In May 2013 Netcraft predicted that by the end of 2014 there would be 1 billion websites on the Internet. Whether that prediction has come true or not we won't know for a while, but the bottom line is that there are an awful lot of websites on the Internet.
The bulk of the websites available to us on the Internet are hosted on shared servers. Shared web hosting these days packs a real punch - servers are fast and have masses of resources available to them, and for the average website, shared hosting is always going to be enough. However, if you have aspirations towards your website becoming a real success, sharing resources with other websites just isn't going to cut it.
What is a dedicated server?
Although shared web hosting is adequate enough for most websites, if your website is going to be a success, you might, at some stage, need a dedicated server. As the name suggests, shared hosting shares resources (CPU, memory and other processes) between the websites stored on a particular server. Some shared web hosting has usage limits meaning every site gets equal access to resources. Others, however, do not, meaning resource hungry sites prevail. If you want to ensure your website can utilize all of the resources a server has available, then you need dedicated hosting.
Dedicated hosting is as the name implies, a server with all the resources dedicated to a specific user - CPUs, memory, etc., they are there for you to use exactly as you wish. You rent the machine and you add as many (or as few) websites as you wish.
How many websites do you have? What type of sites are they? How much traffic do they get? If you have a lot of websites that use a lot resources (for instance, sites that need a lot of graphics or videos) have a lot of users, you might well need a dedicated server. Do you need a dedicated server for a single site? Again, it depends on the type of site it is and the number of visitors you receive. It might prove that a Virtual Private Server (VPS) account that limits the number of websites that can go on a server and shares resources equally among accounts might well be enough for a moderately successful site.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
However, sharing server resources with other websites might be holding your website(s) back. You might even get suspended by a host for using too much of the available resources, and that's bad for SEO. If you want your website to be a success, it also has to be seen on Google, and to be seen on Google, it has to be fast.
In 2010 Google introduced the speed of a website as a ranking factor in its algorithm. This means that websites that have slow loading pages languish in the low ranks, while websites with pages that load quickly are at the top of the listings. With a dedicated server and masses of resources at your disposal, pages should (if designed well) load quickly and your website might (depending on a huge number of factors that change on a regular basis) move into the top spots. People moving from shared to dedicated hosting often note an increase in the number of visitors they receive immediately after.
If your website is making money, then it's going to attract people's attention. Especially if you are storing credit card numbers, your site could be attacked by hackers. Shared hosting isn't the place for this type of website - you need a safe, secure dedicated server, whatever the cost. Make sure there is an ongoing regimen of backups taking place to safeguard your and other people's data.
When do I need a dedicated server?
Are you making money from your website(s)? If you are, you can't afford to be suspended by a host or experience downtime for any other reason. As a general rule of thumb, if your site is regularly making 10 times the cost of a dedicated server, switch to dedicated. If you are making less than that, stick with shared hosting (or VPS if you can afford it) - regardless of whether your resources are being eaten up and you need dedicated hosting, if you can't to pay for it, you can't use it.
Can you manage a dedicated server?
If you have the requisite skills to run a dedicated server, then it is a good option for you. If you are wondering whether you have the requisite skills to run a dedicated server or not, you probably don't, in which case you will need a managed dedicated server. With a pure dedicated server, you rent the hardware and the space at the data center, and that is it. You do everything else. Managed dedicated servers are operated by the person you rent the server from. If you need software adding, they do it. If you need to reboot the server, they do it. Obviously, this is going to be an expensive option - it's a bit like having a member of staff on hand to manage your server.
If you can manage a dedicated server you might well have the skills to create your own scripts and programs. If you need to use such dedicated software, you need a dedicated server.
You control the server and its network connection. But regardless of whether you share a server or if a server is dedicated, if it doesn't have good bandwidth available, then it is not going to be of much use. Good bandwidth is essential for visitors to be able to access your site. 1 TB can handle most content, including videos.
An average $100 per month server would carry 2 TB of bandwidth. Prices can go up to $200 per month and beyond, depending on the server. You might need to talk to people about the best rates available, and that's where a resource like the HostSearch.com forum comes into play. Speak to end users about their experiences before you make a decision.