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How to Pick a Server for Your App

With the number and variety of apps built or being built today, the line between app types has become a little fuzzy. This has resulted in the often-asked question of “What should I host it on?” You might be surprised that there is a pretty structured answer to this question.

Choosing the correct server for your app has become in many ways similar to picking the right web hosting solution for websites. These two web elements have become equally complex in requirements, and many similar points exist in both.

Because of these similarities, we’ve cut a complex question into one which can be split similarly to how web hosting is categorized: Shared, Virtual Private Server (VPS) / Cloud, and dedicated server. Each of these has its pros and cons, and choosing the right one is vital to the health of not just your app but your fiscal bottom line as well.

Is it Even Possible to Use Shared Hosting?

Perhaps the biggest question mark in the choice of server for app deployment is shared hosting. We all know shared hosting is often the cheapest choice, but it may surprise you to learn that it is a viable option in some cases.

Shared hosting is easy to manage, which means a lot less technical overhead for your development team to handle. While other characteristics such as relatively poor security and resource management are relatively standard, features may vary between hosting providers.

This variation is especially true when it comes to environment support for apps. For instance, you may need to use Ruby on Rails, Git, Perl, or even Python for your app. These are features that may be available with shared hosting plans from some web hosting providers.

Remember that most web hosting providers cater to a mass market - of which developers aren’t their prime concern. In some cases, specific environments may be available even if not publicized, so check with them if you are interested.

When to Choose Shared Hosting for your App

The first consideration is the environment you need to run the app. As long as that fulfilled, there are a few other types of cases where shared hosting may work for you. Apps suitable for shared hosting should have:

  • Lower security requirements
  • Minimal backend processing needs
  • Low to moderate user traffic

How Much Will Shared Hosting Cost?

Shared hosting will likely be the cheapest hosting option for your app, with a few exceptions. Some hosts think their shared hosting plans are gold-plated. While those are often of good quality, the price hike is seldom worth it.

If you’re going to use shared hosting for your app, expect to pay between $1 to $15 per month for it. The wide price discrepancy is usually due to the resources that come with the plan, not necessarily particular features.

If this doesn’t describe something suitable for your app, you’ll need to move on to the following consideration: VPS.

Virtual Private Server is a Strong All-round Option

Virtual Private Server is a Strong All-round Option

Caption: Virtualization splits physical servers into multiple virtual machines (Source: ResearchGate)

Where apps are concerned, VPS is often a solid choice for many reasons. The first consideration is flexibility. VPS accounts typically come as blank slates - how you set them up is entirely up to you.

This situation brings two essential benefits. Firstly, you can run the bare minimum needed to support your app, thus streamlining resource usage. The second is that anything can be supported, so long as you deploy the required features on your server.

VPS server resources are dedicated, meaning once allocated, only you get to use them. This feature guarantees availability when in times of need. Most importantly, they are often instantly scalable so that you can add on more as necessary.

The scalability of VPS means that you don’t have to pay for overprovisioning. Holding on to an excessive amount of resources is not just wasteful but also very expensive. A good rule of thumb would be to observe how many resources your app uses and top that up by roughly 10% to reach an optimal figure.

VPS accounts are also secure since virtualization technology creates isolated “bubbles” that each VPS will reside. Even though multiple VPS accounts share the same physical hardware, they won’t interfere with operations.

Traditional VPS versus Cloud

We aren’t separating traditional VPS and Cloud VPS since they’re essentially the same thing. However, do note that Cloud hosting doesn’t necessarily equate to VPS. Cloud primarily refers to the infrastructure hosting is based on, which is distributed computing.

For example, some shared hosting plans are based on Cloud infrastructure as well. Since this is the case, don’t get confused if you see VPS and Cloud sometimes associated incorrectly. In the context of app deployment, both traditional and Cloud-based VPS offer most of the same benefits.

When to Use VPS hosting

Given these multiple advantages, VPS is usually a distinctly better alternative to shared hosting. Most apps will do well in VPS environments, except those which are more mission-critical. For that, you may have to consider going full-hog and hopping onto a dedicated server.

How Much Will VPS Hosting Cost?

VPS plans also come in a wide range of prices, which depend on a few key factors. The most prominent contributor to cost will be for resources allocated. However, licensing fees for some applications also have to be considered.

Finally, there is a big difference between Managed and Unmanaged VPS plans. The former comes with extensive support and a host who will handle the technical management of your VPS for you.

Unmanaged VPS is much cheaper, but you will need knowledge of servers and networking to set up and operate your server.

Expect to pay anything from $10 to over $100 per month for VPS hosting. Managed plans with similar features will cost at least 50% more than their unmanaged counterparts, in some cases even more.

Dedicated Servers: Expensive But Powerful

Dedicated servers are similar to VPS in many ways. You get the same full-time, exclusive access to resources, a secure environment, and a completely blank slate to do with as you will. The most critical difference is that while VPS offers software-based isolation, dedicated servers have your app alone sitting on the hardware.

For applications that require high-security levels, there isn’t anything that offers more potential than a dedicated server. Of course, this can come at an enormous price since you’ll have to pay for the entire server, even if it’s under-utilized.

How Much Will Dedicated Servers Cost?

Here’s where you fork out the big bucks. Dedicated servers are likely to cost you anywhere from $80 per month onwards, and that’s a very conservative price. Depending on the hardware configuration you want, it can quickly scale up will into the hundreds-of-dollars each month bracket.

Final Thoughts: Making the Right Choice

By now, you should see the main options available for hosting your app and even have some idea of which might be right for you. Essentially, the best hosting choice for your app depends on you, not any particular service provider.

Our advice is to go for unmanaged VPS if you have the skills to manage it. This type of server is the ideal balance of price versus performance, especially where app hosting is concerned.

About The Author

Jason is the outreach manager and digital marketer from >WebRevenue.io, a company that provides digital marketing for startups and online businesses. Jason loves to blog about his experience in web marketing.

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