If you host multiple websites, either for yourself or for clients, then you probably use a paid, shared or dedicated hosting service from a hosting company, such as Namecheap. You might even purchase a Virtual Server from Digital Ocean. But what if you want to buy your own hardware and run your own web hosting server? How much do you need to spend? Well, that depends on how much traffic you expect your websites to receive. High-traffic website servers require superior, more expensive, hardware than low-traffic servers. In this article, I will highlight the web server hardware requirements for every budget.
Cheapest Web Server
The Raspberry Pi is a low cost computer that isn’t specifically marketed as a web server. It is really a small computer circuit board for those who like to tinker with technology. However, it has so many use cases and a website server is one of them. I write about how to setup a web server on a Raspberry Pi in detail, in the article Running a Live Web Server on a Raspberry Pi from Home, if you would like to try for yourself.
Whilst a Raspberry Pi is not a particularly powerful device, you can pair it with a fast Solid State Drive and run the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQl, PHP) stack on Ubuntu Server or Raspberry Pi OS, and it runs well enough for a few low-traffic websites. But if you have more than a few hundred visitors to your websites in a month, or particularly media heavy websites, then you should consider upgrading.
Home or Small Business Web Server
This option isn’t using dedicated server hardware, but any computer can be used as a server if you have the right software installed. Even a 5 year-old desktop PC will run better than a Raspberry Pi, so this is an upgrade. However, it is probably a good idea to go with a modern desktop computer, as these are more energy efficient than older models.
Desktop PC’s come in all shapes, sizes and prices - from £300 to £2000. An office computer will likely have slower processors, less memory and smaller hard drives or solid state drives. A gaming PC will likely have a processor that is faster and has more processing cores, faster memory and a powerful gaming graphics card. So what should you choose?
I don’t think you particularly require a gaming PC to run a server but you do want to ensure you have a decent CPU, a decent amount of fast memory and preferably a solid state drive (SSD).
Here are a few desktop PC’s at varying budgets that would be suitable.
Intel NUC / Mini-PC
If you think a desktop PC will suit your needs but you don’t want the physical bulk cluttering your house or office, then consider an Intel NUC or mini-PC. These are essentially desktop computers but in much smaller cases.
Some of the components may be soldered into place on the motherboard and this, coupled with the limited internal space, means they may be limited in upgradability. Although, the SSD and memory can be upgraded. In fact, more often than not, these little units come as barebones kits, which means you have to add the memory and drive yourself.
This power in a small package comes at a premium. An Intel NUC with the equivalent hardware as a bulkier desktop PC will likely cost at least double the price. However, I love these little PC’s for the power they offer in such a small package. They use less energy too. If your budget can handle that premium, then these are a great choice.
Small / Medium Sized Business Web Server
Although any computer can be used as a server, we now leave the desktops behind and look at computers that are specifically designed to be servers.
A dedicated server usually comes with additional features, such as, RAID configuration for drives (which writes data to multiple drives simultaneously and allows for replacement of failed drives without incurring data loss or system reinstallation), a CPU (or multiple CPU’s) designed for server use with many cores and multithreading, Higher memory capacity with extra memory slots on the motherboard, so that you can install more RAM. All essential features of a server used for a business.
There is some overlap in cost between desktop, mini-PC’s and some lower-end servers, so you should really decide how important some of these features are to you and whether or not you are simply dabbling with the technology, or whether you intend to run a server 24/7 for years to come. Obviously, if you do intend to use your server to host many high-traffic websites, you will want to buy a machine designed for that task.
If your server is going to host many websites, you will likely want to add an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to protect your server from power outages. I write more on that in the article How to Protect your Web Server from a Power Outage.
Large Business Web Server
Large businesses will usually have multiple rack-mounted servers running in a dedicated space with extensive air-conditioning and disaster recovery options. e.g. backups - both onsite and offsite - server redundancies offsite or replacement hardware at hand.
All this comes at a cost. Large businesses can afford to buy the best hardware and backup solutions but for the average person or business, these servers are overkill.
The I.T. companies I have worked for in the past, always used Dell PowerEdge servers. I was always impressed with their durability, so I can recommend those.
How much you spend on a website server really does depend on the traffic it will receive across all hosted websites. If you are only hosting one or two websites that get a few hundred visitors per month, then the Raspberry Pi will do an adequate job of serving those websites to visitors. However, when you receive a few thousand visitors per month, you really should upgrade to the next choices in the list.
Large businesses are going to require powerful web servers to handle the tens to hundreds of thousands of visitors they receive. The websites would grind to a halt if weaker hardware was used.
The broadband connection is also a factor when dealing with a large number of visitors. So, even if you had expensive hardware installed, a slow connection would seriously hamper the user experience on your websites. Purchasing a quality business broadband connection should alleviate any problems related to bandwidth.
In this article, I have dealt only with the web server hardware but I want to emphasise that you should also take into consideration the health of your server and invest in a UPS backup solution. I write more about UPS options in my article How to Protect your Web Server from a Power Outage.
Additionally, you should have a method of monitoring your web server traffic, so that you know whether you need to upgrade the hardware. Then you can choose one of the appropriate options highlighted in this article.