Managed Dedicated Servers
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Dedicated Server Functions and Advantages
Dedicated Server Operating Systems and Control Panels
How to Monitor, Backup and Secure Your Dedicated Server
Investing in Managed Dedicated Servers
Data Centers: Connectivity, Security and Reliability
Managed Server Support SLAs: What to Expect
Leading Providers of Managed Dedicated Servers
Common Managed Server Configurations and Pricing
With growing computing demands for modern business, many firms are opting to outsource their hosting needs with managed dedicated servers. Whether you are building a web application, need to secure sensitive business data or host an e-Commerce site, managed dedicated services can provide the resources, technology and support necessary for mission critical projects.
By investing in managed server hosting you can save time, money, and resources by outsourcing the hardware, support, data transfer, security, upgrades and monitoring to dedicated experts in top tier data centers. Relying upon an internal IT department can pose challenges in terms of both technical and human resources. By contrast, managed dedicated servers provide firms with access to state of the art data centers that provide reliable infrastructure and expert support. This comprehensive guide can help you understand the requirements, details and configurations needed to successfully launch a project on a managed dedicated server.
As technology standards evolve, managed dedicated servers can make upgrades, data migration and resource additions substantially easier. Dedicated servers give you the ability to customize your hardware needs based upon your project requirements. This paper provides an overview of selecting, operating and optimizing the performance of dedicated servers ready for production. The first section of the guide provides a technical overview to understanding managed dedicated servers, which is followed by a buyer’s guide to investing in the right managed server resources. If you’re planning a new service or need additional capacity for your existing sites, then this guide can help you make an informed server investment decision.
With managed dedicated hosting you can partner with a company devoted to servers in order to provide the latest hardware, reliable support and infrastructure as well as an insider’s view on technology trends. The primary advantage of managed hosting is measured in terms of service and support; working with the right data center partner can serve to maintain and secure your IT equipment more effectively.
Shifts in the IT landscape have moved in favor of managed dedicated services. According to Tier 1 Research, in recent years the market increased by nearly a third. This growth is driven by a movement towards outsourcing computing power with the growth of virtual desktops, sensitive data transmission and the importance of continuous uptime. For nearly every major IT application today, managed hosting can help provide stable infrastructure whether you’re hosting a website or using the server to run your daily operations with Software as a Service (SaaS), customer management (CRM) or IP-based communications.
Whether you are building a new web application, need to secure sensitive business data or are building an e-Commerce site, managed dedicated servers can provide the resources, technology and support necessary for mission critical projects. This guide can help you understand the requirements, details and configurations needed to successfully launch a project on a managed dedicated server.
Dedicated servers are the hardware devoted to data transmission over a variety of protocols including HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), FTP (File Transfer Protocol), SSH (Secure Shell) and many others. Whether you’re hosting a website, rendering rich media, handling database information transfers for business or running a virtual instance of a local desktop, the servers can provide computing power around the clock. Many professional collocation companies will host your own personal hardware or lease a pre-configured machine exclusively for your needs within a secure data center. Traditionally mounted in racks, dedicated servers are often housed in data centers which provide connectivity, multiple levels of security and redundant offsite backups for your data. Top quality Tier 4 data centers offer over 99.99% uptime with their own power generators, climate control, independent access to pipeline bandwidth and modern hardware configurations.
The primary advantages in choosing a dedicated server are greater access to computing resources, improved security, increased control, and ease of scale when it comes to adding more resources. For projects which are built for growth, such as private networks and consumer web applications, dedicated servers allow you to upgrade the hardware so you can reliably scale as your traffic grows. Before you make an investment in a hosting provider, consider the many advantages of dedicated servers:
- Full control over your OS, file system and security settings
On a shared (or even virtual private) server you are limited to restrictions imposed by the web host administrator. With a dedicated server you have full root access to the server. When you own (or lease) a dedicated server, you also don’t have to worry about potential security threats from other virtual users on your machine or potential SEO implications from other users’ content on your IP block.
