Managed Server vs. Unmanaged Server Defined

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In this article, we will be discussing what it means to employ a “managed server” versus an “unmanaged server” and what the primary differences are. This article is written responding to ongoing questions we see from clients regarding the types of resources, services, and capabilities that are included when a managed server is selected for use.

What Does Managed Hosting Help With?

In today’s hosting market, many companies offer managed hosting in one form or another for the following reasons:

  • To assist with single-tenant server administration 
  • To reduce/eliminate the client’s time investment in server maintenance
  • To provide a stable platform for website accounts and applications
  • To provide updates/upgrades for the servers main OS
  • To provide backup services for disaster recovery
  • To provide a secure data storage and archiving platform
  • To ensure security protocols on the server are set up and maintained
  • To provide active monitoring of the server’s services and software
  • To provide technical support and troubleshooting resources 
  • To lower the clients TCO (total cost of ownership) by reducing their internal IT/infrastructure costs
  • To free up a customer’s time and resources to allow more focus on their business

In this briefing, we will cover several features commonly encompassed by “managed hosting” versus what is provided for in an “unmanaged hosting” environment and how they compare. We will be using the Liquid Web definitions of managed and unmanaged, but your hosts definitions may vary. In order to get a relevant representation from your company, we will also be providing a checklist of systems and services that we feel should be covered, which you can use to better define and compare the options you should have available.

Definitions

Let’s begin by defining our terms.

  • Dedicated Server: A server is the basic unit of a hosting setup. The server runs software which “serves up” data, services, programs, or web pages to other computers over a network.
  • OS: An operating system is the software platform for the server hardware, software, services, and applications. 
  • Services: Services provide multiple functions on the server and are usually run by specific programs that manage those services.
  • Accounts: Accounts are defined as the basic unit of individual hosting. Accounts provide a gateway to clients to gain access to the services provided by the server. It allows for the storage and retrieval of information unique to the account.
  • Server Software: The installed software which provides for the functionality of the programs and services needed to host websites, provide access, manipulate data, and manage the server’s systems.
  • Website software: Website software can be defined as any content management platform which translates code into a browser readable format for data and information. This can include software like WordPress, Magento, Joomla, Drupal, WooCommerce, and Shopify.
  • Platform: A platform is a unique environment used for designing, developing, building applications, managing service, or administering components found within a broader framework. 

Managed

What does fully managed really mean? 

At Liquid Web, we define fully managed as the active and detailed administration of your server’s base setup, including major areas like:

  • Core OS Server Installation & Configuration
  • Ongoing Server Maintenance
  • Guaranteed Network Maintenance & 99.999% Uptime (5/9’s)
  • Active Hardware Performance Monitoring
  • Active OS Security Protection & Patching
  • Powerful Malware Protection
  • Proactive Service Monitoring (Ping, DNS, SSH, FTP, HTTP, POP/IMAP/MySQL)
  • Practical & Effective Backup Solutions
  • Reliable Availability & Uptime
  • Accurate Documentation & On-Demand Support

Ordinarily, having a managed server simply means that the host is responsible for maintaining routine operating system updates, additional software updates, and other server-level management and configuration tasks. In addition to this, security patching and other account-level functions that are essential for the servers minimum performance needs and use should be addressed. Typically, website-based tasks are left to the account owners to address as there exist countless coding parameters and software variables that would limit our ability to effectively support all the available options in today’s modern website builds. This being said, Liquid Web provides support administrators, which can, at the very least, offer advice and/or documentation on solving most if not all website issues.

What Services Can I Expect My Managed Hosting Provider to Offer?

In a managed server environment, a host should:

  • Setup, maintain, and provide support for the server itself, including hardware, software, and network connectivity.
  • Provide a reliable method for all software and security updates as well as the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the operating system.
  • Setup, configure, and support the essential services that run on the server (e.g., DNS, FTP, MySQL, PHP, HTTP, and Exim). 
  • Configure, maintain, and support the software that operates the above services (e.g., Apache, Bind, Exim, PureFTP).
  • Provide support for the control panel account software platform provided (e.g., InterWorx, cPanel, Plesk).
  • Assist with the installation and configuration of development platforms included with the OS or website software (e.g., Python, JS, Ruby).
  • Depending on the host, some website CMS software should be supported. Liquid Web provides specific support for the core WordPress software. 
  • Provide a clear SLA (service level agreement) stating its covered services, responses, and remedy, should the provider fail to meet the goals it has set. 
  • Furnish experienced, well-rounded, and knowledgeable system administrators who are available 24/7/365 via phone, chat, and a ticket to support your server. 
  • Deliver accurate, reliable, and consistent information & communication if an issue is discovered or submitted.
  • Collect and deliver active, ongoing monitoring information for all major server services. Also, the host should have a dynamic and default response to any/all noted monitoring concerns the server encounters.

