Diskless servers are servers that don’t use a hard disk; they run entirely from RAM. This means they can’t store logs and other information in the same way regular servers can.
If you’re shopping for a VPN, there are plenty of criteria to keep in mind, like price, performance, and even the interface. One thing you’ll hear about less is the type of servers a provider uses—in particular, a new type called a diskless server, which offers great benefits to both speed and privacy.
Diskless servers, also called RAM-only servers, are servers that don’t have a hard disk that they can store files on. They exist purely to reroute connections—which is the only thing VPNs are supposed to do, anyway—and cannot store information for the long term.
We say “long term” here because diskless servers do store some information, but they do so only in their random access memory, or RAM, hence the term “RAM-only.” Using only RAM has a few advantages, most importantly that it’s completely wiped when the server is rebooted. Your laptop or desktop works much the same way: reboot it and you start with a fresh slate of RAM.
This lack of long-term storage would be a disaster for any other type of server, but for VPN servers, it’s ideal. One of the main issues with VPN providers is that we, their clients, are taking their promises of privacy and anonymity at face value. Sure, they may claim that they destroy any records of our online activity—usually called logs—but there’s no way to be sure.
However, when a service uses diskless servers, that issue becomes moot as keeping logs becomes a lot harder. Whatever records they do keep would be destroyed by a simple reboot of the server. It’s one of the easiest ways a VPN can destroy logs.
That said, there are still ways in which a VPN could still keep logs on a diskless server, either through malice or incompetence. However, the possibilities of doing so are greatly diminished, so there’s less room for error. That said, an untrustworthy VPN doesn’t magically become bonafide just because it’s using diskless servers.
However, another advantage is that diskless servers do make it easier for auditors to check up on a service’s claims of being a no-log VPN. Instead of checking whether or not a service keeps logs—a claim hard to disprove since a VPN could just move the logs for the duration of the audit—an auditor can just check if servers are diskless.
As a result, while diskless servers aren’t a cure-all for crummy VPNs, they do make it easier to verify, and thus trust, VPN providers.
Considering the advantages they bring, it’s probably no surprise that more and more of the best VPN services are shifting over to diskless servers. That said, it’s not a seamless transition: it seems much of the hardware involved is pretty pricey, so many VPNs make the shift gradually.
Our number one VPN ExpressVPN has made diskless servers an integral part of its Trusted Server technology. In this system, the RAM-only nature of servers works very well with the service’s custom-made VPN protocols, which store almost no information in the first place. Add to that weekly reboots, and your browsing habits are pretty safe.
Other big players that use diskless are Surfshark and NordVPN, which both made the full transition to RAM-only a while ago. Private Internet Access‘ NextGen servers are also diskless and have been for over a year now.
Privacy-friendly Mullvad is currently transitioning to diskless servers as part of its push for greater transparency, which will culminate in a fully open infrastructure that can be audited by its users. You can keep track of this project’s progress on Mullvad’s blog.
There are plenty of other services that offer diskless, these are just some of the best known, as well as our favorites. If you’re not sure which VPN is best for you, you can always try a few that you think are good; all the above offer 30-day money-back guarantees.