Why I'm ready to ditch my dedicated server and move to the cloud

Why I'm ready to ditch my dedicated server and move to the cloud

Summary: Servers are big boxes of stuff just waiting to break. Over the weekend I got to play network administrator, and the experience has convinced me it's time to get rid of my dedicated server and move everything to hosted services.

TOPICS: Networking

Why would anyone run their own server if they didn’t have to?

Servers are big boxes of stuff just waiting to break and make their administrators' lives miserable. If I can pay a fair price to have someone else set up, maintain, secure, and support an online service for me that eliminates the need for me to own my own hardware and manage my own server software, I will take that offer every time.

Consumers figured that out long ago, which is why the big three of free web-based mail services, Hotmail and Gmail and Yahoo, collectively have more than a billion mailboxes in use. Many of those mailboxes are provided through ISPs, who were happy to get out of the POP and SMTP business.

But businesses still run on email. One recent report from the Radicati Group estimates there are 929 million business mailboxes in use, and most of them are still running on in-house servers.

The world’s most widely used solution for business email is Microsoft Exchange, with 51 percent of the market and roughly 473 million mailboxes in use, according to that report. Microsoft and its partners have been offering hosted Exchange for years, but more than 400 million of those Exchange mailboxes are still connected to on-premises Exchange servers.

I have no desire to run my own Exchange server, which is why I was thrilled to let someone else do it for me. I’ve been running my work-related email on a hosted Exchange account at Intermedia for the past three years, and I’m about to upgrade that account to Exchange 2013. I’ll be comparing Intermedia’s offering to Office 365, which I’ve been using for the past six months or so, as well as Google Apps for Business. Moving email to the cloud is a huge growth opportunity for both Microsoft (and its partners) and Google. (Is there anyone in third place?) Other essential business services, like your PBX, are also ripe for replacement.

Last month I shut down my last POP mail account. Every mailbox I manage, personal and professional, is running in the cloud, using either Microsoft or Google software. I no longer have to manage or troubleshoot POP, IMAP, and SMTP servers of my own.

And after this past weekend I’m about ready to hand over responsibility for some other servers as well.

A lot of the reasons I need a powerful dedicated server have vanished over the past decade.

I have a dedicated, Linux-based server at a hosting company that I’ve worked with for years. They’re in the process of transitioning my server to a new range of IP addresses this week. As a result, I’ve spent the past few days working in server consoles, editing DNS records, and manually tweaking obscure Linux configuration files so that everything works the way it’s supposed to. It hasn’t been painless. Nothing that involves the words DNS propagation ever is.

I only have to play network engineer a few times a year, and it’s usually for something simple. This level of mucking about with servers only comes along every few years, thankfully. But it’s painful enough that I’ve been looking at the alternatives. Can I hand the whole thing over to someone else?

A lot of the reasons I need a powerful dedicated server have vanished over the past decade.

  • As I mentioned earlier, I’ve already eliminated the need to run email servers on those boxes. I still have to set up accounts and occasionally reset a password, but that’s all done through a dashboard on a service managed by Google, Microsoft, or Intermedia.
  • My co-authors and I used to use FTP regularly to share files. These days we use online services. In 2009 and 2010, for two editions of Windows 7 Inside Out, we used Dropbox, which was convenient and reliable enough. For Office 2013 Inside Out, which just went to the printer, we used SkyDrive, which worked exceptionally well. The range of business-class storage services is impressive
  • Back when I started blogging, I used Movable Type and then switched to WordPress. These days most of what I publish online is here on ZDNet, where the servers are maintained by an engineering staff, thank goodness. So my moderately expensive, occasionally high-maintenance dedicated server runs a handful of personal blogs. WordPress now runs its own hosted service, which looks mighty tempting.
  • For our books, we created a custom URL-shortening service that allows us to provide short links to long URLs. So we can use the link http://w7io.com/10285 instead of http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc178982.aspx. And if a website owner moves a page without redirecting it, we can change the target of our short link on the fly. (Services like bit.ly won’t let you do that.) That allows us to avoid the problem of link rot, but it also means maintaining a legacy app.

