Dedicated hosting explained (for non techie types)

Dedicated hosting (sometimes referred to as dedicated server hosting) is a popular type of Web hosting that guarantees sole use of an entire Web server.

The confusing thing about dedicated hosting is that the term dedicated refers to a client's usage of one entire Web server, but that has nothing to do with performance, speed, server resources, or technical support.

In fact, many people end up wondering why $3 per month business hosting packages seem to offer unlimited bandwidth, while dedicated servers all mention server limitations, like storage space, and monthly transfer - even though they cost tens, if not hundreds of dollars.

This article will help demystify what dedicated hosting is, what it offers, and explains how to choose the right hosting plan for your business.

What goes into a dedicated server

It's important to understand that there is a difference between a Web server and the overall hosting package offered by the Web hosting company.

At it's most basic level, a dedicated Web server consists of the following:

  1. Hard disk for data storage
  2. One or more CPUs (Central Processing Units) for processing
  3. RAM for facilitating parallel processing (think of it like short term memory)
  4. Operating system most often Linux, but occasionally Windows
  5. Database & server software required for the smooth operation & management of your site(s)
  6. Admin panel for administering the server without having to learn shell scripting (the best is cPanel - although this is slightly more expensive)

The vast majority of the Internet uses Linux Web hosting because it is generally faster and more reliable, and less prone to security vulnerabilities.

If your business website or blog is based on any of the major CMS (Content Management Systems) like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc, you will need to use a Linux based server.

What goes into a dedicated hosting plan

So a dedicated server gives you the physical platform and basic software resources needed to serve webpages.

The hosting plan, which is what you end up purchasing from Web hosting companies, is the server plus technical support, network, email, domain management, IP addresses, DNS, SSL, and other bits and pieces.

This is where things can get a bit confusing...

The Web hosting company itself can have a huge affect on the ultimate quality of your server, and your ability to operate a top class website. It's no good, for example, having a top of the line server, if the hosting company's network is clogged up, slow, and unreliable.

Which is why purchasing a hosting plan can become a baffling ordeal because different Web hosts single out different aspects of their service to try and convince people to buy.

One might offer real-time network monitoring (to prove that their network is fast and reliable), others might offer managed hosting as part of their dedicated server plans (attracting people who value peace of mind - knowing that real humans are monitoring their server for any potential problems).

How to choose the right plan

You can make life a little bit easier by breaking down the process of choosing a dedicated hosting plan by working out what your baseline hosting requirements are - from server to support.

1. Server requirements

If your business needs to host a couple of websites with reasonable traffic volumes, without much rich media (high bandwidth), you might feel comfortable with a server that offers less than a terabyte (1 TB) of monthly transfer.

Conversely, if your website is complex and heavy on processing then CPU speed and RAM might be the deciding factor.

Once you know what's required, it's easy to eliminate hosting plans that don't offer sufficient resources. However, make sure that you choose a Web server that has plenty of room for growth - there's no point choosing a server that just covers your current requirements, if you are going to need to upgrade in 3 months time.

2. Support

Next, think about your in-house technical skills, and how much time and effort you can devote to operating the Website(s).

Some companies opt for servers with complete root access so that they can control and configure everything. This is great, if you have the time and the skills to do this.

But, if you don't want to micro-manage your sites, opt for hosting plans with enhanced support - in particular, managed servers, while more expensive, are a good way to ensure the smooth operation of your sites without having to constantly keep one eye on them.

3. Value

With a complete understanding of the server requirements and level of support needed, it's time to find a hosting plan that offers all that, and is backed up by a reliable, high quality Web hosting company at a reasonable price.

I call this combination of metrics the value for money quotient.

4. Compare the best hosting plans

SME Pals recently did a study of the leading dedicated hosting plans offered by the top Web hosts, and came up with the following comparison table, ranked by the overall value offering of each plan:

Rank Plan Price Server Support Reviews* Value**
1 HostGator $175+ Intel Zeon 2.3GHz. 10TB transfer. 4GB memory. 500GB RAID drives. 24/7 premium support. 24/7 server support. 8 83%
2 SiteGround premium managed dedicated servers $300+ Quad core Intel Xeon. 5TB bandwidth. 4GB+ RAM. 500GB+ STAT drives. Managed. Active server monitoring. 24/7 prioritized technical support. 9 81%
3 WP Engine premium hosting (WordPress only) $100+ Baked in CDN. Unlimited transfer. 30GB+ storage. Fully managed. 9 80%
4 GoDaddy $80+ Intel 2 - 4 cores. 5TB+ transfer. 2GB+ RAM. 320GB+ drives. 24/7 technical support. Server concierge. 24/7 network monitoring. 7.5 79%
5 NEXCESS (WordPress & Magento) $135+ Dual - quad cores. 1.5TB transfer (more available for purchase). 2GB RAM. 500GB+ drives. 24/7 technical support. Managed server options. 7 75%

By taking into account the server resources offered, quality of support, pricing, customer reviews and general prevailing consumer sentiment over each company, we came up with an overall value index (expressed as a percent - in the last column) for each of the hosting plans included in this table.

The work we did here is, in many ways, exactly the type of research you need to do before choosing the perfect hosting for your own business.

Are there other factors you would take into account before purchasing dedicated hosting? Share your tips and experiences in the comments.

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