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Cloud Servers


In this article, we will compare the similarities and differences of a cloud server vs a physical server. Every business has similar and different approaches in how they operate. The differences often relate to what is essential for that specific business: the clientele, the need to process information/orders, and how quickly market adaptation changes are needed.

Since almost every industry today has some type of online presence, hosting providers have adapted to offer products that solve many of the challenges that face today's businesses. One such hurdle a company must solve is which type of hosting infrastructure is best suited for their demands. These choices include both cloud servers and dedicated servers. Cloud servers and dedicated servers each perform distinct tasks based on use-cases, and can be a challenge to determine which environment will satisfy the requirements that a business requires.

Cloud Server vs. Physical Server

Before deciding which type of environment is best suited for your business, it is best to understand the definition of each type of situation and environment. Let's begin by reviewing what a cloud server and physical server is.

What Is A Cloud Server?

When thinking of cloud servers, we often do not think about them in terms of physical machines or computers, making up a hosting environment. The concept of a cloud server is one that moves past the physical limitations of a traditional workstation/servers setup. In the new paradigm, client data and other accessible resources are spread across multiple devices in different locations.

These devices are usually hidden from us by an "application layer" operating on those parent devices. What you, the client, has access to is typically just a folder for your files or an interface that may appear as a single machine with which we can interact. Accessing your cloud server is done either via a "management portal," which is an interface that gives you access to services on your cloud server, or via FTP (or a similar file transfer program).

What Is A Physical Server?

Although it may seem silly to ask what a physical server is, the concept behind a physical server is fundamentally different from that of a cloud server. Physical servers are the dedicated computers specifically purposed for private use. Not all service providers offer truly dedicated physical servers.

These types of servers are usually hand-built hardware, arranged in a specific designed configuration and purposed to meet a particular goal for a business. They are extremely powerful and fully customizable in every way. As the owner, you will almost certainly be given privileged user access over the entire system and can access, install, and set up whatever software you would like. 

Features of Cloud Servers

Both servers have certain specific qualities in common that make them suited for particular situations. If we investigate cloud servers, we see the following unique traits.

  • Your data is easily transferable between physical "parent" servers. Behind the scenes, the cloud service handles the processes that control where your information lives and how it is used. Because there is an application layer operating on the cloud server, your data can quickly and easily be moved among actual physical resources that make up the cloud infrastructure.
  • Data redundancy and backups are also more easily achievable since copies of your data can be spread across multiple physical machines automatically without human intervention.
  • The scalability of resources can also occur quickly via a mouse click. The benefits of having your data controlled by an application layer running across multiple servers rather than a dedicated-to-you host are as follows.
    • A client can control the amount and allocation of resources used at any time.
    • A client can determine the exact number of resources they want to purchase
  • These options are directly controlled from within a management interface. Other options include the scalability of CPU cores, allocated RAM (memory), and disk space that can be easily increased/decreased as needed. These options can be handled automatically when certain events like increases in traffic or load occur.
  • Because there is an underlying virtualization software controlling the server which allows for ease of connection to and utilization of additional services that a provider may offer, external file storage, load balancing, and databases can be added with a few simple clicks. Your servers can be also automatically configured to use these options as need dictates.
  • Since the virtualized operating system is part of a parent server that may be shared by multiple accounts, the risk of over allocated physical resources is increased due to additional accounts on the parent.
    This could, if not addressed in advance, create poor performance for your application or site. These "noisy neighbor" concerns are inherent in most cloud-based environments and are considered one of the significant drawbacks of this type of infrastructure.

Features of Physical Servers

Physical servers have many qualities that are unique to them, as well.

