Friday, July 17, 2009

Is It Time To Switch To A Dedicated Server? Pros & Cons

Is Your Site Fast? It Is With A Dedicated Server. Zooooooom.

For those new to web hosting services, a quick recap. The lowest cost service is shared hosting where you rent a certain amount of disk space on a server from a web host. You can find this kind of service at a low cost because web hosts can place over 1,000 shared hosting clients on a single server. Very economical and ideal for start-ups and sites that don’t anticipate much traffic.

VPS (virtual private server) is a hybrid between shared and dedicated hosting, providing both the pros and cons of shared hosting and dedicated or managed hosting.

Dedicated servers are just that – dedicated. One server one company. Dedicated severs cost more and are only cost efficient for active commercial sites and business sites with international clientele.

Deciding when it’s time to take your on-line business to the next level isn’t always clear. Monthly costs are higher. Visitor expectations grow daily and, frankly if you don’t offer some bells, whistles and interactivity on your circa 1999 web site, you’re going to be left in the dust.

The biggest problems with dedicated servers have always been maintenance and software compatibility. Many hosts figure that if the client is able to pay hundreds a month for super-supreme hosting, s/he must be working with a site design or SEO company and they must know what they’re doing. This isn’t always the case. In fact, there are many successful, on-line entrepreneurs who rely on web pros for most of their technical services. Oh, and the more services and products there are, the more costly those outside services become. As-needed tech support can really nibble at those margins.

Check out a few SEO or design companies to see what it’s going to cost you to bring your site up to date or improve conversion rate when you move to a dedicated server, and keep the smelling salts close at hand. It’ll cost thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars to design, launch and administer an active and interactive web site.

Plus You Have to Take Care of the Thing

Many web hosts leave the client hanging after that client has signed a nice long contract for a dedicated server. They must use an outside design service. But what about maintenance? You have to take care of the thing!

When you upgrade to a new checkout, are you going to be certain that you won’t wipe out your entire customer database? Or lose that hard-earned Google PR only to slip into the nether regions of the world wide web? If you don’t know what you’re doing installing, deleting and moving sensitive data and software, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone knowledgeable to walk you through it step by step, or better yet, who just goes to your server, inserts tab A into slot B and you’re done with it.

Then There’s Managed or Dedicated Servers for the Digitally Challenged

Do you have a clue what z/OS is? Do you know what a services manager does? If not, don’t take that leap to the one-company-one box model until you ask a bunch of questions (expensive, lots-of-money types of questions).

If you have (or are) a computer professional (most growing companies can’t afford one), no problem. Go with the bare bones hardware and let your technician do his stuff. You can stand right over his shoulder and make changes on the fly. But if you don’t have your own geek, don’t worry. If your business has grown to the point where a dedicated server is required, and you know diddly about digital technology, the solution is managed hosting.

Let Someone Else Do It

With managed hosting, your company enjoys all of the benefits dedicated servers have to offer – a huge amount of disc space, whopping bandwidth for really active sites and complete freedom to load or unload whatever software you choose. Nothing like it and essential for growing businesses.

However, with managed hosting, glitches are taken care of by the hosting service. In fact, part of the web host’s job is to deliver the highest level of service in the shortest amount of time to keep that existing customer base in place.

Here’s What You Want from Dedicated Hosting or Managed Service (same thing)

First, look at the company’s history. Have they been around for more than a week? How many clients do they serve? How many dedicated servers do they maintain?

You also want constant monitoring of your site by the web host’s 24/7 on-site staff. Let them stay up all night watching your site so you can sleep easier. Even better, look for a company that maintains its own warning software to alert the techies that your server needs some attention.

You want a telephone number (preferably toll free) with instant access to a system administrator or at least a techie who gets the problem and fixes it – like now! If your managed server only communicates via e-mail, you are not going to be happy with the attention you think you’re paying for. And if you get stuck in automated telephone answering system hell, you’re going to be steamed at what you’re paying each month. This is your business and you need help now!

You also want automatic updates of the software you use. Very nice, seamless and easy. Upgrade PHP, Perl, MySQL, Apache, Sendmail and other data storage and business administration software without giving it a thought.

Did you ask about data security?

That’s part of the deal with managed hosting. That oversight of your server includes constant tracking and monitoring to identify suspect activity. Monitored service should also include patches and updates when they become available for the security software the host employs and you employ.

Also ask about data recovery in case of some on-line catastrophe. The host backs up your entire hard drive(s) (all of them) for recovery in case you’re cracked or hacked, or your hard drive fries during a wicked thunderstorm. How is data storage and recovery managed as part of your managed services package? Good to know.

Finally, to monitor your host’s activities, you should expect an advanced level control panel or console that delivers the precise information you need with a couple of clicks. Expect to pay an additional fee for a control panel but, if we’re talking about your livelihood and getting the server management services you’re paying for, it’s good to have one. A couple to look at are Virtuozzo Advanced Control Panel and Plesk Reloaded Control panel.

Managed Hosting to the Rescue

With managed hosting, you get the technology to watch your business grow and you get the knowledgeable support from a staff dedicated to your dedicated server. You don’t have to know anything about the technology behind your site and even better, you don’t have to worry about it.

With managed hosting to the rescue, you can focus on more important matters – like the successful growth of your on-line business.

If you’re with a web host that doesn’t offer a complete managed hosting option, time to migrate your site to a host that watches out for you. You’ll feel confident knowing that an expert is just down the hall (eating a doughnut) when the alarm goes off that your server is experiencing an anomaly or just acting hinky.

If your business is growing and a dedicated server is in your future, don’t wait. Start shopping around for good prices, and even better management of your server.

Yeah, it's a lot to think about, but if you'd like some advice on whetehr dedicated hosting is for you, call or click me. (It tickles.) There are other solutions that work just as well.

Later, gator,


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