Dedicated or Cloud - The Smart Choice
The trend observed in the web hosting industry over the last few years has been one that promotes the several advantages that cloud servers bring to the table. Clearly, cloud servers have their benefits – you are able to rent resources like on-demand storage, processing power and bandwidth according to your requirements and also scale things up when required. This can be a great way to make IT systems more agile and cost-effective. However, in spite of the much talked about advantages of cloud servers, there are also clear scenarios where using a dedicated server is a smarter way of doing things.
Here, we attempt to analyze the pros and cons of each approach and take a look at circumstances where choosing a dedicated server can bring better performance, control, security and reliability. We will also explore situations where one of the two approaches is clearly more beneficial overall and also certain situations where a clever mix of the two might deliver the best results.
Demarcating the Differences
Cloud Servers – Although the term “cloud” has been used in a rather generic way to address any off-site, virtualized environment, here we will try to talk about cloud servers specifically. Cloud servers are basically virtual machines, running inside a capable and feature-rich environment off-site, which is managed by hosting providers. They are easy to configure and deploy and can be scaled up or down with minimal effort. In effect, you pay for only the resources that you use. If you routinely run applications with a wide range of highs and lows when it comes to demand on resources, or in scenarios involving quick deployment of entities like websites and web applications, cloud servers can come in really handy.
Your Virtual Machine remains located in a virtualized, shared space along with those belonging to other customers of your provider. There is dynamic allocation of resources like connectivity, storage and processing power among these Virtual Machines according to demand. Your server runs within the parameter limits set by your provider during time of purchase, which can include a particular operating system environment, a set amount of storage and bandwidth and other essential features.
Dedicated Servers - Dedicated servers are not virtual entities. They are physical machines that are situated in a data center operated by a third-party hosting provider. This can be either bought outright or rented for a stipulated period, exclusively for your use. These servers are more complicated to deploy, configure according to need and scale up or down. They also need more technical acumen for to manage properly, although many hosting providers bundle support services like administration and management. These offer you full control, allowing you to do things like installing your own choice of operating system, enable performance tweaks, or add a layer of security measures and software, through a secure SSH connection. You also have the option to attach extra storage based on your performance needs.
The use of dedicated servers is apt for performance-intensive applications like running high-traffic websites or video transcoding. Unlike cloud servers, the bandwidth, storage and processing power of dedicated servers are not shared with other users and are available in their entirety for your use. They are a good choice when you are aware of the level of demand you are looking at.
The Promise of Performance
Usually, people choose dedicated servers over cloud servers because of one main reason – performance. If you are planning on accomplishing tasks that require a lot of processing power or bandwidth, a dedicated server ensures that there are no bottlenecks of performance issues for your users. You have control of adequate hardware and software resources to ensure good performance, with the reassurance that none of it needs to be shared with anyone else. You also have a degree of control over how your server is configured to start with, thereby providing you with more optimization options to suit your requirements.
With cloud servers, it is a different story altogether. To start with, the hypervisor system that is required in cloud servers accounts for a minimal, but nevertheless tangible hit in performance. Then, it becomes a matter of how much of the shared resources are available for you to consume. It is very likely that one of the other shared users might run intensive applications on their cloud server, which takes away important resources from your end. Factors like CPU speed and RAM allocation might take a hit during those circumstances, slowing things down for you.
There is a certain amount of flexibility and versatility that can be had from both cloud servers and dedicated ones. While trying to decide between the two, you should factor in variables like the nature and volume of workload, possible fluctuations in demand, and your own ideas about how flexible a system you want. If you are looking for an environment that is well-equipped to deal with rise and fall in demand, and do not want to run anything particularly performance-intensive, opting for a cloud server might be your best bet. If you are looking for the option of possible hardware and software customization, a dedicated server is the only possible choice.
Cloud servers are readymade products, and you get whatever you are promised by your hosting provider. Dedicated servers are much more open-ended, where you have the power to customize and fine-tune your system at each and every level. If you are looking to simply transfer an application which already exists, it is far easier to accomplish that with a dedicated server. You can also attach any kind of extra storage you want to a dedicated server, including high-performance physical storage and cloud storage to cater to different areas of your storage requirements.
