Physical vs. virtual server: Pros and cons

Physical vs. virtual server: Pros and cons

Many small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in the greater Orlando area rely on technology to boost their productivity and stay competitive. But given their limited budgets, they must ensure their IT investments are cost-effective.

If your company is planning to purchase servers, then you must carefully choose between a physical and a virtual server infrastructure. To help you decide, let’s take a closer look at these two server setups and their respective pros and cons.

What is a physical server?

A physical server is a hardware server that functions like a typical desktop computer, but is larger and more powerful. Its internal hardware resources (e.g., CPU, storage, and memory) are used directly by an operating system (OS).

A physical server infrastructure is usually composed of multiple hardware servers, with each running only one OS and often only a single application. For example, an infrastructure can have a dedicated mail server, file server, database server, and DNS server.

What is a virtual server?

A virtual server is a virtual machine that emulates the processes of a physical server by using software rather than hardware. It would still need underlying hardware to run, but a single physical server can host multiple, independent virtual servers. This is made possible by a program called a hypervisor.

A hypervisor creates software-based counterparts of the resources (e.g., RAM) of the underlying hardware. It then allocates those counterparts (e.g., virtualized RAM) to ongoing workloads of virtual servers.

Moreover, a hypervisor runs directly on the server hardware, so each virtual server can then run its own OS on top of the hypervisor.

What are the main differences between a physical server and a virtual server?

Just as its name suggests, a physical server can be seen and touched physically since it is hardware-based. On the other hand, a virtual server is a software-based representation of a physical server.

In terms of architecture, in order to run multiple OSs and applications, a physical server infrastructure requires several hardware servers. In contrast, a virtual server infrastructure needs only one hardware server.

What are the advantages of physical servers?

1. Direct access to physical resources
Since a physical server infrastructure is located on-site, your IT team can physically access it 24/7 and have immediate control over your company’s computing resources. This also allows them to quickly troubleshoot server issues.

While having direct physical access may not be a top priority for some SMBs, it may be essential for companies with mission-critical operations that need to be managed on-site.

2. Superior performance
Compared to a virtual server, a physical server usually offers better performance since its hardware resources are solely dedicated to its installed OS and programs. On the other hand, virtual servers — each with their own OSs and programs — are sharing the capacity of their underlying hardware.

What’s more, since a virtual server is somewhat detached from its underlying hardware (i.e., a hypervisor lies in between the virtual server and hardware) performance bottlenecks may be apparent. This problem won’t happen with a physical server since its programs run directly on its hardware.

What are the disadvantages of physical servers?

1. High upfront and maintenance costs
Setting up a physical server infrastructure comes with a hefty price tag since it involves spending for the following:

  • Server hardware
  • On-site installation and configuration
  • Integration of security and continuity measures
  • Hiring of server administrators

On top of the initial expenses, you need to take into account the costs of ongoing administration, management, updates, upgrades, and troubleshooting and replacement in case of server failure.

2. Large space requirement
Since a physical server infrastructure often involves multiple hardware servers, it consumes a lot of physical space — space that could be used for additional desks or other office equipment.

3. Increased energy costs
Physical servers are powerful machines that require more energy and will therefore increase your electricity bill.

4. Siloed management
It’s harder to manage a physical server infrastructure since it is not centralized. This means you need to work on every hardware server to conduct data backups and roll out updates, upgrades, or configurations.

What are the advantages of virtual servers?

1. Consolidated servers
Multiple virtual servers can be added to one machine, which means less hardware, less physical space, less energy consumption, and more efficient use of physical equipment. In fact, with virtual servers, you have the option to access them through the cloud and not have its underlying hardware on-site.

2. Ease of management and security
Since you are dealing with fewer hardware servers, rollout of server updates and upgrades can be handled easily with minimal to no downtime. You can even implement programs like security software at the hypervisor level to centralize security controls and system administration. Plus, with virtual servers, many operations (e.g., deploying OS patches) can be automated.

3. Fast backup and disaster recovery (BDR)
BDR is quick and easy with virtual servers. If a virtual server fails, its workload can easily be moved to another virtual server. You can even configure it to run with cloud-based data backup and disaster recovery.

4. High scalability
Within the boundaries of the underlying hardware, you can easily add a virtual server’s capacity and scale down when necessary. In contrast, if you have physical servers and want to add more capacity, you would need to purchase and install new hardware.

What are the disadvantages of virtual servers?

1. Expensive hardware
While you would need fewer machines in a virtual server infrastructure, you would need a more powerful — hence more costly — hardware server that is capable of hosting multiple virtual servers.

However, you won’t have to spend for your own hardware if you avail of server hosting services instead. With this arrangement, you only pay a monthly fee to use a virtual server without having to think of its underlying hardware.

Further reading: A guide to server hosting services for SMBs in Orlando

2. Possible compliance issues
If your business is subject to strict data security regulations such as HIPAA, then you may be required to have direct control over the hardware. But if you can use server hosting services, then you’ll need to make sure that your provider keeps your infrastructure compliant with industry standards and regulations.

Which server should you pick?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer since every SMB has unique requirements. This is why it’s important to factor in your budget, existing manpower, and ultimately, how you plan to use the server.

If you need help in determining which technology is best for your company, our IT experts at Data Cube Systems can help. Schedule your FREE consultation today!