I’d love to move my personal blogs to a hosted service. In the middle of the last decade I managed a couple blogs on Google’s Blogger service, but these days it feels like one of those neglected products that’s on the verge of being discontinued. (Take Google’s announcement of its decision to kill Google Reader, search and replace with “Blogger,” and you’ve pretty much got a preview of the press release.) Tumblr and other free platforms are fine if you just want a place to dump ideas and pictures

For $99 a year I could get every bell and whistle that WordPress.com offers in its Premium plan. Unfortunately, the terms of service prohibit most forms of advertising and e-commerce, which is a potential roadblock for me as a professional publisher. I could probably work within those restrictions, though.

In fact, it looks like I could easily move just about everything that requires a dedicated server over to a hosted service. I’d love to find a way to permanently hang up my network manager’s hat. Now all I have to do is find the time to research the options and actually make the move.

Topic: Networking

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  • Anwers all your questions

    "Why would anyone run their own server if they didn’t have to?"
    Because its VERY expensive to subscribe to a service from a major player.

    [I know Hotmail isn't free - I pay for it via OS and Office licenses, indeed the whole aggregate of MSFT products.]

    "For $99 a year I could get every bell and whistle that WordPress.com offers in its Premium plan. Unfortunately, the terms of service prohibit most forms of advertising and e-commerce, which is a potential roadblock for me as a professional publisher. I could probably work within those restrictions, though."
    There you go ... rates for business are artificially high: nothing to do with the cost of providing them - everything to do with what the market will bear and the vendor can obtain.

    "Now all I have to do is find the time to research the options and actually make the move."
    A noble quest but I fear anything involving a major incumbent will be very expensive.
    Ever tried comparing 1TB of storage via symform with the same via AMZN or SKYDRIVE?
    • You think $99 is expensive?

      Equivalent, reliable, business-grade hosting services cost money too. You don't want to build something for your business on a $5.99/month hosting plan from WebRUs.

      If you're just farting around, maybe. But I'm willing to pay for professionals to run a service and be there when I call the support line on a Sunday.
      Ed Bott
      • Seems more like

        "But I'm willing to pay for professionals amateur prices to run a service."
      • Moved as well

        I had an onsite MS Small business server and another web server. Moved email and data to Office 365 (essentially an upgrade to SBS) and no longer have to worry about maintenance and upgrades. The subscription service is much cheaper than what I was paying to support our onsite server and I can vary the number of licensed users as I need. Also impressed with online support, as the Office 365 team helped me move my name servers from my current registrar after I spent days of trying with no reply.

        It went so well, that I'm going to upgrade to the next service level to give me local copies of Office 2013 rather than just using the Web apps and our current older Office installations.
        • Office 365???

          Yeah... and I've migrated a small company's email (85 users) to BPOS/Office365 (against my advice) and it SUCKED. Outages, speed issues, security issues, password reset galore, the support was a joke... worse than a joke, I didn't even bother anymore.
          ~100 licenses for about 700$/month.

          over 3 years, that's 25000$
          That would have been plenty of money to buy and maintain a good local mail server...
          • "That would have been plenty of money..."

            Sounds like you did a bad job. I migrated our company over to it without a hiccup. A lot of small businesses don't want / need to have a full time IT staff. They can put a DC, APP and Database servers at a hosting company and let them manage everything for a few hundred bucks a month VS. buying a bunch of expensive equipment up front and hiring X number of admins to sit in house and wait for stuff to break.

            Besides, when your server goes down, do you want the guy from your IT dept who has been supporting 10 servers that rarely need anything beyond updates for the last 10 years to take a crack at it? Or do you want Jimmy from rackspace who has constant experience with thousands of servers?
          • I forgot to add the other big thing...

            Which is that all that equipment is reported as assets and taxed accordingly, where as hosting / support services are considered a business expense and written off.
      • Sorry but

        Are you trying to imply that only the "big boys" are professional enough?

        This is plain not true! Professionalism has nothing to do with how expensive you sell your services.
      • I think you missed John's point

        I think he was trying to say that $99 is an ok price, but the terms of service on that account are an artificial restriction intended to make business users pay much more for a quote-unquote 'real' service.
      • just a thought...

        I do not usually reply on any promoted but I have a feeling this article is written for house wifes...

