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Physical Server vs. Virtual Server

As a managed services provider (MSP), you’ll need to help your customers navigate profound technological change. Businesses are investing more than ever in the digital infrastructure necessary to stay competitive in an increasingly dynamic, fast-paced economic landscape. From server and compute resources to network architecture and cybersecurity defenses, these investments will differ from one team to the next based on industry, budget, and company goals. Regardless of which resources your customers choose to implement, it’s crucial that they understand what digital infrastructure investments will be right for their needs.

The scope of this digital transformation is considerable. According to Cisco, 94% of workloads and compute instances will be processed in the cloud by 2021. This means that businesses currently looking to invest in their digital infrastructure are doing so at a moment when everything from data center organization to remote access protocols is rapidly changing.

Given this evolving IT landscape, one of the most critical decisions that businesses will make—and that they’ll look to you for guidance on—is determining whether a physical server, virtual server, or some combination of the two is best suited for their needs. While physical servers represent the tried-and-true, powerful data center deployment of the past, virtual servers offer businesses a cloud-oriented, innovative—and often managed—service for the future.

At the same time, the decision isn’t a clear-cut one. Many organizations today opt for a hybrid approach of physical and virtual machines depending on the type of information they handle, their business continuity and disaster recovery plans, and any regulatory compliance mandates they may face. While some businesses may want to invest wholly in one solution, it’s clear that the physical server vs. virtual server debate isn’t black and white.

Ultimately, you’ll need to counsel your customers on the server deployment that will best benefit their business. Figuring out what that means for a particular team will take time, a careful review of their existing digital infrastructure, and an understanding of their growth goals. However, by getting on the same page with key decision-makers—and familiarizing yourself with the ins and outs of the virtual server vs. physical server conversation— it’s possible to help customers understand which option will be best for their business.

What is a physical server?

You can generally define a physical server as a typical computer. While they’re larger than what you might think of when imagining a desktop computer, they function in much the same way—albeit on a business-grade scale. Physical servers are powerful computers—usually stored in a data center for business-use cases—that run operating systems and applications off of their internal hardware resources. These resources include RAM, CPUs, HDDs or SSDs, network connectivity assets, and more, all of which support physical servers’ robust performance.

To run applications on a physical server, businesses and their MSPs need to install an operating system onto the server hardware. This enables them to run applications and programs that draw directly on the power of that physical server’s hardware. This setup means that each physical server is only capable of serving a single business, as the resources of physical servers cannot be distributed among different digital tenants.

For businesses considering whether to invest in physical servers, there are a few key advantages an MSP can help them understand. First and foremost, physical servers do offer superior performance to virtual servers. Because virtual servers are, in a way, detached from the hardware they run off of—something we’ll dig into momentarily—there’s always the chance that bottlenecks will form. Teams using physical servers won’t run into the same problem because applications and programs operated from a physical server run directly from the server’s onboard hardware.

Additionally, physical servers offer teams around-the-clock access and immediate control over their computing resources. While this might not be at the top of some customers’ wish lists, it may be essential for teams with certain mission-critical business operations that need to be managed onsite. This level of access can also be a plus for companies that handle carefully regulated information over which they’d prefer to exercise direct control.

However, there are some potential drawbacks to relying on physical servers that customers should consider. For starters, physical servers can prove expensive, both in the short term and long run. On top of the initial investment necessary to purchase servers, businesses will need to invest in ongoing maintenance, updates, and eventually, replacements due to hardware failure.

Finally, physical servers do present risks when it comes to business continuity and disaster recovery. Because they’re stored on-site, physical servers are likely to suffer from any outages or damage affecting the rest of a customer’s business. This will require that IT teams either repair the server or bring in new hardware, set up an operating system, install critical applications, and painstakingly restore information from previous backups.

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