- Reliably scale your server with hardware adjustments
Since you physically control a dedicated server (as well as the OS) you can add more memory and invest in more bandwidth by making the request from your provider. Many providers offer time guarantees for hardware replacement, ensuring upgrades and repairs get done quickly.
- Ensure your application can reliably run without complications
In a shared hosting environment users are limited in terms of their root access and ability to modify important configuration settings. For example, a shared Linux server often doesn’t provide access to httpd.conf, which is used to set port values, user access levels, server admin rights, log settings and MIME (file) extension settings. In ASP.Net server settings, root access offers a similar level of importance with full access to your core IIS files.
Independent of your server type, your developers will likely require root access to successfully build, test and deploy an IT project. Serious developers need full access to the root of their server in order to test, debug, and develop large scale applications properly from the ground up. With root access you can create a dedicated development environment with any 3rd party server tools and libraries needed for caching, security and software compatibility issues.
There are a variety of commercial and open source operating systems used to manage dedicated servers. While Windows servers have a primarily closed OS, due to licensing and API restrictions from Microsoft, nearly all of the major Linux operating systems have open source versions. To help you identify the ideal OS for your projects, we provide an overview of the major features of each system:
- Microsoft Windows Server 2008
A new version of Windows Server 2008 came to market in 2009, adding new features to the original release. Built on the same kernel as the Windows NT operating system, it shares a common architecture with Windows 7. A substantial upgrade from its predecessor, the OS features support for IPv6 (the upcoming Internet Protocol standard for 128-bit IP addresses), Bit Locker 256-bit data encryption, an integrated firewall, all of the components for .Net version 3 as well as Plug and Play support for new hardware and accessories. To make the server easier to manage for IT professionals, the OS has integrated monitoring, backup and notification tools so you can improve uptime and performance. The software is sold on a license basis based upon access requirements.
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Originating from the open source Linux OS version by Red Hat, the Enterprise Linux server is available for Intel and IBM servers. Currently in version 6 (Beta), the software is one of the most popular solutions for commercial Linux server management. While the software is currently released through a proprietary RHEL open source license, the company only provides support for licensed users. As a result, many companies have compiled their own community variants of the software, including Cent OS.
Released under the GNU (General Public) open source license, Debian is one of the most popular Linux server (and desktop) operating systems. Currently on release version 5, the OS is compatible with nearly every type of dedicated server hardware including Intel, ARM and IBM servers. In fact, many popular Linux OS packages (including Ubuntu and Linex) are built on Debian. Many users prefer the OS for its dual desktop and server interfaces, which allows system administrators to utilize Debian throughout their entire operations.
In order to make server management easier, many system administrators utilize control panels. There are a wide variety of server management solutions on the market, many of which are tailored to specific configurations such as eBox (network servers) and Hosting Controller (SaaS servers). There are two major operating systems most commonly used by dedicated hosting companies:
- cPanel WHM (Web Host Manager)
As one of the most popular user-friendly Unix hosting control panels, WHM makes it easier for users without comprehensive shell command knowledge to administer servers. The software can run on Red Hat Linux as well as variants such as Cent OS, and an Enkompass Windows version is currently in Beta. Through a visual interface, you can create child accounts, review server logs, update DNS settings, configure backups and adjust common settings on the server.
A highly versatile server OS, Plesk provides control panels for Windows and Linux servers. Utilized by many dedicated hosting companies, the interface allows end users to administer servers with common tasks such as account creation, webmail and database management. As proprietary software, many hosting companies offer a license included with each account, although independent developers are required to purchase a license for the software.
You can invest significantly in hardware and bandwidth, but keeping your application running reliably requires an investment in monitoring, backup and security tools. Most dedicated server providers offer service level agreements (SLAs) which cover active monitoring, regular backups and server security tasks. Since these layers of service may vary widely, however, it’s important to read a provider’s SLA prior to signing up with them.
