What is Dedicated Hosting?
Dedicated hosting is a package where a client rents an entire physical server residing in a provider’s data center. The client has the exclusive use and control of all the server resources and does not share them with the other clients. In addition, the client has the freedom choose the operating system, control panel, applications and the way to use the server.
Generally, dedicated hosting provides websites with higher levels of performance in terms of speed, uptime, security, and reliability. In addition, it gives the clients greater control of the websites and online applications. This makes it a great choice for high traffic websites such as e-commerce businesses, and those looking for flexibility, high performance and security.
"Generally, dedicated hosting provides websites with higher levels of performance in terms of speed, uptime, security, and reliability. "
Due to the great performance, customization, and flexibility, dedicated hosting is the most expensive solution, followed by virtual private servers (VPS) and lastly, shared hosting plans. VPS provides a performance and power almost equal to that of a dedicated server, but at a lower cost and with some limitations.
While a dedicated server is a physical bare metal machine, VPS is a software-defined solution that exists within a bigger server. Unlike dedicated hosting where the client has exclusive use of a physical server and its resources, VPS plans share the physical machine and processing power with other instances. However, VPS operates as a separate server, and is usually faster than the shared option, but slower than dedicated servers.
VPSs are more suited for small and medium-sized websites that require high performance, but with limited financial resources.
Dedicated hosting is a perfect solution for organizations running complex websites or requiring greater performance, control, and customized functionalities. Most often, customers will choose dedicated servers when their website traffic and processing power outgrows what a VPS can offer.
Dedicated servers are usually more expensive compared to the other hosting options. As such, they are mostly used by companies that require great performance, and have the financial resources to pay for it.
Ideally, dedicated hosting is perfect for:
- Businesses with a large customer base.
- Clients looking for a high, reliable and stable bandwidth.
- High Traffic Websites
- Video streaming websites
- Medium and large e-commerce websites
- Agencies with high profile clients
- Reseller hosting services businesses
- Organizations or businesses running complex websites
- Busy online portal
- Dynamic sites with application such as large databases and data analytics
- Gaming sites
- Individuals and businesses with revenue generating websites.
Besides the greater processing power, dedicated servers have several other benefits which make them appealing to a wide range of organizations regardless of their size. For example, a small organization seeking to safeguard their data may choose this hosting due to its enhanced security and privacy.
Dedicated servers offer a number of performance and security benefits to the clients. This includes dedicated resources, maximum security, reliability, and customization. In addition, the customer gets a unique IP address that is not shared with other clients, hence reducing the risk of blacklisting or performance degradation due to bad practices from other websites.
Below are some of the major benefits:
- The client has full control and freedom of all the server resources.
- Better performance, stability, and reliability since the client does not share the resources with anyone else.
- The client has the freedom to choose the best OS, control panel, applications, security to address the business needs.
- Since the hosting provider purchases and maintains the hardware, infrastructure, and environment, the client saves the money required to purchase the machines and maintain an in-house data center.
- The server has inherent inbuilt security and privacy to protect against spamming, DDOS, viruses, malware and other attacks.
- Dedicated hosting allows businesses to access high computing resources without spending so much on the purchases and maintenance.
- No risk of other websites clogging the server bandwidth, CPU, and RAM. Issues such as bad scripts or spikes in the bandwidth in other servers do not slow down or affect the performance a dedicated server.
Despite their advantages, dedicated servers have a few disadvantages such as high costs and need for more expertise:
- More costly compared to other hosting options.
- Long downtimes and delays when there is lack of adequate skills to manage and fix problems.
- Increased security risks when client does not follow best practices.
- May require spending money training staff or hiring someone to manage the server.
- No access to the physical server and risk of losing data if the provider is unreliable or inefficient, and does not backup up properly.
Dedicated hosting requires the clients to choose the operating systems for their servers. To get it right, the admin must first understand the business needs and then explore the available options. This includes:
- Familiarity with the operating system. Ideally, it is better to choose what the client is familiar with.
- Reliability, reputation, stability, and security of the OS. It is also good to look at how the developers update the OS to fix performance and security issues.
- Compatibility with existing and future operations and applications.
- Customizing options: Some operating systems - especially open source - are customizable, hence allowing customers to personalize their platforms to meet specific needs.
- Technical support: Most OS developers have in-house technical support professionals to assist clients and fix issues. The open source operating systems may not have reliable support, but clients can get this in the premium versions.
- Resource requirements in terms of RAM, processing power and storage.
