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The 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 responsibility.

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 and worms.

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.


About the Author

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/

 


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