2024 Buyer's Guide: How to Choose and Buy the Best VPS/VDS for Your Needs - Tips and Strategies

rtt Ultimate Cloud VPS Buyer's Guide for 2024

In today’s digital landscape, finding a reliable and secure Virtual Private Server (VPS) or Virtual Dedicated Server (VDS) goes beyond just comparing specs and prices. With increasing concerns over data privacy, security breaches, and government surveillance, the wisdom of choosing your VPS/VDS provider based on jurisdiction, security features, and operational transparency has never been more critical.

Our guide on when to switch to a different provider is here.

Why is our VPS guide different?

Many of the blogs and guides out there are not made by professionals with decades of experience, and in fact, are often created by full time digital marketing gurus and firms.

realtechtalk.com is a source of technical information and solutions, many of the other guides out there and comparisons are created by "Tech blogs" that don't actually run mission critical operations or real world problems and solutions.

The sheer amount of available guides can be overwhelming. However, it's crucial to approach these resources with a discerning eye, especially considering that many guides are driven by underlying motives such as affiliate marketing, prioritizing recommendations that may not align with your best interests. Our guide stands apart in this cluttered space, and here's why it's an invaluable resource for businesses prioritizing security and reliability.

Assessing Technical Depth and Utility

  1. Detailed How-To Guides and Tutorials: Genuine technical blogs often provide comprehensive how-to guides, tutorials, and step-by-step instructions that help readers solve specific problems or achieve tasks. The presence of detailed, actionable content can indicate a blog's commitment to offering real value to its audience.

  2. Problem-Solving Content: Authentic tech blogs usually address common and niche technical issues, offering solutions based on experience and expertise. They might discuss troubleshooting steps, optimization tips, and best practices for using VPS and cloud services effectively.

  3. Technical Discussion Depth: Blogs that delve into the technical nuances, underlying principles, and architectural considerations of VPS and cloud solutions demonstrate a deeper understanding of the subject matter. A focus on surface-level features or benefits without discussing the technical how and why may suggest a lack of genuine expertise.

 

Unbiased and Comprehensive Analysis

  1. No Affiliate Links: Unlike many guides that rely on affiliate marketing for revenue, our recommendations are untainted by financial incentives. This means we have no hidden agenda; our sole focus is to provide you with the best options based on merit, not commission rates.

  2. Security-Centric Recommendations: We understand that for businesses, security isn't just another checkbox—it's a foundation. Our guide is crafted with a deep understanding of cybersecurity threats and countermeasures, ensuring that our recommendations prioritize the safety of your data above all else.

  3. Reliability as a Priority: In the digital age, downtime is synonymous with lost revenue and damaged reputation. We highlight solutions known for their uptime, robust infrastructure, and excellent customer support, ensuring your operations run smoothly around the clock.

Prioritize Long-Standing Providers

  • Established Track Record: Opt for a provider that has been in business for a significant period. Longevity in the hosting industry often indicates a consistent track record of reliability and customer satisfaction. Companies that have weathered the ups and downs of the market are more likely to understand the nuances of maintaining high uptime, offering scalable solutions, and providing responsive customer support.

Assess Ownership and Management Experience

  • Reputable Ownership: Consider providers that are either independently reputable or are part of a well-regarded parent company known for its stability and financial health. The backing of a reputable company often means access to better resources, infrastructure, and a more significant safety net in terms of business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities.

  • Experienced Management: Look into the experience and background of the management team. Providers led by individuals with a proven track record in the IT, datacenter, or networking industries can offer more reliable and innovative services. Experienced leadership is adept at navigating technical challenges and market fluctuations, ensuring the provider remains on solid footing.

Verify the Provider's Financial Health

  • Stable Financial Background: A financially stable provider is less likely to experience service disruptions due to budget constraints or go out of business suddenly, jeopardizing your data and online presence. While financial details may not always be publicly available, signs of stability include consistent service improvements, infrastructure investments, and positive customer testimonials over the years.

