What is a Dedicated Server? [Beginner’s Guide]

When researching hosting options for your website or application, you may come across hosting services such as shared hosting, dedicated servers, virtual private servers, public, private and hybrid cloud. You may also run across colocation hosting as an option.

What is a dedicated server?

What is a dedicated server? A simple definition of a dedicated server is a leased, physical server that is used to host the websites, applications and services of a single customer. Dedicated server hosting is used to support high-traffic websites and applications where performance is very important.

How do dedicated servers work?

Dedicated servers are similar to configuring and purchasing a physical server and then placing it in an offsite data center such as a colocation facility. With that, customers are able to select the server’s CPU, RAM, SSD/HDD hard drive, and other specs.

Instead of outright purchasing physical servers from a retailer like Newegg or CDW, customers are able to pay the dedicated hosting provider for the server, connectivity and data center space on a monthly basis. This is known as capital expense (CapEx) versus operating expense (OpEx). By purchasing dedicated hosting, you are able to save on the initial capital outlay and use it for other business priorities.

Shared hosting vs dedicated server?

How are dedicated servers different than other hosting services like website hosting and shared hosting? Like the name implies, a dedicated server is dedicated to a single customer and is therefore single tenancy. Whereas, with shared hosting, the server’s computational, storage and networking resources are shared across multiple customers in what is known as multi-tenant.

Many hosting customers find that shared resources can cause major issues when performance is critical. This is known as the noisy neighbor. What happens if another website hosted on a shared server suffers a DDoS attack? Will it impact the performance of your website or application if it is hosted on that same server? The answer is yes.

In addition to dedicated resources, dedicated servers provide customers with root access to the server. This means that the entire server is at your disposal for the term of your contract. However, you are responsible for the software updates, patches, management and monitoring. With shared hosting, the infrastructure layer is managed for you.

The bottom line is that dedicated servers provide the exact configuration, performance and security that you need for your specific website, application or service.

What is included with dedicated servers?

Think of a dedicated server as a normal computer such as the desktop in your office or home. Each dedicated server includes chips, memory, storage, network hardware, and other components.

Unlike normal computers, dedicated servers are built flat and thin. If you search for an enterprise server in Google Images, you will see exactly what these type of servers look like. These servers are more powerful and reliable than consumer-based computers.

Let’s look at a few examples of the component features of dedicated servers:

RAM

Most enterprise-grade dedicated servers use something called ECC (Error Correcting Code) RAM. This is typically more reliable and costly than normal RAM found in your computer or laptop. With ECC RAM, it is specially built to prevent the most common causes of data corruption. This is very important when running mission-critical applications. Data corruption can happen for a variety of reasons such as electrical disturbance. ECC RAM is capable of discovering and making corrections when errors happen.

As far as reliability, a dedicated server must have reliable components and RAM is no exception. Most enterprise servers run 24 hours a day for many years. Therefore, they must be built to a higher standard.

In addition to cost and reliability, dedicated servers are built to accommodate more memory than traditional computers. Some high-performance dedicated servers have 1TB or more of RAM.

Processors

With dedicated servers, you get the best of the best when it comes to processors. Manufacturers like Intel and AMD create chips for exclusive use within enterprise-grade servers. These companies also have data center divisions which focus on products sold to dedicated hosting providers and cloud service providers. These specially designed chips are engineered for max performance – optimum speed, scalability and reliability.

And when talking about scalability, this simply means that you can install more processor cores in a dedicated server. Enterprise servers can have 40 processing cores or more in a single unit. This makes them exceptional at processing and transferring substantial amounts of data.

Storage

As you can imagine, enterprise servers spare no expense when it comes to storage components. Obviously, data storage and backup are mission-critical for websites, applications, customer information and proprietary data.

Another important feature of dedicated hosting is the ability to customize the amount and type of storage. This includes both SSD and HDD storage options which feature different IOPS for things like transaction processing and streaming.

It is all about the read and write capabilities of the storage hardware. Dedicated servers come in many different configurations for storage. For example, a dedicated server could feature 24x3TB Solid-State Drives. That is the equivalent of 72TB of available hard drive space.

