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Vercel vs. VPS - What's the drama, and which one should you choose?

Vercel vs. VPS - What's the drama, and which one should you choose?

Vercel vs. VPS - What's the drama, and which one should you choose?

Vercel recently announced an update to their pricing. For some users, that meant a significant increase in costs, which has led to some discussions about the costs of using cloud providers like Vercel, with a few suggesting that a VPS is a far superior and cost-effective solution.

Does it make sense to move your popular app to a VPS and save hundreds of dollars? As you might have guessed, the issue is far more nuanced than some tweets suggest. Let's break it down.


Let's talk about the elephant in the room first. Vercel is tailored explicitly for Next.js, providing tooling for conformance checks, continuous deployment, branch previews, and more. All of that works out of the box, and if you were to figure all of that out on your own, you'd be spending a lot of time and money on it, exposing yourself to potential bugs, problems, and disturbances in your workflow.

If you're a one-person startup, you may get away with setting up a simple CI/CD pipeline on a VPS, but as your team grows, you'll need to invest more time and money into maintaining it. And that's not even considering the time you'll spend onboarding new team members and teaching them how to use your custom setup.

That being said, some tools can make things easier for you and standardize the process. For example, coolify does a great job of providing a simple and easy-to-use interface for deploying Next.js apps to a VPS. You could also deploy a Docker container with all the necessary tools and configurations, but that's another can of worms. There’s also OpenNext adapter that lets you deploy across different environments, such as AWS. While that takes care of the deployment part, it doesn't solve the potential need for other integrations like conformance checks, branch previews, etc.

Scaling and Performance

Scaling is sometimes overrated in software engineering. Especially at the beginning of a greenfield project, you're better off focusing on building a great product and getting users than worrying about scaling. That said, it's essential to have a plan for scaling when the time comes, not to mention projects that are already popular and are considering moving to a VPS.

I'm not saying you can't successfully run a popular high-traffic project built in Laravel from a Debian server in your basement. But I'm also not suggesting that you should optimize your hosting costs at the expense of investing precious time and energy into building and configuring infrastructure that could be better spent on building your product, especially given the fact that most cloud providers offer a free tier that can handle a decent amount of traffic.

And there is one more thing to consider. Vercel has a global network of edge nodes that can cache your content and serve it to users from the nearest location, which can significantly improve your app's performance. If your app is targeted at a global audience, serving it from one server located in a single region may provide a suboptimal experience for users in other areas.

Edge Nodes

Speaking of edge nodes and Vercel, there has been a pretty significant announcement made by Vercel recently. They have moved away from edge rendering back to Node.js. The reason is that while they initially thought it may be worth the trade-off, having your compute resources far away from your database makes the app slower. Furthermore, the cost benefits of edge rendering are less significant than they initially thought.

That doesn't mean they moved away from edge nodes completely. Static assets and the essential HTML and CSS are still served by the edge nodes. With networks getting fast and Node.js more performant, however, the argument for having a VPS with a CDN instead of a cloud provider like Vercel becomes more compelling.

Skill Requirements

Running a VPS requires a certain level of technical expertise. You must know how to set up and configure a server, install and configure software, manage security, monitor performance, and troubleshoot problems. If you're uncomfortable with these tasks, you may spend a lot of time learning and troubleshooting. While learning new things is great, it's not always the best use of your time, especially if you're trying to build a product.

Part of the cost of using a cloud provider like Vercel is that they take care of all the technical details so you can focus on building your product. Suppose you're not comfortable with managing servers. In that case, it is worth paying extra for the convenience of not having to worry about it while benefiting from a global network of edge nodes and integrations that can save you time and money in the long run.

If you're a developer who enjoys tinkering with servers and learning new things, running a VPS can be a fun and rewarding experience. Similarly, running a VPS may be a good option for you if you're a small team with a dedicated DevOps person who can handle all the technical details. But suppose you're a solo founder or a big company with an abundant budget. In that case, you may be better off using a cloud provider like Vercel that can save you time and money in the long run, allowing you to validate PRs in real-time and comment on a build preview in the process.


A considerable concern when running a VPS is security. You must keep your server updated with security patches, configure firewalls, monitor logs for suspicious activity, and take other steps to protect your server from attacks. There are a lot of bots out there scanning the internet for vulnerable servers, and if you're not careful, you could end up with a compromised server that's being used to send spam, mine cryptocurrency, or launch DDoS attacks. Most cloud providers take care of these things for you, so you don't have to worry about them.

