Servers are the physical spaces the files from websites live on, the code required to run a website, the photos uploaded, the text written, are all kept on servers. Servers can be one physical machine, a a whole bunch of machines chained up virtually or virtual slices of a machine. There are lots of variations. Servers are quite nerdy, but something you need if you’re going to have a website, and also something we hope we can help you avoid being ripped off on.
Server prices can vary drastically. If we think of them like houses, there’s a big difference in price when you rent a room compared to buying the whole house. To keep prices down, you can have the option to have a shared server (flatmates). No other ‘tenant’ can enter your ‘room’, but the overall resources of the ‘house’ are shared. So if someone is using up a load of water, it might effect your water pressure. Instead of renting the room, you could rent the whole house. Another option is to rent a bigger room in a much nicer house. The ‘living’ conditions would be very different and the price you’ll pay will also be drastically varied.
Just like a house, you need a server that meets your needs. If your website is huge and has a lot of traffic and systems, having a shitty cheap shared server will slow your site to a crawl, wreck your Google ranking and be a nightmare to update, for you, for your admin and for your users. On the other hand, if you have a crazy high spec server, but your website doesn’t get much traffic and is on the basic side, that’s drastic overkill and a total waste of money. You also have to consider where your physical server is located. If you’re in New Zealand, and your main customers or traffic comes from New Zealand, then the best server would be one in New Zealand, or as nearby as possible. A high spec server based in the USA may even perform worse than a modest server based in Australia for Kiwi users.
If you reach the status of a big fat cat corporation, your site is global and you’re raking in the hits, you can even have multiple servers. This is done to share load, maintain service if one server is attacked, and most commonly, direct users to the closest regional server to them so they can enjoy the fastest speed. You know when you’re shopping on a big site like Nike, and they ask what country you’re from right away? That’s not just done to give you the right currency, stock and promotions, it’s also done to direct you to their closest server, making browsing as fast as possible for you.
Servers can have a lot of extra features. Things like protection against attacks, faster hard drives, advanced firewalls, e-mail accounts, server identity security.. It’s a huge list, and factors like this may contribute to the cost of a server. The main things ingredients of a typical web server can be visualized when thinking about a restaurant..
Disk space – The size of your kitchen and the room you have to store everything you need
CPU Cores – This is the kitchen stuff. They take the ingredients and make the food
Ram – These are the waiters, host and bar staff. They take the orders, organize them and present them to the kitchen, making sure not to overwhelm it
Some design agencies are even offering free web-design with the catch of taking on life-time server subscriptions. That’s a big red flag. When you decide on a designer, ask them about the server your website will be on. Ask them where the server is, how much space you need, and why they are recommending it for your site.