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How to Choose the Dedicated Server Hosting for You
Ji Guo is a freelance writer. He has studied at various places, including Yale University. His work focuses on digital marketing, growth, and internet startups. He has written widely for publications including Newsweek.
What is Dedicated Server Hosting?
For many businesses, dedicated servers are essential. A dedicated server is essentially a rented computer that is available to one customer alone.
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.
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 onto 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 neighbour 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 customise 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 data center
- 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
But I could just buy a cheap shared hosting plan!
You might wonder why anyone would buy a dedicated server when shared hosting offers "unlimited" resources.
The fact is that the word "unlimited" can be misleading.
Shared hosting is aimed at personal or small business sites, and anything outside the norm will trigger alerts with your hosting company.
Larger companies often run into problems with bandwidth when they’re on shared hosting plans. 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. This means they will either slow or freeze the CPU available to your account. When this happens, it’s necessary for companies to upgrade to more powerful VPS plans or dedicated servers.
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 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.
If a plan states that it is fully managed, the hosting company will usually take care of the following things:
- They handle configuring and maintaining the servers
- They conduct a variety of maintenance tasks for your benefit
- They engage in server monitoring to check for failures or errors which prevents service disruptions
- They will take care of security concerns including virus scanning and firewall configuration
- Some web companies may include free consistent backups.
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 may not give you a control panel.
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 I 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 and cores
The CPU is the type of processing unit in the computer. CPUs can contain multiple cores. More cores provide the CPU with the ability to handle more requests. A quad-core processor has 4 cores while Intel Xeon core processors will contain many more cores.
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 for dedicated servers is typically allotted by the terabyte (TB), with higher amounts also giving you faster loading speeds.
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.
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.
As a result, your data is 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 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:
- You have your own server, which means you can do anything you want
- You can grow and expand your website
- You can run chat servers and other applications that you can't run on cheap hosting plans
- Your sites and applications will load quickly
- You're not going to be slowed down by other customers' bad coding
- Other customers can't complain if you hit a traffic spike
- You can 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:
- They're expensive
- They can be difficult for people without technical expertise to set up
- You really need management, or an in-house technician, if you want to avoid catastrophe
- Dedicated servers don't give you the peace of mind that cloud hosting can offer (although some hosts do market hybrid dedicated plans)
- Like all computers, they crash, and they're difficult to bring back online.
My Choices: Top 3 Dedicated Server Hosts
There are many thousands of hosting companies. But if you want dedicated hosting, I don't think you can go wrong with one of my 3 favoites: SiteGround, A2 Hosting, and LiquidWeb.
Dedicated Server plans taken from the SiteGround website
SiteGround is my top pick for dedicated server hosting. With an amazing customer support team, their dedicated server plans are fully managed.
Their technical support will reboot your server immediately upon your request and conduct diagnostics if there’s a failure. And with their full management, you don’t have to worry about software updates or server monitoring.
Dedicated Server plans taken from the A2 Hosting website
For a hybrid plan, A2 Hosting has very affordable semi-dedicated server options. This is a great solution for companies that need something in between shared hosting and dedicated server. But, these plans don’t include root access which may be a deal-breaker for developers. A2 also gives you options for unmanaged servers or fully-managed servers.
It’s worth noting that even their managed dedicated servers are cheaper than SiteGround’s. And, many people like that A2 lets you pay by the month instead of signing up for a full year of hosting.
LiquidWeb plans taken from the LiquidWeb website
A rare find in web hosting is a 100% uptime guarantee like the one offered by LiquidWeb. Their servers are built to order with your choice of either Linux or Windows. These dedicated servers are all managed, but users will also get full root access to them.
Get More Information on Dedicated Server Hosting
Need more info on dedicated hosting, and how it compares to shared, VPS and cloud hosting? Not sure if you need managed or unmanaged services?
Dedicated Server Hosting Frequently Asked Questions
What is dedicated server hosting?
Dedicated hosting is a type of web hosting plan where you have control over an entire physical server. Typically, these are heavy-duty rack-mounted servers in very large data centers.
With other types of hosting, you share the server with other customers.
Does dedicated hosting mean I own the server?
No. Different hosting companies describe their contracts differently, but usually, it's a form of lease or rental agreement.
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.
Why would a business choose a dedicated server?
Dedicated servers offer the maximum processing power and resources, without using a 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 is server management?
Dedicated servers can be a significant security risk if they are not properly managed and secured.
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 data center credentials?
It's a good idea to check that the data center offers good all-round security and features.
If the data center has an unreliable power supply, poor physical security, or a relatively slow connection to the internet, these things can negatively impact the performance of your website and applications.
Does it matter where the data center is located?
Yes. It's usually best to have the data center reasonably close to the people that will be visiting your site, or using your applications. At the very least, the data center should be on the same continent as your target audience.
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?
Mosts hosts offer a choice of Linux distributions on dedicated servers.
You can also run Windows Server if you need it for certain types of applications (.NET, ASP, Silverlight), but this usually costs more, because the software licenses need to be paid for.
With some hosting companies, you would have to handle purchasing and licensing yourself.
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. If they do step in, they'll probably bill you for it. So if you don't know how to manage the server, make sure you buy a fully managed package.
Do I have to monitor my server myself?
Yes, it's 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.
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, and they present more of an administration 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 server lease agreement.
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 resource on demand. These are not dedicated servers in the true sense, but offer a greater degree of flexibility.