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Choosing the right hosting environment is essential in positioning a business for successful growth. Companies operate differently based on clientele, the need to process information/orders, and how quickly market adaptation changes are needed. The common thread is the necessity of being digital to survive in today’s economy. Eventually, you’ll reach the crossroad of comparing a cloud server to a physical server to determine your best hosting environment.

Since almost every industry today has some online presence, hosting providers have adapted to offer products that solve many of the challenges that face today's businesses. Generally, these products can fall under two categories business owners can choose from – they have to weigh the options of cloud vs physical servers. 

Cloud servers and dedicated servers each fulfill distinct roles, so it can be challenging to determine which environment satisfies the requirements of a particular business. Before deciding which environment best suits your business, you need to understand each of them and their pros and cons. To start, let’s take a look at cloud servers.

What Is a Cloud Server?

A cloud server is a pool of centralized server resources hosted and provided over a network (typically the Internet), accessible by multiple users on demand. When thinking of cloud servers, we often do not think about them in terms of physical computers.

However, the concept moves past the physical limitations of a traditional workstation or server setup. In this new paradigm, client data and other resources are made more accessible and efficiently spread across multiple devices in different locations.

An application layer operating on the parent devices hides the cloud server instances. What you, the client, have access to is typically a folder for your files or an interface that appears as a single machine. Accessing your cloud server is done via a management portal (an interface that gives you access to services on your cloud server) or via FTP or a similar file transfer program.

Advantages of Cloud Servers

In comparing cloud servers vs physical servers, you will learn that both types have qualities in common that make them suited for specific situations. Cloud servers, in particular, have the following unique advantages:

  • Agile data - 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 its use. Because there is an application layer operating on the cloud server, your data moves quickly and easily among the physical resources that comprise the cloud infrastructure.
  • Easy and safe remote BDR - Data redundancy and backups create more easily since copies of your data automatically spread across multiple physical machines without human intervention. In addition, users can significantly reduce the risk of unpredictable data threats like natural disasters by efficiently storing backups in an offsite location miles away from their main facility.
  • Scale quickly and easily - The scalability of resources can also occur with just the click of a mouse. Since an application layer running across multiple servers controls your data rather than a dedicated-to-you server, you can:
    • Control the amount and allocation of resources used at any time.
    • Determine the exact number of resources you want to purchase
  • Streamlined user interface and scalability - Options are directly controlled within a management interface. Other options include the scalability of CPU cores, allocated RAM (memory), and disk space easily increased or decreased as needed. These resource upgrades can automatically scale when specific events like traffic or load increase occur.
  • Easy integration - Underlying virtualization software allows straightforward control over server connection and utilization of additional services a provider may offer. As a result, you accomplish adding external file storage, load balancing, and databases with a few simple clicks. Your servers are also automatically configurable to use these options as necessary.

Disadvantages of Cloud Servers

Although a cloud environment can be very effective in the proper scenario, there are a few drawbacks to consider:

  • Noisy neighbors - The virtualized operating system (OS) is part of a parent server that multiple accounts may share, creating an increased risk of over-allocated physical resources due to these additional accounts on the parent machine. If not addressed in advance or accounted for, this could result in poor performance for your app or website. These noisy neighbor concerns are inherent in most shared cloud-based environments and are considered one of the significant drawbacks of this type of infrastructure.
  • Challenges with latency - Access to data via the cloud relies heavily on your Internet connection speed. Even if you have a fast, reliable, and secure Internet connection in a physical office location, you may still experience latency issues when accessing your cloud server. Primarily, this is because you may be sharing server resources with other businesses that are consuming a lot of data.

Despite these drawbacks, cloud servers can be a fantastic solution depending on your business goals. But, if you don’t think they’re the right fit after considering their pros and cons, a physical server may be your choice.

What Is a Physical Server?

A physical server is a hand-built piece of hardware comprised of physical components arranged in a specific configuration to meet a particular goal for a business. They are incredibly robust computing devices and fully customizable. As the owner, you will almost certainly be given privileged user access over the entire system and can access, install, and set up your chosen software.

Although it may seem juvenile to ask what a physical server is, the concept is fundamentally different when comparing a physical server vs cloud. Physical servers, sometimes called dedicated servers, are computers designated explicitly for private use. Unfortunately, not all service providers offer truly dedicated physical servers.

