Managed and Unmanaged Hosting: What’s the Difference?

Server

Shopping for a new hosting plan?
You may have to make the choice between managed and unmanaged hosting.

Most of us start out hosting our websites on shared servers, so we don’t come across the word ‘management’ at all. The term only really applies once we start looking for VPS hosting, semi-dedicated hosting or dedicated servers.

(In addition, you may come across the managed/ unmanaged dilemma when buying hosting in the cloud.)

There’s a clear price difference between unmanaged and managed, but it’s not a good idea to make your decision on cost alone. Picking the wrong plan could become extremely expensive in the long run.

Key Managed and Unmanaged Hosting Differences

When it comes to hosting, think of management as planned support.

  • On a managed hosting package, the host offers support for every problem or task, emergency or routine. There’s a limit, obviously, in that you may not get support for a coding problem on your blog. But the operating system, control panel, server setup and any pre-installed applications are all managed – supported, in other words. Often, managed hosting comes with automated backup and monitoring.
  • Unmanaged hosting is cheaper because there’s no management – i.e. no routine support. The host will replace failed components, reboot servers, maintain the network and keep the lights on, but it won’t support any software or install anything for you. It’s effectively your computer to maintain and control. You install security patches, you fix weird error messages and you’re responsible for installing everything but the OS. Many hosts won’t even provide a control panel or web server software: it’s up to you to do that.

If you get really stuck on unmanaged hosting, your host will charge you an hourly rate for basic help. Be warned: it’ll be very expensive, and it’ll probably wipe out the savings you made on buying a cheaper plan.

The Pros and Cons of Unmanaged Hosting

Unmanaged hosting gives you complete control: sole access and total freedom, just as though your server were your own computer. Unmanaged services are significantly cheaper than managed services, so if you’re comfortable with your OS, it’s a no brainer.

But if you’ll struggle to install a control panel from scratch, you’ll hit problems from day one. And do you really have the time to manage a server on top of all of your other tasks? Could you cope with every eventuality on your own?

Managed hosting is far less work and requires little expertise. If something goes wrong and you’re stuck, you can call on your host to give you a hand.

Which Solution is for You?

Everyone’s different, so we can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Could you deal with downtime if there was a software problem?
  • Are you comfortable applying security patches remotely?
  • Do you really need unfettered access?
  • Is the price difference worth the extra work?
  • Do you need a control panel, such as cPanel or Plesk?

In addition to wholly managed and unmanaged solutions, there are some companies, such as Layered Tech, that provide hybrid solutions. These setups will give you root access to your server, but will still provide a limited amount of support, usually in the form of a limited number of hours with a tech support agent. If you’re not sure what to do, look into a hybrid plan: it might give you the best of both worlds.

Balancing the Budget

What’s important to you: low cost, or fewer maintenance tasks?.

If you’re not comfortable tinkering with the insides of your server, you should stick to a managed solution. If your host doesn’t offer one, ask about a maintenance agreement or hybrid plan. And never sign up for a long unmanaged hosting contract if you’ve any doubts about your ability to handle the workload solo.

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Discussion

One Comment to “Managed and Unmanaged Hosting: What’s the Difference?”

  1. Nice article. I would like to point out one more thing, even if you choose the unmanaged server, some companies offer the first installation of your OS free of charged.

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