- Price of the OS: The cost of the operating system differs depending on the developer, version, features, support and other factors.
- Limitations such as maximum RAM, disk partition, and applications it supports.
The two main dedicated server operating systems are Windows and Linux. There is also the Apple OS X server which just like Linux, is based on UNIX.
Some clients prefer Windows for its greater power and flexibility, while others go for Linux due to its good reputation, speed, reliability, and security. The price difference between the two is not much and each of them is good as long as it meets business needs. Most often, the real determinant in the OS choice is the technology the client wants to use on the site.
"...Linux is ideal if the existing site uses PHP or PERL. Even though Windows Server supports these technologies, they are more secure in the Linux environment. Furthermore, an HTML website with little or no server-side scripting or database will perform better in Linux even when there are many images."
For example, if the old site is already using ASP or .Net code, the choice of the OS will be limited to Windows since the Linux does not support them. Although the site can run on Linux, after redeveloping and changing to PHP, the work involved may not be necessary unless the client plans to make the switch.
Similarly, Linux is ideal if the existing site uses PHP or PERL. Even though Windows Server supports these technologies, they are more secure in the Linux environment. Furthermore, an HTML website with little or no server-side scripting or database will perform better in Linux even when there are many images.
Sizing dedicated servers appropriately ensures that the client gets the features and capacity to meet the specific business or organization needs. In particular, the correct size of the CPU and RAM are critical in ensuring great server performance. This largely depends on the type of website, applications, processes, and traffic.
The CPU handles all the processing tasks and directly influences the performance of a server. It also delegates the requests between storage devices, RAM, and other components. Demanding applications will, therefore, require a powerful processor; preferably will many cores and a higher frequency.
"In particular, the correct size of the CPU and RAM are critical in ensuring great server performance. This largely depends on the type of website, applications, processes, and traffic."
The entry-level dedicated servers can comfortably run on single processors and are ideal for small web applications, simple email servers, and other low traffic websites. Dual processors are suitable for medium-to-high-traffic websites, moderate web and database applications, e-commerce websites and more.
Quad-core and higher processors are ideal for powerful servers for large-scale databases, virtual environments, gaming, big data processing, mission-critical applications and more.
Some operating systems and applications require more RAM and it is important to base the size according to the recommended specifications. If there is caching, the server can run on a lower level of RAM.
What to consider when determining RAM.
- Operating system – Windows Server OS requires more RAM
- Type of control panel: For example, cPanel needs at least 256MB but will require between 1 and 2 GB to perform efficiently.
- The operating system’s maximum memory limit.
- High traffic sites will require more RAM
- Dynamic websites where several processes need to run simultaneously requires maximum RAM
By considering all the essential variables, it is possible to estimate and choose the optimum RAM, which is not too low to cause poor performance and yet not excessive.
The busy, dynamic sites with high traffic require more CPU power and higher levels of RAM. For example, if a website has high traffic, handles a lot of data and requires greater processing power, it will require powerful multi-core CPUs and a huge amount of memory. Likewise, a website that performs CPU intensive processes such as video rendering requires a powerful processor than a static website such as a blog.
Dedicated server bandwidth refers to the monthly data transfer and depends on the traffic and size of the web pages. High traffic sites, dynamic sites and those dealing with large files or multimedia content such as movies, games, and intensive graphics will definitely need higher bandwidths
Generally, about 99% of websites require less than 5GB monthly bandwidth, but as traffic increases, an upgrade becomes necessary. However, the cost of additional bandwidth can lead to higher expenses.
When deciding on the hosting provider, it is important to factor in the projected growth and the anticipated number of visitors. The provider should have the ability to provide higher bandwidth to meet future requirements. In addition, some providers have burst options to handle the isolated traffic peaks that do not require subscribing to a high bandwidth on a monthly basis.
"The provider should have the ability to provide higher bandwidth to meet future requirements. In addition, some providers have burst options to handle the isolated traffic peaks that do not require subscribing to a high bandwidth on a monthly basis."
If a client exhausts the monthly bandwidth, some providers may limit the access, such that users cannot access the website. Others may have an option to add extra bandwidth at an additional bandwidth excess charge.
Some providers offer unlimited bandwidth, which can be a good thing. But the clients need to understand their requirements to avoid paying for the extra bandwidth they do not require.
Initially, the hosting provider may estimate the bandwidth needs based on the traffic and type of website but these may change as the business grows. That is why a busy and growing website should opt for unlimited bandwidth. This may be expensive, but it avoids disappointments when the website becomes clogged.
