Rise of the Dedicated Machines
The Rise of the Dedicated Machines
As with any industry, hosting has evolved to the point that features
that didn’t even exist a few years ago are now standard. One
sector that has seen tremendous change is the dedicated market,
which in the early days was price-driven. This year, however, there
has been a sea change on that score, with several service providers
offering servers for less than $50 per month.
The issue has graduated to one of value, similar to truck shopping.
Do customers want lightweight or heavy-duty? A utility vehicle or
luxury? Is performance measured by economy or by power? Companies
who are caught up in the price game run the risk of buying market
share that, in the long run, costs them money.
Customers who want the cell phone that has games, makes fries,
tap dances, and stores music will pay for that capability; customers
who want nothing more than a portable phone will pay for that. Dedicated
hosting customers have their own short list of needs and wants:
- How much can I get for how little?
- I want ping, power, and pipe with self-management.
- I need a reseller program with profit margins and a provider
that understands I’m more than a customer
For each question, value is a relative thing, and in each instance,
there is an understood give and take between customer and provider:
- The low-price leader usually offers a one-size-fits-all plan
with limited support; curiously, the most price-conscious customer
frequently exacts the heaviest support burden.
- The discount-dedicated server offers the win-win of cheap bandwidth
and cheap hardware. These solutions are usually un-managed, but
the customer who buys them typically needs little support anyway
beyond global issues.
- Resellers get industrial infrastructure at a discount rate,
the provider assumes resellers understand hosting, and both sides
understand that problems are shared.
This year has been marked by a variety of options that reflect
the diversity of customers within the dedicated sector. Reliable
“ping, power, and pipe" can be found for as little as
$39 per month; however, such plans are unmanaged, which is wonderful
for gaming or development but terrible for business essential applications.
Unmanaged means providers will do little more than reboot a server;
software installation and troubleshooting are the customer’s
The year has also seen the continuation of automation solutions,
from companies like Ensim, Plesk, H-Sphere, and others. Client accounts
and common tasks can be easily managed, and services can be provisioned
much more quickly. Web site owners gain an element of control and
there is a corresponding decrease in support needs. At the same
time, there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all automation. In
fact, there are numerous vendors and each has designed software
that is ideal for certain clients but less so for others.
There is also the fully managed account, which is just as its name
implies. It costs a little more, but that price buys the user the
backing of a provider’s systems admin and tech support staff.
Managed hosting means the provider takes care of things like installing
security patches and software, and monitoring for potential viruses
Perhaps the key development has been the string of value-adds
that providers release in the desire to provide their customers
with a one-stop IT package. As hosting itself becomes commoditized,
providers seek to differentiate themselves by offering their customers
a value proposition through free and add-on features like:
* Individual server firewalls
* Anti-spam and anti-virus tools
* Marketing and search engine optimization help
* Server monitoring for better resource management
* Site-building software
It is possible to get confused when sifting through the multiple
plan options that are available, but choices are necessary because
the continued growth of the Internet has broadened both the technical
skills and business goals of customers. Most hosting providers focus
on the small to medium business market, companies in that space
tend to fall into two categories: entrepreneurs and designer / developers.
The entrepreneur is far more wide-ranging that may appear at first
glance. Entrepreneurs may or may not be technology savvy; they operate
businesses from home or in office settings; and, the range of their
products and services is limitless. To the entrepreneur, a hosting
company must represent stability, industrial strength infrastructure
and reliability, and the ability to answer support questions around
the clock. Entrepreneurs are also well aware of the growing impact
of online sales, a retail force that Jupiter Research predicts will
exceed $300-billion dollars by 2010. That means e-commerce capability,
from shopping carts to packages that include payment gateways and
Internet merchant accounts.
The web designer / developer is more easily defined. These professionals
are typically corporate webmasters, independent graphic artists,
software developers, or programmers. By necessity, the designers
& developer is technically knowledgeable. As such, these individuals
will require less customer support but will also expect more of
a service provider in terms of plan flexibility, number of available
features, ability to support multiple development platforms and
scripting languages, etc. As the D&D community is already involved
in site design and creation, or client software development, or
IT consultation, there is a seamless fit between those skills and
the hosting platforms that are available for re-sale.
In deciding which company is the right fit, there are some givens
to look for: 24/7 technical support, preferably live support that
actually be reached by phone, chat, and e-mail. Be wary of a provider
that only provides e-mail support, as it could be the next day before
your problem is acted on.
Also be sure to read the fine print on providers’ web sites
regarding their infrastructure. Solid companies plainly list their
backbone providers and the level of connectivity that will be available.
Data center information can be found that should detail a company’s
capacity for redundancy, fault tolerance, and load balancing. As
is the case with most businesses, it is things most customers don’t
see that are perhaps the most important. All the bells and whistles
in the world won’t help your company grow if they don’t
ring or blow when they’re supposed to.
Alex Lekas is VP of Corporate Communications
for AIT, Inc., a two-time Inc 500 company that hosts more than 190,000
domains in 107 countries. The company can be found on the web at
AIT Inc - http://www.ait.com/