If you ever had to point to a physical object and say, "There is the Internet," you would end up pointing to a squat, undistinguished electronic box known as a Web server. Inside would be a series of narrow, horizontal or vertical components and some basic hardware that look a lot like the guts an ordinary PC, stacked like stereo equipment in metal rack and cooled by lots of tiny fans.
It's those slices of technology that listen to the thousands, sometimes millions, of simultaneous requests to see a given Web page, decide how quickly to respond, then administer the resources it takes to make Web e-mail, a favorite shopping site or your own company's home page appear on those distant screens around the world.
Many small businesses outsource the work of buying, maintaining, updating and administering Web servers, but there are good reasons, too, to buy and own them. Covered in this guide:
1. What Web servers do and what Web servers do not do for you
2. Buying and using Web servers for hosting
3. Web server software options
4. When to avoid Web servers entirely and use Web server hosting
A quick guide to Web servers vs. other servers
It can get confusing on the buying side if not really sure what you need. For instance, a "server" can mean any central computer that controls data shared by several individual users on ordinary desktop computers, for managing e-mail or storing company-wide files, for instance.
Web server vendors and Web servers by brand at Business.com.
Choosing from types of web hosting servers: blades and racks
Web servers have been shrinking over the decades. The first was much like a large-ish PC, while the latest iteration -- known as a "blade" server -- allows for vertical stacking of many blades since memory, cooling, power and other functions are separate and built instead into the enclosure.
rack Web servers and blade Web servers at Business.com.
Once you choose a server, Web hosting means software
Web servers are really just hardware, plain and simple. What makes Web servers run, in fact, is software that interprets the commands from around the Web and manages your Web site's pages.
Run away from your Web server with dedicated server Web hosting
Making the choice to buy, operating and maintain a Web server is not to be taken lightly. At minimum, your company will have to have compelling reason -- information security, proprietary Web services, paranoia, whatever -- to justify the ongoing expense.
dedicated Web servers at Business.com
- Web servers are not complex devices, but their care and feeding can be a real drain. Always price the five-year cost of a Web server against simpler Web server hosting, feature for feature.
- If your online business is likely to spike tremendously you will need the capacity to deal with the additional hits. Be sure to review traffic over the past few years and consider capacity carefully. A crashed Web site might be the result if your Web servers are not ready.
- Just like ordinary PCs, Web servers are prone to attacks. In the case of Web servers, though, the risk is usually denial of service: So many hits that real users cannot reach you. Talk with your vendor or about security and traffic management techniques that help offset these risks.