If you’re routinely hosting your websites on shared hosting plans, you probably haven’t been faced with the decision to choose between managed and unmanaged hosting before since these types of hosting are specific to VPS and dedicated hosting plans. Therefore, in your search for a VPS or dedicated hosting, you may notice hosting plans advertised as managed or unmanaged, and the first clear difference you’ll notice is the price, with managed hosting being more expensive than its unmanaged counterpart.
Seeing how unmanaged hosting is cheaper, you may be prompted to make a decision based on budgetary considerations alone, however, when it comes to hosting plans, this approach is not a good idea as you risk purchasing a plan that may not be suitable for your particular needs, thus, ending up making a wrong investment for your business that could potentially cost more on the long run than simply choosing a managed hosting plan from the start.
What are the Differences and Similarities?
To understand what’s behind the noticeable price difference between these plans, let’s look at how managed and unmanaged hosting compare to each other.
In terms of similarities, both unmanaged and managed hosting bear the marks of the type of hosting they are attached to – VPS or dedicated. Thus, both VPS and dedicated servers offer dedicated resources to their users, but while a dedicated hosting account dedicates the resources of an entire server to one user, more VPS hosting accounts share a single physical server, with each VPS account being kept separate from the other, unlike in the case of shared hosting, where resources are shared among all the users residing on the same server.
In the context of webhosting, the word management entails a range of routine support activities and solutions provided by the hosting company itself. These routine support activities will include server setup, pre-installation of different software, automatic software updates, automatic backups, performance monitoring, security monitoring and malware removal, control panel, SSH access, etc. On the other hand, an unmanaged hosting plan is a somewhat stripped-down version of a managed hosting. This means that unmanaged hosting plans either come with no or very few additional services.
The most common scenario is a server with an operating system installed, and basically nothing more. Therefore, as the owner of an unmanaged hosting you have to undertake all aspects of its management yourself including the type of control panel you want to use, the software you need, the security measures you want implemented, etc. If you have no experience in server management, undertaking these tasks is no trivial matter.
Which one Should You Use? Managed or Unmanaged?
There are pros and cons to both types of hosting. Undoubtedly, managed hosting seems like the better option for anyone who is not versed in server management matters or anyone not wanting to spend time and extra cash on server management related tasks. But managed hosting plans like managed WordPress hosting for example, may come with restrictions as well. Since the server is fine-tuned for WordPress specifically, you may not be able to run other types of websites on the server, which equates to a loss of flexibility for certain users.
Likewise, on a managed WordPress hosting account, users may be restricted to run certain WordPress plugins. One typical example would be the inability to run caching plugins if the host already has a server-level caching system in place. In this context, an unmanaged server may be a better fit for someone who needs the flexibility to run highly specialized websites and wants to be able to install software and applications of their choosing. Then there is the price consideration as well. The extra services built into a managed hosting come with a higher price tag.
When considering buying a VPS or a dedicated server for your hosting needs, keep in mind that most managed solutions only support a small set of operating systems. If, for example, you or somebody on your team uses Ubuntu or Debian as a development server or as a desktop, you might think that choosing a Debian based managed VPS or dedicated machine will benefit you, however, you might find that the hosting company does not provide management for Debian based systems just for Red Hat or CentOS for example. Always double check with your hosting provider before committing to a certain plan.
Those who are tech savvy enough to take server management matters into their own hands may opt to trump a managed server in favor of an unmanaged one. However, users with little to no experience in server maintenance are better off choosing a managed hosting plan knowing that the host will take care of security, updates, backups and other aspects of server maintenance without them having to worry about any of these tasks or having to hire costly outside help for this purpose.
Picking the right solution boils down to two main things – on the one hand, the first aspect to think about is whether you want to use non-industry standard solutions, e.g. NodeJS based webserver, custom video encoding solutions, a particular version of PHP with not a vanilla MySQL (Percona), etc. If this is the case, then you should ask your hosting company if they can manage and configure those services.
On the other hand, you should consider whether you have the expertise to manage a VPS or a dedicated server? If you’re looking for a VPS or dedicated hosting for a website that needs more resources, but you are tight on budget, you might choose an unmanaged solution, and pay somebody to set it up and maybe buy a DirectAdmin or a cPanel license, so you can manage it safely. If, however, you are planning on processing payments directly, then setting up an unmanaged server to be PCI-DSS compliant will take up a lot of time and cost you more in the end, then choosing a managed server from the get-go.
Although the managed-unmanaged dichotomy is the most prevalent in the industry, some hosting providers like HostGator do provide hybrid solutions as well, which provide full root access to your server and even some support. For example, HostGator’s semi-managed VPS plans, which similarly to unmanaged VPS plans don’t come with a web hosting control panel, but they do include several support services related to hardware, operating system, basic configuration, firewall setup, etc. If you find that neither an unmanaged, nor a fully managed hosting plan is suitable for you, you can opt for semi-managed hosting solutions instead.
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