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Small and large businesses have a range of server options to choose from to host their website, web application or mail server. It can be confusing to decide what to choose that will best meet the needs of a business, individual or organization.

We’ll talk about the differences between a dedicated server and a virtual private server (VPS) as well as what factors you should consider when deciding which one to go with.

Before we dive in the details, let’s go over some key terms first.

What is a server?

A server is a computer designed to process requests and send data to another computer over the Internet or a local network. Different servers have different purposes. Some networks need the server to manage the communication between all of the computers while another server could be a computer that manages printer resources.

While there are hundreds of specialized types of servers, each have varying features and benefits. Its hardware is designed to tolerate more data and processes than a normal computer.

In another example, if a company has staff, one accounting software could be installed on a main computer server for the employees to use throughout the office. All of an organization’s data is on the main server. When the employees get on their computer, the files are not directly on their machine but rather on the server, making the information more secure.

The difference between a dedicated server and virtual private server

Think of a dedicated server like someone who lives in their own home. The house is the server and the person is the user. One person can use all of the space and energy that the home provides. But of course this is more expensive because this person is paying for all of the costs for the maintenance, security and upgrades.

A virtual private server is like someone is living in an apartment building unit. The server is the entire apartment building and the apartment unit is the client. While there are other people living in the same building, you have your own allocated and secure space that you paid for. If the neighbour is using a lot of electricity and water, it doesn’t affect the resources you can use in your apartment space.

With a virtual private server, several customers will be using the same server but only on allocated parts that are isolated from each other. So no matter how many resources another person is using, it doesn’t affect the speed and security of another customer.

Key Terms Related to Servers

Here are some other relevant terms that are important understand when you are deciding what kind of server to use.

Bandwidth: The amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time. On digital devices, bandwidth is usually shown as bits per second (bps) such as 100Mbps or 393Mbbs.

Storage: Also called memory. It is the process where digital data is saved on a device.

Central processing unit (CPU): The part of a computer that is responsible for interpreting and executing the demands from the other hardware and software. It’s the brain of the computer where most of the calculations take place.

Rapid Access Memory (RAM): The physical hardware in a computer that temporarily stores data and acts as the computer’s “working” memory so it can read and write faster than using a hard drive. More RAM allows a computer to work with more information at the same time and has a significant impact on the total system performance.

Cloud hosting (or virtual private server): Another way to store data across multiple computers and access it through a network connection like the Internet. As a whole, the cloud acts like a single physical computer with endless processing power and storage space.  

Questions to consider when choosing a server

These are just a few factors to think about when you are choosing what type of server you want to use:

When to use a dedicated server

A dedicated server is a physical computer that is provided on a hosting company’s premises and provides a single customer access to all of the resources it needs including relevant software, internet connection, storage and a CPU. The user’s computer or network of computers is connected remotely to the server at a monthly price and doesn’t share the resources with another customer.

The dedicated hosting server provider is responsible for building, security and maintaining the server. You’re generally not metered for bandwidth so if you use a lot of data within your allocated storage, you’re not charged more money.

Some hosting providers limit what can be installed depending on the resource allocation. A server might not always give full control of their of their virtual modules. But dedicated servers enable customers to customize the software it runs. While it’s less scalable than virtual private servers, they are more powerful and can have higher processing speeds.

Dedicated servers are usually used by large businesses and organizations that have high levels of data security or high demands for server capacity like big data platforms. The server is taking the full weight of a system.

There are a variety of reasons why organizations will benefit from a dedicated hosting server. Many gaming companies will have their own server because of the amount of data being used and the number of players on their websites. A multinational company could have a dedicated North American server. Some companies also configure and sell their hosting space to other clients.

Users of a dedicated server will need the IT capacity to manage the server’s maintenance, security and upgrades whether it is in-house or outsourced to the hosting provider.

Here are some of the benefits of using a dedicated server:

Custom-designed to the user

A customer has the flexibility to configure the server to meet their own needs for CPU, RAM, disk space or software. With some other types of serves, there may be software the user doesn’t’ need or lacks the things that they do.

Security

It is set up to protect data and withstand security threats. Because sensitive data is on a single server, there is much less risk to infiltration, interception and loss of data. It can also handle enhanced security for companies that have transactions over FTP and SSL.