        1. If you believe you will have to ditch your IT guy (whoever supports your IT environment), but good luck with that. Moreover, the process of moving to the cloud is extremely complicated. Even Google and Intermedia (worked with both of them) are failing to make this move smooth ( I heard/had a lot screwed up things even working with Intermedia's migration engineers), so you will have to pay to both parties regardless
        2. Low monthly subscription is not your total cost. When you need to restores, or to set up more complicated things you will have to pay (A LOT). Since you like Intermedia so much, try to run a restore of your mailbox and let us know how much this will cost to you. Also, depending on you package, features are limited and if you want to add something you will have either to move to a different package (and pay more) or pay for these specific features.
        3. Does anyone else provides a full enterprise grade support besides Google? Let's be honest, it is hard to run hosted email for organization with over 5K employees. If you question that, try to ask Intermedia what their biggest account is and I am sure it will not be more 500 users.
        4. Are you trying to tell me that running application and database server for $99 a month??? Come on this is impossible!!! How about bunch of limitations like bandwith, storage, and etc you never mentioned that (obviously great marketing article for whoever paid for it)? The only reliable cloud server provider on the market today is Amazon. You can talk as much as you can about FTP (if you still use it, you live in last century), WordPress, and bunch of other services that kids in high can run nowadays, but the fact that Google is not in the could server business means a lot.
        5. Your data. Are 100% willing to share your data with someone else? I know your data stored somewhere and somebody will always have access to it, but what if you work in biotech and you have a next huge discovery worth winning a Nobel prize. Do you still wanna place this data on my server? I bet you would say "NO".

        So please when you write another sponsored (aka "your opinion") article again, please make a huge note that this is a great for small/med businesses, otherwise you sound pathetic.

    • Best Service Providers

      I work at Bluehost as an Account Manager/ Consultant. My job really is to make sure customers get what they need when they need it. If you have questions or are interested in dedicated hosting or shared hosting let me know, I'm happy to set you up after I've answered all of your questions.

      Matt de Hoyos
    • DDoS Protection and Dedicated Servers

      The issue with the Dedicated servers and especially Cloud Servers and instances is actually the DDoS Protection.

      Lately DDoS Attacks are growing rapidly and more web based businesses have to deal with losses because of lack or no DDoS mitigation implemented in their business.
      No matter what you choose a Dedicated Server or a Cloud Server, you still need ddos protection, that's Cloudcom specialty, DDoS Protection and Mitigation.

      No matter what you choose, a good ddos protection by Cloudcom is a must.
  • DTS would be proud

    From the article:
    "I have a dedicated, Linux-based server at a hosting company that I’ve worked with for years.

    Was your Linux-based server ever hacked as were linux.com and kernel.org? If not, what security measures did you use?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • How would he know if it was hacked?

      If it is offsite at a hosting company he would never know because I doubt they would tell their customers something like that as that could scare them away.
      • Pssssssst

        I have root access over SSH. I can tell what's going on with the server. You think you have to stare at the case or something to tell whether a machine has been compromised?
        Ed Bott
        • Oh, and by the way

          Do you keep your Linux telnet port open?

          If you don't, you need to consult forum guru Loverock, who will tell you need to improve your Linux management skills.
        • Unreliable connectivity

          Root access to a server is great if you have a connection to it. We live in an area that only has one ISP and they go down at least once a week or get to be so slow to be unusable. Having a computing resource available only over a communications link is only as good as that link. All this cloud computing is nothing but a modernized version of the old mainframe/dumb terminal computing model that was available 30 years ago. The Internet is not anywhere nearly as reliable as an old-fashioned telephone line. When that day ever comes, if it ever comes, maybe what you wrote about will be true.
    • @Rabid Howler Monkey

      So, you're saying that a Windows Server running IIS has "never" been hacked? Or even better, that it has a history of never getting hacked?

      Sorry. Can't buy that. I've managed IIS for a long time. I even got an MCSE+Internet when it was first released, so I'm not new to this game. It's improved but I wouldn't say it "more" secure than any other implementation.
      • @tallbruva

        Read my post again. I didn't mention Windows servers.

        Although a reasonable question for Ed Bott would be why he chose to use a dedicated Linux server instead of a dedicated Windows server.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • "why he chose to use a dedicated Linux server"

          My office chose dedicated linux server because we had no in house web programmers at the time and the company they hired also did hosting on Linux servers. I suspect that most small businesses make their decision that way. Pick a web designer / programmer and go on their advice.