ADD Hacker's Introduction to VPS Web Hosting for the Squeamish

ADD Hacker Mentality

ADD Hacker Mentality

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a condition that plagues many in our society and has a variety of symptoms, well beyond the scope of this article. The main ADD symptom, to which I can relate, is the inability of staying focused while attending to daily, mundane tasks. For example, I can be easily distracted, tend to bounce from one activity to another, or take on way more than I can handle. Many times, this is accompanied by the tendency to become completely absorbed in tasks that are stimulating and rewarding. My wife often comments that she doesn't understand how I'm able to spend hours on the computer. I become completely absorbed in the latest stimulating computer project and that's where the hacker mentality comes in.

I espouse the term 'hacker' in the most positive sense and am completely repelled by those who embrace the negative aspects associated with this term. I'm highly motivated by continually trying to tweak every last bit of performance out of the specific hardware platform or software package that I'm working with at any given time. The classic response to my behavior relating to web hosting platforms is, "Why fix it if it ain't broken?" My response counters, if I can improve it in any way, "Why wouldn't I?"

I entered upon this daunting quest of finding the almost perfect web hosting platform in a mostly unsuspecting way. I started out in typical fashion with shared hosting through the same company that was my domain registrar. After purchasing several domains through a different registrar at a more competitive price point, I found myself using a shared hosting plan for each domain. It didn't take me long to realize I could host all my domains on a single reseller hosting plan.

This worked fine for a few years, until I decided I wanted to play around with the Linux command line, known as Secure Shell Access (SSH). I quickly discovered there were restrictions on what I was allowed to do, because the web hosting company couldn't let me screw up their server. That's when I discovered Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting, so I quickly signed up for a monthly trial. That was a rude awakening. Where was my control panel and all the bells and whistles, I'd grown accustomed to having at my disposal? I felt like a fish out of water and didn't have a clue what I was doing.

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After failing miserably in this misguided venture, I canceled my trial and retreated to safer and more familiar ground. Yet, the lure of performance and complete control over my server environment, refused to go away. Something told me the promised land of web server freedom was a goal worthy of seeking. I began to arm myself with the knowledge and tools I required to successfully fulfill my quest.

Successful pursuit of VPS freedom and excellence can be very rewarding and extremely satisfying. Once you get started down this road, you'll be hooked and there's no going back. In the meantime, never forget the two primary hacker's mantras. "Always be testing and tweaking" (AT&T) and "never leave well enough alone."

Are You Squeamish?

The definition of squeamish is having an unpleasantly nervous or doubtful feeling. If this describes the way "techy" stuff makes you feel, this will ease you into a new mindset. With all the resources, available on the web today, there's no reason why anyone can't do this. Moving from a shared hosting environment to your very own virtual private server is a big step. There may be a variety of reasons for you taking this quantum leap. If you like to experiment with various web technologies, but don't know where to begin, this will be a big help.

The wonderful thing about virtual hosting is your options are wide open. You don't have to worry about messing things up, because you can always destroy your server image and start over. Many VPS hosting companies charge by the hour instead of monthly. You could literally create a server image, run it for an hour, destroy it, and only be charged for the time it was active. At the end of a given month, you're simply billed for the time your virtual server is active. You can have your very own virtual private server for as little as $5 per month.

This is quite a cheap investment when you consider the prospect of expanding your abilities, knowledge base and gaining the satisfaction of accomplishing this on your own. Web site technology is very complex, but can be easy to master if you know how to put together the individual components. There's a wealth of information available on the web today, so there's no reason not to succeed at anything you want to accomplish.

I began my endeavor with searching for the most reliable and user-friendly hosting environment, when I discovered Digital Ocean. They provide all the features you need at a very competitive price. The feature I really love about Digital Ocean is the extensive knowledge base. The sky is literally the limit when it comes to assembling the parts, which will comprise your very own VPS web server. The tutorials they provide play a big part in getting you headed in the right direction and the support they provide is virtually second-to-none.

