Last updated: November 13, 2020
What is a Dedicated Server?
A dedicated server is essentially a rented computer that is available to one customer alone. The host provides all the infrastructure to support it and in many cases does the basic management to keep it running. It is distinct from co-location where a host provides the infrastructure for your own server.
That makes dedicated servers an expensive solution, but it also gives professionals the capacity they need to run resource-intensive applications or host websites that have to cope with huge traffic spikes. For many businesses, dedicated servers are essential.
When you select this kind of hosting, you get, as the name suggests, a dedicated server all to yourself. No other website lives on that server but yours. All the server's storage space and speed are there for the benefit of your site alone.
Important Benefits of a Dedicated Server
Shared hosting is normally the cheapest hosting available from a web hosting company. Once a site outgrows the shared environment, it can be upgraded into a more flexible plan with higher capacity: normally a Virtual Private Server (VPS).
The trouble with a VPS is that it's still based on sharing. In terms of its virtual existence, it's isolated, but it still shares a single physical server with a clutch of other VPS clients. There are fewer risks of problems from overutilization, but the VPS instances are not entirely isolated.
As a consequence, VPS customers only have partial control over the hosting environment, and they can still run into problems if a neighbor behaves badly.
A dedicated server is just that: dedicated to one customer. The entire box is yours. This means acres of space, huge bandwidth limits and no sharing. More importantly, it means that the customer is free to tweak and customize the whole environment, including the server operating system.
Seven Benefits of Using a Dedicated Server
- There's no-one to compete with for page load speed
- There's no-one to compete with for uptime
- You get to choose your operating system
- You get to install whatever applications are required
- All the fire and disaster protection is already set up
- Your server is protected by physical security at the datacenter
- There's a speedy network connection to the outside world.
Developers get root access to the server so they can do what they want on it. This is often the only way to host advanced scripts and applications.
Dedicated Resources vs Unlimited Resources
You may think you could just buy a cheap shared hosting plan since most of them offer "unlimited" resources like storage space and bandwidth. But the word "unlimited" is misleading
Shared hosting is aimed at personal or small business sites, and anything outside the norm will trigger alerts with your hosting company.
Since web servers can only handle a certain amount of bandwidth usage, heavy usage takes resources away from other people on the same server. This negatively affects the performance of websites hosted on the server.
To keep single users from using more than their fair share of resources, web hosting companies may throttle your CPU. But more likely, they will simply stop hosting you until you upgrade to a VPS or dedicated server plan.
Dedicated Servers Provide Options
Additionally, dedicated server customers can set their own rules, their own security policies, and control every aspect of the software they run.
If the business outgrows its dedicated server, it can have the server upgraded or rent a second one.
Dedicated servers are sold with fixed resources. Some hosts offer dizzying arrays of options, allowing you to choose the brand of server, operating system, RAM, disk space and software. Additionally, you can choose between managed and unmanaged; the latter is pretty risky unless you're a server administrator.
Managed vs Unmanaged Dedicated Hosting
Managed hosting services means that the servers are fully taken care of by the hosting company.
Shared and cloud hosting plans are always at least partially managed by the hosting company. But this is usually optional with dedicated servers. Unmanaged dedicated servers are typically cheaper since they require less administrative work by the host company.
Fully Managed Servers
If a plan states that it is fully managed, the hosting company will usually take care of the following things:
- Configuring and maintaining the servers
- Conducting server maintenance tasks
- Server monitoring to check for failures or errors which prevents service disruptions
- Updating software, virus scanning, configuring firewall, and other security tasks
- Backing up the system.
With managed hosting, you'll probably have access to the control panel for your server.
Control panels let users manage their hosting environment such as scaling bandwidth needs and viewing valuable website statistics. Unmanaged dedicated plans usually don't come with a control panel but one may be offered as an add-on.
The most popular control panels are cPanel (mostly for Linux machines) and Plesk (mostly for Windows machines). Depending upon how they are configured, they can help you manage files and websites. But the fundamental server maintenance must normally be done by hand.
This is another reason why unmanaged plans are only recommended for server administrators or people who really know what they're doing.
Managed hosting will also typically include 24/7 customer support. This is important, because when you're running your own server, you're not just paying for cloud computing, but for the physical hardware that stores your web projects.
So, if something should go wrong with your server, your data isn't relocated to another server as it is in cloud hosting environments.
If you experience server failure, you want to be able to contact technical support as soon as possible. That's why we recommend picking a web host that has round the clock support for dedicated server plans.
