Why do you need a dedicated server?
The very first step in purchasing a dedicated server should be ensuring that you actually need a dedicated server. There are many other hosting options to be considered including shared hosting and virtual servers. At Anchor we see three independent reasons why customers may require a dedicated server, these are:
There are two reasons why performance becomes a factor in deciding to go to a dedicated server. The first is that the application has to date been hosted on a shared (or virtual server) environment and the load on the application has proved to be too high – ie – the hosting company has told you that you need your own server.
The second reason is that the application you’re hosting is very dependent on consistently fast response times. In a shared environment by definition you are using a shared resources, sometimes, not often, other users on the server can cause your site to slow down. If this can’t be tolerated then application performance can be a good reason to go to a dedicated server.
If you need control over the server to do things that you can’t do on a shared server then you are often forced into going dedicated. Control is usually in terms of the ability to perform configuration on the server yourself without restriction. If you want to be able to log in as an administrative or root user then you will need a dedicated server to gain this level of control.
Unless you are on a dedicated server, you surrender a degree of control of the server to the hosting company. This has the advantages of ensuring all changes are made by professional Systems Administrators but there are the disadvantages that if you are a budding Admin yourself, you have to wait for someone else to make changes on your behalf.
While shared servers are locked down to very high levels, the very fact that the server is accessible to other authorised users does introduce increased security risks in respect to host compromises. On a dedicated server you can be sure that any security breaches will only be a result of your own actions and not of somebody else.
The first thing that comes to mind for most people when deciding on a dedicated server specification is the hardware. You can see it and touch it so it’s an easy starting point. Choosing the right hardware on day one is critical to make sure that you find that balance between not over specifying and hence wasting money and not under specifying and hence finding you need to do an upgrade too soon.
Every application is different and so the loads that it will place on a server are very difficult to estimate. Pages, hits, visitors, data transfer/month can all act as a guide but the variability in load from one application to another can be so significant (and implementation-specific) that these figures might not tell you much.
Let’s have a look at the core hardware components in your server so you can see which ones warrant consideration when specifying a server. This table only attempts to discuss the components in the context of your ability to upgrade them in future, and the effect of the failure of this component on the delivery of services.
Depending on the service you purchase, your dedicated hosting provider will to varying degrees be responsible for monitoring the availability of your service.
If you need to know when services are going up or down it is important that your service provider is able to provide you with these reports. You should check for email or SMS based alert options.
Most dedicated servers come with an initial data transfer allowance. This can vary anywhere from a few GB’s in Australia through to a terabyte on offer by some overseas hosting providers.
Before you get carried away with choosing the host with the most bandwidth, try to work out how much bandwidth you actually need, then make sure the hosting package you’re choosing meets that requirement.
Providers that offer excessively high bandwidth allocations may not always be the best choice. They may also be attractive to other high bandwidth clients that subsequently cause congestion on the network, or relate to a service that is not providing the same quality of bandwidth as other providers.
In comparing the bandwidth allocation, our article on [[planning/dedicated-colocation-data-billing-models|dedicated server bandwidth billing models]] may also be of assistance.
While the server specifications are an easy component to identify in the selection process, there are other important things to make sure you get with your managed server.
Most dedicated servers will come with a base data usage allocation. Anything exceeding that, however, will attract excess usage charges.
It’s important that you do monitor your usage to make sure it’s in line with your business expectations, and that you have the ability to easily monitor it.
Look for a web based interface that allows you to query your usage stats when you need them. Ideally look for something that gives inbound as well as outbound data usage figures. If there is no online interface, online reports should also do the job.
Support is by far the most difficult component of a dedicated server package to accurately compare when choosing between hosts. To make this worse – support is actually the major point of interaction that you will have with your hosting company after the service is provisioned. The bit that will make the difference in what you get out of the hosting service will be the day to day interaction that you have with the hosting company.
We like to consider the provision of managed hosting services as a combination of three components:
- Hardware: the actual server hardware provisioned for you – as discussed above.
- The Environment: consisting of the Data Centre, the network and ancillary shared services that go into keeping the hosted services online.
- Support: the ongoing management of the software on your server.
The reason that most people use a managed hosting service is that they have an application that they need to be kept online 24 x 7, with as close to 100% uptime as possible. This goal cannot be achieved without a lot of work, the same way that you can’t expect a car to always run without fault without proper routine servicing. The higher the demands that are placed on the service, the more maintenance that will be required. To continue the analogy – consider the significant difference in maintenance of your family sedan with a race car.
If you’re buying a managed server – it’s important to make sure that you’re not just getting hardware, but also the level of support that is right for you. If you don’t, you can be assured that it will either turn up in the form of consultancy fees after you’ve signed the contract, or worse yet, you’ll suffer from outages as a result of the much needed maintenance not being carried out.
We often think of the support that is needed to maintain uptime as consisting of three core components:
- Detection, and
The more preventative work that is undertaken and systems that are monitored, the greater the chances of picking up changes to a service before they result in outages.
When considering alternative dedicated hosting providers, find out exactly what level of support is included in the quoted monthly charges and what services will attract additional fees.
Depending on your level of skills or interest in performing systems administration tasks, you need to make sure that the right level of service is being provided to keep the server online.
Typical support and maintenance tasks that you should ask about are:
- Firewall & Security
- Is a firewall configured on the server or on a dedicated firewall device?
- Who is responsible for maintaining it and making configuration changes?
- Are there any systems in place to detect if the security of my server gets compromised?
- Application and security updates
- Will security updates and patches for the programs and operating system be applied to my server?
- How often will updates be applied?
- What time of day will the updates applied?
- What services will monitoring cover?
- How frequently does the monitoring system poll the services?
- What reporting is provided for monitoring?
- What response is provided to problems when they are detected?
- What will happen if my application isn’t working but the monitoring system detects no problems?
- Application installation
- What applications will be installed at the time the server is built?
- What happens if I need additional applications installed at a later date?
- Configuration management
- Who is responsible for making configuration changes to the server?
- Do changes cost each time or are they included in the monthly fees?
- Provision of support services
- Can I call and have questions answered over the phone or will I have to email all support requests?
- Will I be able to talk directly with the support staff that build and maintain my server?
- What is the typical turn around time on non-urgent/urgent support requests?
- If my application is running slowly will you help to diagnose the problem?
- Do you collect any data on server load trends over time?
Ideally your hosting provider will be able to offer you with a support pack that covers either the rudimentary tasks required to keep your server secure, or better yet, the services that are needed to meet your expectations of support.
Any such support pack that is offered for a fixed monthly fee will have a defined scope to avoid it costing the hosting company too much money in the case of the more demanding clients. Find out what the scope is, or what the limits are if you’re choosing a support pack. Make sure they are documented as part of the contract.