Cloud Vs. Dedicated Server: Which Is Right For Your Site?

Cloud Vs Dedicated ServersOver the last few years “the cloud” industry has been on a serious marketing blitz. The basic aim of cloud marketing is to convince consumers that whatever their question, the cloud is the right answer. That makes sense for cloud vendors, but it’s not clear that the cloud is always the right choice for site owners. In this article, I want to think about whether the cloud is the right solution for a moderate to high-traffic websites and eCommerce stores. I’ll lay my cards on the table: for the vast majority of websites of the type we’re talking about, I think a dedicated server is a much better choice. Here’s why.

The benefits of the cloud can be summed up fairly succinctly as:

  • Elasticity – the ability to create and destroy server instances in short timeframes. Scalability to the max.
  • On-demand pricing – You pay for what you use, often in hourly increments.
  • Low upfront investment – You don’t have to invest in hardware in advance.

We’ll put the third benefit aside, since it doesn’t really apply to most web hosting scenarios.

Elasticity is an interesting one. The cloud is a marvel of technology. If you want 100 servers up and running before lunchtime, you can have them (at least in theory; there’s a lot of upfront preparation to make that work in real-world scenarios). If you want to shut them down before dinner, you can do that too. You can’t do that with physical hardware deployments like dedicated servers.

Even better, you only pay for what you use. In the above scenario you’d pay for 100 servers for the afternoon and no more. You wouldn’t have to lease servers for a month or buy them. You pay for what you use.

Here’s the thing though. Can you think of a circumstance where you’d actually want to do something like that? There are cases where elasticity is vital, but they’re few and far between. The ability to scale is essential, as is the ability to deploy redundant infrastructure. But the cloud provides scalability well beyond what most businesses need.

It doesn’t come for free.

Cloud platforms are built for scalability and on-demand deployment, but there’s a price. A literal price and a technological price. Like-for-like resource comparisons of cloud servers and physical servers show that the performance / dollar ratio favors physical hardware strongly. In the cloud, you pay more for less — less performance, less stability, and less reliability.

The virtues of cloud platforms are not the virtues required by most web hosting clients, who value reliability, performance, long-term stability, scalability, and low-latencies — those are the virtues of dedicated server hosting. Dedicated servers perform better, cost less for the same resources, and provide the long-term stability that web hosting clients require. And they’re more than scalable enough to accommodate the growth of most business sites and eCommerce stores.

In summary, when choosing between dedicated server hosting and cloud hosting, think long and hard about whether you need the specific advantages of the cloud and whether you’re prepared to pay the price for them. If you aren’t, then dedicated servers are the best choice.

Image: Flickr/fly72

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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