The Amazon Cloud vs. The Dedicated Server

The Amazon Cloud vs. The Dedicated Server

The Amazon EC2 cloud has been a hot topic in the IT world recently. EC2 touts many benefits including scalability and lower costs. With all the hot talk about EC2, the good old dedicated server has been unfairly lost in the shuffle. Of course, both have certain benefits to certain people, but what is right for you? Does the dedicated server still reign supreme, or is the Amazon cloud the next big thing?

Amazon cloud and a dedicated environment may seem similar on the surface – for instance, both can be used in the cloud, meaning a dedicated server doesn’t always have to be physical server at your physical location – it could be a dedicated physical server provided by a hosting company offering dedicated servers. The reality is, though, that they are quite different.

Let’s breakdown some of these differences and find out who comes out on top.

Scalability

One of the main selling points of the Amazon cloud is its simplicity when scaling. This means more computing power can be provisioned quickly and when it’s needed, but what does it mean as far as costs and needs go? Of course, it would be great to be able to scale up or down based on your website’s traffic, but this brings up an often-overlooked conundrum – consistency. When you scale up, your costs go up too, and the Amazon cloud’s scaling levels start fairly low, meaning even a minimal increase in traffic could mean increased costs and needs.

In a dedicated server environment you can generally prepare for increases in traffic by provisioning more computing power at the start. While this may lead to increased costs earlier on, it could save you later, as you don’t have to worry about skyrocketing costs during high traffic times. Instead, you have a fixed cost, and if you are coming close to a specific threshold, you can then scale your dedicated environment accordingly.

Furthermore, while Amazon touts “auto-scaling”, it in fact may need some human interaction, even if it’s minimal. While provisioning a new dedicated server would indeed need human interaction, it is something that can often be prepared in advance and wouldn’t be needed on the spot. Like with any part of business, preparation is often the key to success.

Speed & Performance

Amazon also claims to have significant performance benefits over other environments including dedicated servers, but this may not be the reality. In an article by PrintNet, one of their contributors performed his own speed and overall performance testing pitting a dedicated server versus the Amazon cloud. What he found was surprising. The dedicated server improved performance in a number of areas including site speed (2.5x), consistency in response times, better capacity without scaling, reduced support effort, and a nearly 50% savings on server and hosting investment. The interesting part is, the Amazon cloud claims all of these things as benefits to the their environment. Hmm.

Redundancy & Complexity

One of the misnomers about the cloud is that it is totally redundant, and essentially “worry free.” The problem with this notion is that, well, it simply isn’t true. You see, in order to build redundancy in the cloud you have to actually build physical redundancy in the cloud. It doesn’t just automatically provide you with a backup plan. Creating this redundancy can be complicated and complex, causing more problems than it solves.

Bringing our conversation back to the cost factor, building redundancy may also cost more, as a single cloud instance may not be enough and may be less reliable than your typical dedicated server. The truth is, nobody likes higher costs and more complexity.

Costs

Another misconception is that the Amazon cloud offers more bang for your buck – basically tons of neat and useful features all while lowering your overall costs. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, this is another instance where the perception is different from the reality. In fact, the costs of the Amazon cloud often double (or more) the costs of a dedicated server. A comparison was done by Rackaid (shown below), that shows the costs of the Amazon cloud vs. a dedicated server:

Dedicated Server AWS M3.XLarge
CPU 8 Core 8 vCPU
RAM 16 GB 15 GB
Storage 500GB RAID 1 500GB EBS
IP’s 8 8
Bandwidth 10 TB 1 TB
Panel cPanel None
Cost $195/mth $375/mth

Stats courtesy of Rackaid

As you can see, the dedicated server wins out in this scenario offering just as much or more than the Amazon cloud for almost half the price. Furthermore, costs can often be unpredictable with the Amazon cloud, while dedicated servers comes with fixed prices.

Conclusion

It looks to us that the dedicated server offers more speed, more reliability, more simplicity, and lesser overall costs – all things the Amazon cloud claims to offer. This tells us that the good old dedicated server is the winner of this IT battle. Next time you’re thinking of moving to the Amazon cloud and leaving your dedicated server in the dust, consider these points, and really understand what you’re getting into, because odds are you’ll want your dedicated server back before you know it.