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?

Understanding how each type of hosting service differs and what they offer to customers is crucial to making the right decision for your business. And while in many ways they do ‘exactly what they say on the tin’, there are nuances that it’s important to know.

To help you in your decision making, this blog looks at the difference between managed and unmanaged dedicated servers and the pros and cons of each.

What are unmanaged dedicated servers?

Unmanaged dedicated servers are servers that are rented by a customer from a hosting company and are managed solely by the customer themselves.

The hosting company will provision the server, including the CPU, RAM, disk and network, to a customer's specifications. They will also install the operating system (OS) of choice for the customer.

There are a few important points to be aware of when it comes to the operating system. Firstly, if the OS requires a license fee, this fee will be charged on to the customer. Secondly, one of the benefits of choosing to buy an unmanaged server is that you give yourself the option of choosing which operating system you use. However, hosting providers will only test, through their R&D process, certain operating systems or versions of operating systems on their servers. This is to see if that particular server is capable of having that specific OS installed. It’s important that they do this because some old hardware won’t work with newer versions of operating systems and vice versa.

So, while you have the option of choosing which OS you use, it’s important to be mindful that hosting providers will have preferred or recommended operating systems for guaranteed performance on their servers.

Installation of the operating system is where an unmanaged dedicated hosting provider’s support ends. They hand over the root user credentials for the OS to the customer, request that they change the password on first login and from that point onwards, that server and what they do on it is the responsibility of the customer.

With root access, customers have full control over that piece of hardware and OS. They are responsible for all aspects of server management, including server configuration, software installation and updates, security, backup and maintenance. And if something goes wrong, it’s up to the customer to resolve it.

What are managed dedicated servers?

Like unmanaged dedicated servers, managed dedicated servers are a type of hosting service where a customer rents an entire physical server that is solely dedicated to their use. Unlike unmanaged servers however, managed dedicated servers are managed by a hosting provider who is responsible for setting up and maintaining the server.

A good managed hosting provider will ensure that your server runs smoothly, including performing reboots and backups, overall maintenance, as well as software installations and upgrades.

There is a spectrum of managed hosting.  

At the more basic level, managed hosting providers will look after the operating systems and install and manage standardized applications like Apache, PHP and MySQL. Be aware that managed dedicated servers generally come with a much narrower choice of operating systems. Customers will tend to be offered Windows plus the option of two Linux-based systems.

Managed dedicated server hosting providers will maintain access control at the administrator level to the server so that they can carry out two key tasks:

  • General maintenance - this includes updates and patches to the operating system. Providers at the higher end of managed hosting may choose to put in place set schedules for updates to try and minimize interruption to their customer’s services. Providers at the lower end of the spectrum may simply automate updates and patches or switch them off and give responsibility to their customers to ensure they’re carried out.

  • Troubleshooting - if something goes wrong within the standardized apps and OS as a result of human error on the customer’s part, managed hosting providers will help the customer resolve the issue.

At the highest levels of managed dedicated server hosting, providers will also provide full application support, including licensed applications.

The difference between managed and unmanaged dedicated servers

When to choose unmanaged dedicated servers?

Unmanaged servers do not include any technical support or assistance from the hosting provider. The benefit of this is that the customer gets complete control and flexibility over their server. But it also requires a higher level of technical expertise and responsibility.

Which is why, typically, unmanaged dedicated servers are used by businesses or organizations that have in-house IT teams or technical experts who can handle server management tasks.

The benefits of unmanaged dedicated servers

  • Greater control: With an unmanaged server, you have complete control over the server and can configure it however you like, including installing any software you need.

  • Cost-effective: Unmanaged servers are typically less expensive than managed servers since you are responsible for managing the server yourself.

  • Customizable: Unmanaged servers allow you to customize the server to your specific needs, including the choice of operating system, control panel, and other software. This is particularly important for companies that are providing a unique service or product and need a very specific infrastructure environment on which to run it.

A checklist for what to consider when choosing an unmanaged hosting provider

When to choose managed dedicated servers?

Managed dedicated servers are a great option for companies that require the high performance of dedicated servers but either don’t have the resource or expertise in-house to manage it, or they do, but would rather that resource is focused on other areas.

Unlike highly-customizable unmanaged servers, customers have considerably less control over the performance managed servers. Customers will also pay a much higher price for the convenience of a fully managed server.

It’s also important to note that managed hosting companies generally specialize in particular industries or areas of hosting. Whereas unmanaged dedicated server hosting providers will support most industries and use cases.

The benefits of managed dedicated servers

  • Technical expertise: The hosting provider takes care of all the technical aspects of a customer’s infrastructure, leaving them to focus on their business.

  • Support: Managed dedicated servers come with support from experienced technicians who can help you with any technical issues when they arise.

    A checklist for what to consider when choosing a managed hosting provider

    Choosing between managed and unmanaged dedicated servers

    Managed options require less heavy lifting on the part of the customer, but that additional help comes with a higher price tag and the sacrifice of control for convenience. Unmanaged dedicated servers are more labor-intensive, but enable customization and save on hosting support costs.

    The choice will depend on the business needs of the customer, as well as their in-house expertise. If there are gaps in technical knowledge, a business may prefer a managed option over an unmanaged dedicated server.

    Whichever option a business chooses, it’s crucial to 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.

    Blog updated: 6th June 2023


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