In essence, owning a Liquid Web managed server guarantees support for the server, its connectivity and network uptime, the installed LAMP stack software, the control panel software (InterWorx, cPanel and Plesk) and core WordPress software. 

Unmanaged

With these choices in mind, let’s first explore what is typically covered in an unmanaged server environment. The effective management of your base unmanaged hosting setup should cover major areas like this:

  • Managed Network Connectivity & Support 
  • Managed Hardware Support
  • System Level Monitoring
  • Data Center Infrastructure

Unmanaged hosts typically do not:

  • provide assistance with coding development or modification
  • provide .htaccess customizations
  • provide custom CMS customizations
  • provide support for WordPress themes or plugins
  • promise success in installing custom software
  • provide assistance with the configuration of third-party software

Typically, Liquid Web offers our Beyond Scope Support to try accomplishing what we can reasonably do to assist, however sometimes, our assistance may not be viable due to the number of possible iterations of software, hardware, plugins, configurations, etc. and how they would interact with the server’s software.

If you would like assistance finding a resource with the right skill set to assist with your development needs, don’t hesitate to reach out and let us know. We have a Partner Directory listing of companies who may be a perfect match for your needs. Beyond Scope Support efforts are not intended to nor should they be substituted for other products or services offered by Liquid Web.

Core Managed – A 3rd Option at Liquid Web

At Liquid Web, there exists a mid-range management option in which additional services are covered, and more assistance is provided. This tier is called Core Managed. Our core managed platform includes support for the following software and services:

  • Managed network support 
  • Managed hardware support
  • System-Level monitoring
  • Data center infrastructure
  • Installation of core web server software package (Apache, PHP, MySQL, FTP, SSH)
  • Support of core software package (Apache, PHP, MySQL, FTP, SSH)
  • Core OS system updates & patches
  • Security upgrades & augmentations
  • Proactive service monitoring
  • Dynamic monitoring response & recovery to active events

Similar to the limited support options in an unmanaged environment, we also have similar limitations in our core managed framework. Hosts utilizing a blended option typically do not:

  • We do not provide assistance with coding development or modification
  • We do not provide custom CMS customizations
  • We do not provide assistance with the configuration of third-party software
  • We cannot promise success in installing custom software

FAQ

Does being fully managed mean also I can ask for specific settings to be applied?

Yes, your host should be able to easily modify settings and configurations on the server’s OS, base software, and account environment frameworks.

Can I ask my provider to assist if I have trouble installing software (PhpBB, Joomla or anyone else) can I ask help for that?

Hosting support for 3rd party software will vary by company, but a good host should be able to answer all of your questions, assist with the installation, or be able to point you in the right direction to locate and apply the info you need to address any issues you may run across.

Can I ask my provider to assist if I have trouble installing software (PhpBB, Joomla or anyone else) can I ask help for that?

Hosting support for 3rd party software will vary by company, but a good host should be able to answer all of your questions, assist with the installation, or be able to point you in the right direction to locate and apply the info you need to address any issues you may run across.

Who should choose a fully managed server?

Fully Managed Servers
  • Clients who want less hands-on server experience and a host that takes responsibility for the server
  • Clients who would rather outsource their system administration tasks to tech experts that are available 24/7/365
  • Clients who want a company with years and years of experience operating fully managed servers
Unmanaged/Core-Managed Servers
  • Clients with expert Linux system administrators on staff/on call around the clock
  • Clients who want to take on primary responsibility for server performance, reliability, and security
  • Clients who need maximum flexibility and freedom to run alternative server software stacks and/or make frequent system configuration changes on demand

What is Managed Hosting?

