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Dedicated Hosting Buying Guide

In the hierarchy of web hosting plans, dedicated servers sit at the very top. When you opt for a dedicated server, it means that you are not sharing those resources with anyone else. With standard shared hosting and even Virtual Private Servers (VPSs), you have only the illusion of your own resources. In reality, you could be sharing a single server with hundreds or even thousands of other clients. Not so with a dedicated hosting plan. With this, you will have an entire server system all to yourself – all the RAM, all the hard disk space, all the CPU power, and all the bandwidth.

As expected, these are significantly more expensive than any of the other web hosting plans offered. But no other will give you the speed and customizability a large business website demands. But even within this market, you can have a few options such as managed servers.

Managed Servers

Along with power comes a great deal of responsibility. This is true for servers as well as comic book superheroes! Dedicated servers need a lot of setting up and maintenance. You have to create your own backup system and schedule, install the operating systems, set up the DNS clusters, and lots lots more. If you have the means and technical knowledge to do all of this by yourself, then great. Unfortunately, a lot of people want the power of a dedicated server but don't have either the time or the expertise for all the associated maintenance activities.

Managed servers bring you the best of both worlds. You get a powerful dedicated server machine all to yourself, and at the same time you don't have to bother with routine maintenance activities that will suck time and energy away from your core business focus. Here are a few things your hosting provider will take care of with a Managed Dedicated Server Plan:

  • Security Setup
  • Backup and Recovery
  • Software Installation and Updates
  • Control Panel Configurations

These are just a few of the many, many benefits of Managed Servers. These services are invaluable and will go a long way towards providing you with the ease-of-use and security you need along with your powerful server plan.

Control Panels

Control panels are interfaces to servers that allow you to easily manage a variety of hosting related activities. From here, you can set up new websites, manage filesystems, create and edit DNS entries, manage databases, and a perform a host of other tasks that are too numerous to merely list here. It's a safe bet to say that control panels make servers usable to those with even a little bit of technical knowledge.

In the market today, there are three main control panel systems. cPanel/WHM, Plesk, and DirectAdmin.

1. cPanel/WHM

Out of the top three, this one is easily the most popular. Part of the reason is that Linux is such a commonly used operating system on the server market and cPanel is a Linux based control panel. As far as functionality goes, it does pretty much everything that you need to set up and maintain a Web server. It's also unique in the sense that it's split into two parts – cPanel and WHM. The first – cPanel – is for web hosting clients and the second (WHM) is for hosting administrators.

2. Plesk

Plesk is the Windows server equivalent of cPanel/WHM. Since the latter isn't available for windows environments, Windows-based servers run Plesk almost exclusively. As to which one is better, it really all comes down to taste and your expertise with any given one of them. As far as functionality goes, they're pretty much the same.

3. DirectAdmin

Like cPanel, DirectAdmin runs only on Linux servers. It has interesting licensing options where you can choose to purchase it outright instead of paying a licensing fee. You can buy it for $299 which is an amazing deal compared to being a yearly or a quarterly license for cPanel or Plesk. In addition, DirectAdmin includes unlimited technical support along with its licenses unlike the other two control panels which have separate technical packages with the license.

Types of Storage

This is another choice you have to make when building your dedicated server – what kind of memory storage technology do you want to adopt? Mind you, we're not talking about RAM but rather the storage for permanent data like files and databases.

1. SATA HDD

This is the traditional hard drive most of us are used to, which spins and when data is accessed via a seeking head. The advantages are that it's cheap in terms of raw storage power – you can easily get several terabytes worth of storage space for a pittance. The disadvantages are that they are slow compared to newer technologies, there's a limit to how small they can get, and they wear out relatively quickly due to all the moving parts and the danger of data corruption.

2. SSD Storage

This is the next generation of storage technology. Unlike traditional hard drives, SSD are faster, smaller, and much more reliable. They're similar to flash drives and they don't have to deal with messy problems like data fragmentation unlike traditional hard drives.

The downside however is that they are proportionately much more expensive compared to HDDs. You can't get several terabytes worth of data on the cheap. So when making a decision between SSD and HDD, you have to ask yourself which is more important – sheer volume of data or the speed at which it's accessed. The type of business you have, your audience, and your computing requirements will all play a role in selecting the appropriate technology.

RAID Storage

RAID stands for "Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks". As the name implies, the system consists of several cheap discs (usually HDDs) set up in an array to mutually support each other and provide redundancy. There are a large number of RAID configurations each of which has different advantages and disadvantages. Some setups favor speed, whereas others favor reliability so that if one disk fails, the others can gracefully pick up the slack.

Of course, RAID doesn't have to be mutually exclusive with SSDs and HDDs. You can use a mixture of technologies to best suit your needs. Unfortunately, a complete discussion of the various RAID methodologies is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that under certain circumstances, a RAID array might be much faster than even an equivalent SSD and will almost certainly be much cheaper. However, managing and maintaining a RAID array can be technically challenging.

A lot will depend on what kind of Managed Services your hosting provider is willing to give you. But the discussion of hard drive technology is not a simple one.

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