Sunday, July 26, 2009

Still Using Shared Hosting? Time To Move Up To A Dedicated Server?

Dedicated Hosting Services:

Maybe It's Time

Chances are, if you’re like most website owners, you started with a shared hosting program with a web host. In this case, you rent a given amount of disk space and share use of resources, like bandwidth and CPU access, with other shared hosting account holders. In the case of shared hosting, a web host can cram over 1,000 sites on a single box (server). If some of your neighbors are bandwidth hogs, it could mean longer download times and slower response times from your site when interacting with customers.

And customers aren’t a patient bunch. In this day of DSL and cable modems, web users want speed. They expect it, and if you aren’t delivering content fast, some site visitors are going to grow tired of watching that blue line slowly crawl to the right. They’ll click off and go somewhere else to purchase products or services.

Dedicated Servers

Just as the name states. Dedicated service consists of one box, one business. This provides unlimited access to all the server’s assets. No competition for CPU access. When you subscribe to a dedicated hosting program you rent the whole server.

In addition, the host provides an operating system (usually Linux, Windows or some variant), ecommerce software bundles that include site building software, a secure checkout, a database and other site enhancement tools, like blog modules that you can plug in with a couple of clicks on the administrator’s console and, if the host is good, you’ll also get access to 24/7 tech support on a toll-free line. Lesser-quality hosts (that still may charge high monthly hosting fees) provide email-only access to tech support. You, the webmaster, prepare a trouble ticket that’s emailed to tech support (somewhere on this planet, but that’s an assumption) and wait for a response and a fix. When your server is down, your business is down. How long can you afford to be offline?

Who Needs Dedicated Hosting?

Not everyone. That’s why shared hosting is the best option for start-ups. The hosting costs are low, usually less than $7.00 a month, and until your business concept and execution have been proven, don’t spend extra for dedicated hosting services. It’s like driving a thumbtack with a sledgehammer. Overkill.

However, if your site has been up for a while, it’s no doubt changed with the times, with a menu of new features and increased interactivity with visitors. For example, a blog takes up disk space and bandwidth as you and your site community interact. RSS feeds, a fully-customizable content management system and other front store and behind-the curtain features all take up disk space.

And, if you’ve enjoyed retail success online, chances are your product offerings have expanded over time. You’ve added pages to your site, pushing your shared hosting space to the max. Well, a good host will sell you disk space a la carte (by the gigabyte). That’s one way to expand. Or you can take the plunge and sign on for a dedicated server.

Multiple Sites

For many site owners, once they get “the bug” and see that there’s money to be made on the W3, building additional websites takes on greater appeal. If the site owner is clearing $500 a month with one site, 10 sites should deliver a $5,000 return each month. At least in theory.

If you manage multiple sites, all of which are deep in features (you manage 12 blogs, for instance), it’s time to move to a dedicated server. You can run a number of different domains from one server, expanding your web presence. In fact, if you plan on building more than one website (and why not, it doesn’t cost any more each month), a dedicated server is a must. A simple administrator console will quickly provide access to site data and activity from many different sites.

Site Functionality

Some sites contain 20 or 30 pages of static text and a simple opt-in form. However, for enterprise-grade businesses and web retailers, a dedicated server is a must-have. Many business sites contain hundreds of pages and are employed for a variety of purposes such as email and other inter-department communications.

Remember, you can customize your dedicated server any way you want to best suit your business needs. So, you’ll get much more functionality from a dedicated server – especially important when you’re running a virtual office with employees spread out across the globe, or a company with several brick-and-mortar outlets all delivering data simultaneously.

Data Security

If your database is loaded with sensitive, personal information like customers’ names, addresses and credit card numbers, you’ve taken on the responsibility of keeping that data secure from hackers.

Using a dedicated server, you can install your own security software and hardware – multiple layers of security on top of the security the web host provides as part of its service to you.

Managed or Unmanaged Hosting?

Dedicated hosting is offered in two formats: managed and unmanaged.

With unmanaged, dedicated hosting you’re responsible for the whole shebang. So, you and your team are responsible for everything – from the installation of your customized database to the creation of customer service responders. You do it all.

The advantage of unmanaged dedicated hosting is cost savings. Since the web host doesn’t do any hand holding (except for routine trouble-shooting) you’ll pay less for an unmanaged, dedicated server. However, either you’ll have to study up on site construction and connectivity to an ever-growing web, or pay some design guru to build the site to meet your company’s needs.

Also, with unmanaged hosting you’re responsible for your server security. It’s your anti-virus software, your hard-wired firewall, your everything.

Managed dedicated hosting puts you in partnership with the web host. You work with the host techs to come up with business solutions. If you’re employing your dedicated server in a variety of ways, services have to be synced up. Storage space has to be configured and managed so inter-office emails remain secure in transit. Hackers love dedicated servers because they know that these online businesses house hacker gold – personal information and lots of it.

Managed dedicated hosting also delivers managed database services for the most popular database platforms, i.e. Oracle, MySQL, Microsoft, etc. With managed services, you’ll also receive customized, configured security that syncs up with the box’s server-side software.

Managed dedicated hosting is also necessary to create multiple, “virtual servers” for different business functions that may or may not include interaction with clients and customers. Working in tandem with the host’s on-site team of networking professionals, you’ll create the superstructure of your online business – communications, data collection and collation, accounts management, inventory management and all of the other functions of a busy and growing company.

Shopping for a Dedicated Web Host

If you opt for unmanaged dedicated hosting, you will save money. However, you should compare disk space allotted, CPU speed and other apples-to-apples comparisons to get the most for your hosting costs. It’s a simple calculation of: features + cost = value.

However, if you envision an expanding business that relies more and more on the web and the Internet ( they’re two different things) to conduct daily operations, you will pay more for managed service but the price you pay for that extra attention will deliver a site that functions as you envision.

Before you sign an agreement with any web host, contact the business solutions professionals on staff. Discuss your current needs and needs going forward and get a feel for how the team adapts to your thinking.

As in any business, including the web hosting business, the client or customer is always right. So look for input from professionals and follow good advice when you get it, but make sure the managed services team at a prospective host is prepared to solve your online business needs – from site migration to multi-purpose server apps – to your specifications.

Once you find the right team, with the right attitude and the understanding that their success is dependent on your site’s ability to meet all of your business objectives, you’re not just getting a dedicated server, you’re getting experience and peace of mind that your site will be right, right out of the gate.

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