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If you're still feeling squeamish about the concept of building a server environment from scratch, Digital Ocean gives you a few pre-built options for your consideration. This is definitely less intimidating. I encourage you to check out their web site to get an idea of some of the possibilities. Be careful not to get overwhelmed. Take a deep breath and prepare for your new adventure. You're going to thoroughly enjoy the results.

Why Would You Want to Host Your Site on a VPS?

Earlier I alluded to a few reasons why anyone would want to venture from the safety of the shared hosting environment. On a shared hosting platform, you share all the system resources with all the other users, also hosting their web sites. This may not be a big deal unless you're sharing your web space with a high traffic user. It comes down to how well the server that hosts your site is managed. There's only a limited amount of resources to go around. If someone is using more than their fair share, that will impact the other users.

What if your web site ends up being a higher than normal traffic site? Depending on the server management policies, you could find your site being throttled back. If you want to make your mark in cyberspace, it's only a matter of time before you outgrow your shared hosting environment. VPS hosting isn't for everyone. If you're perfectly satisfied with your shared hosting environment, there's no reason to jump on the VPS bandwagon.

To be perfectly honest, for most people shared hosting is a safe haven of sorts. You have a nice soft cushy control panel with many of the bells and whistles required to run and maintain a web portal. You can literally point and click to access a wide variety of apps. For me, the plethora of available apps was a strong selling feature when deciding upon a hosting company.

It didn't take me long to realize that using Fantastico (or its other commercial script library variants) to install Wordpress, is a major security risk. Also, you're completely dependent upon your provider to ensure the most recent update is applied to your installation. I soon began downloading the latest version of Wordpress and doing a manual install. The only additional requirement was creating a database. The hosting control panel allowed this to be accomplished without much effort.

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Thus, was the humble beginning of my ability to be able to exercise some level of control over my Wordpress installation. This introduces a key ingredient to developing the ADD hacker mentality, which is, always be learning. Knowledge is power and that's what allows you to adapt to and master the wide range of web-based technologies. Knowledge is one thing, but being able to apply what you learn and see instant results, takes your satisfaction to the next level.

If you're the type of individual who loves to learn by doing, then this is definitely for you. You don't have to give up your shared hosting environment and jump straight into a VPS environment with both feet. Continue using your shared hosting until you become completely comfortable with managing your VPS. I experimented for over a year before I completely dumped my shared hosting provider. Now I'd never dream of going back.

I don't even miss the control panel that I once felt I couldn't live without. Control panels and other Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) are simply bloatware that web servers don't need. They use additional system resources and in the web server world, everything counts. I'd rather be utilizing my server resources to run my web sites, instead of a slick looking web administration module.

The most important thing for me is being able to keep my server software up-to-date and this is extremely easy to accomplish with Linux. Your home PC or Mac requires frequent updates and it's no different with a web server. I want my server running at peak performance, which will enable my sites to run fast and be very responsive. Keeping everything current is an important factor in maintaining peak performance.

In the shared hosting environment, you're restricted by the hosting provider's upgrade schedule. In the VPS world, you're in charge, you're calling the shots. I recently came upon a forum post discussing the advantages of upgrading from PHP 5.5 to PHP 5.6. The discussion participants talked about how the PHP 5.6 code ran more efficiently and allowed sites to run faster. One of the participants still hadn't upgraded to the new version. If your hosting company is in this category, you're not getting the best possible performance for your money.

If you're feeling squeamish about the concept of building a server environment from scratch, DigitalOcean gives you a few prebuilt options for your consideration. This is definitely less intimidating. To get an idea of the available one-click install applications, use the following link:

DigitalOcean makes it very easy to get started by giving you a $10 credit. This allows you to try their services for up to two months, without a financial commitment. To take advantage of the credit, use the following link:

If you're not satisfied with your present hosting environment, it may be time for you to make the change. The benefits are well worth the time and effort you'll invest.