributions, and the plethora of open source licenses.

The other side of that tradeoff is that you can learn everything you want about the operating system if you have the time. There are mountains of how-tos, tutorials, and forums out there.

Control panels for Linux

Luckily, over the decades, people have glued a GUI veneer over the Linux pipework. Today the administration of Linux servers is vastly simplified by the addition of a browser-accessible control panel. These interfaces will please anyone who misses the “server administration for dummies” quality of the Windows world. They combine all routine OS operations in an intuitive web app:

  • Installing and patching applications
  • Managing mailboxes
  • Configuring domains and subdomains
  • Managing storage and backups
  • Securing user accounts

The most mature and well-established control panel is cPanel. But unlike so many of the big popular software packages in the Linux world, cPanel is only available as a paid subscription on only a few “Enterprise” distributions.

Other control panels that are free and worth checking out are Webmin, Vesta CP, the user-friendly YunoHost, and the multi-server-supporting ISPConfig.

A quick review of the basics: VPS vs physical servers

Both a VPS and a dedicated server give you the keys to the operating system and to the machine environment of a whole server.

In one case “machine” and “server” do refer to an actual physical box. It is a physical hardware unit dedicated entirely to you. The only resources you share with others in the datacenter are the routers.

A VPS lives in a virtual machine, a simulation of a computer running inside a big machine. The slots on these machines are given out carefully so that your VPS always has its own guaranteed disk space, its own guaranteed RAM, and its own guaranteed allotment of processing power.

On both types of private servers, which version of Linux you run, which extra programs you install, whether you run a control panel or not, how you manage your users: it’s all up to you.

A VPS is a cost-effective way of stepping up to having your own private server. A dedicated server on the other hand gives you precise control of the hardware.

Managed or unmanaged?

If Linux is known for its good security level, that is because the community of developers is responsive to the discovery of vulnerabilities in their code. But you have to keep installing the corrective patches they release, or risk exposing your data to hackers.

If you are worried about keeping up, hosting companies have a solution for you: Managed Servers. For a fee, the hosting company will ensure that your OS stays up to date with the latest security fixes.

Additional managed services can include offsite backups, recovery assistance, and enhanced security. The advantages vary a lot from one provider to the next, so shop wisely.

VPS or dedicated servers

Let’s see which cases call for which type of private server:

Email and collaboration

With a mail server running on your Linux server, you can not only take all your employee-confidential communications in house and organize them to your satisfaction. You can also run your newsletter campaigns with full control and without having yet another service subscription. The first mail servers ran on Unix. In many cases, the Linux world built on this solid foundation to develop fully-fledged, modern solutions covering all email service needs.. Popular open-source mail-transfer options include:

Email processing is not an onerous task if you are a small team with “average” email needs. But shared hosting will not give you full control of email filtering. A VPS can handle this easily up to hundreds of users, or thousands of newsletter recipients. If you start having millions of subscribers, then you might consider switching it up to a dedicated server with beefy hardware.

Development operations

If you're developing your own software, and need to test different virtual environments, a dedicated server or a VPS is the perfect choice. With root access, you have full control over the server. You get an option to install custom modules as needed, play with different versions of programming languages, to check their compatibility and find what works best for your application. Lastly, you can use a VPS as a sandbox to test your updates, discover and fix bugs.

Storefronts and payments

With a private server you can get a fixed IP address, though this varies and depends on the package, so make sure you understand the fine print. What your own fixed IP guarantees is that you will not fall prey to abusive behavior by your neighbors which can result in banned IP addresses, malicious -activity warnings from Google, and significant damage to your reputation if you run a business. 

By taking control of the order flow, you can learn a lot from your subscribers. Then you can leverage a powerful marketing-automation platform built for Linux.

To process the monetary side you have to hook into a payment service provider using their Application Programming Interface from your code or from third-party modules you install on your server.

Multimedia/multichannel content

If you are interested in serving multiple contents in many formats, then a shared hosting arrangement is not enough.

If you have many content creators, you won’t have access to their permissions on the most granular level. If you have to pay for one service for video, one for photos, one for music streaming, another one for podcast audio hosting… Soon those services start owning you, and you incrementally lose ownership of the data these services collect on you and your creators. 

The alternative is to host all these different types of content on your server. You have to choose, install and configure a media server for streaming. 

By using Lesson Management Software, you can tailor subscriptions and promotions to course content on the cheap. Combining the content-management system WordPress with the free version of the MemberPress plugin is a popular way of jumping into this arena. While these are available on shared hosting, if your courses are popular, you will need to resort to more powerful solutions to avoid a crunch on shared resources.

Gaming

Many games come with server components that allow you to host your own multiplayer worlds in that game’s universe. You can invite your friends to join your quests in Quake, to help you build an intricate world in Minecraft, or to venture across the galaxy in Starbound, for example. The majority of these server-side game components are right at home on a Linux server. 

To pick a hosting plan for gaming, you need to estimate the resources needed to run the server for the game you intend to host, given how many players you expect to host and the extensions you are planning on installing. 

The most annoying problem with gaming servers is lag. If the number of players you host and the data volumes required to participate in a session combine to be too high, the experience will be degraded for many of you because of server lag. A dedicated server will give you more headroom and a more precise view of the limits you bump up against.

Databases

For small, non-data-centric companies:

Let’s face it, rarely is a database limit the reason a small, non-tech company decides to upgrade to a private server. It’ll be limited approved software options keeping them from adding a no-SQL solution such as MongoDB, insufficient flexibility in user management, shared storage limits, or security considerations. But it’s almost never literally the database that tops out.

The allowances and features of the standard-issue MySQL databases that come with the typical shared server plan easily cover at least 80% of the Content Management Systems, project-management software, forum software, media servers, and other applications a small, non-AI centric company might want to use. And for the other 20%, it’s some other  readily available open-source database. Therefore, for most businesses, the best virtual servers will cover all needs.

For companies with a data & AI:

If crunching over bigger collections of data is what your business is about, then a private server is a must. You need tweaked database installs with access to lots of storage, lots of RAM, and lots of CPU. In fact, if this describes what you do, it’s possible that you have your own datacenter already, and the in-house competence to run it. But that is not everyone’s case.

You can dive into artificial intelligence using open-source machine-learning libraries. But your resource requirements can rocket as your models become more complex. You need dedicated servers for the savings on RAM and CPU upgrades that you can buy on your physical box.

Conclusion

The main reasons for the popularity of the leading open-source version of the Linux operating system are:

  • It is free to run without licensing fees
  • Thousands upon thousands of developers worldwide submit improvements to the code
  • Security researchers are scrutinizing its code constantly
  • It can be installed on almost any hardware

If a Linux private server is the way you choose to go, then the place you go next will be different if you are a design agency or a multichannel streaming site. You will pick a virtual server if reliable uptime and predictable performance are enough to satisfy your needs. If you require full access to the low-level hardware or peak performances sustained over time, then a dedicated server will be the way to go.



Join Our Newsletter

Stay inspired

Get all the latest offers, articles, and industry news straight to your mailbox every month.

Need help? We're always here for you.