Look for Consistent Innovation and Improvement

  • Ongoing Investment in Technology: A provider that continually invests in its infrastructure, software, and services is likely in a stable financial position and committed to offering the best possible service. Regular updates to services, hardware, and security protocols indicate a provider's dedication to maintaining high performance and customer satisfaction.

 

Choose Lesser-Known, Specialized Providers

  • Avoid Household Names: Opt for providers that may not be household names but have a solid reputation in specialized forums and industry circles. These companies are less likely to be the target of mass-scale cyber attacks and may offer more personalized service, which can be a boon for SMEs requiring attentive support.

Evaluate the Provider's Infrastructure and Expertise

  • Assess Scale and Reliability: While large providers may offer attractive pricing due to their scale, their service can sometimes be impersonal, and they may experience significant outages. A smaller, more specialized provider could offer more reliable uptime and personalized attention, critical for businesses where every minute of downtime counts.

  • Verify In-House Expertise: Ensure the provider has in-house experts in datacenter management, servers, and networking. Providers that openly share information about their team's expertise and infrastructure are generally more trustworthy and capable of delivering higher service quality. Those that don't may lack direct control over their services, potentially compromising reliability and performance.

Look for Comprehensive Services and Support

  • Full-Scale System and Network Support: Choose a provider that offers a range of support and consulting services, from system administration to network security. This indicates a higher level of expertise and a commitment to supporting your business's specific needs. Providers that control their own hardware and network infrastructure are preferable, as they can offer more customized solutions and faster response times.

Importance of Control and Transparency

  • Control Over Hardware and Network: A provider that owns and controls its hardware and network infrastructure can offer better security, performance, and reliability. This control also means they can be more responsive to issues and offer more customized solutions, essential for businesses with specific or changing needs.

 

Why Security and Jurisdiction Matter

Recent years have shown that even the most reputable providers are not immune to outages, security breaches, and other vulnerabilities. High-profile incidents involving major companies like Amazon, Vultr, and DigitalOcean have highlighted the risks of hosting with providers that become prime targets for cyberattacks. The allure of free or cheap services often comes with a hidden cost: your data’s security and privacy. Many of these low-cost providers have been identified as sources of hacking traffic, making them not just insecure but complicit in the broader ecosystem of cyber threats.

Moreover, the revelations from Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance activities have cast a long shadow over providers in PRISM countries. Providers under the jurisdiction of these nations are subject to laws that compel them to hand over user data to government agencies, often without the user's knowledge or consent. This reality poses a significant risk for businesses and individuals concerned about the confidentiality of their communications and the integrity of their data.

Signs of Expertise, Does Your Provider Offer Dedicated Servers, Fiber and IP Space?

Comprehensive Infrastructure Solutions

  • Private Server Capabilities: Look for providers that offer the option to transition from VPS to dedicated or even private server environments. This capability is crucial for businesses with growing or fluctuating demands, ensuring that they can scale their resources up or down as needed without compromising performance or security.

Dedicated Network Options

  • Custom Network Solutions: Providers that can offer dedicated network solutions, including private VLANs or MPLS, indicate a high level of network management expertise. This is essential for businesses that prioritize data security and require isolated networking environments to protect sensitive information.

Private Fiber Optic Connections

  • Direct Fiber Access: A provider capable of offering direct fiber optic connections for your business' exclusive use, demonstrates a significant investment in infrastructure. This level of service ensures the highest possible speed and reliability, and security, crucial for businesses that rely on real-time data access and high-bandwidth applications.

Dedicated IP Space

  • Allocated IP Ranges: Providers that can offer dedicated IP space give businesses the flexibility and control needed for various operations, including running their own web servers, email servers, and other services while ensuring improved security and reputation management.

Expertise and Customization

  • Security and Scalability: The ability to provide these high-level services is a testament to a provider's expertise in secure and scalable IT services. It indicates a depth of knowledge not only in hardware and infrastructure but also in understanding the unique needs of businesses that require these advanced services.

