Industry Trends

Death of the low-end unmanaged server?

The State of The Union:

I don’t mean for this to sound like a total marketing rant. I prefer it be a bit of a wake-up call.

It’s April 2009, and there are hundreds of thousands of low-end unmanaged servers operating throughout the world — perhaps millions. Made popular in the ’90s as an alternative to colocation and faced with little price competition, low-end unmanaged servers certainly served their place in the market. Today, technologies and market forces have driven change in the hosting industry, blurring the lines between various service types and offering more (and better) choices to the consumer.

Typically as a company’s demand for hosting increases it will move from a shared hosting environment to a dedicated server. This move adds physical resources, isolation from other customers, and more cost. Most people are now aware of a different option — presumed to be a stepping stone — called the VPS. Not enough people are aware that in most cases the step from shared to VPS is a much better one than going shared to dedicated, a move that often ends up being a misstep.

A dedicated server has the benefit of guaranteed physical resources and root access, but the benefits typically stop right there. Entry-level servers are usually provided on low-end hardware which costs just a few hundred dollars. Having only one drive is typical, and having no backups included is equally common. When a server is outgrown, a tedious process of moving to a more powerful server is required which includes a fresh installation, copying data, renumbering IPs, and hours of labor. Perhaps worst of all is that most users don’t actually need all the physical resources of their server which not only results in wasted computing power, but also in wasted heat and power. In today’s ever-increasing culture of social responsibility, that point alone should make users question the decision to go with a low-end server solution.

The fact that most people who buy low-end dedicated servers have moved there from shared hosting packages and end up with an unmanaged service creates another set of issues. Having a server of any type requires a learning curve. Having a competent Managed Services team behind your server can make all the difference between frustration and satisfaction with your hosting experience.

A Vision for the Future:

To be honest, I was tired of people trusting their businesses to cheap servers that they wouldn’t even feel comfortable putting underneath their desks. I set out to enlist the help of the ServInt team to develop a true server-replacement VPS. I wanted a true Enterprise-class VPS that was clearly superior to any low-end unmanaged server In order to make sure it had all of these key differentiators:

  1. Comparable resources on incomparable Enterprise-class hardware
  2. Off-server backups
  3. One-touch upgrades/downgrades
  4. 80%+ energy savings
  5. Managed Services
  6. Less expensive, better value

We have been working towards these goal for years and have had great success, but it wasn’t until today that I could say with complete confidence that we truly had the best thing going. As far as I’m concerned, this (and any competitor’s products that follow in the wake of this) should effectively kill off the low-end unmanaged server for the smart hosting consumer.

As an experiment I recently went to a popular unmanaged hosting company and selected their cheapest server, starting at around $130/month. I then tried to match it as closely to ServInt’s Ultimate VPS as possible. I set the uplink from 10 to 100 Mbps, upgraded to a 74GB SCSI drive, added cPanel/WHM, and the price was around $200/month. Granted, they use an Intel Dual-core 3060 CPU, but the Ultimate VPS can use half a Quad-core 5400 series CPU. Both include 2 GB RAM, but the Ultimate can burst to 4 GB physical RAM. The server uses a single 74 GB 10k rpm SCSI drive whereas the Ultimate VPS benefits from 60 GB of RAID 10 storage on 15k rpm SAS drives, and even after setting the uplink on the server to 100 Mbps, it still only includes 1,000 GB monthly bandwidth, whereas the Ultimate VPS includes 2,000 GB/month.

Those who understand all the specs in the paragraph above are certainly still with me, and if you didn’t understand them, how about this: For almost $70/month less you get more power, more flexibility, more bandwidth, higher reliability, free backups, Managed Services, and Enterprise-class hardware. I’m not only biased because I am ServInt’s CEO, I’m also biased because I studied logic in college.

Photo by Grant Hutchinson

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  1. Fred, that's fine if your business can afford to be slow and down, and to have no redundancy and a slow recovery plan in the event of failure. If it can, you don't need to go the route of hiring a company like ServInt. There's plenty of cheap low-end stuff like the stuff you're talking about, and some people can afford to use it because at the end of the day quality isn't important to them. But when quality is important, it is vital to realize that the host that puts you out of business due to lack of uptime, redundancy, backup quality or management, isn't the cheapest server. In fact, that cheapie server could be the most costly one you ever lease.
  2. Utter nonsense. You can get cheap dedicated servers for $29. That's the lowest I found. I have an Atom330 dedicated server with 2Gig Mem, 500Gig HD, unmetered for $59. If you want managed you can get that which includes backups and updates yada yada. I am quite comfortable managing all that myself so unmanaged with kvm/ip when I need to re-load is all I need.
  3. I'm with Ethan. I've actually been on unmanaged dedicated machines in the past and moved here mainly because I was spending more time managing my server than I felt was smart business wise. If you value your hours at let's say $150/hr - getting a managed solution is a no-brainer.
  4. ServInt has certainly lived up to it's reputation. I for one am thrilled with the move from shared hosting to ServInt's VPS service. Couldn't be happier. Thanks!
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