Selecting a VPS provider is a difficult and important choice. It might seem at first that choosing one over another doesn't matter that much: after all, the advertised price for a single server is only a few tens of dollars or euros and there is no apparent long term commitment.
But in reality, the choice you make today will impact your budget, your daily work, your users experience and your ability to grow for a long time. Why? Because moving from one provider to another will be difficult once your applications, your data and your dependencies are all settled in the same place. Therefore it might be a multi year commitment that you implicitly make to a provider and you should consider the cost of that investment in full.
You also need to consider your plans for the future, are you going to grow and will the provider make it easy for you? Will the provider have the features you need when you need them? Are they easy to use and reliable? Ask yourself those questions now before making a choice.
This guide is targeted mostly at users who want a little more from their provider than just a single VPS and who will be able to manage their servers by themselves.
The first experience you'll have with a provider is with its pricing and billing.
You want a clear and transparent monthly pricing or even better, hourly pricing. But if you need a server for the short term, double check the hourly price, it might not match the monthly price (hourly x 24 x 30 can be much greater than the monthly price at some providers).
It is important that the provider does not force you into multi years commitments. Setup fees, year long contract requirements to get the advertised prices, automatic renewals at higher prices, lack of a cancellation option in the UI, those are the trademarks of providers who actually want to lock you in and shake you down.
I'm personally okay with providers that charge my credit card or Paypal automatically every month, the last thing you want is to have your servers destroyed from under you because you forgot a payment. In fact leaving your CC number in the provider files is convenient because it allows separating the server management concerns from the billing concerns, making the former a lot easier.
On every provider page at vpsbenchmarks.com, for each plan you'll find if the provider offers hourly billing and if it applies a discount or a surcharge for long or short term use respectively.
If you plan to use the VPS as a web server then the datacenter locations do matter. Even if there is only one location available, there must be one that is close to your visitors. The round trip time between your server can be anything between 10ms and 300ms, 10ms within France for example and 300ms between the US east coast and Australia. A typical website will require at least 3 sequential round trips before the first page can begin rendering (TLS handshake -> HTML download -> JS/CSS download). That may not be the largest factor delaying the page display but the impact of round trip time should not be neglected.
If you really can't find a datacenter close to your visitors or if they are scattered all over the world, consider using a CDN (Content Distribution Network) such as CloudFront or Cloudflare to cache your static files in locations that are close to the user. A CDN will improve the user experience and reduce the load on your servers.
If it's not a web server but you personally will spend a lot of time connected to the server, you should prefer a server closer to your own location.
Every provider page at vpsbenchmarks.com shows the list of countries where datacenters are available.
Once your account is setup including billing, it should not take more than 4 clicks to create your server
Okay, 5 because you also need to press the submit button.
If you don't have SSH keys, the provider should pick a complex password for you and show it in the UI. User picked passwords are notoriously weak leaving new servers vulnerable.
Linode, UpCloud, Vultr, Clouding.io, Lunanode, Kamatera, DigitalOcean, VPS2DAY all do an excellent job making the server creation process fast and easy.
It is nice when a new server comes to life in less than 15 seconds. But is it critical? No, not unless you create servers extremely frequently. It does become annoying if it takes more than five minutes.
See Provisioning times.
Naturally performance of the server must be central to your decision. A well performing server will reduce your cost because you will need fewer servers in the first place to handle the same amount of work. It's not unusual for a server from one provider to be twice as powerful as server with the same specs and the same price from another provider.
If you run a website, a fast VPS will also make your visitors happy because they will be able to view your site faster.
VPSBenchmarks grades cloud servers in 5 performance categories. Which category matters most for you depends on your workload. If you're not sure, it's safe to focus on the overall score in the Screener or the Best VPS rankings to find the server with the best performance.
All management UI must let you start and stop your server, that's the bare minimum. A small number of providers have qualms about this but it's also essential that it lets you destroy the server, you don't want to keep paying or have to negotiate with support when the server is no longer needed. It also matters that the UI is smooth and fast.
It might be all you need if you're just managing a single server, most other tasks you can do from within the VPS.
Providers that shine during the setup are usually also beyond reproach in the management UI area.
But if your business or your project is above a certain size, you will need more features and most of them will only be available though the UI or through an API.
It can't be repeated often enough: make backups.
Backups are the first extra feature you need, most providers offer them. Ease of use and costs vary.
Use the Feature comparison page and the Storage Prices page to find the best options.
Next, you're going to need more space to store your data. That comes in the form of Object Storage to store individual files that can be shared between servers or Block Storage to attach extra disk drives to a particular server. Here again the storage prices and the Features comparison pages are your friends.
As your team grows, you might also want to give more than one user the permission to manage a server. Many providers let you do that but not all. This feature is referred to as "Teams" at vpsbenchmarks.com.
If you're using multiple servers to host the same application, you will probably also need a load balancer to distribute the traffic across those servers.
So on and so forth. Check the Feature comparison page to find out if a provider offers the features you need now or will need tomorrow.
Vultr, Linode, Genesis, OVHcloud, IONOS, Aruba Cloud, DigitalOcean, Lunanode, Genesis, Kamatera all have at least the minimal set of features you will need to expand.
Azure, AWS, Google Cloud Platform have all the features you can dream of and a lot more. The downside of this is that their UI can get very complicated and the billing obscure.
VPSBenchmarks doesn't have much to say about those topics since we don't evaluate them.
I can say 2 things:
The same goes for support, it is important but the quality of provider support is hard to measure beyond anecdotal experiences. In any case, don't set your expectations too high.
It's a good sign if your provider has a status page reporting the status of all products in all regions, the most recent incidents and resolution progress. See the one from Vultr for example.
It is a minimum that the provider offers a ticketing system. It must be accessible easily as opposed to being hidden in small print below a wall of self help articles. Live chat with support is a big plus.
That should be enough to get you started. Happy VPS hunting!
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