Also called dedicated server or managed hosting, dedicated hosting is a type of web hosting where the server offered by the hosting service provider is assigned only to a single user. The server is located at the service provider’s place or data centre. The hardware and software is not owned by the user. However, the management and maintenance of servers is the customer’s responsibility. If needed, the hosting service provider can manage and maintain the server on the client’s behalf.

Dedicated servers stationed in a data centre. Image credit: Flickr
Dedicated servers stationed in a data centre. Image credit: Flickr

The client has complete control over the server and its functionality. However, the customer might have network operations staff from the hosting service provider to assist with certain fundamental functions such as hardware upgrades, resets pertaining to the server, operating systems and firmware, etc.

Hosting Components

There are quite a few aspects to dedicated hosting, such as:

  • Operating System

Like a computer, a server needs an operating system too. Typically, dedicated hosting customers end up choosing between Windows and Linux. The OS is usually chosen based on the website’s scripting language requirements. Generally, HTML and PHP-based websites that use MySQL databases would work on almost any OS. Sites based on .NET and MSSQL would need a Windows web server.

Compared to Windows, Linux is cheaper. In fact, Linux is usually free. For Windows, a license fee is applicable. Linux is more widespread not only because it’s inexpensive but also because it’s been around longer. Not all dedicated hosting service providers give the option to choose between multiple operating systems. Some may only offer a particular OS. By the way, there are different versions of Linux: CentOS, Debian, OpenSUSE and Ubuntu.

  • CPU

Central processing unit (CPU) takes care of all processing tasks performed by the server. The CPU is available in multiple cores such as dual (two cores) and quad cores (four cores), with the quad-core CPU ideal for a high-traffic website. When picking a CPU, the CPU score counts and also the CPU provider. Ultimately, it’s all about balancing things. A capable CPU would not make much difference if it has little RAM to work with or the hard drive is slow. In such scenarios, the CPU would spend most of its time waiting for the data or memory to become available.

  • RAM

Random access memory (RAM) has a direct impact on the hosted website’s performance. Without sufficient RAM, a server could have issues running applications smoothly. Generally, dedicated servers should not face RAM problems since they’re fitted with good amount of RAM to start with. Even RAM as high as 128 GB could be packed in. The minimum recommended RAM amount is 512 MB for both Windows and Linux, but 1 GB is the ideal starting point.

  • Storage

Storage is a critical aspect of web hosting. Configuring storage space properly not just lends to the hosted website’s responsiveness but also secures the data. Most established websites using a dedicated hosting setup would be using multiple storage drives. 50 percent of those drives would be mirroring the other drives. This ensures if one storage drive fails, there would always be a backup. Moreover, the drives would be used simultaneously, which would help spread the data and retrieve them quickly when needed. Both hard disk drive and solid state drive storage options are available.

  • Bandwidth

Bandwidth is the quantity of information the server can handle at any given time. Websites that stream videos, such as YouTube, would have high bandwidth requirements. Popular sites too would need more bandwidth than normal. An unmetered bandwidth is ideal even when one is not clear about a site’s bandwidth requirements, as bandwidth overage fees go out of the picture.

Bandwidth overage is basically using more bandwidth than what was originally allocated. By the way, unmetered bandwidth doesn’t mean unlimited bandwidth. It only means the server won’t be shut off after a specific amount of bandwidth has been used. Unmetered bandwidth is usually preferred for its cost-efficiency, zero downtime and increased security.

  • Server Location

Network quality would be at its best if the server is located in a region where the majority of a website’s users reside. For instance, if a website has a predominantly American user base, it would make sense to have the server somewhere in the U.S. When a server is located across boundaries, the hosted website’s download speeds and latency could go down as the data would have to pass via multiple networks. Latency is basically the total time required for a server to process a request. For instance, a click on a website link is a request.

Dedicated Hosting Types

There are different types of dedicated hosting. There is no standard classification as such. In fact, some service providers may categorize their dedicated servers based on the server configuration and features offered. A general classification would be something as follows:

  • Fully Managed

A fully managed plan entails the service provider taking care of server monitoring, reboots, software updates, operating system upgrades and security patches. In this hosting plan, the customer would usually not be expected to perform any server maintenance tasks by himself.