Scaling it up
Cloud servers are inherently scalable. However, it is very much possible to achieve similar levels of scalability with dedicated servers, without having to compromise with their other advantages like customizability, security and performance. One way to achieve this is to run your very own private cloud, with a group of dedicated servers and a hypervisor system. You can also put together a system where there are multiple servers working behind a load balancer, which adds more servers to the environment as and when there is requirement for extra processing power or bandwidth.
You can also put in place a modular system where different tasks are routed to different servers according to the intensity, volume and expected speed required. For example, if you are executing a campaign with a large volume of clients, you can keep a master database to house all records, while maintaining a number of sub-databases which are in sync with the master database, but have their separate nodes and can be easily processed by new servers if they increase in size.
In this regard, it is also possible to use a creative need-based combination of both cloud and dedicated servers working in tandem to get the most effective solution.
Data security breaches are becoming a common occurrence nowadays and as a result many businesses are facing particularly stringent compliance regulations that govern the storage and use of sensitive information. This warrants that the use of cloud servers might be a strict no-no in certain cases. You do not get express knowledge about the physical location of your data in a cloud environment, and have to pin your faith on whatever security measures your hosting provider has supposedly put in place to keep your data safe. Using a dedicated server is the only way you can ensure that all required security and protective measures are properly in place according to the security policy of your company and the norms enforced by regulations.
Also, while the focus is mostly on external intrusion, using a cloud server makes your data more vulnerable to a breach from the inside. Any security issue with the hypervisor system can throw your data security haywire internally. Recently, such a security hole was discovered in the immensely popular Xen hypervisor system, compelling hosting providers to take cloud servers offline for a long duration to apply the required patches. This not only created harmful downtime, but also showed how much your data can be at risk. You can avert this problem with the use of dedicated servers.
One of the most valued advantages of cloud servers is their immense cost-effectiveness. Technically, you pay only for the resources you need, and therefore do not have to allocate extra funds just to address possible spikes in demand which may or may not actually occur. While it might be a convincing USP at first glance, it does not hold true after a certain point. In scenarios where the possible demand is highly unpredictable within a certain range and there is no need for consistent high performance, cloud servers are indeed more cost-efficient as an option.
However, there can be situations where cloud server systems get extremely complex. You might reach a point of time where you have deployed a large number of virtual machines and opted for large number of add-ons for each, at which point you would no longer be able to tell whether you need all of what you have and are paying for. In these cases, switching to a dedicated server environment might prove to be the more cost-effective option. An example of this is one server user who was paying $40,000 monthly for cloud servers, and could cut down to $25,000 by switching to dedicated servers, while also ensuring better performance.
It is also worthy of note that the longer a cloud server is left in operation, the more difficult it becomes to actually make the switch if it is needed. The number of cloud servers can build up quickly till a point where you can no longer separate the function of each individual one, and cannot wrap it all up in a sensible, functional way into a dedicated server.
Choosing the Right Provider
Whether you are opting for cloud servers, dedicated servers, or a mix of both, you need to ensure that you work with the right provider who can match up to your performance requirements, security needs and versatility that you are looking for. Since hosting is a business-critical procedure, you also need to ensure that the provider you choose is someone worthy of trust.
Here are some of the questions you need to ask –
- Does the provider have a data center infrastructure which is capable of providing competent and consistent performance across all the regions and markets where you carry out your business?
- Does the provider have an established track record of providing hosting services to businesses similar in size and scope to yours?
- Can the provider display the relevant accreditations, certifications and testimonials which prove beyond doubt that they are capable of offering the level of service you require?
- Is the pricing structure transparent and free of ambiguity?
- Is the staff friendly, understanding, helpful and knowledgeable?
These are just some of the most important questions you need to ask before you choose. In ideal conditions, you should be looking for a provider that offers both dedicated and cloud server solutions, because they are less likely to have their own business agenda of guiding you towards one of the two options. They can also offer you unbiased advice about any mixing-and-matching that you might want to do for best results.
While there is no doubt that cloud servers add significant value, they are not the de-facto solution for every industry problem as the hype indicates. If what you need is a guarantee of high performance, stability, security, control, and resilience, then dedicated servers are tough to beat on these grounds. If you have the elevated technical knowledge and expertise to set them up in tune with your requirements, they can certainly provide your company with more value for money in the long term.