What Should You Look for in a Dedicated Server Provider?

Dedicated Servers

As a website grows in popularity and visitor numbers increase, the resources available on a shared server can start to run thin. That can affect performance and user experience. At that point, you may decide to make a move to a dedicated server.

You may not even be aware that your site’s resource usage is surpassing the abilities of a shared server. Then one day, you receive an email from your host informing you that it’s time to move your site.

Whatever factors play into you making the switch to dedicated server web hosting, there are some things you should look for in a provider. The technical aspects of the server, yes, and we’ll get into that in a minute. But you also want to assess whether the hosting company will meet your needs as a customer.

How Can I Spot Good Dedicated Server Hosting?

Sites like Web Hosting Talk have forums where people discuss dedicated servers. The posts give recommendations and address problems, so you can learn a lot about the hosts that are being discussed.

Take information gleaned from Web Hosting Talk with a grain of salt. Be wary of anything too enthusiastic, or multiple people raving about a new or unknown company.

I have nothing against a new company just starting out and trying to establish themselves. But the hosting business has become too transient to put all your eggs into the basket of an unknown host.

Dedicated servers are expensive, so I understand the desire to save money by going with an unknown. But you want to be sure your host is going to stick around and not disappear with your website.

Of course, a company that is established doesn’t guarantee that they’ll always be around. But your odds are better with a known entity.

Ask a Lot of Questions

One of the best things you can do when trying to determine which company will provide the best dedicated server hosting for your site is to talk to them.

You probably won’t be able to contact their support staff before you’re a customer. But if they have a live chat feature on their site, use it to ask every question you can think of.

If there’s no chat, send an email or open a ticket if you can. Communicate as much as possible with as many different people or departments as you can. That will give you a better feel for how responsive and informative the company is.

If all of these suggestions sound a bit difficult and time-consuming, well, they may be. And I wouldn’t suggest that it’s necessary to go to such great lengths to vet an ordinary shared hosting account. But the stakes are much higher when you’re buying or leasing a dedicated server.

Your site’s reputation is on the line, after all. And you’re spending a good amount of money for a premium service. So talk to them. If a company isn’t responsive in its sales channels, what are the chances their support will be any better?

Which Is the Best Dedicated Server Company if I Want to Reduce My Carbon Footprint?

If you’re concerned with how many natural resources your website uses, you should know that moving to a dedicated server increases that usage significantly. There’s no way around it; web servers use a lot of energy.

Energy consumption is spread across hundreds of sites on a shared server. But when you move to a dedicated server, the server needs are basically the same. The problem is they’re all dedicated to supporting one site (or a few sites).

GreenGeeks is renowned for our green shared hosting. But you might be happy to know that our dedicated server energy use is also offset with a whopping 300% from renewable sources.

That means your dedicated server will not only “pay for itself,” as far as reduction of your carbon footprint is concerned, but also for two other servers just like it.

What is a Dedicated Server?

Dedicated Server

Okay, so now let’s dig a bit into the technical side of dedicated servers.

You might see dedicated servers categorized alongside “Virtual Private Servers” or VPS. They are not the same thing. A VPS is a physical piece of server hardware (a fancy way of saying a computer) that is separated into many independent “virtual” servers.

If you think that sounds a lot like shared hosting, that’s because it does.

With a VPS, you have the advantage of using a different operating system or configuration than the other VPS on the same machine. But you’re still on the same physical piece of hardware, so if there’s some catastrophic failure of another server on the box, theoretically, it shouldn’t affect your site. But in reality, it can.

A dedicated server is an entire physical server dedicated to one site or customer. You buy, lease, or pay a monthly fee for a server, and you can do whatever you’d like with it as far as configuration is concerned. No other users are on the server, just you. In most cases, you are responsible for server security and maintenance.

If that’s not your area of expertise, you can shop for a “managed” server that the host secures and updates. Server management is a premium service. So the price is, understandably, higher than that of a dedicated server that you manage yourself.

How to Choose the Right Dedicated Server for You and Your Site

Making Choices

First, I want to touch on the last thing we talked about, managed vs unmanaged dedicated servers. If you don’t know anything about web or database server security, an unmanaged dedicated server is probably not for you.

If you are up on the latest security protocols and you have experience running servers – or a member of your team does – then an unmanaged dedicated server is all you need.

The point that I can’t stress enough is bad things can happen to a server that isn’t adequately secured. And most of us who believe we know “enough” about server management, or who rely on a lot of Googled how-to’s – well, we may be able to squeak by. But we’re really not qualified to be responsible for server security.

Try to be realistic when evaluating your own skills and proceed accordingly.

Dedicated Server Terms and Technology

When shopping for a pre-configured dedicated server, the first thing you’ll be asked to choose is server specs and technology. The processor, memory, storage, and operating system (OS) are server-specific.

The other spec you may have control over is the amount of bandwidth your server can use. That isn’t generally a server feature, but a provider function.

Processor and Memory

They will determine how much power (and as a result, speed) is available to your site. Most dedicated server hosts will offer servers pre-configured with certain processors and amounts of memory. As the available processor speed and memory increase, so does the price of the server.

It isn’t always possible to change the configuration of your server once you’re using it, so it’s often better to choose server configuration that somewhat exceeds what you think your needs will be. That allows you room to grow before you have to migrate to a more powerful server.

