Two employees facing each other working on laptops backed up by cloud servers

Can I Have a Cloud Server? – Tech Tip for April 25, 2019

As we discussed in previous tech-tips this month servers can be used for a variety of purposes, today we would like to focus on questions we get a lot: Physical vs Virtual servers. What is the difference between them beyond the obvious? Is one better than the other?

It may be easiest to understand the differences between physical server and virtual servers with an analogy. You can imagine a physical server as a very expensive hotel with only one big room. Only one guest can stay at the hotel at a time. The guest staying in the hotel probably doesn’t really need all of that space for 24 hours a day, but you can’t exactly let other guests share the room with them. In addition, you still need to employ staff to work the front desk, room service, housekeeping. Your guest may only be using these services to 5% of their capacity but you still need to provide the services. In our analogy these services represent the computer resources, for example cpu, memory, hard drive space. This creates a huge waste of resources. Alternatively, a virtualized server would be the equivalent of taking that same hotel but splitting it up into multiple rooms. You can now have multiple guests, each in their own rooms and you can do it without necessarily hiring more staff or buying a bigger hotel. Each guest can do whatever they want without impacting the other guests since all of the rooms are isolated from each other.

Physical Server

As mentioned above, physical servers are comprised of hardware, memory, processors, network connections, hard drive and an operating system for running programs and applications. An easy way to think about a physical server is that it is a computer that is dedicated to performing a certain task. Each physical server can host numerous virtual machines. For businesses that wish to have physical control over their program and application security within their network, physical servers are an appealing option. These do require regular maintenance and data backups to be performed as well. The hardware cost for a physical server can be high, labor is required to configure. Also, to expand a physical server, additional hardware investment is required, and expansion has limitations.

Finger pointing to.a cloud, representing the selection of a cloud server

Virtual Server

A virtual server is a software that mimics a physical computer; from a user perspective, a virtual server is a fully functional real computer. Virtual servers require a physical server to run on. In some cases, this is a device that may exist in the office, in other cases a virtual server can run on a cloud platform like Microsoft Azure. A single physical server can host multiple virtual servers, with each one being responsible for separate tasks. They can be scaled up or down depending on the needs of your business. A virtual server can be created in a matter of seconds and it can also be decommissioned just as quickly when it is no longer needed. One huge advantage of virtualization is ease of recovery in a disaster. Due to the way virtual machines are designed they are much easier to backup as well as restore, even to dissimilar hardware. This can greatly reduce the time to recovery after a disaster, often by orders of magnitude, over the time to recover a physical server. Virtual servers can be a less expensive alternative to physical servers since you can run multiple servers on the same hardware. Alternatively, if you host your virtual servers in the cloud you won’t have to invest in any physical hardware. Instead, you will pay for a service, often monthly. The cost of this service is driven largely by storage costs, and bandwidth costs, among other things.

The two types of servers have different price points and serve different needs, it is important to understand what features are most important to your business while evaluating your choices. It is typical for many businesses to employ elements of on-premise systems and some cloud technologies. For businesses that would like to enjoy the benefits of both there is a hybrid solution, at TechWise Group we call this a Cloud Controller. This utilizes a physical server and virtual machines with cloud backup. Wherever you may be on your server journey, please reach out to discuss your needs and options!

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