DEDICATED SERVERS MADE SIMPLE BY JIM MORTLEMAN

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1 DEDICATED SERVERS MADE SIMPLE BY JIM MORTLEMAN Copyright 100TB.com

2 What is a dedicated server? A dedicated server is a physical computer that you buy or rent for the sole, exclusive use of your business. These days, the term is most commonly used to describe machines that are leased from third-party providers and reside in their datacentres. Generally speaking, you can either opt to do all the maintenance and configuration yourself, or take advantage of various levels of managed service for things like hardware maintenance, keeping operating systems up-to-date, and technical support. Unlike the cloud, where you rent a virtual machine that could be running on any hardware your provider deems fit, with a dedicated server you know the machine will always be available for your application and won t be sharing its resources with any of your provider s other customers. It s a bit like having a personal waiter in a restaurant whose sole responsibility is to attend to your table s needs, as opposed to one who s flitting from place to place trying to keep several groups of diners happy simultaneously. If one table suddenly puts in a big order, you won t be left drumming your fingers while you wait to ask for a coffee. Why would I need one? Setting-up and managing dedicated servers is not for technical novices. However, for organisations that already have IT know-how and resources in-house, or developers of high-traffic websites, it can often be an attractive option. Here s why... Performance, flexibility and control First, you can fine-tune the machine so its performance is optimised for your particular application. In other words, you can choose the operating system and tweak the machine s set-up and settings so it is tailored to work as quickly and efficiently as possible for your needs. Most of this work can be done remotely through an online control panel such as the popular cpanel This also means you can shift an existing in-house application you ve already optimised for a particular system into a third-party provider s datacentre, safe in the knowledge that you won t need to rewrite or reconfigure it to work in the way you expect.. Cost A dedicated server eliminates the need to lay out a chunk of cash on your own hardware when you launch a new application, or when an existing bit of kit needs to be refreshed. Instead, you pay a predictable, regular rental charge. Because they buy, run and manage a lot of equipment, providers datacentres are generally more cost-efficient than in-house IT departments and they are typically able to negotiate considerable discounts with suppliers of hardware, software, connectivity and power that can be passed on to customers. Many established organisations also find that, for certain applications, dedicated servers are a more cost-effective option than moving to cloud, since the latter can involve making significant changes to an application in order for it to work effectively on a provider s standard set-up. Copyright 100TB.com

3 Security and compliance As well as giving you greater control over performance and cost, a dedicated server also gives you full oversight and control of the security of your data. For certain applications, sectors and organisations, this is critical for compliance reasons. For example, if you have an application that processes customer credit card details, you must ensure this information is adequately protected. That means understanding where it s stored and who s accessing it. While PCI-DSS (the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) does not preclude the use of cloud, a dedicated server makes it easier to keep track of your data, reducing the cost and effort involved in remaining compliant. Even if your organisation doesn t face mandatory compliance issues, internal policies might steer you towards a dedicated server rather than the cloud. For example, you may want to offer your business or external customers a guarantee that you ll never store their confidential or sensitive information in the public cloud particularly if they re jittery in the wake of well-publicised data breaches and revelations of state-sponsored hacking and monitoring. What sort of applications are suited to dedicated servers? Generally speaking, a dedicated server is great for applications where you need consistently good performance, and where demand is fairly stable and predictable. This is because, unlike the cloud, it s more disruptive to scale dedicated server resources up and down to cope with peaks and troughs in demand. High-traffic websites with a predictable level of visitors are generally run on dedicated servers, for example. Other examples might include applications with a consistent, heavy flow of information going in and out, such as so-called big data systems (those handling and analysing large volumes of information in close to real time). And, given the security and compliance considerations mentioned above, a dedicated server is also well suited to any systems handling particularly sensitive information such as confidential business strategy documents or individuals health and financial records. Copyright 100TB.com

4 How do I choose the right provider and solution? As with any provider of services critical to your business, you need to be sure anyone you contract is stable and trustworthy. Do they have a proven track record delivering dedicated servers to similar-sized businesses as yours? Look for testimonials on their website and search social networks to gauge how satisfied their existing customers are. Do they display relevant certifications and accreditations that prove they can offer the levels of service your business requires, and have the necessary expertise to support any specific equipment and software you want them to manage? For example, can they guarantee that your systems will be available 99.99% or 100% of the time? Is their pricing structure clear and unambiguous, with no hidden extras or stipulations that are likely to come back and bite you later? Are their staff friendly, flexible and helpful when you talk to them? Particularly where you re taking on some level of managed service along with your dedicated server, you ll want to know that, if any difficulties arise they will be approachable, responsive and efficient. The technical stuff Beyond these general questions, there are also some technical considerations. Because you can t scale a dedicated server up and down as easily as a cloud server, you should ensure you select an adequate amount of memory (RAM), processing power, storage and bandwidth to begin with. This needs to be sufficient to cope with the maximum throughput your system is likely to experience at any one time. For example, if your application is built on a power-hungry platform such as Windows or Java, you might need more RAM than one built on a Linux system. Similarly, for tasks that need a lot of welly - such as video or gaming applications - you ll probably need a processor (CPU) with more oomph than usual, a high-bandwidth connection and additional storage. A good provider should be able to advise you on the best technical options for your needs. For applications that need to run super-fast, latency could also be an issue. This refers to the delay that occurs when you transfer data over a network. The further your provider s datacentre is from your customers, the longer this delay becomes. For most applications it s imperceptible, but for some like financial trading it can be critical. Other things to think about include whether you want to bolt on a backup and disaster recovery plan; and what (if any) level of system management and support you want to offload to your provider. Bear in mind that not all providers have the capacity to manage all varieties of system, so if you want a fully managed service you ll probably need to opt for a fairly standard operating system and set-up. Make sure you understand what your provider can support before signing up. Copyright 100TB.com

5 Fast-forward to the future While dedicated servers are likely to remain a good option for particular applications, organisations and individuals for the foreseeable future, the lines between the cloud and dedicated server worlds are beginning to blur. As the virtualisation technology that powers the cloud improves, providers are increasingly offering a range of options and services that allow customers to tailor services ever more closely to their needs. Once the technology has matured to the point where cloud can offer the same guarantees of performance, flexibility and security as dedicated servers do today, many of the tricky decisions as to what type of server you need will dissipate. We re not there yet, but it might not be too many years. Copyright 100TB.com

6 DEDICATED SERVERS MADE SIMPLE BY JIM MORTLEMAN Jim Mortleman has been reporting and commenting on business and technology developments for more than two decades. Freelance since 2001, his journalistic work has appeared in many outlets, including The Guardian, The Sunday Telegraph, Computer Weekly and Computing. He also provides writing and editing services for private clients. Copyright 100TB.com

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