What to Look for in a Dedicated Server Hosting Plan
When you're viewing dedicated server plans, you'll notice a couple of things.
First, the specifications of each plan will differ from how resources are listed in shared hosting plans. These four things will tell you the power you'll get from your server:
- CPU: The CPU is the type of processing unit in the computer. It can be of any type but most dedicated servers use Intel Xeon processors that are designed for workstations and servers. CPUs can contain multiple cores, which are individual processing units. More cores provide the CPU with the ability to handle more requests. A quad-core processor has 4 cores. One of the advantages of the Intel Xeon is that it can offer dozens of cores (4 or 8 are more common).
- RAM: More gigabytes (GB) of RAM will allow your server to handle working with more information at the same time, helping it load data much faster.
- Bandwidth: Bandwidth for dedicated servers is typically allotted by the terabyte (TB), often including multiple connections.
- Storage: Data storage, of course, will tell you how much space you have on the server for files. Bigger applications will need larger data storage amounts. Increasingly, servers use solid-state drives (SSDs) with SATA hard-disk drives (HDDs) used for back-up.
The general thing to remember is that more resources will give your business more power and flexibility for expanding.
Many dedicated servers include RAID, which stands for redundant array of independent disks. This allows data to be stored on multiple hard disks on the server.
There are, roughly speaking, three kinds of RAID. RAID-0 provides striping, which increases drive throughput. RAID-1 provides data mirroring. Everything is saved on two drives so that if one drive fails, there is no data loss. RAID-5 adds parity to RAID-0 so it is possible to recalculate data lost on another drive.
Depending on the kind of RAID used, your data is faster and protected in the event that one hard drive fails. Hosting companies will usually state if they use a RAID configuration on their servers.
What About Cloud Hosting?
Shared hosting is certainly designed for small sites, and VPS hosting has its limitations. Cloud hosting is ideal for businesses that experience fluctuating traffic, since you generally only pay for what you use.
The drawback of cloud hosting is that you don't have total control, so security could be more of a concern. Cloud servers can also be more difficult to monitor.
If you're not sure that dedicated is the right option, take a look at a cloud or hybrid (dedicated combined with virtualization) hosting plan and compare the features.
Pros and Cons of Dedicated Servers
There are many reasons why people expend the extra money and effort to have a dedicated server. And there are also reasons people avoid them.
Dedicated Hosting Pros
For many individuals and companies, dedicated hosting is exactly what you want. Here are some of the reasons:
- Set-up your server any way you want
- Grow and expand your website
- Run chat servers and other applications that you can't run on cheap hosting plans
- Get great performance because all resources are yours
- Be unaffected by others' security or coding problems
- Have no concern about harming others' performance
- Lock your server down against security threats and attacks.
Dedicated Hosting Cons
Buying hosting can be confusing, and it's tempting to buy the biggest and best. However, dedicated servers are not ideal for everyone because:
- Relatively expensive
- Difficult for people without technical expertise to set up
- Complex maintenance requires specialist
- Still constrained by physical hardware that can fail (although some hosts do market hybrid dedicated plans)
- Can be hard to manage in a crisis because they are not local.
Dedicated Server Frequently Asked Questions
- What is dedicated server hosting?
Dedicated hosting provides you with complete access to a physical server. The only aspect of a dedicated server that is shared with other users is the network connection. People normally choose dedicated hosting when they have particularly demanding projects or specialized security needs. VPS and Cloud hosting plans can be alternatives for dedicated hosting.
- Does dedicated hosting mean I own the server?
No. Different hosting companies describe their contracts differently, but usually, it's a form of a lease or rental agreement. Co-location is similar to dedicated hosting. With it, the host provides you with the infrastructure (network, security) for a server that you own.
- When do I need a dedicated server?
In most cases, needing a dedicated server means your website has grown to the point where your traffic consistently outstrips the capabilities of a shared server or VPS.
You will want to make sure that your website does have the necessary traffic to justify the cost of the dedicated server, as it will likely be a significant increase. However, a slow, laggy website can hit your bottom line and hurt your business as well, so it's up to you to do the cost benefit analysis.
- What kinds of server equipment can I get with dedicated server hosting?
Different hosts have different servers and different specifications. Some have a small number of packages, while others provide very long lists of different configurations. Generally, servers are fairly powerful. Xeon server-class CPUs are most commonly used. And servers normally have at least 4 GB of RAM, 500 GB of (SSD or HDD) storage, and at least a few TB of monthly bandwidth.
- Why choose dedicated hosting?
