There are three basic hosting options for the server-side component of SaaS applications: colocation of owned hardware, dedicated server hosting, and the cloud. Each has its advantages, but there’s a tendency for SaaS developers to turn to cloud platforms without giving much consideration to using bare metal.
In fact, many SaaS startups don’t give enough thought to the advantages of dedicated server hosting compared to cloud or colocation. While IaaS and PaaS have their place, and colocation brings the advantages of bare metal to the table, in my experience, managed dedicated servers are an excellent choice for many SaaS developers.
Managed Dedicated Servers vs. Cloud
The benefits of cloud platforms are well understood: they’re flexible, they’re agile, and on-demand pricing is a big draw for SaaS startups. But there are also inevitable compromises to choosing cloud platforms.
The most obvious of these is performance: IaaS and PaaS platforms don’t provide the same level of performance for each dollar spent on infrastructure. Cloud technology offers maximal flexibility, but at a cost. Dedicated servers aren’t as agile as cloud servers, but for every dollar you spend, you get much better performance where it matters — processing power and I/O.
Dedicated servers are, in some ways, more flexible than cloud platforms, particularly PaaS platforms. When you lease a dedicated server, you decide which software is installed on it, how its resources are used, and when it’s updated.
Virtualized or container-based infrastructure offers any number of advantages in development and production environments, but you don’t have to give that up when you choose bare metal. Dedicated servers provide the perfect platform for container-based app development and hosting. The tooling around container systems like Docker has improved massively over the last couple of years. Opting for dedicated servers with container-based development and deployment workflows gives SaaS developers the best of both worlds: the power and reliability of bare metal and the convenience and flexibility of containers.
Managed Dedicated Servers vs. Colocation
SaaS developers choose cloud platforms because they’d rather focus on building their applications than managing servers. While colocation offers many of the advantages of managed dedicated servers, it imposes a higher infrastructure management and maintenance burden. With colocation, companies get maximal performance and control, but management of the servers is largely their responsibility.
Managed dedicated servers sit nicely between cloud and colocation. They offer all the power of colocated hardware, but they don’t demand a significant up-front capital investment like colocation, and much of the day-to-day server management is taken care of by the hosting provider.