Physical Servers vs. Virtual Servers: Which Works Best for Your Business?

Given today’s fast-paced, technology-driven environment, most IT decision-makers and business owners would agree that a server is the heart of their business. A server has multiple benefits, such as reliability, accessibility, scalability, centralized storage, data backup and collaboration. It is an essential element of an organization’s IT infrastructure. Installing a server is a no-brainer for businesses to stay competitive. However, selecting a server (physical or virtual) is a critical part of a business strategy, which is why choosing one isn’t an easy decision.

As an IT pro, you must help make the decision-making process simple and easy for your organization. It is important that you understand your business’s unique goals and priorities in order to choose the right server configuration that will meet both current and future needs.

In this blog, we will cover the types of servers that businesses use today and their advantages and disadvantages. This will help determine which server is suitable for a specific business since every business has its own unique challenges and needs.

What is a physical server?

A physical server is a hardware server used for storing, retrieving and sharing data with other computers on a network. Just like the name implies, you can touch and feel a physical server. It is also known as a bare-metal or dedicated server and is mostly stored in a server room of an organization or in a third-party data center. Most companies have a dedicated IT team that manages and maintains their own physical servers.

A physical server is like a desktop PC, only much more powerful and bigger in size than a normal workstation. Some of the examples of a physical server include a file server, print server, applications server and email server.

How does a physical server work?

Think of a physical server like a desktop PC that runs on Windows, Linux or any other operating system and has all the critical components like a motherboard, CPU, RAM and storage. Much like a personal computer, a physical server is dedicated to serving (provide applications and data) a single user. This means the resources are reserved only for a single user and are not shared with other users.

A physical server allows you to store and seamlessly access information over a network. It collects and shares information with other computers through either a local area network (LAN) or a wide area network (WAN)
such as the internet.

For instance, let’s take an example of a web server. When you enter a URL to access a webpage in your browser, the web browser sends the information to the server hosting the website. The web server locates the file and sends it to the web browser, which then displays the requested webpage.

Pros and cons of physical servers

While physical servers offer impressive benefits to businesses, there are some disadvantages that you should consider while selecting a server. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons.

Advantages of a physical server

Powerful performance: Since physical servers are designated to a single client and do not share processors or other components with other users, they deliver greater performance. With physical servers, you won’t experience lags even during peak times.

Customizable: Physical servers can be fully customized and arranged to meet your business’s unique needs.

Choice of location: Depending on your business requirements and preferences, physical servers can be placed either on-site or at a co-location facility, managed by a third party.

Disadvantages of a physical server

Expensive: Running and maintaining a physical server is expensive because of the various resources and components associated with it.

Requires a dedicated IT team: A physical server needs constant monitoring and management, which requires a dedicated IT team.

Difficult to scale: Once the storage limit is reached, expanding a physical server can be difficult without purchasing new hardware. Moreover, your IT team must repeat the tedious process of installing and configuring the physical server.

What is a virtual server?

A virtual server, also known as a virtual machine (VM), is a software-based or virtual version of a physical server that works like an actual computer. It has its own CPU, RAM and storage, and emulates the functionalities of a dedicated server. These types of servers run in a virtual multitenant environment where the resources of a physical server are shared with other virtual servers. One physical server can host multiple virtual servers, with each having its own virtual infrastructure such as software and network components.

How does a virtual server work?

Server virtualization is the process of mimicking a physical server in its entirety, thereby converting one dedicated server into multiple virtual machines. Virtualization is done through a hypervisor or virtual machine monitor such as VMware vSphere or Microsoft Hyper-V. A hypervisor is used to virtualize a physical server to create and run virtual machines, which have their own resources like CPU, RAM and storage.

By installing a hypervisor on physical hardware, you can share the resources of the physical server among multiple virtual machines. Virtual servers are independent of each other and can therefore run different operating systems and applications simultaneously.

Pros and cons of virtual servers

With remote/hybrid work being the new norm, there’s an uptick in organizations moving to a virtual environment. There’s no doubt that a virtual server offers multiple benefits to organizations of all sizes, although it does come with its own limitations as well. To help you make the right move, let’s look at the benefits and challenges associated with virtual servers.

