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Dedicated servers in the Data Centre are here to stay

Wed, 6 Mar 2013

Dedicated Servers

This blog takes a look at the benefits of dedicated servers - that is the rental of hardware (and software) from the data centre that is not shared with any other business or individual.

Some of the key advantages of dedicated servers are:

  • Zero or low capital expenditure on hardware: Avoids initial upfront hardware costs or interest-accruing loans which can be very costly.
  • Zero capital expenditure on software: Service providers can often obtain (e.g. Microsoft) software on rolling monthly licence options, eliminating upfront costs and providing inexpensive or free upgrades to newer versions as they become available.
  • Provisioning and installation: Taken care of by the data centre, so no need for staff to travel to, and spend time at, the data centre.
  • Maintenance: A dedicated server provider will include hardware repairs/replacements as standard, so no extra manufacturer warranties are required. Further, as data centres are staffed 24/7, the expense and inconvenience of late night or rush hour visits are avoided.

Dedicated servers can certainly be a good fit for some businesses. However, many IT managers become entrenched in the belief that purchasing and colocating cheaper older equipment is a viable alternative. Nonetheless, experience shows that on many occasions this equipment is often less efficient, consuming more energy and expelling more heat - this can increase the running costs considerably, resulting in higher expense over the long term.

For example, an old dual socket Dell Poweredge 1950 could easily peak at between 1.0amp and 1.5amps, which could cost up to three times more than an equivalent, or better, specification latest generation dedicated server.

Further, the maintenance costs must not be underestimated: a new server will have a typical lifetime of 3-5 years before requiring replacements. However, an old server is more prone to failures leading to increased spending on replacement parts and staff time.

Latest generation Dell Poweredge R210II offering Quad Core E3 1200 Hyper-threading CPUs

For example, although a Dell Poweredge 1950 can take two dual core Xeon CPUs, those CPUs are very old technology and no match for a latest generation single quad core E3 1240 with hyper-threading, as can be found in the current Dell Poweredge R210II range - a dedicated server that can be rented with all the benefits mentioned above, for the same monthly cost or less.

Older, used equipment is not only out of date and difficult to support, but is also prone to breaking. Older servers are also power hungry, adding to colocation costs. Colocating old servers might require only small purchasing capex, but they are prone to failure and in the longer term can cost considerably more in recurring charges compared with leasing dedicated servers.

Dedicated server providers, on the other hand, can provide latest generation kit whilst at the same time offer replacement guarantees on all aspects of hardware, right down to the chassis - and with on-site staff, these replacements can be made within timed guarantees under an SLA.

Dedicated servers have competition not just from colocation but also from cloud, in the form of cloud or virtual machines (VMs). VM environments are great for certain operations but come with their own unique limitations. For example, performance of a VM, with shared underlying resources, will never match that of having dedicated hardware where CPU, RAM and disk resources remains uncontended.

Cost of cloud/VMs is also a factor. A good cloud based VM will have redundant storage and fail-over capacity, certainly a distinguishing feature, but adding to the cost. As a result, whilst an initial small VM deployment may be cheap, any attempt to increase resources will soon start to weigh, to the point where taking a physical server with higher accessible resources in terms of performance, storage and bandwidth would easily cost less.

If high-availability is not a determining factor, this aspect of cloud VMs may be discounted in favour of higher resource allocations within dedicated servers. This is illustrated by a quick comparison with costs taken from a leading cloud provider and ConnetU's own dedicated server pricing:

Finally, there is the question of security on cloud systems. Our recent article on Global Cloud Providers vs. EU Regulation considers that maintaining a fully isolated platform with dedicated resources may be the only way forward depending on the kind of data being processed by the server.

Despite the economic and other forces pushing web service operators in the direction of cloud and colocation, dedicated servers remain popular and with good reason. There will always be financial and operational needs for renting hardware directly from a data centre service provider, driven by a host of factors including funding availability, staffing limitations or compliance requirements.

Whilst dedicated servers have a clear place, it may be optimal in many cases to mix infrastructure: some ConnetU clients operate a combination of dedicated servers (for high performance), cloud (for scalability) and colocation (for large storage and other assorted devices) to deliver on the complexity of their individual business needs.