Before choosing a dedicated server provider, it’s important to address certain questions. Going in blind means that you or your business will end up thinking about these important aspects of the industry later on, which could result in downtime, network issues, or even the inability to use the server for what you intended to use it for.
1. Where is it located?
Know your audience. Your company may be based in New York, but if your server is intended to act as a webserver for your direct clients, and most of your clients are from the west coast, you’ll probably want to consider locating your server in one of the most popular west coast hubs, such as Los Angeles or San Jose. Conversely, if your server is supposed to be a development sandbox and most of your developers are from Texas, you’ll probably want to have your server located in Dallas. Physical distance from your target audience matters, as it will result in shorter transit routes, lower latency (better PING times), and increased overall stability for your users.
2. What level of management does it come with?
Dedicated servers are generally either managed or unmanaged. If a server is “unmanaged”, that means that you or your team will be responsible for all the maintenance, updates, and software installations/configurations. You are responsible for everything related to the software or operating system running on the server. “Managed” servers come in a few different varieties, but can mostly be grouped into two categories: “Proactive Management” and “Reactive Management”. Proactive Management is usually more expensive and entails the dedicated server provider to automatically login to your server and perform software and operating system updates, bug patches, etc. Reactive Management is usually offered at a standard monthly rate and allows you or your business to open support requests with the dedicated server provider. The difference is that tasks performed under “reactive management” are done upon request and tasks performed under “proactive management” are done automatically, generally requiring a higher level of trust and communication between the host and the client, which isn’t often necessary.
3. What is the connectivity like?
Don’t be afraid to ask the potential dedicated server providers that you’re thinking of using for a test IP. Run traceroutes to and from destination IP addresses that you may need to interact with, and make sure that the routes are decent enough. For example, if you run a traceroute from Los Angeles to Dallas, and your packets stop in New York, chances are good there’s something wrong with the network, or that the host doesn’t have decent uplinks/transit carriers in their network. A situation like this can easily result in increased latency and poor network performance. A great tool to use is MTR (My Traceroute) or WinMTR for Windows, which will combine the results of a traceroute and PING, showing you latency and loss in real-time.
Also ask for a list of transit providers that your dedicated server provider uses as uplinks. If your client base is all located in China and the potential provider has PCCW, for instance, which has excellent connectivity to China, you know that your transit routes are all going to be extremely quick, leading to increased reliability. See if your potential provider has a “looking glass” available, which will show you direct BGP routes or summaries from core routers.
4. How redundant is the infrastructure?
If the power goes out, will your server stay up? If so, for how long? You’ll want to make sure that your potential dedicated server is housed in a facility that has Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS), Automatic Transfer Switches (ATS), and power generators. Ask the provider about their uptime history. Even if the server you’re looking to purchase is only to be used for storing backups, if the potential provider has missing or unreliable power equipment, you could easily put yourself in a bad situation if you need access to your backups while the provider is experiencing some sort of power problem.
5. How long has the provider been in business?
This may sound like an obvious question, but the truth of the matter is that the hosting industry has very few barriers to entry, which means that hosting “providers” enter and exit the industry at an extremely rapid rate. For example, QuadraNet has been in business for nearly 15 years, which means that you can trust in its reliability. Don’t let you or your business be taken in by extremely attractive rates – chances are good that you’ll be on leased hardware at a facility that is missing critical components just to save in build-out/start-up costs. Evaluate your requirements (or your business’s requirements) and prepare to spend a little bit more than you originally had in mind. Peace of mind in this industry generally comes at a very small extra cost and is always worthwhile.