Rack mounted servers

What does rack mounted mean? In the data center industry, racks refer to a containment enclosure that features rails which servers can be mounted to. Do you remember how I mentioned that enterprise servers are flat? They are designed to be stacked on top of each other with as little space as possible. A typically rack can house 38 to 40 dedicated servers.

In addition to the low profile of enterprise servers, they are also designed for maximum air flow, cooling and power density.

Sure, there are some enterprise servers that feature the common desktop look which is called tower server. These types of servers must sit on shelves. As you can imagine, you may only be able to place 6 to 8 tower servers.

Networking capabilities

Because enterprise servers are built for performance, they are outfitted with the best network cards and interfaces available. This is critical for dedicated servers that require high performance networks and bandwidth.

Bare metal server vs dedicated server?

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to the terms – dedicated servers and bare metal servers. What is the difference between the two? Actually, they are very similar and there are little differences. It is more of a marketing and branding tactic than differences with the underlying hardware itself.

Bare metal servers are positioned and marketed to customers interested in building their own private cloud environment. Bare metal servers are enterprise-grade servers that are designed for the cloud. They also have a hypervisor layer which allocates resources to specific partitions set within the server. This means that you could divide up the server based on the workload such as an application server or database server.

What are use cases for dedicated servers?

Now that we have reviewed what dedicated servers are, it is time to look at how they are used and who purchases them. Dedicated servers are purchased for two main purposes – performance and security. They offer much better performance compared to other hosting services and feature single tenancy which makes them much more secure.

High traffic websites

One of the best use cases for dedicated server hosting is high traffic websites. This includes everything from e-commerce stores to blogs, online ticket sales, applications, mobile applications and more. I want you to think about websites that go down or are unavailable because of traffic spikes. The amount of people visiting a website can overload the server to the point that it shuts down.

Dedicated servers allow you to build the infrastructure to handle high-traffic websites. You can use load balancers to route traffic to available servers making this hosting service much more scalable than others.

You can also spin-up additional servers or purchase dedicated servers offering greater specs on performance. This type of flexibility is not available when you outright purchase an enterprise server.

Hosting multiple websites

Many web hosting companies purchase dedicated servers to host their customers’ websites, blogs and small e-commerce sites. Their customers typically include first-time website builders, bloggers, and smaller websites that receive less traffic and demand less resources.

High performance dedicated servers are capable of hosting thousands of WordPress websites.

Private cloud

I mentioned earlier that dedicated servers and bare metal are essentially the same hosting service with a slightly different marketing spin. As a result, many companies use dedicated servers to build their private cloud environment. This includes building public and private cloud services to resell to their clients. In many cases, the public cloud is simply a dedicated server that is virtualized for multi-tenancy.

Database servers

Hosting a database is one of the top use cases for dedicated server hosting. Databases are critical to all businesses, applications and websites. For shared hosting, the frontend website and backend database are hosted on the same resources within a multi-tenant server. With dedicated servers, customers are able to build a custom enterprise-grade server to specifically support only the database.

Dedicated servers support large databases that are frequently accessed. This includes relational databases and non-relational databases. Dedicated servers are perfect for processing large volumes of read and write data. Think about transaction processing and analytics processing.

Should you buy a dedicated server?

With prices starting at just $49, dedicated server hosting makes a lot of sense for small and medium businesses and websites where performance is required. You get the reliability, performance, security and support without the worry of a large, upfront capital investment. You are essentially amortizing the hardware purchase over the contract term.  This is great because you can avoid obsolescence and hardware refreshes.

In addition, dedicated servers help you avoid hardware lock-in. This means that you can upgrade as needed to support the growth of your online business. Some dedicated hosting providers offer month-to-month options. You can obviously save more money when you reserve dedicated servers for a longer period.

In closing, I would not recommend dedicated server hosting for everyone. If you are just starting a website, e-commerce site or blog, shared website hosting is probably your best bet. The costs are going to be much lower and there is a lower barrier to entry in terms of technical abilities. You can always migrate to a dedicated server down the road.

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