Speaking of DDoS attacks, cloud providers usually have built-in DDoS protection that can help mitigate the impact of an attack. If you're running a VPS, you'll need to set up your own DDoS protection, which can be a complex and expensive process, or set up a CloudFlare in front of your server, effectively giving into a cloud provider anyway. That being said, I have read a few horror stories about landing an enormous bill from a cloud provider after a DDoS attack, so it's not all sunshine and rainbows.

However, if you opt for a cloud hosting solution such as Vercel and unfortunately get attacked, remember they can be chill about it and refund some of the costs. Be aware of the possibility of a DDoS attack, though, and set up limits and alerts to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Tech Stack Flexibility

While you don't have to worry about keeping your server up to date when using a cloud provider, it is unfortunate that most cloud providers are usually late in supporting the newest Node.js versions. Despite Node.js 20 being the latest LTS version, some cloud providers' features still don't support it.

If you plan to use bleeding-edge technologies or have specific requirements that cloud providers don't support, you may be better off running a VPS.


Finally, let's talk about cost. Running a VPS can be cheaper than using a cloud provider like Vercel, especially if you have a high-traffic app generating a lot of revenue. However, you need to consider the hidden costs of running a VPS, such as the time and money you'll spend on maintaining it, the cost of setting up and configuring a server, the cost of monitoring and troubleshooting problems, and the cost of scaling and performance optimization.

If we take a model app that transfers around 1.5 TB of data per month, does a bit of computation, and we apply the new Vercel pricing, it could look something like this:

  1. Base Plan Cost: $20 per month
  2. Additional Fast Data Transfer: 500 GB x $0.15/GB = $75 (1 TB included in the base plan)
  3. Additional Fast Origin Transfer: 50 GB x $0.06/GB = $3 (100 GB included in the base plan)
  4. Additional Edge Requests: 2 million x $2/million = $4 (10 million included in the base plan)
  5. Additional Function Execution Time: 200 GB-hours x $0.18/GB-hour = $36 (1,000 GB-hours included in the base plan)

That would bring our total cost to $138 per month, assuming you pay for only one seat.

If we decided to run a VPS instead, we would need something with at least 4 GB RAM, 2 vCPUs, and 80 GB SSD storage. A VPS with those specs would cost around $20 per month. You would also need to add the cost of a CDN, which would amount to $20 per month if you chose the CloudFlare Pro plan. That would bring our total cost to $40 per month.

In this case, running a VPS would be significantly cheaper than using Vercel. However, this assumes that you know how much your app will scale in advance or that you're willing to go through the hassle of migrating your application to a larger server when the time comes.

The thing is, if you're starting a new project, you could probably start with the free tier of a cloud provider like Vercel, later transfer to the Pro plan, and scale up as needed. In many cases, the appeal of the pay-as-you-go model is worth paying a bit extra in the long run.


Should you move your popular app to a VPS and save some dollars? The answer is it depends. It all boils down to assessing your project's specific needs, technical expertise, and growth expectations. The recent uproar regarding Vercel's pricing changes has illuminated this dilemma, presenting a classic case of convenience versus cost.

Vercel stands out for its seamless integration with Next.js, providing out-of-the-box solutions that significantly reduce the time and effort required for deployment and ongoing maintenance. This convenience is especially valuable for developers leveraging modern development practices with minimal setup. Additionally, Vercel's edge network capabilities offer significant performance benefits for global applications, ensuring faster load times and improved user experience.

However, these benefits come at a cost, which can be significantly higher than running a VPS, especially as your application scales. For those with the requisite skills, a VPS can offer a more cost-effective solution without the constraints of a platform-centric approach. This route grants more control over the hosting environment and potentially lowers costs at the expense of increased complexity in setup, scaling, and maintenance.

It's also important to consider the non-financial costs associated with each option. Vercel provides a robust, developer-friendly environment that can significantly accelerate development cycles and reduce the burden on your team. On the other hand, managing a VPS requires a steep learning curve and ongoing attention to security, performance, and scalability.

TLDR: If you're a solo founder or a small team looking to deploy and scale your application with minimal overhead quickly, Vercel is likely the best choice. If you are a Linux enthusiast or have a dedicated DevOps team, you can create a decent setup with a VPS and a CDN, but be prepared to invest time and effort into maintaining it. If you are a bigger company or team, the decision will likely depend on your specific needs, growth expectations, and budget constraints.

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