 

Avoid Free Trials and Money Back Guarantee VPS/VDS/Cloud Offers

In addition to the concerns surrounding large VPS providers, it's also wise to exercise caution with providers that offer free trials or 30-day money-back guarantees. While these offers are attractive for legitimate users testing the services before committing financially, they present vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malicious actors. Below, we explore why such promotional offers can exacerbate the risks of shared hosting environments.

Increased Susceptibility to Abuse by Hackers

  1. Low Barriers to Entry: Free trials and money-back guarantees lower the barriers to entry, making it easier for hackers to sign up for services with minimal upfront investment. This accessibility allows malicious users to exploit these platforms for launching attacks, hosting malicious content, or conducting other nefarious activities without significant financial risk.

  2. Temporary Nature of Services: The temporary nature of free or trial accounts makes them particularly appealing to hackers. Malicious actors can use these services to perform their activities and then abandon the account before any serious action can be taken against them. This transient usage pattern complicates efforts to track and mitigate abusive behavior.

  3. Reputation Damage and Blacklisting: As hackers frequently utilize these trial accounts, the IP ranges and resources allocated to these promotional offers can become associated with malicious activities. This association can lead to IPs being blacklisted, affecting not only the hackers but also legitimate users who are later assigned those IPs or subnets. The consequences can include email delivery issues, decreased network reputation, and potential blocking by security systems.

  4. Resource Strain and Security Risks: Providers offering extensive free trials or guarantees might attract a disproportionate number of abusers, straining resources and potentially compromising the security of the network. This strain can impact service quality for legitimate users and increase the provider's susceptibility to breaches if resources are diverted to manage abuse instead of enhancing security measures.

Mitigation Strategies for Users

To mitigate these risks, users should consider providers that have robust verification processes for new accounts, even if they offer trials or money-back guarantees. Additionally, researching a provider's reputation, security practices, and how they handle abuse can provide insights into their suitability. Opting for providers that balance promotional offers with strict anti-abuse measures can help minimize the risk of being inadvertently associated with malicious activities.

 

Avoid Large Providers

The choice of a Virtual Private Server (VPS) provider is crucial for businesses and individuals who prioritize privacy, security, and reliability in their online operations. Opting for large VPS providers, while seemingly advantageous due to their established reputations and extensive resources, comes with a set of risks that warrant careful consideration. Below are key reasons why one might avoid large VPS providers, focusing on concerns related to mass surveillance, government interest, hacker targeting, and the implications of sharing IP space with malicious actors.

Increased Risk of Mass Surveillance and Government Interest

  1. Scale and Visibility: Large VPS providers, due to their size and the volume of data they handle, are more likely to be under surveillance by governments and intelligence agencies. The extensive customer base and significant amount of traffic make these providers prime targets for mass data collection efforts.

  2. Legal and Regulatory Compliance: Big providers are often subject to stringent legal and regulatory requirements, which may compel them to comply with government requests for data access. In jurisdictions with laws that infringe on privacy rights, this compliance can lead to the monitoring of user activities without explicit consent or knowledge.

  3. Data Center Locations: The global presence of large providers means that some of their data centers may be located in countries with aggressive surveillance laws. This geographic diversity, while beneficial for performance and redundancy, can expose users to varied legal regimes, some of which may be more intrusive.

Vulnerability to Hacking and Malicious Activities

  1. Attractive Targets for Hackers: The prominence and scale of large VPS providers make them attractive targets for cybercriminals and hackers. Breaching the defenses of a major provider can grant attackers access to a vast amount of resources and data, offering a high return on their efforts.

  2. Shared IP Space Concerns: When you use a large VPS provider, you share IP space with numerous other customers, including potentially malicious users. This shared environment can lead to your IP addresses being blacklisted or marked on Real-time Blackhole Lists (RBLs) due to the activities of other users, affecting your email deliverability and reputation.

  3. Proximity to Malicious Actors: Sharing network infrastructure with hackers increases the risk of collateral damage from targeted attacks against other users on the same network. Moreover, if hackers manage to exploit vulnerabilities within the provider's network, there's a theoretical risk they could gain unauthorized access to your resources, especially if network segmentation or isolation measures are inadequate.

