What to look for in a dedicated host.
One of the most important business decisions you may ever make is deciding on what type of web hosting plan to use for your web presence. Web hosting options are on a continuum, with a variety of choices that are ideally suited to organizations of different sizes, and at different levels of web site sophistication. The two main extremes are:
- Virtual / Shared Hosting - A virtual hosting provider is sometimes called a Web or Internet "space provider." Typically, virtual hosting provides a customer who wants a Web site with: domain name registration assistance, multiple domain names that map to the registered domain name, an allocation of file storage and directory setup for the Web site files (HTML and graphic image files), e-mail addresses, and Web site creation services. The virtual hosting user (the Web site owner) needs only to have a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) program for exchanging files with the virtual host. Virtual hosting is ideal for small to medium-sized enterprises for whom large amounts of bandwidth and storage are not a concern.
- Co-located Hosting - Akin to an in-house solution with training wheels, a co-located solution requires you to purchase a web server that is located at a third party facility designed with resources which include: a secured cage or cabinet, regulated power, dedicated internet connection, security and support. These co-location facilities offer the customer a secure place to physically house their hardware and equipment as opposed to locating it in their offices or warehouse where the potential for fire, theft or vandalism is much greater. While a co-located solution is perfect for businesses who require a large amount of bandwidth and storage, physical access to your server may be an issue.
Falling between these two extremes is the dedicated hosting solution. For businesses looking to attract and maintain a high traffic-base, a dedicated server can be the best web hosting solution. Combining the advantages of a Virtual Hosts' technical support with the connectivity and stability of owning your own server, a dedicated hosting account gives you precise control over the functionality of your site - and is perfect for those organizations who do not wish to make the substantial investment required to own and operate a server in-house.
Available for any platform (FreeBSD, Unix, Linux, Windows NT, Solaris, and MacOS), dedicated servers do incur a higher monthly cost when compared to their shared counterparts, but are still extremely affordable when contrasted with the cost of purchasing and maintaining your own server, data, and hardware security.
What is a dedicated server?
Dedicated hosting options allow organizations of any size to rent pre-configured, state-of-the-art equipment and connectivity from the service provider. While a virtual host requires you to share bandwidth and storage space with other clients, dedicated hosting gives you the opportunity to have an entire server for your exclusive use.
By renting your own "box" you can essentially exercise 100% control over your Web presence:
- Choosing and configuring the operating system for your server
- Installing any third-party software and applications you wish
- Individualizing server settings for faster delivery of multimedia and e-commerce applications
- Customizing and partitioning the storage space to your unique requirements.
- Customizing the CPU and clock speed
The drawback of this service is that dedicated servers typically cost much more than using a shared server, and often the level of technical knowledge required keeps them out of reach of beginners.
Who needs a dedicated server?
Running your Web site from a dedicated server is a good idea if your website requires:
- The implementation of custom software
- A lot of storage space
- A large amount of bandwidth
- A high degree of security
In general, if your Web site has sophisticated needs, you will benefit from a dedicated solution, since it will permit you to deploy complex applications such as:
- Databases (mySQL, SQL, Oracle, postgresql, ColdFusion etc)
- Streaming Media (real, WinMP, Quicktime etc)
- High-end mail solutions and handlers
- Third-party tracking software
- Any other storage or bandwidth-heavy application
A dedicated host will give you the freedom to host multiple sites from a single machine by allowing you to set up your own virtual servers, which is useful for testing/staging new applications, expanding your business offerings without having to negotiate an additional service-level agreement (SLA) with another provider, or even reselling space on your server.
What additional benefits are there to using a dedicated host?
Security, reliability, maintenance, and support translate into less responsibility for the customer. In addition, since you are renting the box rather than purchasing it, you are not responsible for maintaining the equipment and connectivity of the server. If a hardware component fails, the provider is responsible for resolving the problem or replacing the component. Your provider will likely be responsible for any downtime that occurs due to a hardware failure, and most have a compensation system in place as part of the SLA to reimburse you in the event of failure. Even if you are running your site off a custom hardware configuration, the provider may be responsible for ensuring that every piece of that hardware is functional, and works in harmony with the rest of the system. This allows you to maximize your return-on-investment by ensuring that you are paying only for the hardware is functional.
What costs/risks are there with a dedicated solution?
Though very advantageous for security, bandwidth, storage, and special technical needs, the principal drawbacks of a dedicated solution are price and support. Obviously, taking up an entire server on a providers rack will require a larger investment than sharing a portion of a single server. In addition to these direct costs you will have to cover the cost of technical staff to maintain your server if you don't possess the knowledge or time to do it yourself. Usually, dedicated servers range between $150 - $1200 US per month.
I don't need a dedicated staff, I can run my own server. Do I still have to pay the technical administrative costs?
While the actual costs of administrative and technical maintenance will vary depending on the provider you choose, clients can specify whether they require "managed" or "unmanaged" service levels:
- Managed Services - Dedicated servers equipped with extended support. Usually in the form of a proprietary "control panel," a managed dedicated account will allow non-technical users to easily set-up, maintain, and administer sites on the server. Most control panels operate under a user-friendly "point and click" interface (or GUI) that eliminates the need for command-line queries. Ideal for organizations that don't wish to invest time and capital in server administration.
- Unmanaged Services - While this provides the client with more control over the server, with more control comes more responsibility. Unmanaged accounts typically provide base root access to the server, which allows complete remote server administration. This requires a great degree of technical expertise, as every service on the box must be configured and managed by the client - which can cause serious system failures if you don't know what you're doing. For this reason, an unmanaged account is recommended only if you have a background in server administration, or have access to an experienced server administrator. This solution is appropriate for advanced Web developer who require root access to remotely administer the server, or create custom applications for their sites, as this can require an optimized environment.
I'm convinced, but what should I look for in a provider?
Quite simply, you should be able to design a server from the ground up. The dedicated host you decide upon should provide custom-made servers that are configured for the specific needs of your business. You should be able to choose the components, operating system, and open-source applications that you require.
Most importantly, the server should be completely scalable as your needs change. If you need a faster processor, storage space, or bandwidth, the upgrade process should be simple, seamless, fast, and affordable.
However, there's more to a dedicated host than the hardware. There should also exist accessible management, technical support, and consulting services. A host that provides managed services should provide full-time consulting services dedicated to your hosting resources, and while an unmanaged provider will require you to be responsible for managing your own hosting resources, consulting services should still be available for a nominal fee. Regardless of whether your service is managed or unmanaged, all dedicated hosting clients should be provided with an account manager who is dedicated to their service.
By shifting the responsibility for the expensive and time-consuming aspects of maintaining an in-house server can drastically reduce the cost of the technical competencies of your business. For e-commerce ventures, a dedicated account allows you to focus on sales and products, not hardware, and allows you to test the waters of a large-scale Web presence without requiring a large investment.
What is a Dedicated server?