Operating System

The OS you choose will depend on the technology your website uses. The vast majority of dedicated servers will support various open-source, Linux-type operating systems.

But if your site uses .NET technology or Microsoft SQL Server, you’ll want to make sure you choose one that supports the Microsoft IIS operating system.

Storage

Hard drive storage has a couple of details to pay attention to. One is solid-state drives (SSD) vs. traditional disc-based hard drives (HDD). For speed and performance, SSD is far superior to conventional HDD. But of course, as with all things computer-related, the faster, better version comes at an increased cost in some cases. But if performance is critical for your site, the expense may be justified.

The other thing to note or ask about is the RAID disk array. You want to avoid any array of hard drives labeled RAID 0. This is because the configuration doesn’t provide any protection against data loss in the event of a single drive failure. You aren’t likely to run into a RAID 0 setup on a pre-configured dedicated server, but it’s something to be aware of.

While RAID 1 and 5 offer some redundancy and protection against data loss, RAID is not a replacement for backups. You should have an external backup system in place. That applies no matter what kind of server your website lives on. Your host may perform their own server backups, but you should not rely on those backups for your own disaster recovery.

Bandwidth

Your bandwidth needs can be difficult to accurately estimate unless you have historical website data. Luckily, most hosts can accommodate increased bandwidth needs even if a certain amount of bandwidth is associated with your server.

Server Backup

Making Backups

Remember when I said RAID is not a replacement for backups? Well, what I meant to say is nothing is a replacement for backups. Backups are the most critical element of your server setup that you will hopefully never need to use.

If you have the technical ability to set up a server backup system that backs up to a separate server (meaning a separate piece of hardware, not a partition or VPS on the main server) or storage service like Amazon S3, you should consider a cloud backup service.

While any remote service running on your server can introduce security issues, a reputable cloud backup service can be a lifesaver in the event of a server failure.

Companies like Carbonite or Backblaze can do full server backups. For what it’s worth, I tried half a dozen cloud backup services and found Backblaze to be the fastest and most unobtrusive, so that’s what I use.

Does It Make a Difference Which Datacenter My Dedicated Server Lives In?

If you have a choice of geographic location, you may feel better having your server closer to your home or office. If your site has a worldwide audience, as most do, geographic location is less important than the quality of the backbone connection that the datacenter or dedicated server provider offers.

Some dedicated server providers will tell you about their data centers and backbone connections on their websites. If they don’t, you can always ask them. But if you choose a well-known, reputable provider for your server, you’re probably not going to get stuck with a server that’s running out of a garage or someone’s basement.

Fifteen years ago, I would have advised you to do a lot of research about the data center. But in all honesty, that’s not the issue it used to be. Most servers live in data centers now and are adequately connected and sufficiently secured.

But it doesn’t hurt to ask your prospective host about where the servers live.

Should I Choose a Host Based on Uptime Guarantees?

Nope.

Let me tell you a little secret. It’s just us here, right? No one else is listening? Uptime guarantees are meaningless. They’re meaningless for a couple of reasons, mainly because on most networks, failure is unpredictable. So there’s no way, aside from performance history, to provide any uptime numbers.

Secondly, even if your host is on the ball as far as doing all they can to ensure the best uptime in the industry, when there is a failure or downtime for any reason, a guarantee doesn’t bring your website back online.

All the standard uptime guarantee does is reimburse anyone who complains about the outage. That reimbursement is often a relatively small amount based on the number of minutes your site is unavailable (check the fine print that you agreed to when opening the account).

To be clear, I’m not saying that’s bad or malicious behavior by the hosts. It’s just the reality of how guarantees work for most services. So an uptime guarantee shouldn’t really tip the scales one way or another when you’re looking for a dedicated server host.

The exception to everything I just said is a host that offers DDoS protection as part of an uptime guarantee. DDoS protection is a valuable service, and if you have reason to believe your site may fall victim to DDoS, or if you’ve been DDoSed in the past, the protection should be part of your configuration.

Listen to the People

Customer Reviews

Customer reviews have pretty much revolutionized the way we buy everything, and dedicated servers are no different. I mentioned sites like Web Hosting Talk right at the outset, and they are an excellent resource for unvarnished customer reviews and information.

There are probably more web host review sites than there are web hosts, but a few of them are reliable and unbiased. Look for sites that have done their own independent testing. It’s a bit difficult to find independent tests of dedicated servers, but there are some out there.

If you keep your skepticism dialed up to 10, you can find some useful review sites. Just be aware that affiliates run many of them (check for affiliate IDs on links), and in some cases, by the hosts themselves. An affiliate is going to recommend whichever host has the largest payout, and that’s not necessarily an indicator of service quality.

So Who Is the Best Dedicated Server Provider?

GreenGeeks, of course. 😉

It might not be surprising that I would say that. But I do believe in the GreenGeeks team because I know them, and I know that they care about what they do.

And if you would like a green dedicated server, there’s really no one else who can give you what GreenGeeks can.

The reality is there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to who the best dedicated server host is. What’s best for your site might not be best for mine. But hopefully, I’ve armed you with some useful information that will help you make an educated decision, and your needs will be not only met but exceeded.

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