Readers that want complete control of their web hosting environment often decide to purchase a dedicated server for their web hosting needs. As my last written guide on dedicated server hosting was in 2009; I believe it is time for me to revisit the facts and get a fresh copy done on the topic.
Introduction: The Basics Of Dedicated Hosting
Unlike shared servers in which one computer is shared among several clients, a dedicated server provides a customer with their own computer that is managed by the web hosting company. The web hosting company takes on the responsibility of ensuring that the equipment runs properly and takes care of any hardware related issues. Typically, customers are expected to have the knowledge to manage their own software installations and troubleshoot any software related issues that arise. Since other users are not hosted on the same computing environment, a dedicated server usually provides additional security when configured properly. This is extremely important for a business that needs to protect valuable information.
While dedicated servers provide additional flexibility, privacy and the ability to run any application or operating system, this freedom comes with additional responsibility. Many companies choose to lease a dedicated server to house different aspects of a companies business. For instance, one server may be used solely for email, another for databases and a third for actual website content. The actual hardware for the server is stored in a data center that gives the hosting company easy access to monitor the health of the hardware and swap any parts as needed. While the hosting company takes care of any hardware related issues, it is generally acknowledged that the customer must take care of all but the initial installations and software optimizations.
Most customers opt to install a control panel to make it easier to administer the dedicated server. The most commonly used administration tools are CPanel and WHM. CPanel makes it possible to upload files to a Linux based system, create backups, install software applications and monitor hardware usage. WHM is the container for CPanel and makes it possible to protect the server against hackers, viruses, rootkits and other security risks.
Security: Protecting Visitors and Content
Administrators for dedicated servers are tasked with several responsibilities. They must set up and manage the software firewall, test for rootkits and install the necessary software, and understand what programs cause security vulnerabilities within the server environment. Administers must also be knowledgeable in how to detect brute force attacks and other malicious attacks used by hackers. Additionally, an administer should know how to mask the operating system and other identifying information that might be used by a hacker to find weaknesses in the security of the website.
Securing the website is crucial to protect sensitive visitor information and prevent the website from getting blacklisted in search engine results. Websites that are known to distribute malware, even if it is through no fault of their own are often penalized and in some cases completely removed from search results. For a website that relies upon search engine results to find content, this penalty is extreme and can destroy an otherwise successful business.
Managed or Unmanaged Servers: When to Hire Help
Luckily, there is help for the webmaster that knows how to design and program an effective website but doesn’t know how to manage or ensure that software installations are up-to-date. For users that need the flexibility and freedom to run a wider range of applications but don’t have the skills necessary to protect the website, many hosting providers offer managed severs. A managed server is professionally setup and maintained to ensure that the website remains safe and protected from threats. If something does threaten the server, skilled technicians can combat and protect the server from harm.
Unmanaged servers leave all of the daily cron jobs and scheduled tasks to the customer to set up and regulate. Little help is provided when things go wrong. Although, many hosting companies will help a new customer setup the initial account, if something goes awry, they are expected to have the knowledge to correct issues on their own. The customer is often responsible for several aspects of managing a server, including updating the operating system, applying patches and ensuring that the security of the system is up-to-date and complete.
Managed servers operate much more like a shared server in regards to security and software updates. On a shared server, the client never has to worry about installing updates for the operating system, applying patches, plugging security holes and monitoring traffic. The same is true for a managed server. Web hosting companies generally provide managed servers for an additional fee. The convenience of relegating the management of the server to the hosting company makes this an ideal solution for website designers and owners that have little experience with managing a server.
Hardware Options: Determining Required Resources
When purchasing a dedicated server it is essential to know precisely how much memory, hard disk space, bandwidth and CPU power is needed. Also, users must know what type of operating system works best for their needs. For a website that just has simple text and image based content, then it won’t be necessary to have large computing resources. For customers that are running large content management systems such as Joomla or educational systems such as Moodle, it is crucial to take into account available RAM, CPU and disk space requirements. When an application exceeds the allowable resources, the server may crash and need a manual reboot to continue serving pages to visitors.
The operating system determines what applications can run on the computer. Consider the difference between an Apple and Windows computer. Both systems can run software, but the software has to be specific to the operating system. For instance, an application written for a Linux computer can’t run on a Windows computer. Knowing ahead of time what type of operating system will be run ensures that installed applications will run as expected. Most servers run a version of Linux or Windows on the server.
The amount of memory in a system partially determines how many tasks can be run at the same time and the speed at which they are run. Systems with low amounts of RAM will take longer to process information. This could result in a loss of sales on an eCommerce site or lost visitors on a site with several applications. Memory is also referred to as RAM. Basically, it is just a method of storing information that is needed immediately. Many system processes and other functions that require quick access are stored in RAM.
Disk space is crucial to ensure that the website can serve images, video, text and applications. When a system runs out of disk space, online backups are no longer possible and additional uploads to the server fail. Some software installations require more disk space than others. It is important to get the disk space usage right before starting on a dedicated server. When more disk space is needed, the entire contents of the hard drive often have to be transferred to a new computer. This can potentially create downtime and a loss of business if it isn’t performed correctly and with careful timing.
Data transfer, or more commonly, bandwidth usage deals with how much information is served per month. Hosting companies have to charge for bandwidth since computer hard drives eventually fail. Bandwidth usage is determined based on the costs of replacing a hard drive and the expected life of the hard drive. Increasing the bandwidth for a busy site can generally be accomplished within 24 hours. Some hosting companies even allow the possibility for immediate changes to bandwidth requirements through an online ordering system.
The CPU determines the processing power of the server. Dual-core and Multi-core CPUs provide better performance and balance the workload over more than one processor. The processing speed determines the speed at which the pages are served and how long it takes to run a particular process or application. Backups take longer on a system with a slow processing speed. In fact, just about anything the computer does is affected by the processing speed of the computer. For website owners that need fast and reliable service, they should spring for the most expensive processor they can afford. The difference in speed will be immediately noticeable by website users.
One of the most important tasks for a website owner is the regular backup of the server. Don’t rely on the online backup tool to preserve a backup for future use. Most website owners should back up the entire server once per week. This can be completed through a control panel such as CPanel or by downloading all of the databases and files associated with the account on a weekly basis. Leaving the backup online won’t do any good if the entire hard drive fails. The safest solution is to download the backup and store it on a separate hard drive that is dedicated to backups. This ensures that if something does go wrong with the website a recent backup is available. Additionally, it makes sense to perform a full backup of everything on the website before making any major systems changes, operating system or software updates.
Quick Comparison Guide On Dedicated Hosting Deals
|CPU||Xeon 3360 /|
|3.0 GHz /|
|RAM Memory||2 GB||2 GB||2 GB|
|Storage||2 x 250 GB||2 x 160 GB||2 x 160 GB|
|Bandwidth||10 TB||2 TB||2.5 TB|
|Dedicated IP Add.||5||1||5|
There are, of course, plenty of dedicated hosting providers around the globe but for easy reference, I picked the three I’m most familiar with so you can have a quick glance on the general. For further research, I suggest reading my hosting reviews. Also, I would like to point out that the price and features of different dedicated hosting deals often vary greatly. This is because dedicated hosting plans, unlike shared hosting, are generally non-standard hosting plans; thus hosting companies are able to price their dedicated deals freely based on their man-power, expertise, as well as business margin. And, this is why, as a smart shopper like you, will need to do more homework and compare more different dedicated hosting deals when searching for one.