Physical vs. Virtual Servers: Everything You Need to Know


Should your business rely on physical or virtual servers? It’s a simple, yet multifaceted question you’ll need to answer if you want your organization to run smoothly. The challenges of server management and administration are deeper than you might realize – and the impact of your decision could be massive.

Here’s all the basics you need to know.

Physical vs. Virtual Servers: An Introduction

We’ll start with a basic introduction of the differences between physical and virtual servers. A physical server is the most traditional type of server; it’s a physical set of hardware, actively managed in a centralized, geographic location. A virtual server, by contrast, is a virtualized machine that serves the same purpose as a server, ultimately relying on remote resources to do its job.

Both physical servers and virtual servers come in many variations and can be configured according to your needs. However, as we’ll see, there are some important advantages and disadvantages to note about both physical and virtual servers.

Pros and Cons of Physical Servers

Physical servers are the most conventional type of server and are still widely used today. These are some of the biggest advantages keeping them relevant:

  •       Total access and control. When using a physical server, you retain total access and control. Instead of relying on virtualization, you can access and maintain the actual hardware used to keep your server operational. You can configure this hardware however you want and you don’t need to work with any outside parties or sign any contracts to make it work.
  •       Convenient accessibility. Instead of using a virtualization platform, you can access physical server’s materials conveniently. That doesn’t mean physical server maintenance is easy, but it is accessible.
  •       Custom configuration. If you’re interested in customizing a server for niche needs, or if your organization has specific requirements for its servers, physical servers have the advantage of being totally customizable.

However, there are some important downsides to note:

  •       Higher costs. Generally, physical servers are costlier. Because you’ll be purchasing all the hardware yourself, you’ll spend more money upfront. You’ll also spend more money on electricity, maintenance, and upgrades over the lifetime of your physical servers.
  •       Internal responsibility. Establishing a physical server isn’t good enough; you need an internal team dedicated to maintaining it. You’re the one responsible for upgrading it, securing it, and keeping it running efficiently. That’s a lot of internal responsibility that you may or may not be prepared for.
  •       Troubleshooting, maintenance, and repair difficulties. Do you know how to do your own server maintenance? If not, you’ll need to hire someone. When something breaks, you’re the one who needs to fix it. This can cause a major rift in your organization if you’re caught unprepared.
  •       Space requirements. Don’t forget that you need somewhere to store your servers. Depending on the scale of your organization, you may need a massive building to house all your equipment.
  •       Scalability issues. Managing a physical server also introduces scalability issues. It’s not especially hard to build and maintain a small server for a small business, but as your business grows, the complexity of your needs will evolve – and it’s going to be harder and more expensive for you to preserve your servers.

Pros and Cons of Virtual Servers

What about virtual servers?

These are some of the advantages:

  •       Lower costs. Because you won’t need to buy the physical equipment, you’ll need less overhead, and you won’t need to worry about maintenance, virtual servers typically come with lower costs. Monthly fees can be expensive, depending on your setup, but over the long run, you’ll generally end up ahead.
  •       Scalability. It doesn’t matter how big your organization is or how much it’s going to grow; using virtual servers gives you access to much more flexible scaling.
  •       Easy maintenance. Because you don’t have to work with physical hardware, maintenance is easy; you generally rely on someone else to do it. This saves you time, money, and lots of headaches.
  •       Less overhead. Your overhead requirements will be much lower in an arrangement with virtual servers. This helps keep your organization lean and simple.

Now for the disadvantages:

  •       Lack of control. You won’t have as much flexibility or control in this arrangement; your configuration options will be limited.
  •       Potential compatibility issues. Depending on the nature of your virtual server setup, you could run into more compatibility issues.
  •       Vendor reliance. Much of your success with virtual servers depends on the vendors with whom you work. Always do your due diligence.

Because of the nuances here, it’s impossible to say that physical servers are better than virtual servers, or vice versa. Instead, your organization will need to thoroughly assess its needs, evaluate the pros and cons of each possible choice, and make the decision that suits your situation best.