 

The Jurisdictional Mistake

One location that works well for many companies is Hong Kong VPS/Cloud as it is safe and secure from data seizure and has excellent infrastructure and connectivity to Asia and the world as we argue here.

A critical oversight some companies make when selecting a hosting location for their data is failing to consider the jurisdictional implications tied to their service provider's legal domicile, especially in the context of privacy and data protection. For example, a company might choose Hong Kong for its data hosting due to its perceived strong privacy laws and distance from Western legal jurisdictions. However, if the chosen hosting provider is registered in a PRISM-affiliated country, such as the United States or the United Kingdom, the benefits of hosting in a "safer" jurisdiction may be nullified.

Understanding PRISM and Jurisdictional Reach

PRISM is a surveillance program under the United States National Security Agency (NSA) that collects internet communications from various U.S. internet companies. Companies that are based in or have substantial ties to PRISM-affiliated countries (primarily the US and UK) are subject to the laws and regulations of those countries, including laws that compel the disclosure of data to government authorities.

 

  1. Misplaced Trust in Geographic Safety: Companies may mistakenly believe that by hosting data in jurisdictions perceived as safe or privacy-friendly, such as Hong Kong, they can protect their data from foreign surveillance and intervention. This overlooks the fact that the legal entity controlling the data—i.e., the hosting provider—is subject to the laws of its home country.

  2. Compulsion Under Home Country Laws: If the hosting provider is a company registered in a PRISM country, it can be compelled by its government to provide access to data, regardless of where that data is physically stored. This means that data hosted in Hong Kong by a U.S. or UK company can be accessed under U.S. or UK law, effectively bypassing the local privacy protections of the hosting location.

  3. Legal and Compliance Conflicts: Hosting with a provider subject to foreign surveillance laws can create conflicts between the need to comply with those laws and the hosting company's obligations under local privacy regulations. This can lead to complex legal situations where companies find themselves caught between conflicting legal demands.

Strategies for Mitigating Risk

To mitigate these risks, companies should consider the following strategies when selecting a data hosting location and provider:

  1. Evaluate the Provider's Jurisdiction: Choose a hosting provider whose jurisdiction aligns with your privacy and data protection goals. Consider providers based in countries with strong privacy laws and minimal exposure to foreign surveillance laws.

  2. Understand Data Protection Laws: Be aware of the data protection laws in both the hosting location and the provider's home country. This understanding can help assess the risk of government intervention.

  3. Seek Legal Advice: Consult with legal experts who specialize in international data protection law to navigate the complex landscape of jurisdiction, privacy, and data security.

  4. Consider Data Encryption: Encrypt data at rest and in transit to add a layer of protection against unauthorized access, regardless of the legal jurisdiction.

By carefully selecting a hosting provider and location with a thorough understanding of jurisdictional impacts, companies can better protect their data from unwanted surveillance and ensure compliance with their data protection standards.

Choosing a VPS/VDS Provider: Features to Look For

When searching for a VPS/VDS provider, prioritize those registered and operating outside of PRISM countries. Look for jurisdictions with strong data protection laws and a history of resisting extraterritorial demands for user data.

Security Features

  • Data Encryption: Ensure that the provider offers robust encryption for data at rest and in transit.
  • DDoS Protection: Look for built-in protection against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
  • Regular Security Audits: Choose providers that conduct regular security audits and make those reports available to their customers.
  • Access Controls: Comprehensive access control options, including two-factor authentication (2FA) and role-based access, are essential.

Jurisdictional Considerations

  • Non-PRISM Countries: Opt for providers based in countries not part of the PRISM surveillance program, enhancing privacy protection.
  • Data Sovereignty: Understand where your data is physically stored and the legal implications of that jurisdiction.

Things to Avoid

  • Free or Extremely Cheap Offers: These can be indicative of compromised security measures and a lack of investment in infrastructure.
  • Providers with a History of Outages and Breaches: Research your provider's track record for reliability and security incidents.
  • PRISM owned providers: Avoid providers that are incorporated and registered in PRISM based countries.