Dedicated servers offer the maximum processing power and resources, without using cloud infrastructure. With a dedicated plan, you have the full resources of the physical server at your disposal, so you can run resource-intensive software. Most dedicated server plans allow you to create your own configurations and install any software that you need.
- What does "fully managed" mean?
When a web host offers a fully managed server, they take care of all the basic security and maintenance. It will still be your responsibility to create websites and do what you need the server for. But the technical issues of keeping the server up and running properly is managed for you.
- What is the difference between cloud VPS and dedicated server hosting?
A dedicated server is a physical machine. VPS stands for "virtual private server" and it is a way of creating an isolated software server. In a traditional VPS, a physical machine is divided into a number of virtual machines; in a cloud VPS, the cloud is divided up into a number of virtual machines.
- How many websites can I host on a dedicated server?
For the most part, your dedicated server is yours to do with as you will. So there is no limit to the number of websites you can host in theory. You will be limited by the resources of your dedicated server. But a powerful dedicated server can host hundreds and even thousands of websites.
- Can I upgrade my cloud VPS to a dedicated server?
Most hosts that offer VPS plans also offer dedicated plans, so it shouldn't be difficult to upgrade. However, it does mean backing up your virtual server and restoring it on the new dedicated server. And given that there are differences between the two servers, there may be much work to configure the dedicated server correctly.
- What is server management?
Dedicated servers can be a significant security risk if they are not properly managed and secured. And if they aren't properly maintained, they won't work at all. If you don't have an in-house technical expert to do this, it's a good idea to purchase a plan that includes management.
- Do I need to check the datacenter credentials?
It's a good idea to check that the datacenter offers good all-round security and features. If the datacenter has an unreliable power supply, poor physical security, or a relatively slow connection to the internet, you should look elsewhere because your dedicated server will be in danger.
- Does it matter where the datacenter is located?
Yes. It's usually best to have the datacenter reasonably close to the people that will be visiting your site or using your applications. At the very least, the datacenter should be on the same continent as your target audience. If this is not possible, a CDN can mitigate any performance problems.
Bear in mind that there may be legal implications (both positive and negative) when you place data on a server in another country.
- What operating systems can I run on a dedicated server?
Most hosts offer a choice of Linux distributions on dedicated servers such as CentOS, Ubuntu Server, and Red Hat Enterprise. You can also run Windows Server if you need it for certain types of applications (.NET, ASP, Silverlight). These usually cost more, however.
- What software applications can I run on a dedicated server?
You should be able to install anything you like because you have complete access to the server. If you have any special requirements, check with the host before you commit to a contract. Some hosts may prohibit some types of content, but there are niche hosting providers for these.
- Are there any limitations on what I can do with a dedicated server?
Terms of Service for dedicated servers usually specifically prohibit illegal content. Remember: what's legal in your own country may not be legal in your host's country, so be careful. Many providers will object to sexual or graphic content, some types of political content, and material that violates copyright law.
You need to be especially mindful of the law if you are running a site that allows users to upload their own content to your server. For example, on a social media website, it's impossible to manually approve everything that users do.
- Do I need to know about server administration in order to run a dedicated server?
No, but it helps because you will be responsible for the server, the content, the data security, and all of the software. For example, you must keep scripts up to date, secure it properly, and ensure that it doesn't provide an open relay. Many hosts won't help you if your server is wrongly configured. So if you can't manage the server, make sure you buy a fully managed package.
- Do I have to monitor my server myself?
It is a good idea to use monitoring tools to keep track of the status of your server. If you have a managed or semi-managed plan, your host may monitor it for you. If not, they may offer the service as an add-on.
- Can I get the hosting company to manage my dedicated server?
Yes. Hosting management ranges from "remote hands" support (which covers hardware and a few other tasks) to complete monitoring and management. You can also buy additional services, such as backup plans. There is always a cost involved with management, so if a dedicated server looks particularly cheap, check that it comes with the support that you actually expect.
- Are there any drawbacks to dedicated server hosting?
Dedicated servers are much more expensive than a VPS or shared hosting plan. And they present more of an administrative burden. If you aren't totally sure that you need a dedicated server, it's probably wise to begin with a VPS, rather than signing up for a lengthy dedicated server contract.
- Is dedicated server hosting scalable?
A dedicated server provides much more storage and bandwidth than a traditional virtual private server, but there is still a physical limit on processing speed and storage. Once you hit those limits, you'll need to upgrade your hardware in order to expand.
Some hosting providers will offer cloud or hybrid plans that allow you to increase resources on demand. It is also possible to have a private cloud built for you.