Virtualisation and cloud computing technologies deliver services that perform exactly like a dedicated server; but are more reliable, flexible, scalable, offer more management features and simply cost less.
As more web services and applications move over to cloud-based virtual servers, you have to wonder if this spells the end of the traditional dedicated server.
Flexibility and scalability
Dedicated servers do not scale the way a virtual machine on a good cloud platform can; they are designed to provide a set amount of resources and the only realistic way of scaling their computing power is to add additional servers and balance the load across multiple servers (which usually requires some changes to your application) or to increase the resources on the dedicated server (which will involve downtime while the physical components are changed).
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In contrast, scaling is what cloud hosting does best. Adding more CPU, RAM or storage can be done with zero downtime and through your own control panel. Similarly, adding additional virtual servers is also at the click of a button.
Management and reliability
Management of a server is often the most costly element. Maintenance of the hardware usually requires additional service level agreements for parts replacements, while for high availability you need a second dedicated server as well as load balancers, multiple firewalls, switches, etc.
When you move to a virtual server hosted on a cloud platform a lot of this is already taken care of. If the underlying physical hardware fails then your server should be automatically migrated to a new machine, the storage should be mirrored with a high level of RAID and a lot of the firewall / load balancing functions can be taken over by virtual machines allowing you to take advantage of the resilient nature of a cloud platform rather than having to double up on the hardware.
This is perhaps the most persuasive argument for using cloud hosting. With a dedicated server you have to provision the resources the server has to match the highest load you expect so that your website or application doesn't fall over during the busiest periods.
However, your website might only experience that load for one day a year or even one hour a year and the rest of the time all that server capacity is still unused.
With hosting a cloud platform, the virtual server can either have extra resources added to it instantly before your peak loads or it can often "auto-scale" and react to changing demands by increasing the CPU or RAM as needed (usually with a 'per hour' charge).
Cloud hosting offers a lot of benefits over a dedicated server, usually for the same or less monthly cost. However, there are still some applications that are better suited to a dedicated server for now but as cloud technology develops everything should be able to run within a scalable, resilient virtual server. For my money the choice is a no-brainer, but I'd be interested in your views below or via Twitter.
- 4D Data Centres Technical director David Barker founded his domain registration and hosting business in 1999 when he was 14. Since then he's built 4D Data Centres into one of the UK's most innovative colocation and connectivity providers.