Advantages of a virtual server

Cost-effective: One of the main advantages of installing a virtual server is that once you have scoped, installed and configured the host machine, there is no need to purchase additional physical hardware, which greatly reduces upfront costs.

Scalable and flexible: With virtual machines, you get the option of scaling on-demand, which means you can seamlessly scale up or down depending on your business requirements. Even when you are expanding your VM, you typically don’t need to purchase additional physical hardware.

Easy management: Since virtual servers abstract resources from the parent host, they can be easily deployed and run immediately. Even hardware upgrades and repairs are much easier since workloads from VMs can be easily migrated to a backup site. This also minimizes downtime.

Disadvantages of a virtual server

Unstable performance: Since multiple virtual machines access resources from the physical hardware indirectly, it may result in inefficient performance if the host lacks sufficient power.

Compatibility issues: Some applications in your IT infrastructure might not support virtualized solutions. This may lead to application incompatibility and will require additional assistance from third-party vendors or a hybrid solution to resolve the issue.

Lack of authority: Since virtual servers are a multitenant platform, you have less control over your physical server and the applications
running on them.

Physical servers vs. virtual servers: What are the key differences?

Physical server vs. virtual server
Components Physical server Virtual server
Costs Hardware purchase, maintenance and replacements make it relatively costly as compared to VMs. No upfront cost. Software licensing and maintenance costs are relatively lower.
Space requirement Physical servers have a larger footprint and require a bigger space. Virtual servers are built upon a physical
server. The ability to host multiple VMs per
physical host makes them more space-efficient.
Implementation & migration Migration from one physical server to another is difficult and complex. VMs can be seamlessly moved across the virtualized environment and even from one physical server to another.
Performance More powerful and efficient since CPU, RAM, storage and network resources are not shared with other tenants. Less efficient as compared to physical servers since virtual servers are multitenant platforms and share the resources of physical hardware among multiple users.
Security Security systems must be configured for each
individual physical server depending on its resources and the type of data it stores.
In a virtual server environment, security is
centralized via the hypervisor.
Control 24/7 access and complete control over the physical server and applications. Less control over the host server and the
applications that run on it.
Scalability Upgrading a physical server can be tedious. To do so, new physical hardware must be purchased and installed. With VMs, you can upgrade or downgrade resources with the click of a button through automation.

Physical servers or virtual servers: Which is better for your business?

When it comes to servers, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. To make the right choice, you must consider several factors like your organization’s immediate and future goals, budget, applications and programs you use, data type and so on.

Who should consider physical servers?

Physical servers are more beneficial to organizations that deal with a large amount of information. Businesses that run heavy-duty applications and programs and require optimum use of resources, will find significant value in physical servers. Dedicated servers would be an ideal choice for businesses that store confidential information and require high levels of data security.

Who should consider virtual servers?

With virtual servers, you can scale resources up or down based on your need. This makes them suitable for startups and small and midsize businesses with variable demands and workloads. VMs are an ideal fit for businesses that run applications that serve a large number of users. Virtual servers are appropriate for businesses for whom cost is a major concern and can be the deciding factor.

Backup for both physical and virtual servers

Regardless of which type of server you run, as an IT pro, it is your responsibility to ensure your business and data are safe. You must have a reliable backup and recovery solution in place to ensure maximum protection and uptime in the event of an outage or disaster. Your organization relies on you for application and data availability and accessibility. The right BCDR solution can help you achieve this efficiently along with much more.

Unitrends Unified BCDR makes backup and data protection simple and hassle-free. It enables you to back up physical and virtual servers, both at the native hypervisor level and at the image level. With automated daily scheduling for your virtual and physical backups, you can save admin time and effort. Our appliances are available in both physical and virtual formats, and are preconfigured with hardware, software and networking, which makes installation fast and effortless.

Want to know how you can secure both physical and virtual assets while maximizing productivity? Contact us today!


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