A lot of hosts will offer either managed or unmanaged dedicated servers, with wildly varying prices in both categories. It can be difficult to know exactly how much service and support you get from either option. Should you choose managed? If so, what does that include? Should you go with “unmanaged”? If so, what will the provider help with, and what won’t they? It’s not surprising that managed hosts cost more than unmanaged hosts, but why do some hosts cost so much more than others, even in the same category? Should you choose a managed or unmanaged host, and if so, which one?
The exact differences in support levels between providers is not something that can easily be answered, but whether or not you should get managed support at all is fairly easy. Generally, if either you or your company has someone experienced with server management on staff, buying an unmanaged server often makes the most sense. You’ll be responsible for the day to day server management tasks, but the server will be far less expensive, and you will have more control over what work is or is not done on your server.
On the other hand, if nobody who works for you has the skills or the available time to manage your server, buying server management can be an essential expense. Even if you use a control panel to do most of the hard work for you, there will come a time when a complex problem needs to be solved. When that happens, having someone with the experience available to manage your server can mean the difference between your site being up or down, your data being lost or saved.
A third option many don’t consider, is buying an unmanaged server from a reputable provider, and then hiring another company to provide server management. This can offer the best of both worlds. A reputable dedicated server company can help with hardware level issues (disk failures, network problems, etc), while offering affordable services. And then for any kind of software setup or other complex issues, a third party server management company can often provide the help you need at a reasonable price. Often server management companies can also charge for one time work (setting up or securing a new server, or solving a specific problem you’re having), whereas a managed server provider will charge you extra for management every month whether you use it or not.
The biggest reason I think this makes sense, is that a company can put it’s focus on only one area at a time. To be really excellent at what you do, you need to remain focused on what you are best at. If you try to do too many things, chances are you won’t be above average at any of them. An unmanaged hosting company that focuses exclusively on servers, will be able to provide an excellent network, excellent server hardware, and excellent “unmanaged support” (hardware, network, etc), at a reasonable price. A management company that only provides management, will be able to manage your server with expertise at a reasonable price as well. On the other hand, it is much more difficult for any one company to be good at doing both things. This is one reason that companies that offer managed dedicated servers often are far more expensive than the cost of buying the server and the management separately.
Just as importantly, you can mitigate some risks by splitting up these tasks into two areas. For a managed hosting provider, if you have trouble with your server and need to switch providers, they are not going to help you move your sites to a server with a competitor. Because you rely on them for management, you would be unable to move the sites yourself and you would be stuck. If you have a third party management company, they will help you do this. This can be essential if you have problems with a host that cannot be solved any other way.
In a simlar way, you could have an unmanaged server but have another company do management. If your server provider is good, but the management company is not, you can switch management companies without needing to switch server providers. In this way, you can help avoid disruptions to your services that might become serious issues if both the server hosting and the server management were handled by a single company.
No matter what provider you go with (managed or unmanaged), it always pays to search online for reviews of the company to see how others are doing with them. Keeping in mind the difference between managed (will help you with just about anything) and unmanaged (usually helps you with hardware and network problems only), reviews will let you narrow down within a given category, which companies keep their customers happy and which do not. This is important because even within a given category (unmanaged vs managed) the support levels, responsiveness, fairness in billing issues, price, etc, will vary considerably.
I hope that this article has provided you some useful information in deciding upon your server management needs.
If you have any questions about this information, or want to learn about ioflood.com dedicated servers, email us at sales [at] ioflood.com