Friday, 8 February 2013

Dedicated Servers vs Virtual Servers

Choosing between dedicated and virtual servers for your business can be a big decision. But you don’t need to be an expert in CPU cores, RAID disk space and disk transactions to be able to make the right choice.

The key is to known the main requirements for your business, look at the advantages and disadvantages for each solution, and work with the best internal and external specialists to achieve the right results.

The main difference between dedicated and virtual servers is simple. With the former, you pay to control a dedicated box, whereas the virtual option gives you space on a server that may host several other virtual environments, and is optimised to allow the best allocation of that resource.

Server room

Virtual Servers:

There are some big advantages to using Virtual Servers. One of the primary ones is cost – as low as £9.95 a month for a Virtual Server package from some providers. That compares to the entry point for a dedicated server starting at £89 per month.

That’s a big amount over the course of a year for small or medium-sized businesses, especially if you’re not sure you’re going to use everything a dedicated resource will give you. And even larger companies can use a virtual server to launch small or experimental projects at far less expense.

Although there are some concerns around the use of virtualisation software, this has developed and evolved to make little difference to server performance, and means that your share of resources will be optimised at all times. For example a company I've worked with uses Xen, which operates at around 2% of total performance, and provides a high level of isolation between virtual instances.

Other benefits include the fact that a shared resource is easily scalable. You can get an upgrade in the event of a huge surge in traffic, without committing to a big new piece of hardware. If that business sticks around, you’ll be happy to pay a little more. If it doesn't then at least you don’t have a dedicated server sitting around doing nothing except costing you money.

You also get the benefits of fast and easy migration. The connectivity and software controls mean that it’s possible to not only shift servers without problems, but also to restore a backup hosted on a different virtual machine, for example.

Virtual servers are largely isolated and are closely managed to meet stated performance guarantees, but the one downside is if peak times and larger surges occur – particularly if they happen to a number of services at the same time.

Dedicated Servers:

Purchasing a dedicated server means that somewhere there’s a box with your name on it. For larger businesses, it can be necessary to have completely dedicated resources, especially if you’re dealing with huge traffic numbers or specialise in streaming large quantities of video and audio. In terms of hosting websites, you’d often need to hosting thousands to require a high specification dedicated server.

It’s still a more cost effective option than creating your own server room, which incurs costs not only for potentially valuable real estate, but also for the necessary cooling requirements. Plus there are health and safety rules to follow, including fire safety.

Your server is completely isolated, with no shared hardware, and you have full control over the hardware components as well as software.

But there are disadvantages. Firstly, the entry cost is much higher, and requires a significant upfront investment. If you’re not sure of traffic or success, it can be a lot to pay for redundant power until you actually need it. Often, hosting companies will allow you to easily scale up on a virtual server and migrate across when dedicated power is needed.

It’s also less flexible than a virtual equivalent. The resource you have is essentially static and requires downtime to upgrade – when your server is offline, so are you.  In terms of emergencies and hardware failures, RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) should keep you going until support staff can make a fix.

Choosing between Virtual and Dedicated Servers:

Essentially the choice is simplified to what purpose you have for the server, and what the realistic potential traffic will be. In most cases, a virtual server will be more than enough to get started, and run your business for some time. If you need to switch, then it’s always an option when the business needs require it.

Dedicated servers are always an option, but it’s important to be realistic about whether you’ll need the extra performance and options unless you’re a very large media-streaming or high traffic website (Or group of websites). And unless you’re prepared to administer the server manually, you may also need to pay for a control panel to se your server.

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