The speed of data transfer depends on the hardware switches connecting the physical servers to the internet infrastructure. The ability of these switches to provide fast data transfer rates depends on the port size. Usually, the typical sizes range from 100 Mbps to 10 Gbps.
A bigger port is necessary for higher monthly bandwidth. For example, a 10TB bandwidth may require multiple 10Gbps ports to serve a large number of visitors sufficiently. On the other hand, a dedicated server of 5GB bandwidth can serve the visitors with a single or just a few 100MB ports.
The high bandwidth links, usually in Gbps, are ideal for transferring huge amounts of data and are recommended for sites that provide video streaming, live video, cloud hosting, gaming sites and other high traffic or rich media content sites.
You can estimate the bandwidth requirements by multiplying the average page size by the average monthly page loads. The other option is to multiply the daily page views by average page size and by 30 days to get the monthly bandwidth. If the page sizes are in kilobytes, you will need to divide the product by 1000 to get MB or by 1000,000 to get the data in Gigabytes.
For example if average page size is 500kb, the average daily page vies is 1000,
Daily traffic is 500kb X 1000 = 500,000kb or 500MB,
Monthly bandwidth is 500MB x 30 =15,000MB or 15GB.
Migrating to a dedicated server is a delicate process that requires proper planning to avoid long downtime and loss of data. First, you need to identify the business needs and then choose and size the server appropriately. This includes the server hardware specifications, operating system, control panel, bandwidth, type of database system, and more.
To minimize downtime, the best practice is to configure the new server, install the applications, recreate the accounts, including the email addresses, and then transfer the data from the old server. However, instead of trying to figure out what needs to be configured on the new server, the easiest way is to copy the configuration files from the older server. This migrates most of the configurations and settings.
"To minimize downtime, the best practice is to configure the new server, install the applications, recreate the accounts, including the email addresses, and then transfer the data from the old server."
Before transferring the data, you will need to backup the old server and keep your data safe. Next, remove all the unnecessary information, backups, and outdated data from the old server. This will leave it as lean as possible and simplify the migration process. You can now do another backup for the files to transfer to the new server.
Transfer the data to the new server, restore it, and test the server thoroughly. If all works according to plan, you can now change the DNS servers or IP settings for your domain so that it now points to the new server.
From here, you can now terminate the old server. You may need to run the new server for a few days before decommissioning the old server or cancelling the contract with the old host.
A few of the things to consider when migrating include:
- Since the DNS update takes about 24 - 48 hours to update completely, there may be occasional delays in delivering the emails to the new server.
- When copying dynamic data from the old server to the new one, the best thing is to use a copying tool with the ability to synchronize.
- You can copy the data from the old server to the new one directly over the internet. Use encryption and VPN to ensure the security of the sensitive data.
- If possible, document all the configuration requirements and migration processes
Some providers may offer a managed data migration service that takes care of everything from backups, configuration, and data transfer and testing. In such a case, you do not have to worry about the process.
There are some businesses that prefer to use managed dedicated servers in order to save time and inhouse resources. Such an arrangement frees the clients’ IT staff from administering and maintaining the dedicated server. Managed dedicated servers have several performance benefits and assured maximum uptime.
In a managed dedicated server hosting, the provider may offer full or partial management of the server at an extra cost. However, it is important to ensure that the hosting company has the ability and capacity to reliably manage your server while maintaining data security and privacy.
Here are the main benefits of a fully managed dedicated server plan:
- The hosting provider takes care of all the management tasks including software updates, security, backups and other server administration functions. The provider maintains the server and fixes any performance issues.
- The client does not have to spend money and time managing the server and, hiring highly qualified IT staff or paying additional third-party service providers. This frees up the client’s time to concentrate on the core business.
- Hosting company has more expertise in server management, and is hence able to provide better, more reliable and professional support, improved uptime, and minimal performance issues and shutdowns.
- Managed hosting guarantees the maximum uptime and the shortest resolution times.
- The hosting providers performs security scans and server audits and then fixes the vulnerabilities.
- Managed hosting frees up the client's technical staff, hence allowing them to concentrate on other tasks. In addition, the client does not have to pay a lot of money to hire highly trained staff.
"...it is important to ensure that the hosting company has the ability and capacity to reliably manage your server while maintaining data security and privacy."
Drawbacks of managed dedicated server hosting:
- Higher overall maintenance costs for the hosting plan.
