The difference between managed and unmanaged dedicated servers

The difference between managed and unmanaged dedicated servers

Debating whether to buy an unmanaged dedicated server or opt for managed? You’re not alone.

In this article, we’ll run through the differences between managed and unmanaged dedicated servers, so you can make an informed choice for your application or business.

Quick reminder of what a dedicated server is…

Dedicated servers are physical single-tenant machines, offering top-of-the-line hosting environments known for their superior performance, scalability, customization, and security.

Managed vs unmanaged dedicated servers

Managed and unmanaged dedicated servers offer different levels of service and contrasting benefits. The key differences being:

Unmanaged dedicated servers: The hosting provider will…

  • Be responsible for purchasing all related equipment, routers, switches, servers and storage.

  • Offer service level agreements (SLAs) on hardware replacement, power and network.

  • Offer options for the provider to pre-license and install an operating system (OS) of the customer’s choice.

Managed dedicated servers: All the services in an unmanaged dedicated server solution, plus the hosting provider will…

  • Install and maintain the OS.

  • Install and maintain standard applications such as PHP, .NET, Apache, NGINIX.

  • Offer a more bespoke set up, with more overall management (more on this later).

One thing to remember is that the best hosting providers typically specialize in managed or unmanaged dedicated servers, not both; therefore it’s vital to understand the differences before spending time looking for an appropriate hosting provider.

What are unmanaged dedicated servers?

Unmanaged dedicated servers are a great choice if you’re looking for high-performance hosting that gives you the complete freedom to choose and configure almost everything, from the model of the server and type of processor, to the disk storage, memory and custom applications specific to your workflow and requirements.

Besides buying all the necessary equipment, good unmanaged dedicated server providers will take care of supporting infrastructure and OS licenses, and provide maintenance and basic support.

They’ll also provide robust SLAs, so make sure you clarify your provider’s offering.

The difference between managed and unmanaged dedicated servers

What sort of SLAs can I expect?

Providers of unmanaged dedicated servers usually offer SLAs for hardware replacement (servers only), power and network uptime. This would normally be between three (99.9%) and five (99.999%) ‘9s of uptime’. If the hosting provider breaches their SLA, they would typically offer you credit, based on a sliding scale of downtime.

  1. Power SLA – This comes into effect if all power is lost to any part of the equipment inside the hosting provider’s data center, causing the unmanaged dedicated server to be unavailable.

  2. Network SLA – This covers the uptime of the network inside the hosting provider’s network only. No provider will offer an SLA on connectivity that is on the public internet, this is a commonly confused SLA.

No providers offer SLAs to cover the uptime of an entire solution, as there are many aspects of a solution’s design that can affect how resilient your infrastructure is.

Commonly, unmanaged dedicated server providers will provide an option to pre-license and install an OS of your choice. Once installed, the hosting provider will hand you the ‘keys’, by giving you root level access credentials.

You’ll then be responsible for maintaining access to the OS or any of the applications installed on the server in the customer layer.

Here’s what you’ll need to manage:

  • OS maintenance.

  • Requisite server configurations.

  • Server performance.

  • Compatibility issues.

  • Security measures - although some unmanaged dedicated servers will fix server firmware issues and provide DDoS protection.

  • Installing, configuring and maintaining any applications on the server.

  • Other non-server items, like DNS settings.

What to consider with unmanaged dedicated servers

Unmanaged dedicated servers procured via a hosting provider are one of the most customizable, scalable and secure hosting solutions available.

Sure, you could set up your own server on-prem or in a colocation space, but you’d be responsible for all the upfront costs, overheads and multiple relationships with different vendors. With an unmanaged dedicated server provider, these costs are neatly bundled into a monthly fee instead.

Since it’s an unmanaged dedicated server, you’ll still have all the control you need; your only limits will be with the specifications of the server itself.

Just remember you’ll be responsible for all software malfunctions, security breaches or poor performance as a result of poor server management, not the hosting provider. However, since you’re willing to manage more, you’ll pay a lot less.

Unmanaged dedicated servers - hosting provider checklist:

  1. Level of free support you’ll receive.

  2. Is support real-time and 24/7.

  3. Cost of additional support requests.

  4. Provisioning speeds should you require more servers.

  5. Network performance metrics.

  6. Interconnection available (Carriers, Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), Clouds).

Check out our unmanaged dedicated servers, offering routine-free support for your server.

What is a managed dedicated server?

At a basic level you can expect similar SLAs to unmanaged dedicated servers, as well as server setup and configuration (installing scripts, OS, control panel, standard applications etc.).

The exact supported OSs and standard applications you can have however, will depend entirely on the provider, so you’ll want to ask what is and isn’t covered.

A good provider will ensure your server runs smoothly, including performing reboots and backups, overall maintenance, software installation and upgrades, alongside extensive support.

At the higher end of managed hosting, a provider may manage everything for you, including applications, and provide bespoke SLAs around solution, infrastructure and/or application uptime.

Bear in mind though, the more you ask them to do—and the more bespoke that work is—the more it’s going to cost.

The pros and cons of managed dedicated servers

The main benefit is convenience. With managed servers, you won’t need to worry about maintaining them yourself and can focus on running your business.

If you don’t have the skillset in-house or spare resources, then a managed plan could be a more cost effective option than unmanaged dedicated servers in the long run.

But, unlike highly-customizable unmanaged dedicated servers, you’ll have considerably less control over performance. You’ll also pay a considerably higher price for the convenience of a fully managed service.

Choosing between managed and unmanaged dedicated servers

Managed options involve less heavy lifting at your end, but you’ll pay for the extra help and sacrifice control for convenience. Unmanaged dedicated servers are more labor-intensive, but enable customization and save on hosting support costs.

Your choice will depend on your business needs, as well as your in-house expertise. If there are gaps in your technical knowledge, you may prefer a managed option over an unmanaged dedicated server.

Always check the range of services offered before committing, as managed and unmanaged dedicated servers each require very different skill sets, and every hosting provider is different.

Next steps

If you're still unsure, or would like further guidance on unmanaged dedicated servers, we're always happy to help. Speak to an expert.


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