Finding or choosing a suitable hosting solution can be pretty hard nowadays. If you look around, you’ll see hundreds of companies offering services that are slightly different from each other, and all of which have something unique that you like. Plus, there are services like MediaTemple, which offer God knows what, so you think you’re getting a dedicated server when it’s actually a VPS.
Reputation plays another very important role, and it further complicates everything. You sure want to be with the best host, but you can never know which one is it, as even the best companies can get into technical and financial difficulties, which can badly affect your server and the data you host on it.
Even if you manage to find a good hosting package that suits you, you may still run into trouble trying to figure out how to configure it for the best performance and reliability. A lot of hosting companies that offer dedicated servers don’t offer hardware upgrades, for example, so if your sites become popular and the serve can’t handle the traffic, you’ll have to move to a better one, which is very hard to do once you have an established system (simply copying the settings may not always work because of the differences in hardware and network location and configuration).
Still, even with all these troubles, there’s still an easy way to choose the best hosting package. If you need your hosting to be fast and reliable, your data secure, and allow room for future expansion, you can easily narrow the choices down to getting a Managed Dedicated Server, an Unmanaged Dedicated Server or Co-Locating your own machine.
Managed Dedicated Servers
The reason I included both managed and unmanaged dedicated server hosting solutions is because both of them have their own strengths and weaknesses. Managed dedicated servers are a great choice if you do not want to be bothered maintaining the server and the software on it. The hosting companies can do all of that for a small monthly fee. You will never have to worry about it or visit the datacenter (as is the case with Co-Location, more on that below).
If you go with a good host (like SoftLayer or LiquidWeb, for example), you are almost guaranteed to have a good, reliable server that can do everything you want, and is future proof, because it can be upgraded anytime. Of course, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t go with a hosting company that does not offer upgrades or SLA guarantees like max 30 minutes hardware replacement and fast network or software problems resolution.
Unmanaged Dedicated Servers
If you need more control over your server and you know your way around them or have someone that can do it for you, you can easily choose unmanaged hosting. Unlike managed packages, unmanaged servers do not have any restrictions on administration by you. You can do whatever you want with it, even completely botch the software, and the host won’t say a thing until you contact them. You basically rent the machine, manage all the software and they don’t touch it unless some hardware is broken.
A lot of the times, managed and unmanaged servers are the same (like is the case with SoftLayer and LiquidWeb), except you don’t pay an extra monthly fee for the latter. You still need the hardware and service SLA to be good and suit your needs (as you don’t have access to the hardware, it’s pretty important that the hosting company can replace any malfunctioning equipment fast and restore normal operations).
This is definitely the most flexible and customizable option, but it comes at a higher price for you (most of the times), and is certainly not for everyone. Co-Location hosting basically means that you buy or build your own server(s) and install it in the hosting company’s data center. The server must be compliant with the hosting company’s data center standards (in power, heat dissipation, safety and other specs). You pay only for the bandwidth and rack space. You or your administrators are allowed access to your server anytime, so you can configure it, replace parts and change anything you need whenever you want. This type of free access is actually pretty rare nowadays, and most of the times, you’ll be escorted by a security guard. Co-Location is the best choice for maximum flexibility, but only if you or your server administrator (who you’ll also have to pay) lives near the data center.
All in all, unmanaged dedicated servers are the best choice if you don’t live or have a hired system administrator near a data center. Managed hosting is great if you are not bothered by the limited access, but most of the times you can save the fee and pay a third party (that you trust!) for server software maintenance every month or in case of emergencies.