There are few things more aggravating than asking a question and getting the answer: “it depends.” However, that’s the only correct answer when you’re trying to decide between dedicated servers and cloud hosting. Dedicated hosting is familiar to most people, but the cloud certainly sounds more technologically advanced – and a lot cooler.
Each has clear advantages and disadvantages, but the “right choice” is the one which matches your specific needs. Here’s a comparison of dedicated and cloud hosting, along with tips on choosing the better alternative for your business.
For those who need a quick primer (or a quick review) on dedicated servers and cloud hosting:
Dedicated Server: A computer solely dedicated to its owner or lease client. The company’s data is stored on the machine, which is also responsible for running software applications and connecting to the Internet. A dedicated server can be housed either in the company’s facilities or at a remote data center.
Cloud Hosting: Rather than being based around a central machine owned or leased by the company, data is stored and functions are performed on a virtual network of connected servers in multiple locations (the network is what’s known as the “cloud”).
Dedicated servers have been used extensively by companies and organizations for decades. Commercially-available cloud hosting has only become a practical option over the last five to seven years.
Comparing Dedicated Servers and Cloud Hosting
Reliability and Control
Dedicated Server: Your business is not dependent on “anyone else.” The reliability of your operations simply depends on the computer’s hardware and software and the data center’s power and connectivity. You’re also in full charge of how many users can access the machine’s computing power. That gives you complete control over your IT operations and the ability to customize them however you’d like. However, it also puts all of those operations at risk in the event of hardware, power or connection failures. You are also responsible for ensuring that data backups are performed.
Cloud Hosting: A measure of control is lost because there’s no physical machine which can be accessed; operations must be managed virtually and there are many users utilizing the same servers on the cloud. You are also dependent on providers to actually perform any promised data backups. But hardware, connection or power failures are not fatal to system function because another cloud server can simply pick up the slack for any machine which goes down or becomes unavailable.
Dedicated Server: 100% of the server’s resources are available for the company’s use at all times. This means faster loading and processing, particularly for websites or applications which are heavily reliant on I/O speed or managing large databases.
Cloud Hosting: Latency, latency, latency. When you’re running applications or web-based systems, speed can become a major issue on cloud platforms. Sending data packets back and forth on a virtual network in the cloud can slow down operations considerably, especially when traffic is heavy.
Dedicated Server: The ability to protect sensitive data is greatly enhanced on a dedicated machine. With a properly-configured firewall and active monitoring, vulnerability is minimized because there is no regular outside access to the server. However, having all operations consolidated in one physical location does increase potential hazards from fire, flood or other natural disasters.
Cloud Hosting: Data is regularly being sent back and forth on the Internet, increasing the vulnerability of sensitive information and placing companies at the mercy of cloud providers’ security and risk-control programs. Additionally, data is often stored in a shared environment, placing it even more at risk. Data encryption can help but isn’t a complete fix. At a minimum, it’s crucial to fully understand where and how your data will be stored and protected, and what security guarantees the provider offers.
Dedicated Server: If you want to own a dedicated server, there’s an initial capital outlay for the hardware and software, as well as ongoing costs for power, cooling, security and technical expertise (whether in-house or outsourced). Leasing a dedicated machine eliminates the capital cost, but per-month or per-year pricing usually includes a set amount of storage and bandwidth, whether or not it’s all being utilized.
Cloud Hosting: With most cloud platforms, services are “pay as you go” – you only pay for the bandwidth, storage, and resources that you actually use, with no capital outlay required. The cloud can be a much cheaper alternative for companies which don’t place much demand on their hosting service, while potentially more expensive for those which need large amounts of storage and processing power.
Dedicated Server: There’s a limit to how much one computer can do. Once your server has reached its limitations (in terms of storage or processing ability, for example) it’s necessary to add additional hardware – not only more computers but often switches, load balancers and other equipment to ensure proper functioning of the network. This is both expensive and time-consuming and requires expertise to manage.
Cloud Hosting: Cloud platforms are easily scalable. Additional memory and storage can be added in minutes at a reasonable cost; with some cloud hosts, it can even be automated so that resources are added as needed. Compartmentalization is also a much simpler task as the size of the cloud platform grows.
Dedicated Server: Expertise is required to manage a server. It can be handled by internal staff, outsourced employees, or in the case of a leased server, the hosting provider. There is a cost for all of those alternatives, although most providers offer “managed” servers at an upcharge.
Cloud Hosting: Platform management is more often handled by the provider, with the cost included in the hosting package. However, iOS and Android are both compatible with most cloud servers, so it is easier to manage your own setup if you so desire.
Choosing Between Dedicated and Cloud Hosting
As with any other important decision, the best way to choose between dedicated servers and cloud hosting is to compare the pros and cons for your particular business and requirements. Here’s a quick “cheat sheet,” though.
When Dedicated Hosting May Be a Better Option
- Businesses with heavy use of large databases
- Businesses which depend on fast system response time
- Businesses with strict security needs or government security compliance requirements
- Businesses with stable and predictable processing requirements
When Cloud Hosting May Be a Better Option
- Businesses which can’t afford capital expenditures for hardware and the cost of ongoing technical staff
- Businesses whose processing requirements vary widely over time
- Businesses which require the ability to scale up or scale down operations quickly
- Businesses located in areas with substantial natural disaster risks
- Businesses which require high levels of redundancy
One Other Option
Some companies are now opting for what is known as a hybrid cloud, with a dedicated server running its own private cloud system supplemented by a cloud platform used only when extra resources are needed. This solution provides the best of both worlds for many organizations and is worth considering if neither a dedicated server nor a cloud server seems to be the right answer for your company.