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What is server hosting?

Server hosting is an IT service, typically offered by a cloud service provider that provides remote access to off-premises virtual or physical servers and associated resources for a monthly subscription or usage-based price.

Server hosting lets IT teams provision and start by using application and data servers. But without the up-front cost, delays, and labor of purchasing, setting up, managing, and maintaining physical server hardware themselves, onsite.

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Why use server hosting?

Today, organizations of all sizes use server hosting for all kinds of workloads—everything from development and testing, to application delivery, to backup and disaster recovery. Compared to purchasing and managing servers on site, server hosting offers the following:

  • Faster server deployment and application delivery: While purchasing, installing, and configuring a server onsite can take weeks. A cloud service provider can provision, configure, and deliver a hosted application or data server in minutes. Enabling you to bring the solutions that are powered by the server to market faster.

  • No capital expenditures; predictable ongoing costs: Instead of paying thousands for computer and hardware—a depreciating asset—with server hosting, you pay a predictable monthly fee or usage rate. The fee covers not only use of the CPU, storagenetworking, and other IT resources, but also power, cooling, redundancy to ensure high availability, and 24 x 7 management of the hardware and infrastructure.

  • Simple, responsive, inexpensive scaling: With onsite server hardware, scalability means overprovisioning servers to account for spikes (which can be wasteful) and adding physical capacity as you grow (which is slow and expensive). With server hosting, you can quickly scale up or down as needed for a nominal change in your subscription or usage cost.
Types of server hosting

While smaller variations exist, server hosting offerings fall into three general categories:

Shared server hosting

In shared hosting—the most basic and cost-effective form of server hosting—the resources of one physical server are virtualized and made available to multiple tenants (users or company accounts) in equal proportions. Shared hosting is ideal for basic, personal websites and web apps that have little traffic, few technical requirements, and limited performance or security requirements.

But, because all tenants are allocated a finite amount of an individual server’s capacity, providers do not allow websites to scale beyond a certain limit. And shared hosting is the server hosting model most susceptible to “noisy neighbors”—tenants whose applications unexpectedly consume more than their share of resources, causing performance problems for other tenants. For more information about shared hosting, see “What is Cloud Hosting?” and "Web Hosting: An Introduction."

VPS hosting

VPS (virtual private server) hosting offers a next-level multi-tenant hosting—each tenant shares some, but not all, of the resources of a single hardware server and gets a little more control over the hosting environment. Each VPS runs its own operating system (OS) and applications, and it reserves its own portion of the machine's resources (memory, computing, and so on).

VPS provides more control over system specifications, guest operating systems, and the overall software stack. It’s also the most easily and affordably scalable form of server hosting. Making it an excellent choice for e-commerce systems, email servers, CRM, and other applications that typically bear moderate or spiky traffic.

Dedicated server hosting

Dedicated server hosting is single-tenant hosting—the server has exclusive access ALL the resources of a single hardware server. Compared to the other forms of hosting listed above, dedicated hosting provides the greatest level of isolation from other servers and customers who are hosted by the cloud or IT service provider. You can choose among three dedicated hosting models:

  • dedicated host provides sustained single-tenant access to an entire hardware server and all the software that is installed on it. This model provides the maximum amount of hardware flexibility, transparency, and control over workload placement, and it also offers some advantages for hosting bring-your-own license software.

  • dedicated instance offers the same isolation and workload placement control but is not coupled with a specific machine. So, for example, if a dedicated instance is re-booted, it might wind up on a new physical machine—a machine that is dedicated to the same customer account. But nonetheless a new machine, potentially in a different physical location.

  • The term bare metal server hosting is often used interchangeably with dedicated servers, but bare metal hosting offerings typically include more cloud-like characteristics. Such as provisioning in minutes (versus hours), billing in hourly increments (versus monthly), and providing higher-end hardware, including graphic processing units (GPUs). See “Dedicated and Bare Metal Servers Explained” for a full exploration into the two options.
Choosing the right server hosting model

Selecting the best server hosting solution for your organization means weighing the following factors:

  • Cost (upfront) and ongoing: While virtually any server hosting solution lowers your IT costs compared to running services on-premises, some server hosting models save more than others. Dedicated server hosting typically costs more per month than shared or VPS hosting, and bare metal hosting can sometimes require a substantial up-front investment.

  • Performance: If you need to run high-performance applications with complex architectures, you are better off with a dedicated hosting solution that avoids the bottlenecks and reliability risks of multi-tenant hosting models.

  • Flexibility and scalability: If you’re less concerned with top-level performance and more concerned with having maximum flexibility to locate and scale your workloads. VPS is a great choice because unlike dedicated server hosting, VPS lets you quickly shift your workloads among multiple virtual server instances. And quickly scale resources to meet unpredictable surges in traffic.

  • Security, data privacy, and compliance: Because they offer single-tenant isolation, dedicated server hosting solutions are often chosen for sensitive workloads or for companies in industries that are governed by strict data privacy regulations. Increasingly, however, cloud provers are offering multi-tenant hosting offerings that are certified compliant for specific industry or privacy regulations (for example, HIPAA, GDPR). This is so you can meet your security and compliance requirements without sacrificing workload flexibility and scalability.
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