  • Managed

In this dedicated hosting plan, the level of management, monitoring and all the other services synonymous with a fully managed plan are available but are limited to an extent. The customer will have to chip in time and again to help with server maintenance.

  • Self-Managed

This plan entails the hosting center offering regular monitoring service and some level of maintenance. However, the customer is expected to handle most of the server’s tasks and operations. This makes the plan ideal for people who at least have some basic practical knowledge about server management.

  • Unmanaged

An unmanaged setup is the advanced version of the self-managed plan. The hosting service provider would offer little to no direct support and the customer would be solely responsible for all the maintenance, patches, security and upgrades there are to the hosting setup. Generally, an unmanaged plan is recommended only if the website owner has good server administration knowledge and/or has a tech administrator on-board.

  • Hybrid

There is also something called hybrid dedicated hosting. As per the arrangement, a dedicated server is partitioned between multiple users, with each user getting a dedicated pie of the server. This is unlike shared hosting since a shared plan functions on the first-come, first-serve lines. There is no server portion dedicated to any of the clients sharing the server.  

Benefits

  • Customization

A dedicated hosting plan can be customized to suit a specific customer’s requirements. Processor, memory, storage (SSDs, SATA drives and hard drives), security and support, server location, etc. can be customized.  

  • Convenience

A business can choose to have an in-house server. But managing all of that would require manpower and resources of its own. Dedicated hosting offers all the features and functionalities of a full-fledged server but at a remote location. It’s like outsourcing a critical aspect of business without compromising on quality.

  • Reliability

A dedicated server is reliable in the stability and performance department, ensuring the hosted website is never down. The downtime experienced with dedicated hosting is almost zero. Such seamless performance can be attributed to the zero congestion issues usually synonymous with shared hosting. With shared hosting, different clients share the same server and this may lead to multiple websites competing with each other for disk space, bandwidth, etc.

  • Security

Dedicated hosting also means the ability to employ tailor-made security measures, like firewall and anti-virus configurations. In addition, dedicated servers benefit from the security measures that are put into place at the data center, which includes security guards, biometric authentication, mantraps, surveillance cameras, etc. The customer support for dedicated hosting is also significantly better than the support that comes with shared hosting and similar plans.

  • Cost-Effective

A dedicated hosting plan is viewed as an expensive web hosting choice. But cost would be an issue only if a single website is being hosted on a dedicated server. In case a client has multiple sites, dedicated hosting can turn out cheaper. Generally, a shared hosting plan can be used to host only a single website. There are no such restrictions with dedicated hosting. So if a client runs 10 websites and a shared plan costs $12 per month, the client would have to spend $120 to host all the 10 websites. But with dedicated hosting that costs $85 per month, his overall monthly hosting expenditure would come down.

Disadvantages

  • Expensive

Compared to regular hosting plans, a dedicated hosting plan is expensive. The pricing could vary based on the resources required such as storage space, bandwidth, RAM, software packages required to operate the server, etc. But as aforementioned, cost would not be an issue in case multiple websites are being hosted on the server.

  • Downtime

As aforementioned, a site hosted on a dedicated server is unlikely to go down. But downtime cannot be completely ruled out. For instance, if the dedicated server needs to be scaled (adding more RAM, storage, CPU, etc.), the physical components have to be changed. This could take some time and which would involve downtime.

  • Single Point of Failure

If anything went wrong with the dedicated server, everything connected to the server goes down such as CPU, RAM, storage drives, power supply, etc. Since users are usually not given a backup server with their dedicated hosting plan, such failure (though rare) could be bad for the site.

When is Dedicated Hosting Ideal?

Basically, the software installed on dedicated servers allows the hosting plan owner to host multiple websites on the server. But even a resource-heavy website, which has good number of visitors every day, would probably need a dedicated server since a shared platform could hamper the performance of both the particular website and other websites sharing the server.  

Even blogs or websites with low traffic can take up dedicated hosting. But that would be an overkill. It would be like having 16 or 32 GB of RAM on a personal computer that’s only used for word processing and casual web browsing. However, if cost is not a concern and one would like to future-proof things, then a dedicated hosting plan is perfectly fine.