What’s the Difference Anyway? VPN vs VPS

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In a world where throwing around acronyms is equated to your scope of knowledge, I often find completely different technologies referred to interchangeably. Today we will clear up one of the most prevalent, examining the difference between VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) vs. VPS (Virtual Private Servers).

VPN (Virtual Private Network) — virtual private network (VPN) gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPNs mask your internet protocol (IP) address so your online actions are virtually untraceable. Most important, VPN services establish secure and encrypted connections to provide greater privacy than even a secured Wi-Fi hotspot. (Norton)

VPS (Virtual Private Server) —  A virtual private server (VPS) is a virtual server that the user perceives as a dedicated/private server even though it is installed on a physical computer running multiple operating systems. (Techopedia)

When would I use a VPN vs a VPS and vice versa?

Let’s start with virtual private networks.
Suppose you’re at your local Starbucks with twenty or so minutes to kill while Chad, unironic mustache and all, whips up your caramel frap, extra whip, drizzled with chocolate syrup and you quickly decide to make a dent at the three hundred unread emails loitering in your inbox. You search for the wifi, find it under GreenMermaid777, click to join, and are hit with the ambiguous, “Unsecured Network” message. You don’t hesitate. Dismiss. These emails can’t wait.

Why you might want to use a VPN in this instance?
While joined up to an unsecured network, you’ve made yourself incredibly vulnerable to innumerable data tracking schemes and the maligned persons you may very well be sharing a connection with. Let me explain why. From now on, when you read “unsecured”, don’t wonder whether or not it might be safe, assume it isn’t. When you engage with an unsecured network, the data flowing between your machine and the web are unencrypted and up for grabs.

Well, if the wifi is unsecured, what does a VPN do to secure it?
When using a VPN, your data is not moving freely between your machine and the wifi, but instead is being re-routed through a tunnel of sorts, masking your IP address, and broadcasting the information through the VPN totally encrypted and fully secured. No more prying eyes. No more maligned parties.

I think I’ve got the handle on when to use a VPN and why it works. Let’s talk about virtual private servers.

Virtual private servers are often used by software or web developers to run operations that exceed the capabilities of a single machine. The reason why VPSs are useful in these scenarios is that virtual private servers effectively allow for operations to be running on innumerable virtual environments, each running their own operating system. More operating systems = more replicated operations running parallel to each other without the need for multiple machines.

Virtual private servers are less likely to be used by the average user but are growing in popularity among the more technically inclined as a way out of participating in shared server space (increased risk) without having the buy and run a dedicated server of their own (increased cost).

If you’re still a bit foggy on what exactly a virtual private server does, its okay. It’s unlikely you’re in need of one.

About the author

Christopher Reeder is ODIN Blockchain’s Lead Content Strategist and Technical Writer. As an advocate and researcher, he is exploring technology’s impact on privacy.

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Published by Christopher Reeder

Making technology easier to understand.

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