A dedicated server is a type of server that is not located locally to your business and is exclusively devoted to a unique individual, organization, or application. An experienced hosting provider usually manages it. It is often not shared with other clients unless other servers exist inside that infrastructure. Typically, this type of server is rented on a monthly basis and which provides a specific amount of memory, hard disk space, and bandwidth to a client. This typically saves router, internet connection, security system, and network administration costs.

Is managed hosting right for me?

To better evaluate this inquiry, we would ask these questions in reply:

  • Are you familiar with Linux?
  • Do you feel comfortable working via the command line?
  • Can you easily apply operating system updates?
  • Will you be able to remove old, unused kernels?
  • Have you ever added an IP table rule manually?
  • Would you be comfortable operating a server without a management panel?

If you answered no to most of these questions, a fully managed option may be a better option for you.

Can I switch from Unmanaged/Core-Managed to Fully Managed?

Due to how the servers are provisioned, switching from an unmanaged or Core managed server to a fully managed server requires a particular type of migration. We cannot guarantee a 100% perfect outcome, but we will make every possible effort to successfully move your data/accounts into your new, fully managed server.

Can I switch from a fully managed cPanel server to a fully managed InterWorx server?

Yes! This can be accomplished via a migration of data between the two servers. That being said, there do exist some concerns which must be addressed before the migration, which will ensure a smoother transition.

The broader issues are primarily DNS clustering, no pgsql/MongoDB, wildcard subdomains, and PHP versions older than 5.4. There are also some other very minor hindrances, like InterWorx not supporting single-character mailboxes, and lastly, some other small considerations like how you will need to connect to the hostname instead of the domain name for SMTP connections.

What Linux operating systems are Fully Managed?

  • CentOS 7 64-bit with InterWorx Fully managed
  • CentOS 7 64-bit with Plesk Fully managed
  • CentOS 7 64-bit with cPanel Fully managed
  • CentOS 7 64-bit cPanel w/CloudLinux

What Linux operating systems are Core-Managed?

  • CentOS 8 64-bit Core-managed
  • CentOS 7 64-bit Core-managed
  • Ubuntu 18.04 LTS 64-bit Core-managed
  • Ubuntu 16.04 LTS 64-bit Core-managed

What Linux operating systems are Self Managed (unmanaged)?

  • CentOS Stream 64-bit Self-managed
  • CentOS 8 64-bit Self-managed
  • CentOS 7 64-bit Self-managed
  • Ubuntu 18.04 LTS 64-bit Self-Managed
  • Ubuntu 16.04 LTS 64-bit Self-managed
  • Debian 10 64-bit Self-managed (Zones A-EU West, B and C)
  • Debian 9 64-bit Self-managed
  • Fedora 31 Server 64-bit Self-managed-  Fedora 30 Server 64-bit Self-managed

What Windows operating systems are Fully Managed?

  • Windows Server 2016 64-bit Standard Edition Fully Managed with Plesk
  • Windows Server 2012 R2 64-bit Standard Edition Fully Managed with Plesk

What Windows operating systems are Core Managed?

  • Windows Server 2016 64-bit Standard Edition Core-Managed
  • Windows Server 2012 R2 64-bit Standard Edition Core-Managed

What Windows operating systems are Self Managed (unmanaged)?

  • Windows Server 2019 64-bit Standard Edition Self-Managed
  • Windows Server 2016 64-bit Standard Edition Self-Managed
  • Windows Server 2012 R2 64-bit Standard Edition Self-Managed

What is covered/not covered under a fully managed server?

It would be impossible to provide an exhaustive list of custom software titles and script installations we do not cover, but we can state that we will attempt to accomplish software installs with the default settings. Our linked posts provide greater detail on what our guaranteed support covers and does not cover

Who can I talk to in a more in-depth manner about my options?

Typically, our Solution team and other experienced hosting advisors can and will be able to shed more light in this area in order to provide a better view of the options available.

Learn More!

Give us a call at 800.580.4985, or open a chat or ticket with us to explore all of your available options today in selecting a management level that right for you!

Author Bio

About the Author: David Singer

I am a g33k, Linux blogger, developer, student and Tech Writer for Liquidweb.com/kb. My passion for all things tech drives my hunt for all the coolz. I often need a vacation after I get back from vacation....

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