Many system administrators rely upon 3rd Party Tools to monitor and manage servers. These tools provide active monitoring, filtering and real time updates which help keep servers online and notify administrators when problems occur. Often times, investing in your own independent monitoring tool can provide valuable information for quality assurance on your service level agreement (SLA). For mission critical projects, the following monitoring tools can provide valuable data on your server status around the clock:
As one of the largest providers of professional server monitoring software, Nimsoft can monitor private networks, cloud applications and service performance. For any type of server or application, the software provides custom dashboards that allow you to track progress over time. With instant notifications across any delivery channel, the solution is ideal for those looking for a professional monitoring tool. Product solutions range from entry level monthly fees to annual contracts for more custom services. One major advantage of Nimsoft is their auditing tool which provides business owners with data on server performance relative to promised benchmarks.
Pingdom is a server monitoring tool focused on improved uptime. To determine how well your server is performing remotely from various IPs and access points you can use Pingdom’s tools to provide regular updates on performance status. With custom alert configurations you can check HTTP, Email (POP3 or IMAP), as well as TCP/DNS response times. You can set these automated checks for your high value markets to determine where (and if) any data transfer lags may arise. With a web-based as well as mobile application so you can keep tabs on your server on the go.
As the leading open source IT management tool, Zenoss Open Source edition offers a web-based interface where you can monitor, manage and share server data with your team. In fact, Zenoss extends beyond individual server monitoring to providing a complete mapping of each machine on your entire IT system. For development teams, ensuring server uptime as well as local network connections is essential for efficient project management.
In addition to monitoring the real-time status of your server, regular (daily) offsite backups provide important redundancy in cases of large scale malfunctions caused by fire, power outages, or various other types of natural disaster. Under a scenario in which your server is physically damaged or access to the files is temporarily offline (such as a power outage or other emergency), an offsite backup can provide redundancy that helps avoid substantial downtime. While you can configure both Windows and Linux machines to backup regularly, managed backup services ensure uninterrupted data transmission.
Maintaining consistent uptime requires several layers of security procedures. One of the primary advantages to managed hosting is the additional security precautions used to protect sensitive data. Professional hackers and competitors may scan for vulnerable server IPs as well as targeting certain data sources specifically. If you plan on building a reputable application, you should invest in a service level agreement which provides inbound access protection with firewalls, and protection against DDOS (denial of service) attacks and database injections.
Rather than responding to attacks after they occur, an intelligent firewall should preempt attacks by blocking malicious traffic with intrusion prevention systems. Reliable hosting providers offer managed security including real-time patch updates to keep your software and operating system up to date, as well as limiting root server access to specific IP (or MAC) addresses. Protecting against threats also requires hosting in a facility that stays up to date with data security best practices.
Before deciding on a managed server provider, it’s important to establish expectations for the service. Customization of hardware as well as support services is a main advantage of managed hosting. You can consider the hosting provider to be an IT partner rather than just a vendor, as most managed dedicated providers offer solutions tailored to your requirements. There are data center, hardware, software, and service components to selecting the right dedicated hosting provider. Understanding how each of these elements fit together can provide a complete technical solution to your business needs.
One of the primary advantages of hosting your servers in a data center is improved connectivity and data security. Modern data centers provide a controlled environment with the best available internet connections through multiple providers. Data centers are classified into hosting tiers by the Uptime Institute as follows:
- Tier 1 Data Centers
These modern data centers offer single power and climate control, with at least 99.67% uptime although they aren’t required to have redundant backups.
- Tier 2 Data Centers
Upgrades from Tier 1, these data centers offer redundant components to ensure greater access, improving their base uptime to at least 99.74%.
- Tier 3 Data Centers
With various power and cooling options, these data centers can switch to maintained backup paths relatively quickly, ensuring at least 99.98% uptime.
- Tier 4 Data Centers
These world class data centers have multiple channels for power and climate control, instant activation of backup sources and provide over 99.99% uptime.
Make sure to inquire as to the level of connectivity provided by your data center, including backups. While most modern data centers have direct access to high bandwidth pipelines, world class data centers ensure backups during power failures, emergencies and intrusions.