Accommodates high traffic websites

Because you have exclusive use of a server’s entire resources, you don’t have to share your bandwidth with other clients. You have a reliable amount of data for what you pay to keep your applications running smoothly.

Can make many separate domains

It makes it easy to manage, support and streamline the different websites an organization is managing.

When to use virtual private server hosting

A virtual private server is a single physical server that is virtually divided into mini-servers. VPS is more commonly known as cloud hosting. It allows you to store all of your files and data for your website on web space that has been set up to act like a standalone dedicated server. Depending on what plan you buy, you will get your own CPU, RAM, storage, bandwidth and other features.

A virtual private server is great for e-commerce stores, forum communities, growing apps and online radio stations to name a few examples. More businesses are choosing this option as the virtualization costs get lower and performance increases.

Here are some of the benefits of the virtual private server:

Gain total control of the server

You have full root access which means that you have control over the server environment to customize it to your needs.

Quick to set up

The time varies but the set up can be within minutes to a few hours depending on the business and its requirements.

Security and stability

If one of the physical servers has a problem, another sever can take over so your website doesn’t go down. Because each client has their own dedicated space, if another client gets hacked, it doesn’t affect other accounts. The concept is similar to a thief breaking into one apartment in a building and stealing someone’s stuff. But this security threat doesn’t affect the other apartment units in the same building.

Need for speed

Your website can by accessed from multiple locations with a VPS as opposed to one physical location, which improves the site speed. Strong technology combined with more CPU and RAM speeds up the loading time. It’s crucial to have a fast website because a slow load time can result in a loss of sales and attention from potential customers.

Flexible scalability

Businesses can simply upgrade or downgrade their hosting plan and their websites can continue without interruption. If you suddenly get a huge increase in web traffic, you can quickly add more RAM with a click of a button. On the other hand, if you find you don’t need as many product features, you can also scale down your plan and pay less.

Cost-effective

Users only only pay for the amount of resources they use and the advances in the virtualization of technologies keeps lowering the price. It’s much cheaper to host on a virtual private than a physical server because each client is sharing a part of a whole server and the costs are distributed.

Managed Server Vs. Unmanaged Server

A managed server has their own maintenance and backup systems. The hosting company will carry out regular maintenance work, make sure the latest security patches are applied and keep the server running throughout the day. If there is a problem with the server, it’s the host’s responsibility to fix it and get it back online.

An unmanaged server is generally for organizations with IT staff who have the knowledge and experience to set up and run a server. The web hosting company will just set up the server and a base install of the operating system. The server host is only responsible for the physical hardware and ensuring a permanent connection to the Internet. After that, the customer is responsible for installing the required software, configuring it, and keeping the server up to date with the latest security patches.

Larger organizations that have the financial resources can choose to hire full-time server administrators to deal with issues that might arise. But smaller businesses that aren’t able to hire dedicated IT experts can choose a fully managed server which is less expensive and time-consuming than hiring server administrators.

It takes a lot of work to manage servers because they are complex machines that hold powerful software. A high level of expertise is required to keep these machines secure and make sure they consistently perform well. If mistakes are made, the server can be exposed to hackers or have performance issues.

Organizations or individuals that want to focus on their business whether they are app developers, service providers and growing e-commerce sites often use fully managed servers so they don’t have to worry about continuous IT staffing, support for web hosting services and control panel troubleshooting.

Summary

A dedicated server is a single computer that provides a customer with related software, storage, internet connection and power to meet an organization’s needs. This type of server is great for organizations with a large amount of data and highly sensitive information. It is customizable to each user’s needs and very secure against malware. Because it allows one client to use all of the resources of a server, it is more expensive to maintain.

A virtual private server is a single server that is divided into mini-servers for different clients to use. Each min-sever acts as a standalone server. So when one client uses up the space of their own virtual private server, it doesn’t affect the website performance and security of other clients’ servers. This is a great option for e-commerce stores or forum communities.

Some important things to consider when choosing to go with a dedicated server or a virtual private server are what applications are needed, the required power, the amount of memory, if the business will scale, the sensitivity of data and the likelihood of upgrading the server.

Having a managed server means the server provider will take care of continuously monitoring, maintaining, fixing and securing the server. This option is great for businesses that don’t have their own dedicated IT staff. Organizations that choose an unmanaged server often have their own staff to manage and maintain it.

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