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Web Hosting Reviews

The Pros and Cons of Virtualization Web Hosting

August 25
16:20 2010

You may have heard rumors that virtualization, cloud hosting, VPS services, and other “virtual” solutions are more expensive, unreliable, slower, have a complex migration, and are difficult to manage. However, all of these could be far from the truth.  What is certain is that with virtualization you will be spending more time and energy on your business and improving your offerings than on worrying about datacenter issues and downtime.

Virtualization is a loosely used term for too many offerings and solutions that today’s web hosting companies are trying to sell you. What is virtualization? At the most fundamental level, virtualization is the ability to run one environment, such as an operating system, inside of another environment (such as an operating system). Imagine running Windows Vista inside of Windows 7 or running multiple instances of Linux inside of Windows (or any other operating system).  Virtualization simply lets you allocate different amounts of resources and privileges to other parts of the physical server.

You may be asking yourself how this is any different from the classic shared hosting environments you are used to renting from GoDaddy, 1and1, and others. All of these services are “shared” in nature, but you aren’t actually renting a piece of the entire server that your website is on, only some web space to upload your files over FTP and to run your website through their web server.

Which sort of virtualization is right for your needs? If you have a small website with a few hits, then you should continue paying your webhost $10/month or less for your FTP space and web server access. But what if you have something more complex such an open-source forum, a small MySQL database, some custom PHP content, and your website? Again, it depends on how much traffic you get. If you receive very little traffic, shared hosting may still be your solution. By now you must be wondering why you’d ever need anything besides shared hosting for $10/month.

The answer is you probably don’t and the salesman on the other end of the phone is trying to sell you services that are too powerful for your needs. What if you really have a need for serious web hosting services? It’s clear that there are plenty of companies that have a requirement for better computing resources, so what sorts of requirements do you need to justify higher costs and a more sophisticated hosting environment?

Part 1 – Ownership:

When you own your own servers, much like you own your car, your sense of ownership may provide you with a false feeling of security. It’s true that by owning your servers you feel like no one can access or tamper with them, but what about the downsides? Hard drive failures, motherboard failures, network card failures, power supply failures, etc. In addition to your responsibility of maintaining the hardware, you will probably also need to purchase remote IP KVM’s or computers with remote access integrated into the motherboard which carry a higher price tag, remote power rebooters so you don’t have to painfully wait for datacenter technicians to restart your servers, and shipping spare parts when they are needed. With a virtual solution all of these problems do not exist. In a virtual environment, you can experiment and customize your server as much as you want, break it, and just start a new virtual instance at any time without worrying about anything.

Part 2 – Convenience:

When you own your own servers and you need a new database server, web server, or any other type of server you or someone else must purchase, ship, rack mount, configure, and deploy this server. These steps must be repeated for every server you purchase. If you want to run a real web-business, you’ll also need to install and configure power rebooter devices, remote access devices, miles of wiring, and thousands of strap ties. Your deployment time per server is hours or even days (if it’s a server being shipped to the datacenter).  Add to this the operating system installation and configuration time (one DVD per server, not everyone uses automatic deployment systems).

You’ll probably also run into other issues such as running out of screws, special rack mounting kit problems, cuts and scrapes on your hands, gas, and datacenter trips. Even if your boss is paying for all of this, it’s still your time that you’re spending! Last but not least, you’ll have to pay for the entire server up front (hundreds or thousands of dollars). If you want to upgrade, buy the new equipment and plan to take at least one more trip to the datacenter. With a virtual solution you just click a button to specify your desired operating system, hard disk size, RAM amount, CPU speed or count and click deploy. Within several minutes your server (one or one hundred) will be up and running. You’ll receive the SFTP/SSH access information by e-mail and all you need to do is install Apache (or something else) upload your files and you’re ready to go!

Part 3 – Performance and Reliability:

Traditional servers are only as powerful and reliable as you pay for them to be. As you start adding more redundancy features, RAM, and advanced configurations server costs (especially new ones) start getting very high, very fast. It’s true that some physical servers are extremely powerful, but most of the time their capabilities are heavily under-utilized, or not utilized properly because of poor code or system architecture. Virtual servers offer a cure to this problem because you quickly become disciplined and develop your system to run on multiple servers, have better application level redundancy, and embrace a horizontal architecture early on. With dedicated or co-located solutions, many customers feel that getting the latest Quad-core Quad-xeon processor with 64GB’s of RAM will speed solve all of their performance and reliability problems, but it won’t. The only thing such a complex and expensive system will do is embrace poor development practices and become a single point of failure for your entire system.

Part 4 – Price:

This is a touchy subject because virtualization advocates swear by the lower costs of virtualization, and virtualization opponents can’t wait to prove high operational costs. In reality, these costs skew depending on your business and technical requirements and usage patterns . Without going into a very deep analysis, price varies based on your virtual hosting provider. Usually total pricing depends on how many servers you need, how much storage you use, and how much bandwidth you use.

The general rule of thumb is that when your storage and bandwidth requirements are extremely high, buying storage and bandwidth in bulk (colo) is cheaper. Oddly, your costs also go down with virtualization when you have many servers because you start saving a large amount of money on system administrators, power rebooters, hardware replacements, datacenter management, and everything else. For some of you the most important benefit of hosted virtual servers will be that there are zero up-front and commitment costs. If you want a particular server, just start it up. If you don’t like the performance, cancel it any time you want.

In some sense this is like a dedicated server package, but you have no commitment, setup fee, wait time, or month to month plans. You also don’t pay any additional costs because you manage your own server, without depending on support that may never answer, or may have an accent too heavy to understand.

In summary, virtualization is a good solution for businesses, developers and anyone else who has requirements for rapid deployment of servers and is familiar with operating and managing Windows or Linux systems. Virtual servers are also great for prototyping, scaling your infrastructure on-demand, and extremely easy-to-use management tools. You should use every resource available to you on the internet and triple check everything sales guys tell you. Amazon has a convenient cost calculator and so does the Rackspace Cloud. Use these resources wisely, and your web business will be up and running quickly and cost effectively.

Article written by Dan Khasis at www.dankhasisllc.com.

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