At a basic level, managed server providers should offer extensive firewalls on inbound connections, as well as filtering data for viruses or other intrusions. Many providers offer intrusion prevention which immediately detects and blocks unwanted connections. As part of a service component, a hosting provider should immediately react to any undetected problems triggered by server monitoring. Your server should be monitored at all times so system administrators can detect and fix problems as they arise.
Managed dedicated server provides can also offer load balancing to distribute the computing power when connections exceed capacity. Proper load balancing can distribute connections properly between multiple servers so you stay online at all times.
Managed service providers can add true value to the project in terms of software, hardware, and troubleshooting assistance. Each hosting provider will differ in terms of their service level assurances, making it important to fully evaluate your options in terms of technical support, software updates, hardware upgrades, security monitoring and backups as well as technical infrastructure advice. There are three major components to a service SLA to evaluate, including the hardware, software and security settings on your servers:
- Software: Patches, Configuration and Technical Support
Look for a company that offers 24/7/365 support from professional engineers who understand your operating system and control panel. You want to be able to access a live professional within minutes or have them respond to support tickets quickly. When you shift from a development to a live production environment, keeping your software patched, updated and configured properly becomes a core party of your daily operations.
- Security: Uptime and Protection
All servers face external threats to data security and uptime. Your service level agreement should specify the types of firewall protections, backups and denial of service attack prevention used by your host. In situations where your server security is compromised, the SLA should specify how the company will fix the issue from a technical and service perspective.
- Hardware and Connections: Reliability, Data Transfer and Replacement
While your initial contract will specify your base hardware configuration, the SLA should focus on uptime, network availability, data transfer rates, as well as policies for hardware upgrades. Hardware and data transfer can form a substantial portion of your contract costs, so always fully compare the services in your SLA.
There are leading managed dedicated servers on the market to meet nearly every business need. Most leading providers such as Rackspace offer customizable hardware and service offerings. You can often configure a Linux or Windows Server with a custom service agreement. To help identify the advantages and offerings of the leading providers, we provide an overview of their managed dedicated hosting:
Known for their “Fanatical Support”, Rackspace has provided managed hosting services for over 10 years. The company has nine global Tier 4 data centers and offers a 100% uptime guarantee. Their product and service agreements focus on specific services, including Email, Commerce, Cloud/SaaS, Colocation and Media hosting. As a result, their service level agreements (SLAs) and hardware are focused on meeting specific service requirements. The company offers hardware, software, security and technical support for the lifecycle of your server. With their support assurances, you can access dedicated account engineers at all times so your servers are running optimally.
With over 10,000 active clients, Liquidweb has earned a reputation for having some of the best tech support in the industry. The company offers a complete suite of products ranging from shared hosting to custom enterprise level configurations. Dedicated engineers include a division for monitoring, hardware upgrades and technical support. The company offers a wide range of dedicated options with enterprise level solutions starting as low as $600 per month including firewall, load balancing, backup and instant hardware upgrade options.
DedicatedNOW, Inc. is a privately owned, multi-million dollar corporation located in Clifton, New Jersey and founded in 1997. Since then, the company has grown by leaps and bounds providing managed and unmanaged dedicated web hosting services to thousands of satisfied customers. DedicatedNOW has been delivering cutting-edge hosting solutions to meet the requirements of small and medium sized businesses, large scale corporations and individuals.
The configurations and costs of managed server hardware and service level agreements (SLAs) can vary widely by provider. Entry level packages with basic hardware can cost as little as a few hundred dollars a month while clustered enterprise servers can bring costs into the thousands. In general, service and hardware are the largest components of managed dedicated costs.
Bandwidth usage is often is billed using the 95th percentile method – this calculation bills users based upon the expected 95th percentile of data transfer usage, ensuring the top 5% of network utilization doesn’t skew usage bills upwards. For users who want to hedge their data transfer costs, many providers offer unmetered hosting, which is billed based upon data transfer speed rates rather than actual volume. A top quality managed server provider will often work with direct uplink pipelines so you have improved load times even during peak traffic hours. Billing models vary widely according to providers and can often be negotiated with a structure to keep costs manageable.
