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Managed Versus Un Managed Servers

An unmanaged server is provided as-is, usually without any software installed. To make it useful will require the installation of the appropriate software and its configuration. Even more significant, a server requires regular maintenance in the form of software updates which are essential to maintain the security and integrity of the service. 

Other typical tasks undertaken in managing a server including regular vulnerability testing (to check that the security is up-to-date and the server isn't vulnerable to attack, something which unfortunately is very common), ongoing performance tuning to make sure you're always getting the best out of your server, pro-active monitoring to alert someone when there are or are likely to be problems with the hardware or software on the server. Another really important management task is the regular back-up of the machine, usually at least daily if not more often and the restoration of service if the machine fails. 

A managed server product provides someone to undertake some or all of these tasks. Unless you have the expertise to manage the server yourself, or know someone who can who will give you the service you require, you need to consider how the server will be managed and a managed server addresses this. 

As explained in our article "Hosting: What you're paying for", the actual server computer itself isn't necessarily all that expensive. When things get more pricey is when people are involved, since obviously the have to be paid and it's typical that to run a round-the-clock operation a company would need several skilled personnel to deliver the service. 

As with most things, there are varying extents to which a server might be managed for you - from a technical support help line that can assist if you get stuck through to a fully managed server that you never see, touch or log on to, you just use the service it provides. The first of these doesn't really address the need for server management, but might be useful in cases where you have some knowledge and/or your service is not critical. Most commercial undertakings need a more proactive server management approach. Fully managed servers are around double the cost of an unmanaged server.

Questions to ask your managed hosting provider

  • What level of management do you provide? Do you create user accounts, install software, configure backups, etc?
  • Will you install OS patches when they become available? If so, what level? Some patches are more urgent than others and may often involve being offline for some time - are you able to work to my schedule or do you just go ahead with them during a preset maintenance window, or whenever suits you?
  • If my server suffers a failure will you do the work required to restore it from backups?
  • If my server suffers an intrusion or denial of service attack, will you perform the necessary operations to repel the attack and/or recover from damage done?
  • Do you proactively monitor the server for things like excessive CPU, memory or disk I/O activity? How about hardware failure? External service availability monitoring? If you detect a problem do you fix it or seek approval first? What notification methods do you use?

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