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I have a plan for the future for an application and web service. The client will have an application that will send requests to a server-side Java backend that will process requests, and the server should also be able to host a website, preferably on a WAMP setup (which is what I'm used to; very little *nix knowledge).

Now, I cannot provide any hard stats because this is only a plan that's in a discussion stage. However, we do fully expect it will scale enough to need some type of dedicated hosting.

My question is this: what types of things should I know about before looking into getting hosting? What should I be asking the hosting providers before I decide on a purchase? When is it appropriate to switch from a VPS to a fully dedicated server?

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4 Answers

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A few things to ask the company (Especially with Dedicated, but with VPS as well):

  1. Are they using server grade hardware (Server CPUs, ECC memory, Hardware RAID), or desktop grade. For a VPS, I'd stay FAR away from any host that uses desktop grade hardware. For a dedicated server, it's more acceptable, so long as the answers to the rest of the questions are good.

  2. How do they handle hardware failures. Do they have spare parts on site? Do they provision you a new server to use in the mid term? With VPS providers, do they have a "live migration" system in place (where they can move your VPS to a different physical machine without downtime)?

  3. Do they maintain backups, and on what schedule? You'll always want to keep your own anyway, but stay away from a VPS host that doesn't maintain their own backups for free...

  4. What is their SLA policy. Sure, some offer 99.999% uptime, but then when you read the fine print, you only get back like 1% of monthly cost per hour (And they count downtime from when YOU NOTIFY THEM).

  5. What is their upgrade policy. With a dedicated machine, can you "migrate" to a better box without you needing to re-install everything. With a VPS, what's the largest VPS they allow (most CPU/RAM), and can you live migrate to it. If you're on a VPS, can you "migrate" to a dedicated server? Or will you have to reinstall/do it yourself.

That's just a start...

As far as the dedicated vs VPS, it all depends on your application. If you find yourself using most of the resources allocated, or need ridiculous specs, then moving dedicated may be cheaper in the long run. But there's no easy calculator that says "input X, Y, Z and we'll tell you which to go with". It's a judgment call that takes experience to make. Personally, I like to err on the side of less expensive (it's easier to throw more money if you need it, but it's harder to scale back)...

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A lot of places screw you on memory, so watch out for this, and the how much it'll cost to upgrade it. –  Dentrasi Jun 4 '10 at 19:36
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There should be no reason why you can't start with a VPS and move to dedicated if/when the need arises.

I suggest you contact a hosting company that provides both options. Before signing up, discuss this with them and in particular discuss migrating from VPS to dedicated. If they are unable or unwilling to help simply move on to the next one.

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While sound advice, it's not really what I was asking. I was mostly looking for general guidelines on what makes a good hosting provider and what qualities I should be looking for. –  Corey May 31 '10 at 4:01
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I'd offer a delightful anecdote. Make sure the VPS that you're paying for is at least as updated/updatable (i.e. has apt/yum/portage) as you would expect your dedicated server to be. I think I'm in the process of being burned by a 4 year old Network 'Solutions' VPS

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On paper, storage is one thing you can judge on; storage in VPSs (in my experience) tends to get expensive past, often being cheaper per gb. on some dedicated servers on the same provider.

People often comment on lousy disk performance on VPSs. My extra low end VPS's disk, according to hdparm is nearly 9x slower than the hard drive in my 5-year old Thinkpad...

When is it appropriate to switch from a VPS to a fully dedicated server?

When the cost of switching to a dedicated server is lower than that of optimizing the code to get the required performance on your current system (when you have reached the limit of your hardware, it goes to infinity).

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I can confirm VPS is slower, but I can't confirm 9 times. Using VMWare ESXi on basically the same hardware (IBM x335) as a CentOS 5.4 box. Native: Buffered: 1460 MB/s, Cached: 89 MB/s, Seek: 6.52ms; Virtual: Buffered: 875 MB/s, Cached: 49 MB/s, Seek: 5.89ms... So buffered is 40% slower, cached is 44% slower and seeks are 10% faster. Not insignificant, but also not terrible... And that's with 2 SCSI u320 drives. If the VPS is run on a 8+ drive RAID 10 array (as many are), the VPS may actually have significantly faster disk than a 2 drive RAID 1 dedicated server... –  ircmaxell Jun 7 '10 at 15:25
    
Well, I think your benchmark, while accurate (I see nearly no difference on disk IO on a Xen VM than on the Dom0 on a box I have), it does not reflect that typically your VPS is competing with a couple other VPSs on the same RAID array... –  alex Jun 7 '10 at 19:03
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