- Risk of security and performance issues if the hosting provider does not have reliable staff.
A control panel is a user-friendly browser-based interface for managing dedicated server environment. It allows non-technical staff to easily and quickly perform tasks that would otherwise require an experienced administrator, hence saving time and money for the business.
However, choosing the best panel for your specific environment can be challenging as there are several options with a wide range of features and capabilities. The best choice would be what is convenient, comfortable to use, and able to meet your needs. Here are the things to consider.
- First, you need to determine what you want to achieve using the control panel. This will largely depend on your website, operating system, and applications.
- Operating system: Choose a control panel compatible with the operating system in dedicated server.
- RAM the Control panel will use. Find out the resources that the control panel will use on the server. For example, the cPanel requires a minimum of 256MB but runs better at 512MB or higher. A panel using more resources will affect the overall performance of the server.
- Security: Choose a control panel that will not compromise the security of the dedicated server.
- Cost of the license. Ensure that the panel will provide value for money and has all the features necessary for the website.
- Additional features: The different control panels have basically the same functionalities and will support most dedicated servers. However, some may have additional features and useful add-ons. Beside configuring, administering, and installing software, some panels have additional features such as monitoring server health and performance, migration tools, and more.
The most popular control panels for the Linux and Windows are cPanel, Plesk, DirectAdmin, and MSPControl. However, there are several others which may not be as popular but equally effective.
- Cpanel: -most popular and only compatible with Linux servers
- MSPControl: – Windows operating systems
- Plesk – for both Windows and Linux
- DirectAdmin– almost similar to cPanel –supports Linux
Ideally, the client should choose a hosting provider that has a security perimeter for the entire data center. In addition, it is necessary for the client to implement other solutions to enhance security. This includes installing reliable security software to provide an overall protection as well as other specific tools to guard against specific vulnerabilities.
Installing effective security software prevents most types of attacks including viruses, malware, spam, DDOS and other threats.
Dedicated Server Firewall
In addition to the other security solutions, a dedicated firewall adds an extra layer of protection. The firewall allows the administrator to make the internal processes inaccessible to the public, hence making it harder for hackers to attempt penetrating the system.
Scan Dedicated Server for Vulnerabilities
Even with security measures in place, it is important to regularly analyze the server to understand the kind of attacks and vulnerabilities to address. To do this, you can use the appropriate vulnerability or penetration test tool.
Typical open source tools and vulnerabilities they test are:
- Netsparker: - XSS and SQL injection
- OpenVAS: - tests for over 25000 known vulnerabilities
- Xenotix XSS Exploit Framework: XSS testing
- ScanMyServer: - XSS, SQL Injection, Blind SQL Injection, Source Disclosure, etc
Besides using the above solutions and tools, it is recommended to implement the following
- Using parameterized queries to prevent SQL injections: - This prevents the hackers from inputting executable codes in the user input fields.
- Using SSH keys to authenticate the administrators – This replaces the password-based logins while simplifying the remote login process. Most importantly, it increases the security by reducing the risk of automated brute-force attacks where hackers attempt to gain access using several usernames and passwords.
- Secure the SSH by changing the SSH listening port from the default 22 to a different number.
- Always use a strong password and change it regularly.
- Ensure the operating system and applications are always up-to-date to prevent hackers from taking advantage of security vulnerabilities in the code.
- Use TLS (Transport Layer Security) protected interface to manage your server. This encrypts and secures the data between the server and the remote admin computer, hence making harder for the hackers to intercept and capture the server login information.
Website administrators can use a combination of tools to monitor a wide range of metrics in dedicated servers. This is critical in establishing the status of dedicated server and resources utilization.
Generally, the server monitoring tools allow the administrators to gain a broader visibility of the server’s performance and health. Typical features of these tools include native agents for Linux, Windows, or both, as well as monitors for the CPU, RAM, storage, network bandwidth, processes, etc.
The server monitoring tools use a variety of technologies to check and report on the status of several performance indicators. These are usually customizable and scalable depending on the requirements, budget, and reporting. Similarly, the number and types of metrics to monitor may vary depending on the client and type of website.
"What to monitor and check may vary from one website to the other, depending on the OS, applications, configuration and hosting environment. However, there are some key performance indicators that contain essential information to help you understand the state of your server."
There is no minimum set of metrics that one requires to get an accurate status of the dedicated server. What to monitor and check may vary from one website to the other, depending on the OS, applications, configuration and hosting environment. However, there are some key performance indicators that contain essential information to help you understand the state of your server.
