Dedicated or Colocated Servers - Which One Is Right For You
You've decided the time is right for either a dedicated or colocated server and are trying to decide between the two. This page may help in that decision.
First, let's define what each is.
A dedicated server is one leased from a hosting company. They are responsible for the hardware, the operating system, web server software, and , within limitations, the software they load on the server. If a hard drive should fail, it is their responsibility to replace it, as with any other hardware that the server is comprised of. Their responsibility with regard to the software, and the server in general, is to make sure it functions when they turn it over to a customer. Many hosts include a control panel, often created by them, which allows many, even all, administrative functions to be performed via web browser. Some familiarity with the operating system and knowledge of server management is called for, though it can be moderate with the aid of a thorough control panel.
A colocated server is very different, though it looks similar. The server itself is owned by the customer, who is responsible for all parts of it, from the hardware to the operating system. Rack space and bandwidth are leased from the hosting company, and their responsibility is solely the connection to the Internet and related matters.
At the low end, there's not a big monthly difference between dedicated and colocated servers at many hosts, often $20-$30, and the minimal difference can be worth it considering the responsibilities involved on the part of the hosting company. Higher up the scale, though, the price differential becomes much greater and the savings with a colocated server can be substantial. It would be easy to build or buy a web server for the equivalent of two to four months worth of the equivalent dedicated server payments.
Don't let a lower price get you in over your head, though. At this level, you had better know your stuff. This is what separates the masters from the students. You will be completely responsible for everything in your box (server), hardware and software included. Assistance may be available, though it is often in the range of $200 hourly, and may not be available immediately, leaving your server and sites inoperative for a time.
If a hard drive or any other piece of hardware should fail, your server may be down until you can provide a replacement unit and pay to have it installed. Since many people will use a remote hosting company, and the savings at the low end are minimal, those who are contemplating a colocated server should seriously consider multiple hard drives and a RAID system. This can prevent the server from going down in some instances and allow time to provide a replacement. It can also prevent loss of data.
There is an alternative that can allow for a colocated server with a moderate amount of knowledge. Some hosting companies sell Cobalt RAQ servers, the same type made for relative novices to use as dedicated servers. They come with an easy to use interface. There is a catch of sorts. Cobalt RAQ servers are limited in scalability and, while they may be adequate for smaller, low usage sites, they are unsuitable for more robust use.
If you are prepared to handle all the needs and requirements of server administration, from hardware to software, and are planning on running a multiple hard drive server with a RAID array, you can save a considerable amount of money with a colocated server. If your skills and knowledge aren't up to the task, a dedicated server may be more suitable for you, assuming you have the less taxing skills and knowledge they require.
If your site's resource needs are not extensive and you are on a tight budget, a colocated Cobalt RAQ server may be the choice for you. Aside from responsibility for replacement or repair, it's the same type server leased as low end dedicated servers, interface and all.
For many, though, an Intel architecture dedicated server will be the best choice. More memory and hard drives can be added as needed, and administering one can provide part of the experience needed for those who may wish to move to a colocated server at some future date.