Advantages of Physical Servers

Much like cloud servers, physical servers also have many unique benefits:

  • No noisy neighbors - Because of the dedicated nature of the physical resources to this server, there is no noisy neighbor issue. 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 disks’ full read/write capabilities.
  • Sharper system performance insights - This configuration is also a significant benefit when determining how much equipment is needed. It affords you complete visibility into how your application(s) are employing the hardware and if it is achieving the desired results.
  • More control and efficiency - Physical servers are configured with exact specifications regarding the CPU type and speed, disk space, memory, and video options (if necessary). This granular level of control allows for a fully customizable server designed to excel at performing the specific tasks you have in mind. These configuration options also provide additional flexibility with physical servers vs cloud servers.
  • Easy customization - 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 your server environment’s degree of customization.
  • Increased security - The single-tenant environment of a physical server is typically the most secure platform available. Because of the limited number of admin users and increased permission settings, there is a much lower risk of attacks from neighboring accounts in a physical server vs a cloud server that may share the hardware environment.
  • Limit performance issues through access control - This single-tenant scenario also limits the chances of any additional performance issues for your server. There is less concern with malicious users attempting to exploit the parent server since privileged access to the hypervisor's application layer is limited. 

Disadvantages of Physical Servers

  • Manual hardware modifications - Changes to dedicated servers typically require some 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, leaving your business at the mercy of your IT technician’s schedule.
  • Machines need to be offline for upgrades - While certain server case styles can accommodate hot-swapping and hot-pluggable components, specific changes cannot be done without taking the entire device offline. In addition, if your infrastructure requires a particular machine with no backup or highly available partner machine, this could negatively impact your application or site.

Cloud Server vs Physical Server: A Comparison

You’ve learned the advantages and disadvantages of cloud servers vs dedicated servers. Both platforms have many unique features, which can be a lot to assess. Here is a quick rundown of some critical factors to consider when comparing cloud servers vs physical servers:

  • Security - A physical server will offer much higher levels of security than its cloud counterpart. The lack of noisy neighbors and the complete control over system resources a dedicated environment provides are significant if security is one of your main concerns. However, a physical server may be your better choice if your business handles sensitive data or if you must adhere to strict industry compliance standards.
  • Flexibility - If you expect your business to experience hyper-growth or see yourself relocating data soon for any other reason, you may want to consider a cloud environment. Since all your essential files get stored in the cloud, they can easily be moved or transferred.
  • Scalability - While physical servers are easily customizable with routers and switches, a cloud environment is a better option for growth and scaling. Users can easily add resources with a few simple clicks. On the other hand, upgrading server capabilities requires manual hardware modifications for physical servers.

The beauty of the modern server landscape is that most – if not all – things are customizable. As a result, users that want the best of both worlds don’t have to sacrifice anymore. Instead, your business can leverage private cloud or bare metal cloud technology to experience a hybrid hosting environment.

Enjoy cloud technology's flexibility and scalability without sacrificing a physical server's security and stability. Contact one of The Most Helpful Humans in Hosting here at LiquidWeb to learn more.

Is a Cloud Server or a Physical Server Better for Your Business?

From an IT standpoint, coming up with a one-size-fits-all solution is almost impossible. Liquid Web’s Solution Engineers will evaluate your priorities and help you determine how to utilize your available budget best to meet your hosting needs. You may conclude that a flexible and scalable cloud-based environment is best, or a dedicated server configured to match your specific needs for maximum performance is what you need.

In some cases, combining cloud and physical servers may be most beneficial, providing the best of both worlds. However, 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.

Questions to Ask

  • Do the tasks you require need scaling up or down quickly? If so, a cloud environment may be best.
  • Do you need a consistent amount of resources available at all times? In that scenario, a dedicated server may be your best option.
  • 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 are available to increase the protection of the server.
  • Is horizontal scaling needed for your application? In this instance, a bank of cloud servers or a server cluster may be ideal.
  • Does your hosting provider offer multiple services? A cloud-based offering may allow you to integrate these more easily.
  • Is a customized server more appropriate for your current project? Dedicated servers offer the most flexible option here.

Choosing which type of hosting environment is best can be a difficult decision. Liquid Web’s Solutions team will take the time to understand your requirements and capabilities and guide you through the selection process. In addition, they help you navigate your unique infrastructure's current and future hosting needs.

Harness the Power of Your Hosting

There are several choices when it comes to hosting your business online. When you start comparing cloud servers vs physical servers, the differences can be confusing. Whether you think a cloud server, physical server, or hybrid cloud solution best suits your needs, our Solutions team will guide you throughout the process to reach a workable solution.

Each option has benefits and drawbacks you must consider when planning your project. Liquid Web’s options include Fully Managed VPS HostingCloud Dedicated ServersVMware Private CloudVPS Private Parent Servers, or Dedicated Servers, depending on your needs. In the end, your choice will help shape your project’s growth. Anytime you’re unsure which answer is best for you, reach out to one of our Solutions experts with your challenges.

About the Author: Ronald Caldwell

Ron is a Technical Writer at Liquid Web working with the Marketing team. He has 9+ years of experience in Technology. He obtained an Associate of Science in Computer Science from Prairie State College in 2015. He is happily married to his high school sweetheart and lives in Michigan with her and their children.

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