A shared server may be a lot better than a VPS

web serversA lot of people seem to believe that what host companies call a “VPS”, or Virtual Private Server, is simply an upgrade from a shared server and automatically better for the sites hosted on it. For example, in this article, the author states flatly: “Shared hosting sucks. End of discussion.” She goes on to suggest that anyone with shared hosting upgrade to “better hosting”, and recommends a VPS (or a dedicated server).

Well, luckily it isn’t “end of discussion” at all, because that advice is simplistic at best, and at worst potentially misleading and harmful.

I have just finished migrating 22 websites, mostly WordPress or otherwise database-driven, from a VPS (Virtual Private Server) to a Shared Server. This was a lot of work – I’d estimate about 50 hours.

So why did I do it? Do I just love staring at a computer screen for 50 hours without earning a cent? I guarantee you that’s not the case. The reason I moved all of my client sites from a VPS back to a shared server was that the VPS had crashed several times, bringing down all of my clients’ sites, something which has never happened to me on a shared server, not in 14 years.

When I contacted my host company, HostGator, they explained in detail that the only advantage to a typical VPS over shared hosting was that a VPS allows root access. Virtual Private Servers are not by any stretch of the imagination inherently more secure. They are not literally separate physical servers, and a VPS customer’s websites can be affected by malicious scripts from other customers’ installations, just as can occur with shared servers. They are not inherently more stable; in fact, unless they are carefully managed by the customer, they are mostly likely less stable. And a VPS may very well have less resources available than a shared server. If the customer is like me, and under the impression that “shared servers suck” and VPSs are just better, she may be in for a rude awakening.

This, despite the fact that a VPS normally costs many times more per month than a shared server.

This seems to make no sense, but as the HostGator manager explained, a VPS is basically a server which the host company does not consider its responsibility in terms of management. In contrast, though a shared server may have hundreds of customers’ websites hosted on it, the host company is responsible for keeping it up and running, and spends lots of human resources making sure that those concerns are covered.

The “private” part of “Virtual Private Server” is that the customer is responsible for – has the privilege of, if you like – managing the server’s resources himself. If he doesn’t realize this, he’ll have frequent server crashes, as I did.

I had no idea that by making what I naively assumed was a big upgrade to “better hosting”, I was actually losing the crucial server management that I had always enjoyed when using good-quality shared hosting.

Again, according to the manager I spoke with at length at HostGator, the real difference between shared hosting and a VPS is that the host company keeps its hands off of the VPS, and that the customer has root access.

This has been a hard lesson for me. Not only did I spend more than four times more every month on the VPS than I would have on a shared server, but the results were much poorer in terms of stability. I had 3 major server crashes in as many months, in which every one of my client websites was completely down until I became aware of it and rebooted the server myself.

The support person who helped me the first time this happened with my VPS seemed to have an attitude that puzzled me at the time. Though he was polite and helpful, it almost seemed like this somehow wasn’t his problem. How could that be, I wondered? I had a fancy VPS – shouldn’t I be getting even better support, if anything? I realized later that I was supposed to know about rebooting the server, and he was just a little impatient with the fact that I needed help.

When I responded to the “end of discussion” article with some of this information, another commenter responded:

Patty, I totally agree with you. Looking at the system logs, one may be surprised by the large number of attackers who try to break into your VPS server. If you use a VPS, you need to plan for a good system admin to tighten up the security for you. Otherwise, paying for some high end shared hosting may be a better choice.

Another colleague on a web developers forum shared:

I discovered there’s a big catch in VPS server plans. Unless you get a
really high-end plan, the available resources are actually less than with a shared plan and you really have to work at managing them.

Dedicated servers are a very different situation, of course, and we can save that for another conversation.

And I’m definitely not saying that all shared hosting is better than all VPSs, by any means, or even that all shared hosting is decent or adequate. The point is that on most hosts, “upgrading” to a VPS is not what many web developers seem to think it is, and that good quality shared hosting may very well be a much better option for you and your clients.

Probably still not “end of discussion”, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Posted in web hosting Tagged with: , , ,

Empty Cache Button for Firefox

I have been sticking with Firefox as my main browser for some time now, mostly because of just a few add-ons that make a big difference to me as a web developer. First and foremost is Firebug. Yes, it’s available for other browsers, but only in a form which is nowhere near as good. Another is View Source Chart.

So I wanted to mention another one I’ve found that I really like and use all the time. It’s called Empty Cache Button. It puts a neat little button in the toolbar which does the same thing as digging through Firefox’s strangely not obvious or convenient menu item for clearing the browser cache. With Empty Cache Button, I can clear the cache in one quick click. What can I say – it’s just really handy.

Posted in Browsers Tagged with:

When You Need WordPress Comments to STOP!

comments_wordcloudIt’s easy to prevent a WordPress site from getting comments in the first place. It’s not even that hard to keep comment spam from appearing.

But what about a site which has a lot of posts and has been receiving comments for some time – what if you need to stop them completely? I recently dealt with this on two different client websites. My clients had had enough of dealing with comments, and just wanted them shut down, and I found out the hard way that it’s a lot harder than you might think.

