Technology changes to fast these days that it can be difficult to stay on top of all the marketing buzzwords, acronyms and terminology out there.
One of those phrases that isn’t always understood is the phrase “Virtual Server” or “VPS” (Virtual Private Server).
I’ll also touch on a “Virtual Desktop” as well because they are similar in nature and configuration.
What is a Virtual Server or VPS?
In order to explain it this clearly, I’m first going to relate to servers you have probably worked with in the past, then we can slowly move forward to understand how Virtual Servers are a little different.
This is a physical server you have sitting in your office, possibly in a server rack, or a large physical tower that is 1-3 times larger than the average workstation.
You purchase the Server and inside it there is Storage, RAM Memory, and CPU’s (Processors). This tends to be the standard that most small businesses have used for many years, and can be a good entry level solution.
Co-Lo Dedicated Server
So this is very similar to the dedicated server mentioned above. It is a physical server, the same you would have in your office, but now you are doing “Co-Lo” (Co-Location), which means you are paying a company to put it physically in a data centre. Sometimes you have your own physical server and you place it in the “co-lo facility” or data centre, other times you simply pay the company to provide you with your own dedicated server.
The reason you do Co-Location is because the infrastructure in the data centre is far superior to what the average business can afford to do. A data centre has multiple internet connections, backup power systems, temperature control systems and more to ensure that your server is running in the optimum environment. In addition to having multiple internet connections, a data centre will most likely provide you with a much faster connection speed than you would get at your business. A common network speed inside a data centre is a minimum of 100Mbps both Downloading and Uploading — whereas most businesses have 25-50Mbps Download and 2.5-10Mbps Upload speed.
When you do Co-Lo Servers, you pay in a number of different ways: Â Rack Space needed, Power Consumption and Internet Speed — it really depends on the company that is providing it.
So now that we understand what a Physical Server is, and we understand what a Co-Lo Server is, we move up the ladder to “Virtual Servers”.
The data centres have many many servers with lots of resources available, so what they do is sell it as “shared resources”. The Server you rent is Virtual because it doesn’t exist as a single “physical” server sitting somewhere. It is normally a rack of servers that share the resources required for your server.
There are a lot of benefits to Virtual Servers, such as being able to select the type of drive you want in your server, such as “SSD” (Fast), “SAS” (Medium) or “SATA” (Slowest). Because there is no dedicated physical server, you are just renting the resources and you can piece them together to fit your requirements.
Virtual Servers are extremely flexible and give you the ability to add and remove resources (Memory, Storage, and Processors) within moments to bring on extra capacity, or reduce capacity. Also, because of the shared nature of it, the cost is dramatically lowered because of the pooled nature of the plans.
What is a Virtual Desktop or Server?
Another very similar technology is Virtual Desktop. Really the configurations is the same as a Virtual Server, the only difference is operating system that you are running.
Typically on a Virtual Server the software that runs it will be Windows 2008, Windows 2012 or a Linux based server.
On the Virtual Desktop side of things you will probably See Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 10.
Why would I use a Virtual Server vs Virtual Desktop?
Virtual Servers tend to be used for higher capacity needs, if there is lots of resources, they are able to effectively use it — but the most important factor is that Servers allow you to have multiple people logged in at the same time with their own independent desktops.
On a Virtual Desktop, you can have multiple users, but only one person can be remotely connected at any given moment.
What is the benefit of a Virtual Server or Desktop?
- No Hardware Issues – Virtual Computers (Servers or Desktops) are really great because you don’t have to worry about the hardware, you rent the resources, and you aren’t responsible for the hardware upkeep. The data centre proactively manages the hardware and resolves issues without your knowledge and generally without you even noticing there is a problem.
- Backup and Data Safety – But outside of the not worrying about hardware, the backup systems you can put into place are “enterprise grade” solutions, so you can backup your system a couple different ways and you never need to worry if your data is safe or not.
- Faster Internet – The Virtual Computer will be sitting on a very fast internet connection, which makes doing Internet based tasks or file transfers much faster.
- High Availability – Because your data is stored in a data centre, It’s always running and you can access it from anywhere in the world.
- Physical Security – Data centres have redundant power, internet and designed to highly secure, storm proof, and earthquake proof.
What are the downsides to Virtual Servers and Desktops?
As with everything, there is always trade-offs. Virtual Servers have a lot of great aspects to them, but there are a few drawbacks which most users will note:
- Internet Outage – If you have a “local” internet outage, you won’t be able to remotely access your servers
- Sound/Video – Generally the refresh rate of a virtual server is not good enough for video or audio streaming and it will look blocking. Â Virtual Servers are great for day to day office type work, but high resolution graphics, video and audio are not a good fit.
- Physical Devices – when you work exclusively on a virtual server, your local computer doesn’t always relay the USB and Local drives correctly. Â If you are on a Windows based PC, you can copy and paste across the “Remote Desktop” software, but it isn’t a great solution for moving large files, it’s fine for a few documents though. If you are on a Mac based system, the remote desktop software doesn’t have copy/paste from the local desktop. The work around for file transfers is to use a web based transfer system, dropbox, google drive or similar technology.
- Printing – When you are in a Remote Desktop session, printing can happen one of two ways — “printer redirection” or “static IP printing” — the easiest is printer redirection, but sometimes it can be unreliable, I find it works great for smaller servers, but the larger the capacity I find it has to have more issues. IP Printing is also available, but you need to modify your Router/Firewall to allow print jobs from the Virtual Server to your local office, or if your office is larger, then I would setup a site-to-site VPN between you and the virtual server, this allows the print jobs to pass across the network as “local” traffic and it stays “inside” the security zone. But these VPN tunnels cost extra money because you will need to rent a Router on the Virtual Server side.
Over all Virtual Servers and Desktops can give you a lot of freedom, a better quality server and data protection — but they aren’t perfect either (nothing ever is), but at least if you are educated on the pros and cons you can make an informed decision to see if it would be a good fit for you.