- CPU utilization: This shows percentage of processor capacity in use at any given time. A 100% CPU usage is an indication of a problem with the processes or inadequate machine capacity.
- Memory utilization: percentage of memory in use against total installed memory. Check the processes or capacity if usage is 100% or close.
- Hard disk space: Percentage of used space
- Requests per Second (RPS): shows the number of requests the server receives per second. However, this is calculated by dividing the number of requests over a monitoring period of between 1 and 5 minutes.
- Error rates: a percentage of failed requests compared to the total number of requests. An error rate of less than 1% is acceptable in many situations but is better to eliminate or minimize the errors completely.
- Uptime: This is a measure of the time the server has been up and functioning properly. Usually expressed as a percentage of the time the server has been up to the ideal uptime, it reflects the availability and reliability of the server and should be as large as possible. A server with an uptime of 99 percent may require attention while a 95 % is an indication of severe performance issues.
- The number of disks reads and writes operations expressed in megabytes per second.
- Processes running at a particular time.
- Server response time.
These reports are available in percentages and utilization graphs. Effective monitoring solutions will alert the administrator of any abnormalities or when a specific metric crosses a set threshold. The tools can send the alerts as text messages or emails to the designated people.
Despite their advantages, control panels have a few shortcomings and limitations that often drive administrators to access dedicated server OS directly. Some reasons include:
- Need to avoide paying the control panel licensing fee
- Need to free up resources on the server
- Security vulnerabilities and late or unreliable updates from the control panel developers
- Limitations in some functionalities
There are several ways of accessing dedicated server without a control panel. This can be through an inbuilt feature in the OS, or a third party application such as Putty.
What to use depends on the operating systems of the remote computer as well as the server. For instance, Windows users can use the inbuilt remote desktop connection or the IIS manager (Internet Information Systems Manager) to securely access the Windows dedicated servers, or a third party application such as PuTTy to access a Linux server.
On the other hand, a Linux and Mac OS X users can use the inbuilt text-based SSH client Terminal, which relies on the Secure Socket Shell (SSH) protocol, to securely access a Linux server.
Linux and Mac OS X clients do not require any installation. However, the IIS manager must be installed in the Windows client and on dedicated server. If accessing the Linux server using the windows client, you must first download and install the free PuTTY software.
The admin must have the domain name or IP address of dedicated server to access, as well as the login details. But before proceeding to log in, the firewall must be configured to accept the connections from the client computer’s IP address.
Benefits of accessing the OS without a control panel
- More customization opportunities for the server, without the limitations that a control panel may have such as following specific paths to perform a function.
- Freeing up resources such as the memory and processor power in the server
- Savings on licensing fees.
- Improved security, some control panels, especially open source panels, may have several vulnerabilities.
Even when running properly, a dedicated server’s operating system, application software, and hardware drivers require regular updates to fix performance, security and compatibility issues. In addition, the administrator should perform a number of house-keeping maintenance tasks such as clean-ups, upgrades, and backups.
The most effective way of keeping up to date with the recent releases is to enable automatic updates mode. This eliminates the manual checking and installing of the updates. However, a wrong patch can cause performance or security issue, especially if it happens at night when there is no one to confirm that it works. To reduce this risk, some administrators prefer manual updates and especially for the open source software such as the Linux operating system.
"The most effective way of keeping up to date with the recent releases is to enable automatic updates mode. This eliminates the manual checking and installing of the updates."
Since the open source software relies heavily on kernels, it is important to take precautions to avoid updating it with compromised code. The best practice is to research and verify that the update kernels, unless coming from trusted developers, are genuine and working properly.
Other than updating the server software, there are several other maintenance tasks that an administrator must perform. This includes but not limited to:
- Checking the server health in terms of code, applications, hard disk, file integrity, permissions, hard disk space, etc.
- Backing up data on the server to prevent loss in the event of hacking or crash as well as data manipulation. It is recommended to save the data in a different location, preferably have an online backup on another server as well as an offline backup.
- Changing the password: To reduce the chances of someone cracking your password, you should change it after every 60 to 90 days. Use strong password best practices and keep the passwords safe.
- Firmware updates: In addition to the software, there should be regular updates of the firmware of the server computer, firewall devices, routers and other hardware. This ensures that the components are able to handle all threats that may compromise the security and performance of dedicated server.
- Disabling the insecure and unused services, and removing the unnecessary software.
- Perform a thorough security audit and address the vulnerabilities or weaknesses.