  • Because the physical resources are dedicated to just this server, there is no "noisy neighbor" issue. This option ensures that you receive the full, undivided use of the hardware. Whether this means the total throughput of the network interface card, utilizing all the threads in the CPU, or employing the entire read/write capabilities of the disks, all the hardware is available for your utilization.
  • This configuration is also a significant benefit when determining how much equipment is needed, as is full visibility into how your application(s) are employing the hardware, and if it is achieving the desired results.
  • Physical servers are configured with exact specifications in terms of the CPU type and speed, disk space, memory, video options (if necessary). This granular level of control allows for a custom-designed server to excel at performing specific tasks you have in mind. These selections also provide for additional flexibility of configuration that may not be available in a cloud-based environment.
  • Because a server can be dedicated to a unique set of tasks, additional hardware options (e.g., dedicated firewalls, routers, and switches) are available, which may not be available in a cloud-based system. This further increases the degree of customization your environment can employ.
  • The single-tenant environment of a physical server is usually the most secure type of platform you can utilize. Because of the limited number of admin users and the increased permission settings, there is less worry about attacks from "neighboring accounts" in a cloud platform that may be sharing the hardware environment.
  • This circumstance also precludes any additional performance issues for your server. Also, there is less worry about a malicious user attempting to exploit the parent server. These limit privileged access to the application layer running the cloud-based hypervisor system. 
  • Changes to dedicated servers typically require some degree of downtime. Because there are no additional resources to be "unlocked" or enabled for your use during a hardware swap, any upgrades involve the physical modifications of the hardware itself.
  • While certain server case styles can accommodate hot-swapping and hot-pluggable components, specific changes cannot be done without taking the entire device offline. If your infrastructure requires a particular machine and it has no backup or highly available partner machine, this could negatively impact your application or site.

Which Server is Right for You?

From an IT standpoint, your business needs will vary from project to project. Coming up with a "one-size-fits-all" solution is almost impossible. Our Solution Engineers will evaluate your priorities and help you determine how to best utilize the budget you have available for your hosting needs. You may conclude that a flexible and scalable virtual environment is best, or a dedicated server, configured to match your specific needs for maximum performance, is the right choice.

In some cases, the combination of cloud and physical servers may be most beneficial, providing the best of both worlds. While not an exhaustive and complete list, if you're unsure of which environment is the best for you, there are a few questions you can answer that will help guide your decision-making process for what type of hosting environment suits your needs:

Questions to Ask

  • Are the tasks you require need scaling up/down quickly? A cloud environment may be best.
  • Do you need a consistent amount of resources available at all times? A dedicated server may be the best option for you.
  • Are you processing credit card transactions or handling financial data? A dedicated server with a HIPAA package may best suit your needs. Additionally, advanced security plans may be employed to increase the security of the server.
  • Is horizontal scaling needed for your application? A bank of cloud servers or a server cluster may be ideal for your circumstance.
  • Does your hosting provider have multiple services you can employ? A cloud-based offering may tie into these more easily.
  • Is a customized server more needful for the project you're working on? Dedicated servers offer the most flexible option here.

Deciding which type of hosting environment is needed can be a difficult decision. Examining and detailing all the requirements your project needs in advance are usually the best way to proceed. Additionally, speaking with our Solutions team to help guide you through the process will assist us in understanding your requirements and capabilities. It will allow you to intelligently discuss and evaluate your future hosting needs for your unique infrastructure.


There are numerous choices on how to host your business online, and the differences between these choices can be confusing. Whether you think a cloud-based, dedicated server, or hybrid cloud solution best suits your needs, it can be quickly analyzed by you and our Solutions team to reach a workable solution.

Each of these options has benefits and drawbacks that need to be considered when planning your project. In the end, your choice will help shape how the project evolves, how your clients interact with the system, which in turn determines the company growth. When in doubt about what answer is best for you, reach out to one of our Solutions experts to help decide which choices are best for you, your budget, and your future.

Should you have any questions regarding this information, we are always available to answer any inquiries with issues related to this article, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 365 days a year.

If you are a Fully Managed VPS server, Cloud Dedicated, VMWare Private Cloud, Private Parent server, Managed Cloud Servers, or a Dedicated server owner and you are uncomfortable with performing any of the steps outlined, we can be reached via phone @800.580.4985, a chat or support ticket to assisting you with this process.

About the Author: Michael McDonald

Michael has been a member of the Most Helpful Humans in Hosting for over six years. Starting down a path of education and teaching, Michael returned to his passion of working with technology and helping people around the world embrace the Internet. In his free time, Michael can be found in the northern parts of Michigan spending time on the great lakes or engrossed in a good book.

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