October 18, 2010
I recently read with interest an article on pcmag.com which gave advice on what to look for when buying a server. The comments were well thought through for those purchasing their own server – perhaps for installation into an on-site corporate data center. For those who need to rent a dedicated server from an external hosting provider, there are a few other important items to consider. The following is a list to refer to when contemplating selecting and using a dedicated server provider. Thanks go out to dedicated server provider 34SP.com for contributing expertise to this piece.
Security – A top priority for those outsourcing their servers is security. The data and processes that are most frequently running on dedicated servers are mission-critical to businesses or contain highly sensitive corporate or consumer information. There are specific security requirements for the most sensitive data such as credit card transactions. For example, it is well known that to process credit cards one needs a secure certificate often referred to as an SSL certificate. Any hosting provider can accommodate this requirement, however, you will also want a hosting provider to be PCI compliant as well. You can read all the details on PCI compliance on the website of the PCI Security Standards Council. You can visit the TrustWave website if you need to buy an SSL certificate.
The other important security issues are based around malicious activity – someone hacking your server. No hosting provider or server will ever be completely immune to malicious activity. There are simply too many exploits, worms, DDOS attacks and brute force password hacks to thwart them all 100 percent of the time. That being said, you should select a dedicated server provider that is hyper vigilant to the security of your server and will jump in very quickly to resolve any issues. You can assess the company’s security preparedness by asking for an outline of their security practices and what steps they take in the event of an incident.
Backups and Recovery – In the unfortunate event that your server is compromised at some point you will need to recover your data and processes quickly to minimize the damage. While every hosting provider touts their ability to backup and recover data, it is well worth your time to investigate these processes thoroughly. For example, how often are backups made? Also important – look for a company that has off site backups. This is important in the event of a facility emergency such as fire or flood. Your server and or hard drives may be damaged and if the backups are sitting right next to the server in the data center – then the backups may become corrupt as well. Then you are stuck. If the data is backed up off site then there is a much better chance that the initial disaster will not effect your ability to get your server back up quickly. Of course you will also want to create your own backups of your critical data and only rely on the hosting provider as a last resort. This gives you an added layer of redundancy.
Connectivity and Reliability – If you have your own corporate data center, then all the myriad issues of Internet connectivity and reliability are covered. With an external dedicated server provider, however, the reliability of the server hardware is only as good as the reliability of the network and connectivity. That is – if your server is unable to connect to the Internet for any reason then your server will be down. Any decent dedicated server provider will use capable hardware and switches, so it is usually how the network is configured and traffic routing that makes a difference. There is also an issue of multiple redundant bandwidth providers, and the ability to switch seamlessly between them in the event of a connectivity disruption. To judge a service provider on this metric, look for third party independent measurements of uptime and reliability such as Netcraft.com. The company publishes a list of the most reliable websites each month as rated by connectivity failures from a network of collector sites distributed around the globe. You can also view a real-time list of hosting providers network performance. Be certain to select a dedicated server provider with a low failure rate for the network – otherwise your server will be subject to unwanted downtime.
Server Maintenance – There are two types of server administrators: hands-on and hands-off. You should know which category you fall into. Your server will require patches and updates from time to time. The server will undoubtedly need rebooting occasionally. There will be rogue processes which need chasing down and correcting. Also as mentioned above, someone needs to be hyper vigilant regarding server security. If you are hands-on them you will be fine with an unmanaged server. The unmanaged server saves money in that the responsibility for the admin tasks lies squarely on the user. If you are hands-off then you need a managed server provider who will conduct the server tasks necessary for the proper maintenance of the server for you. With a managed server the monthly service fees may be slightly higher to account for an engineer’s time to maintain your server, however this frees you up to do other important tasks for your business. So in the end the costs are really not that different.
Service and Support – The cornerstone of all the above considerations are the service and support provided by the Linux dedicated server provider. You are resting the future of your business in the hands of your hosting provider. You need to be confidant that they will come through for you during an emergency – and there will be an emergency. In fact, there will be many emergencies over the life of your server – some small and some more serious. It is imperative that the service and support are of the highest order. Look for having a 24 x 7 x 365 dedicated server engineer on call for your server at the other end of a phone call. You can assess the capabilities through online forums such as webhostingtalk.com or search for a provider’s name on Google or use a Twitter real-time search for the brand name.
Derek Vaughan is a web hosting industry veteran and expert. Mr. Vaughan has architected the marketing growth of several prominent web hosting success stories leading to acquisition including Affinity Internet, Inc., Aplus.Net and HostMySite.com. Prior to his entry into the web hosting industry, Mr. Vaughan was responsible for online marketing at The Walt Disney Company where he marketed ecommerce for the ESPN.com and NASCAR.com brands. Mr. Vaughan received his M.B.A. from Vanderbilt University and is currently serves on the HostingCon Advisory Board.