My recent blog post tutorial on WPMU.org addresses this issue in detail.

Hopefully a future release of WordPress will include an option to easily turn off comments completely. But until then, it will require either a number of steps, a plugin, or edits to the WordPress core files. My tutorial explains how to do it.

Posted in WordPress comments Tagged with: , ,

Google Glass – one giant leap for the huddled masses?

Man wearing Google GlassLast night I watched Sergey Brin’s TED video “Why Google Glass?”. I knew about Google Glass, of course, and I readily admit that the technology behind it is very impressive and has great possibilities.

But this was the first time I heard an explanation, right from the horse’s mouth, of why they created it – what problems it is meant to solve –  and I found that even more amazing, but in an “amazingly ridiculous” sense.

His main point seemed to be that we should stop “hunching over our computers”. To illustrate this, he made the audience wait for a few moments while he pretended to be reading an email on his smartphone. Lame, right? Yup, I’m totally with him so far. It’s completely dumb to be out  and about, with all of the color and motion of life going on around you, and be hunching over a small computer looking at the screen and poking at it with your thumb.

Google’s  solution to this is Google Glass – the computer is very small, it sits on your head, and it’s voice-responsive. So their world-class engineers managed to solve two problems – you don’t have to hunch over it, and you don’t have to poke at it with your thumb.

What I almost can’t believe is that they missed the most obvious solution to that problem: just don’t stand around hunched over a smartphone.

You see, I hardly ever hunch over a smartphone at all. I think experiencing  life without the mediation of computerized information is awesome, and I do my very best to spend as much time as possible doing that. And then when I need to use a computer, I use  one – a modern, powerful one – in an attractive, comfortable posture.

When I’m done researching or communicating or creating with the computer, I jump right back into the coolest thing I know – living life fully engaged, senses wide open and undistracted, mind  focused.

I realize that their supposedly brilliant concept is that you can do both at the same time – use  all of your senses and your body and mind, and also be barking orders at an electronic device and taking in what it offers back at you.

I beg to differ, drastically and passionately. This kind of thinking is behind the absurdly stupid concept of “multi-tasking”, when it is used to mean that it’s a good thing to spread yourself really thin and never focus on anything, in order to seem busy and important, or because you are deluded into thinking that you’re accomplishing more than if you focused.

The Google Glass demo video is a headache-producing barrage of video taken by people skydiving and ballet-dancing  and doing all kinds of exciting life activities, which you can’t do  while you’re using your  iPad or smartphone or laptop. I admit it – you can’t skydive and use a computer at the same time, normally. They’ve got me on that one.

But I can’t think of a single reason why having a tiny computer strapped to your head makes skydiving a better experience for you. Sure, mounting a video camera on somebody who is doing these things produces great videos, but we’ve been doing that for years without Google Glass.

It seems to me that Google Glass is a giant step for mankind in the awful direction of avoiding life itself more and more.

Having said that, I hope that the technology they’ve created can be used to help people with disabilities, or for other uses one can easily begin to imagine. But as the next step beyond for the huddled masses of semi-zombies currently using smartphones to avoid the beautiful, focused life they’re so terrified of, its just sad.


Posted in Technology Tagged with: , , ,

I love Distraction-Free Writing

Writing requires focused concentration. For many of us, WordPress’ Edit Post screen is not an environment that lends itself to focused concentration. I don’t think I was aware of how much I didn’t like it until I tried the clean, soothing Distraction-Free Writing feature.

If you aren’t the kind of writer who blasts music, talks on the phone and sends text messages while you’re “working”, don’t miss this feature. It’s been part of WordPress for some time now, and I’m finally getting in the habit of using it. From what I hear, not everybody is crazy about it, but I find it very conducive to productivity.

It’s very simple. On any Edit Post or Edit Page screen, choose Visual Mode, and then click the toolbar button shown below.


If you’re working in Text Mode, click the Toggle full screen button shown below.


When you press that button and switch to distraction-free writing mode, you’ll see your post or page content and a stripped-down set of formatting buttons above it, appropriate for either Visual Mode or Text Mode. As long as the cursor is outside of the editing box itself, the minimalistic toolbar is available, and works just as it does in the regular Visual Editor screen.

When you put the cursor into the actual writing area, the toolbar fades quietly away, along with the border around the writing area and the word count, a bit like family members backing out of the room after you’ve just barked at them that you’re trying to get some work done. You’re left with a pure, snowy white screen, with only the scintillating brilliance of the words you’ve typed.

To use the toolbar, or see your word count, just move the cursor outside the writing area, and they smoothly fade back in.

Switch back and forth between Visual Mode and Text Mode just as you would when using the regular old Edit Page screen.

To take the meditative environment a step further, in all the major browsers, press F-11 to remove all of the browser’s own toolbars and tabs and go completely full-screen. Press F-11 again to return to your previous browser state. WordPress’ Distraction-Free Writing mode will still be in effect until you click Exit fullscreen.


Give it a try – it just might turn you into the next Maya Angelou or F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Posted in WordPress Dashboard