 

Billing Considerations

When comparing the cost implications of using usage-based services like Amazon Web Services (AWS) to flat-rate VPS hosting options, it's important to consider how these billing models can impact your budget and operational costs.

AWS operates on a usage-based pricing model, offering flexibility and scalability but potentially leading to unpredictable and higher costs depending on usage patterns. This model can be beneficial for businesses with fluctuating needs, allowing them to scale resources up or down based on demand. However, for users with stable or predictable resource requirements, this flexibility comes at the cost of complexity in budgeting due to potential overages and the intricate pricing structures associated with different services and resources within AWS.

In contrast, flat-rate VPS hosting services offer a predictable monthly fee, simplifying budget management and financial planning. These services typically provide a fixed amount of resources (CPU, RAM, storage, bandwidth) for a set price, making it easier for users to predict their hosting expenses without worrying about variable costs based on resource consumption. This pricing model is particularly appealing for small to medium-sized projects, personal websites, or businesses with consistent resource needs, where budget predictability is a priority.

The choice between usage-based and flat-rate billing models should be based on your specific hosting needs, resource usage patterns, and budgetary constraints. For projects with dynamic resource demands, a usage-based model like AWS might offer the necessary flexibility, albeit with more complex budgeting requirements. For those with more predictable resource needs, a flat-rate VPS hosting service could provide cost savings and simpler financial planning.

 

Pay-As-You-Go

The "pay-as-you-go" billing model, while offering flexibility and scalability, carries inherent risks that can lead to unexpectedly high charges, particularly in scenarios of hacking, abuse, or misconfiguration.

Hacking and Security Breaches

In a pay-as-you-go model, if an account is compromised, hackers can quickly spin up resources for their own purposes, such as cryptocurrency mining or launching attacks, leading to significant financial liabilities for the account owner. Since billing is based on usage, the costs can escalate rapidly without immediate detection of the unauthorized activity.

Abuse and Misconfiguration

Similarly, abuse or misconfiguration can lead to spiraling costs. For instance, leaving unused resources running, improperly configured services, or deploying resources more extensive than necessary can all contribute to higher than anticipated charges. An application or service experiencing a sudden increase in usage, whether through legitimate traffic spikes or DDoS attacks, can also result in significant expenses.

Comparing with Flat-Rate Billing

On the other hand, flat-rate VPS hosting offers a predictable monthly or annual fee, providing a capped cost that can safeguard against the unpredictable expenses associated with the pay-as-you-go model. This predictability is particularly valuable for small to medium-sized projects or businesses with fixed budgets. However, it's important to note that while flat-rate plans offer cost predictability, they may lack the flexibility to scale resources dynamically in response to changing needs.

Mitigation Strategies

To mitigate the risks associated with the pay-as-you-go model:

  • Monitoring and Alerts: Utilize cloud service monitoring tools to track resource usage and set up alerts for unusual activity.
  • Security Best Practices: Implement robust security measures, including multi-factor authentication, regular audits, and strict access controls.
  • Budget Management Tools: Use budget management features offered by cloud providers to set spending limits and avoid unexpected charges.

 

Examples of Providers Tapping Their Clients

The owner of a popular chat service found that their large providers Hetzner and Linode tapped their servers which was documented on Reddit and by other security researchers.

In this case there was no evidence of the servers being hacked, but a device that acted as a man in the middle was placed in order to decrypt the encrypted traffic in and out of the server.  This was done to servers at 2 different locations in Germany and by two different providers (Linode and Hetzner).

By choosing large providers and choosing countries that co-operate with the US based PRISM program in the EU and most parts of the world, you are putting your data and security at risk.

https://therecord.media/jabber-ru-alleged-government-wiretap-expired-tls-certificate

Note a similar occurrence happened in France as well:

https://www.wired.com/story/encrochat-phone-police-hacking-encryption-drugs/

In all cases the clients were not notified and it's unclear what, if any legal process was used and it also appears that providers simply comply with requests for data and access, even if it may be illegal or unwarranted.


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