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November 12, 2008

The Big Dedicated Server Payoff

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There was no passing period between session one and session two. I ended up having to sprint. It wasn’t pretty, folks. But now we’re here with speakers Alexander Barbara CEO, ReidBrown Enterprises, Inc., Jeremy Wright CEO, B5media and moderator Roger B. Dooley, so let’s not dwell on having no time and just get started.

Roger begins by saying dedicated servers are fun and addictive. [I say, like potato chips? Or doll collecting?]

Alexander Barbara is up first. He’s going to talk about when his company hit the tipping point and had to get their own server. Their server was slow and the down time was losing them more money than they were getting credited.

Instead, they wanted a fast site with high uptime. Their server had to have great support and room for growth. The speed was important because ads and analytics are often the last thing to load. They had to weigh the pros and cons of different servers, like:

A “Virtual” private server

  • Dedicated meets Shared — lots of people on one server but with root access
  • Often oversold
  • Resources – $
  • Know what you’re getting

Dedicated vs Shared

  • 100% resources available (vs. .4%)
  • 100% control
  • 100% responsibility

They wanted a managed dedicated server. Someone able to migrate sites, update software, troubleshoot and offer phone support. For them the bottom line was that the speed of the site affected revenue.

There are some things you have to do in order to figure out the right server:

  • Do a speed check. How many backbones do they have?
  • Do an example IP traceroute.
  • Also consider database/software vs static.
  • Pageviews.

There are alternatives to changing to a dedicated server, though. You can reduce images, JavaScript, etc. You can also optimize your HTML and CSS. Also host your images and video separately. [ED: Don't do that last one. Not good for blended search]

Dedicated is not necessarily:

  • More reliable than shared
  • Needed for high traffic
  • Better for SEO

Questions to ask your potential server host:

  • How often do they do back ups and do they have limits?
  • Do they have an uptime service level agreement?
  • Are they in the data center? Can someone go push a button for you?
  • Site uptime monitoring? A decent host should know your site is down before you do.

It’s also a good idea to ask for references. There’s a forum on Webmaster World just for dedicated servers. Find out how old the servers are. The newer the better. Also, what’s the cost and availability of IPs and C-Blocks?

If you’re getting a VPS, know how many instances are on a box. Check to see what your guaranteed amount of RAM is. You’ll need a separate DNS server or it’ll slow you down. And of course, find out if there’s a money back guarantee. Look for someone who is willing to stand behind their product.

For managed hosting: You need to ask, will they compile and install custom software? Is their support 24/7 (and check their response time. Put in a ticket just to check.) Is phone support available?

Those with add on costs: CPanel, WHM, Fantastico, Plesk, etc
Microsoft (IIS / ASP .NET / MSSQL) will require licenses.

No one can guarantee 100% uptime. Not even Rackspace, who is extremely reliable. Keep that in mind when you’re looking.

The bottom line is that you need to find something that meets your needs, which is still cost-effective. Focus on the things that matter to you.

Jeremy Wright follows Alexander. Ooh, confidential non-bloggable information. You wish you were here.

His blog network has gone to 350 blogs on 10 boxes. Servers matter, because what they do is serve content. So uptime is super important.

They went from one server to three servers to many more to a whole buncha lotta. In every case, they hit problems and they kept outgrowing their space.

For them:

  • Quality is more important than price — Ask for an RFP, low quality responses there is a clue. They put out a request for RFPs, got 400 responses and found 12 that were worth it. Give them two weeks as a trial. If you don’t like them then, things are only going to get worse.
  • Get referrals — but realize that everyone is going to have bad reviews unless they’re a tiny shop.
  • Know what you NEED vs what you WANT
  • Don’t switch to dedicated too soon
  • Go with a larger shop vs a smaller one

Biggest mistakes that they made:

  • Didn’t plan for growth.
  • Moved to dedicated hosting too soon (could have moved to a large shared hosting account, saved tech $).
  • Stayed with bad providers too long (hint: when the power goes out in your data center more than once? MOVE).
  • Overpaid for managed hosting when a full-time tech resource would have been cheaper (and then they hired one anyway).
  • Didn’t use RFPs until this year to get the best pricing and service they could.

Beyond Dedicated:

Don’t buy unless you have to. Use “lease to own” (almost the same price as dedicated, but with more control and actual long-term $ value). Find (independently of the vendor) similar clients at their datacenters and talk to them. Consider combining forces with another similar-sized company to save $ and share resources.

David Driskill who was scheduled to be here is mysteriously absent so Roger gets to talk. He follows up on Alexander’s presentation by emphasizing the importance of fast page loads. He also suggests that you ask about the internal migration policy is, find out if they’re doing it for you or if they’re just going to leave you hanging. Be wary if your hosting company gets bought.

How do you publish to get RFPs? Jeremy says they post to WebhostingTalk.com, Webmaster World, SitePoint and they issue press releases.

Q&A

How do you determine cost effectiveness?

Alex: For us it was a case of how much were we losing during downtime.

Where can you get tech guys instead of managed?

Jeremy: Search for managed server support. It’s an industry and you can get everything from one guy to the big firms in India. Your hosting company might have references too.





2 responses to “The Big Dedicated Server Payoff”

  1. Chris H. writes:

    I realize I’m a few month’s late on the comments, but this is a great post that brings up an issue not often talked about by us internet marketing guys.

    Making the switch to a dedicated server was a pretty big leap of faith for me when I did it a few years back. I decided to do it because of some bad experiences with downtime on shared hosting platforms, and because of the fact that my websites were profitable, so downtime = lost revenue. What I didn’t know at the time, was all of the great advantages that would ensue by switching over to a managed dedicated sever. Just to name a few:

    1. Increased server response time.

    2. much better customer service / support (remember you’re in the top tier of customers now!).

    3. Complete control over server settings.

    That being said, if I had to make the choice again, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

  2. Cheap Dedicated Servers writes:

    The benefits of having a dedicated server are great. The power and control alone are nice.



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