Fully managed services provide hardware, support, and data transfer in a single package, making it easier to anticipate costs To provide a better sense of the various hardware and service configurations, we provide case study profiles on managed server options for common business setups:
- Startups and Small Businesses – Entry Level Servers
For small companies and startups, entry level dedicated servers provide data security and reliable hardware to begin to grow your business. Hardware configurations include quad core Intel (or AMD) processors with 8 GM RAM, 500 GB of storage and over 1 terabyte of data transfer monthly. These servers are ideal for development, testing and basic deployment of applications, database driven websites, CRM systems as well as internal communications. Service level agreements for entry level servers generally focus on technical support, uptime assurances, standard industry patches, daily hardware replacements and root server access. Users can expect to pay between $300 and $900 a month depending on the service level agreement (SLA).
- Professional Developers & High Traffic Websites– Mid-Level Managed Hosting
Professional developer hosting generally starts at $1,000 a month, offering high levels of memory, data transfer, as well as configuration based upon your application. Most commonly these packages offer multiple Intel x86 servers with extended storage, computing power and redundancy to improve performance and uptime. With professional servers you can often expect more active management in terms of security monitoring, dedicated technical support, specialized media data transfer services as well as frequent software upgrades.
- Enterprise Hosting– Specialized Configurations
At the top end of the spectrum, enterprise dedicated server hosting focuses on managed private clouds, top tier hardware, and complex hosting solutions. The pricing on enterprise hosting varies widely and is generally a request for proposal (RFP) quote process. For companies looking to scale their data transfer rates or improve load times for their applications, enterprise managed hosting can offer caching from multiple data centers, high (or unmetered) data transfer allowances, professional consulting and advice on network performance as well as customized server hardware. Rather than investing in a pre-configured solution, managed enterprise hosting allows hardware, software and customization to help you better serve your end users.
Conclusion: Making an Informed Managed Server Investment
This guide provided an overview of the important hardware, software and service aspects of managed dedicated hosting. Before committing to a managed dedicated service provider, it’s important to identify a level of service that matches your resources and requirements into the future with business planning and infrastructure requirements. Working with a trusted hosting company can provide a partner in helping to grow your business intelligently over time.
cPanel, “cPanel Documentation” Retrieved April 2010 http://www.cpanel.net/developer/documentation.html
Intel. “Optimizing Hardware for x86 Server Virutalization” August 2009 http://www.intel.com/Assets/PDF/WhitePaper/IDCchoosingvirthardware.pdf
Microsoft. “Windows Server 2008 R2: Pricing and Licensing” Retrieve April 2010. http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008/en/us/pricing.aspx
Microsoft. “Windows Server 2008 R2 Technical White Paper” July 2009. http://download.microsoft.com/download/5/B/D/5BD5C253-4259-428B-A3E4-1F9C3D803074/Windows_Server_2008_R2_TDM_Whitepaper_RTM.docx
Netcraft. “Most Reliable Hosting Company Sites in March 2010″. April 2010. http://uptime.netcraft.com/perf/reports/Hosters
Red Hat. “RedHat.com Enterprise Linux Open Source Application for Servers” Retrieved April 2010. http://www.redhat.com/rhel/
Software in the Public Interest, “Debian Developers’” Retrieved April 2010. http://www.debian.org/devel/
Tier 1 Research “Managed Hosting: North America Overview” Winter, December 2009
Uptime Institute. “Data Center Site Infrastructure Tier Standard: Topology” February 2010. http://professionalservices.uptimeinstitute.com/UIPS_PDF/TierStandard.pdf
Verio. “Why You Need an Infrastructure Provider” May 2009 http://www.verio.com/files/pdf/white-papers/Infrastructure_Provider.pdf
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