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Roughly 14 years ago the internet was in its infancy as was everything around it, in particular, hosting providers. When it all first began I decided to create my own site from scratch, right down to the server. I recall requesting a domain name registration on paper and faxing in the information. My server was big old boxy gateway with specs that make most cell phones today look like supercomputers. But ultimately it was mine, my own dedicated and, highly unmanaged, server.
Things have changed a lot since then, but the basic idea of owning and operating an unmanaged server are relatively the same. When you manage your own server, you are responsible, you are the person in charge, and you are the one who answers to customers if ever there’s a problem.
Like many things related to the internet, hosting providers were built up overnight, and in their offerings they included unmanaged server support. Suddenly many of the things that I had worried about 15 years ago were now handled by providers.
A la carte Features
Today many providers offer a wide range of options for your server that are actually comparable to most managed servers. These features can be added and removed on the fly in some cases, taking a huge headache out of managing your own server. These options give you the best of both worlds by providing you the hardware and failsafe protection measures, while still giving you the control you need to get things done your way. A completely unmanaged solution however would require this to be done your self. In my case, it meant swapping out memory and hard drives as user volume increased, which in turn resulted in a certain amount of downtime for my customers.
Hardware protection is critical for any website. It’s often taken for granted with managed accounts but under unmanaged accounts this is something that must be well thought out. If you choose to go with a server hosting provider these options vary among them, but many offer standard RAID options for hard drives, regularly scheduled backups, and network redundancy. By going outside a provider these are the types of things that could keep you up at night if they haven’t been well designed and thought out. There are many tools on the market that can offer solutions for you, and if carefully consideration is taken, they can make for an extremely strong self-sufficient server.
Server administration is really what the unmanaged server is all about. Having the ability to install your own operating system and other various types of software is the reason people go this route. Of course it can come with a cost if you don’t have the knowledge, expertise, or experience to handle administrative tasks. These tasks can range from basic things like software installations to more complex tasks like performance turning and kernel compilations. On the bright side, you have full control. You may start or stop processes at will, tune server configurations, and much more without having to submit a ticket or answer to anyone on the other end.
Security has always been a top concern of everyone from website owners to average users. The hacking community grows daily and software developers work tenaciously to stay one step ahead of them. Given the importance of security, missing something like a software security patch could be devastating. With an unmanaged server you are responsible for ensuring all software patches are applied and that they’re done in a timely manner. Hosting providers will handle this for you in the case of a managed account, and even some under unmanaged, but in many cases if you have an unmanaged server this is your responsibility.
Databases are a critical component in the web infrastructure today. They’re highly depended on and used for a variety of things. Unmanaged servers can provide that same database coverage, only this is something you, as the server admin, will have to install and configure. There are many great databases on the market from Oracle to UDB that all offer different levels of performance and pricing. With a managed server, you’re typically tied to the standard used by the hosting provider. Since this is where customer data is kept, it’s an absolute critical piece of the pie in building an online presence. Choosing the right product can make a big difference, and with an unmanaged server you have that power.
If you’ve used a hosting provider in the past you’re most likely familiar with the tools they provide. Many offer a gamut of tools and software that range from user monitoring tools to software installation scripts. All this is managed through a control panel (typically cPanel or Plesk) that organizes and ultimately makes managing your site easy. With an unmanaged server however, these tools are not provided. Something as basic as the control panel is something you’ll have to setup and configure on your own if you so desire.
In the end there are many pros and cons of running an unmanaged server. There are many options available as well and they vary widely among hosting providers. You can also choose the non-hosting provider route as I did 15 years ago. This gives you the ultimate control but it’s very important not to underestimate the time it requires to maintain and operate your own stand alone unmanaged server. It can be a fun time no doubt, but it also ties you to that server making simple things like leaving the house for a couple days a major undertaking. Using a hosting provider under an unmanaged server account gives you the best of both worlds. On the one hand, you have remote root access and can do absolutely anything on that server with it, on the other you have peace of mind which comes with the provider’s ability to perform regular backups, security patches, and offer failover solutions. These vary from provider to provider so it’s important to consider this all very carefully, but at the end of the day one thing is clear, an unmanaged server can be a dream come true for any control craving techie, and can also provide a great number of advantages over its managed counterpart.