A virtual private server, or VPS, is leasing space and resources from a physical server to suit your web design or web programming needs. Leasing out space on a physical server to others is a cost effective way of opening the online community to those who are not independently wealthy. Owning a physical server is a large investment in both time and resources. These pieces of hardware cost thousands of dollars and require regular maintenance to ensure their proper functioning. Typically, the resources needed to own a private web server are beyond what many people can or will pay for the luxury of operating their own.
A better option is leasing or buying a virtual private server. This entails contacting a host, typically the owner of the physical server. Leasing a virtual space from them allows you to have access to a virtual machine. For all intents and purposes, this virtual machine functions identically to a physical server. You are given a range of tools and options that lets you interact with this digital construct. In this way you have access to the features of a server without having to maintain the hardware.
Furthermore, leasing server space works very much like renting an apartment. If something goes wrong you have the superintendent to call. A managing host for a virtual private server acts as this superintendent. However, this is not always the rule. Because you own this virtual server, you may be responsible for the complete upkeep of it. Nevertheless, should there be a problem with the main hardware server, some sort of onsite power failure of crash, technical support is usually forthcoming.
A further advantage to using a virtual private server is that you are isolated and compartmentalized away from other users. It is common that the space of a physical server is leased out to dozens or more other parties. Some servers offer shared hosting or free hosting. This is where all the other lessees share a common pool of resources. Such sharing can often hamper performance should you have high requirements.
One final caveat for a hosted web service is that although you have full control over your data and can interface with your virtual server you are not in full control. The host typically has control over each virtual private server. This is done to ensure consistent quality and prevent potential problems from arising should a user create configuration issues through unusual preferences or if the user is not technically savvy. Still, renting space via a virtual private server through a hosted web service is still a great way to be digitally active with only a fraction of the cost.