Physical vs. virtual servers: Which one is right for your business?

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When it comes to computing, businesses like yours typically have a difficult choice to consider: Should they use physical or virtual servers? Both types of servers have their own benefits and uses, and understanding their differences is essential to making an informed decision.   

What is a physical server?

Also known as bare-metal servers, physical servers are large hardware servers that retrieve, store, and share data with other computers on a network. They consist of multiple components and a main operating system. These servers are typically stored in server rooms or data host centers.

Advantages of physical servers

When it comes to addressing computing needs, physical servers offer several benefits: 

  • Robust performance – Physical servers by nature are designated for a single client at one time and do not share processors or components with other users. Without virtualized layers, applications can directly access hardware resources, resulting in better response times and throughput. This makes physical servers ideal for accommodating high-performance workloads that demand consistent processing power. 
  • Customizability – Physical servers allow for greater hardware customization. Organizations can choose specific components such as processors, memory, storage, and networking hardware to match their exact requirements. This flexibility is beneficial when running specialized workloads that rely on specific hardware configurations.
  • Simplicity – Having only one physical server to handle all computing workloads makes things easier from an IT management standpoint. Since each physical server operates as an independent entity, there is no need to deal with the complexities of virtual machine configurations, hypervisor settings, and resource allocation. 

Drawbacks of physical servers

Despite the benefits of physical servers, they do come with several limitations, which include: 

  • High upfront costs – Purchasing dedicated hardware and a physical server can be expensive, especially for businesses with tight budgets. If you wish to expand your business and IT infrastructure, you’ll have to upgrade or purchase additional physical servers, which drives up costs.
  • Poor scaling and resource allocation – Scaling physical servers can be more challenging than virtualized environments. Adding more physical servers to accommodate growing workloads requires upfront investment and manual configuration. Plus, there’s no guarantee that these additional servers will be optimally utilized. If physical servers are not running at full capacity at all times, valuable hardware resources may be underutilized, leading to inefficiencies in both performance and cost.
  • Extensive management requirements – Physical servers require hands-on management and maintenance. Tasks such as hardware updates, firmware upgrades, and troubleshooting hardware failures are more time-consuming and may require specialized expertise.
  • Space and power consumption – Physical servers occupy physical space in data centers or on-premises facilities and consume power accordingly. As more servers are added, space and power requirements can become significant, leading to higher operational costs.

What is a virtual server? 

A virtual server is essentially a software-based version of a physical server that runs on a host machine and operates independently as if it were a separate physical entity. With a virtual server, multiple virtual machines can coexist on a single physical server, each with its own operating system, applications, and resources. Virtual machines can also be easily created, cloned, backed up, and moved between different host machines, making them a popular choice for businesses and organizations seeking to optimize their IT infrastructure and streamline their operations.

Advantages of virtual servers

Virtual servers provide the following benefits to businesses: 

  • Cost-efficiency – By consolidating multiple virtual machines onto a single physical server, businesses can make better use of their hardware resources, reducing the need to purchase and maintain numerous physical servers.
  • Optimal resource utilization – Instead of having one physical server dedicated to running a single application or operating system, virtual servers enable businesses to maximize resource utilization by hosting multiple virtual machines on a single physical host. This consolidation of workloads allows for better efficiency in utilizing CPU, memory, storage, and network resources, as each virtual machine can share the available hardware while maintaining isolation from others.
  • Scalable infrastructure – Virtual servers allow companies to create or remove virtual machines on the fly, making it easier for organizations to respond quickly to fluctuations in workloads and computing requirements.
  • Simplified backup – Virtual servers enable administrators to easily clone, back up, and migrate virtual machines on a different host system such as the cloud. If a virtual machine becomes corrupted or experiences issues, administrators can revert to a previous snapshot or backup, minimizing downtime and data loss.

Drawbacks of virtual servers 

While virtual servers offer more flexibility for businesses, they do have their downsides:

  • Dependency on the host system – Virtual servers rely on the host system’s performance and stability. If the physical server experiences hardware failure or malfunctions, multiple virtual machines hosted on it could be affected, potentially leading to service disruptions.
  • Complexity – Virtualization introduces an additional layer of complexity to the IT infrastructure. This can require specialized knowledge and expertise to manage effectively.

What server should your business use? 

To decide what server environment is best for your small business, you must first consider factors such as business requirements, goals, and budget. Businesses with lean budgets and who want to optimize computing resources may consider virtual servers, while those who want robust performance may require physical servers. Consulting with IT experts like SpectrumWise will help you pinpoint the right solution for your business. 

If you’d like to learn which server solution suits your business, get in touch with our experts today for a comprehensive server setup assessment!


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