I'm currently evaluating the possibility to switch providers. The dedicated server that Ghacks is currently running on is totally self managed which can be a real burden if it happens to go down at four in the morning.
There are basically two types of dedicated servers for customers with lots of sub-types in between. Managed dedicated servers are largely maintained by the hosting company. The minimum that they usually do on their own are security updates, regular backups, server monitoring and hardware replacements. The system administrator is responsible for most of this on a self managed server which are usually cheaper than managed ones. While cheaper, time is dedicated to these processes.
The first step in finding a good dedicated server provider is to make a list. What exactly do you need? Do you want to run a Windows or Linux dedicated server? How much hard drive space and computer memory should the server have? What about the processor, how much bandwidth should be included, what networking interface should the server use? A few factors cannot be fully answered at this time but some can. If you plan to migrate a website you know the requirements of that website. You also know if it is a high traffic site or uses lots of system resources like computer memory, hard drive or processor at the old site.
You may also want to consider the possibility that traffic may pick up, so upgrades should also be supported and, at best, be applied without any down time.
Dedicated servers are usually a good choice if the current hosting situation, may it be a VPS or a shared hosting account, limits the growth of the site or the user experience.
Requirements like computer memory or cpu are harder to judge. High traffic sites benefit from lots of computer memory and a fast cpu but there is also chance for an overkill. Running a blog with 100 visitors a day does not justify a high end dedicated server with 16 Gigabytes of RAM and Intel Dual Harpertown processors. A very populated forum on the other hand would benefit highly from that setup.
The most important process in the selection of a dedicated server is the choice of the hosting provider. Quality and services differ widely, and extensive research is suggested before making the selection. It is not enough to compare hardware and prices alone, other factors are of even bigger importance. What good is a dedicated server that is unreachable for most of the day because of overselling or poor infrastructure? What if that cheap server is made possible by cheap or understaffed support?
You can try and find an answer on so called hosting review websites but they usually are more interested in sending you to those dedicated server hosters that give them the biggest cut if you decide to order a server there. The best way to research potential dedicated server hosting companies is to search and post in webmaster forums. Not everything is golden and shiny in there and there have been cases that hosting companies have posted on such forums praising their own services but it usually results in a handful of dedicated server providers that are recommended.
Some webmaster forums where you can find such help and information are:
You can start by searching for general terms. These forums on the other hand can deliver great results for specific hosting companies as well. Once you got your list of suggested dedicated server providers you should perform a search on the Internet. Suggested search terms are "name of company" problems, "name of company" reviews and so on. This will give you more insight if the provider is as good as it should be.
Comparing Dedicated Servers
It is now time to compare the dedicated servers and services offered by the hosting providers that are still on the list. Prices range widely from about $20 to $600 per month and more depending on the setup and provider. Many providers do offer customization of the server hardware and software. It is possible to add additional computer memory, a better processor, increase free traffic limits or use a better connection to the Internet.
Ghacks for example has been running fine on a Debian 4 dedicated server with an AMD Athlon X2 Dual Core processor and 4 Gigabytes of computer memory. The hardware requirements do however largely depend on the site that has to be hosted there. One interesting option if you are unsure about the requirements would be to contact the hosting providers asking for their assistance. The email should include questions about:
- Suggestions on needed hardware
- If hardware upgrades are available after setup and the costs of those
- If special bargains are available. Bargains are usually servers that use slightly older hardware but it could also be new servers that they want to sell as soon as possible)
It is also a good idea to ask the same question in webmaster forums or other places with proficient users who can give you a good answer. Compare the results to get a better idea of what server you might need.
Many factors are important when comparing dedicated servers, some are:
- Raw hardware meaning cpu, ram, hard drive capacities
- Software that is included (e.g. Cpanel, firewall, management software)
- Connection options (sftp, ftp, ssh..)
- Services that are included (e.g. assistance in server migration)
- The connection speed of the server (usually 10, 100 Mbit or more)
- The included traffic limit of the server (how many Gigabytes can be transferred without additional costs)
- Usage restrictions (which sites are not allowed)
- Contract period
- Server uptime
- Managed or not. Knowing Linux in and out is not the only skill needed to administrate a dedicated server but it is one of the most important ones. A managed server on the other hand usually comes with a web interface like Cpanel that takes lots of the burden away from the user.
Dedicated Server Providers
My research has revealed a few companies that get recommended more often than others, they are:
Yes there are more out there but those four are definitely among the top. The most important step is research. You need to find a totally reliable dedicated server provider that is offering great network uptimes, hardware and services for a good price.